Two hundred years ago President Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery up the Missouri to the western edge of the continent to find a water passage to the Pacific. En route they encountered mountains, forests, deserts, dormant volcanoes, fertile valleys, glacier-fed rivers and a rugged shoreline that few non-natives had ever seen. One historian—Frederick Jackson Turner—would later say that the existence of such land helped to form the independent American spirit.
Two centuries later, that spirit thrives in the Pacific Northwest. The region encompassing Washington, Oregon and Idaho remains quirky, individualistic and natural. But a civilized lifestyle has developed here, too, thanks partly to a surplus of still-untrammeled wilderness perfect for recreation, an acceptance of the offbeat and the ubiquitous availability of good espresso. One of the region's charms is that hippies and ranchers, loggers and environmentalists, software millionaires, artists and mortgage bankers share the territory in reasonable harmony. Maybe because they are all equally as likely to play golf.
The courses here include windswept links, tracks carved from old-growth rain forests, lush green Willamette Valley venues (where much of the nation's best grass seed is grown), layouts on the dusty buttes of the high desert, and alpine routings beneath snowcapped mountain peaks. Where else can one play golf in such disparate topographies without a passport?
The recent advent of two world-class courses at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in southern Oregon has attracted an international clientele; a third stunning course at Bandon (designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw) is growing in at this very moment. But the region is rich in other fine courses, too, designed by the likes of Palmer, Nicklaus and Rees Jones. So grab three buddies and prepare to launch your own golf Corps of Discovery.
THE SOUTHWEST OREGON COAST Orientation Southern Oregon is largely composed of small Western towns, many lacking the level of service available at upscale golf destinations. Visitors to Bandon Dunes will do well to stay and eat at the resort and play other courses as day excursions or on their way to another destination. Golfers can drive five hours from Portland to Bandon, or fly into the North Bend airport, thirty miles away, on Horizon Air.
57744 Round Lake Drive, Bandon, OR; 888-345-6008, bandondunesgolf.com. Yardage: 6,732. Par: 72. Slope: 138. Architect: David McLay Kidd, 1999. Greens Fees: $60–$200. T+L GOLF Rating: *****
The original Bandon Dunes course boasts the most gruffly enchanting and achingly graceful golf terrain this side of Dornoch. Simply put, if walking this course (carts are not allowed) doesn't have a golfer hearing bagpipes and craving haggis, said golfer may be beyond help. Skillfully—and improbably—carved by relatively new designer David McLay Kidd from a rolling expanse of linksland, this stupendous layout includes seven holes capering along cliffs overlooking the ocean and fairways heaving and rolling like grassed ocean swells. Postround, players stumble into Bandon's clubhouse delirious with joy.