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Oregon's Willamette Valley | T+L Golf

Birdsong woke us the next morning, and what a chorus it was! Bandstra had a splendiferous breakfast waiting. Fresh-brewed coffee accompanied by sinfully delicious hazelnut scones; scrambled eggs perfectly cooked, rich and velvety. Brookside’s kitchen is beautifully appointed, centered on a warm antique stove. I can only describe the views out the floor-to-ceiling dining room windows as pure nature. The running joke in Oregon is how gray and rainy it is all the time (although the sun was out for much of our visit). In other words: Please don’t move up here and crowd us out. Sure, they’re kidding, but only slightly.

Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club needs little introduction. Everyone remembers the curling birdie putt Tiger Woods made on the thirty-fifth hole to force his match against Steve Scott to the thirty-eighth hole, where he closed out his third straight U.S. Amateur title. The Golf Channel recently called it the greatest shot Tiger ever hit. But that was on Pumpkin Ridge’s private Witch Hollow Course. I played Ghost Creek, the half of Bob Cupp’s stunning thirty-six that is open to the general public. Other than Bandon Dunes, this is the gem of Oregon golf. Situated just west of Portland and located at the very northern end of the Willamette Valley, the course is routed through stands of tall trees before returning to open countryside and is kept in immaculate condition.

From the back tees the course offers a wide palette of holes. The opening par four is relatively benign, but then the course toughens up, concluding with a brutal 469-yard par four before heading to the second nine and more of the same. Like the front nine, the back initially lulls you to sleep with some playable, par-yielding holes, then hammers you with a 234-yard par three that required everything in my bag short of the driver. Cupp’s design is both fair and demanding. The longer holes tend to feature larger greens than the shorter ones—such as the tricky, underrated par-three sixteenth, which showcases a tiny, extremely difficult to hit green.

I really didn’t care what I shot at Pumpkin Ridge, because I found it to be one of the prettiest golf courses I’ve ever played. Mark Twain’s thoughts notwithstanding, Pumpkin Ridge is a great walk in unspoiled terrain—and the golfers do walk here. As a bonus, the clubhouse has a fine restaurant, where a framed photo of a smiling Tiger holding his U.S. Amateur trophy affirms that you are in the presence of golf history.

On the following day we were off to Scott Paul Wines in Carlton, where the owner, Scott Paul Wright, his wife, Martha, and their principle winemaker, Kelley Fox, greeted us warmly. We arrived on harvest day, and the collective tension was omnipresent. It’s an uneasy but exciting time, because the grapes have to possess the right combination of Brix, the approximate concentration of grape sugars, that will then determine the percentage of alcohol—too little and the wine can be thin, too much and the alcohol will overwhelm the delicate flavor of the fruit—along with the wine’s acidity. That balance is important in determining the final outcome of the wine. But this vintage was boding particularly well, after a long, cool growing season, and the winemakers and their harvesters soon relaxed and talked to us spiritedly about their approach to wines, viticulture and vinification.

Wright likes to make wine in a more Burgundian style, lower in alcohol and food-friendlier. It’s well known that American pinot makers favor a much more extracted wine. Opposite in style from a lot of these pinot “fruit bombs,” Wright’s wines showcase the grape’s elegance and nuanced notes. Like a growing number of winemakers, especially in Europe, Wright farms and vinifies biodynamically, an organic and sustainable form of agriculture and wine-producing inscrutably timed to the rhythms of the earth. “All of our pruning, treatments and picking are timed to the lunar calendar,” he explained to me. “In the cellar we follow the lunar calendar as well—for the timing of any and all topping, racking and bottling.” With a glint in his eye, he added, “We don’t dance naked under the full moon, but we haven’t ruled that out entirely.”

Wright’s three signature wines—one of which is a cuvée and another is from a single vineyard—are eminently approachable. Each displayed a lovely, perfumed nose, and all paired delightfully with a lunch that the owners were kind enough to have catered for us and their crew. But the grapes were being trucked in, and it was time for work.

Directly across from the tasting room, in a large industrial building, was the actual winery. It was a treat to watch the bins of pinot come in on forklifts, ramble up a conveyor and then be upended into a de-stemmer. (Some winemakers cheat and don’t de-stem, and although they end up with slightly more extracted wines, they get more of a vegetal taste that is harsher on the palate.) From the de-stemmer, the grapes were dumped into large fermentation vats.

We watched the frenetic action for a while—and I’d love to report that I rolled up my pant legs and stomped grapes in the fermentation vats—but there was more golf on the agenda. We broke away from the harvest-day madness, hopped in the car and sped over to Langdon Farms Golf Club.

Clouds had amassed in the sky and a slight drizzle had started, misting our faces. It may have been the weather, but there appeared to be almost no one on the course. Certain holes were flanked by the freeway and could roar with passing cars, but this Bob Cupp design was otherwise a wonderfully conditioned linkslike track, speckled with straw-colored tufts of fescue and water features that came into play on four holes.

Playing just a tick under seven thousand yards from the tips, the wide-open nature of the course brought wind into play prominently and made for a challenging round. The pro shop staff claim the eighth is Langdon Farms’ signature hole, but for me it was the 629-yard eleventh. Playing into a fierce headwind, this brute of a par five required me to hit driver-hybrid-hybrid to get home. A large, old-fashioned red barn-style clubhouse was just a joy to relax in after the round.


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