There’s a popular theory among discerning golfers in and around Portland, Ore. that the Golden Age of golf course design was formally revived at Pumpkin Ridge, a stellar 36-hole complex located 20 miles west of the city.
On a wooded site that once belonged to a congregation of Dominican Sisters can be found a pair of exceptional courses that hark back to the 1920s. There is Witch Hollow, a private club where Tiger Woods captured his third consecutive U.S. Amateur title in 1996; and Ghost Creek, one of the Pacific Northwest’s finest public-access facilities. Both courses were laid out by Bob Cupp, a former senior designer for Jack Nicklaus whose work is generally under-appreciated.
Opened in 1992, Ghost Creek conjures a classic, traditional look first pioneered in the region by H. Chandler Egan, the great amateur champion who later remodeled Pebble Beach. The tees are rectangular. The fairways are wide, but deceptively so: each has a preferred landing area. The gently contoured greens are small, medium or gigantic in size, depending on the type of shot they’re designed to receive. Obscure the view from the clubhouse of snow-capped Mt. Hood to the east, and Ghost Creek would look right at home in New York’s Westchester County or along Philadelphia’s Main Line. It’s that classic. And just as well-groomed as any private club.
Routed on rolling, fertile farmland in the foothills of the Tualatin Mountains, Ghost Creek rambles through a forest of Douglas firs and hardwoods, with enough sand and water in play to consider saddling a camel and wearing a snorkel. The routing unfolds seamlessly, with most of the holes closely grouped yet fully individual. There is no connective tissue. Cupp felt the land was so ideal for golf he asked for no commitments beyond a basic contract for the initial design and routing plan. That’s how confident he was the site would yield superlative golf holes.
Unadorned with eye-catching features or gingerbread, Ghost Creek can underwhelm at first glance. A second round will make a convert of anyone, from rank beginner to accomplished professional. In addition to its pastoral beauty and delightful variety, Ghost Creek recreates the general form and playing concepts that call for patience and strategy rather than mindless 300-yard-plus tee shots. The shot values here follow the “challenge and reward” theory that govern golf, which explains the USGA’s love affair with the facility. (The association awarded Pumpkin Ridge the 1996 U.S. Amateur 33 days after the complex opened and brought the U.S. Women’s Open to the club the following year).
As is true throughout the fitness-oriented Northwest, walking is encouraged at Ghost Creek. Roughly 90 percent of the patrons walk the layout. And because golf carts must stay on the paths at all times of year (Pumpkin Ridge gets less rain than Portland, but it’s still more moist than dry), walking is the only way to experience a fair, testing layout with a less-is-more look that fits the hills and valleys of North Plains hand-in-glove.