Yesterday the Golf Road Warriors ventured south of Bend to Sunriver Resort, one of the most delightful, unpretentious, family-friendly communities you’ll never want to leave. It all began at Sunriver when fur trappers gathered in meadows along the Deschutes River 150 years ago. Now the only traps to worry about were set by golf course architects throughout the property’s 63 excellent and varied holes. And there’s plenty more to the resort than stellar holes of golf — namely bike trails, stables, marina, tennis, nature center, spa, fishing, and a raft of other action sports (including rafting). Sunriver offers a variety of condos and hotel rooms spread across 3,300 acres.
Topping the golf offerings is Crosswater: 200 acres of target golf where bent grass fairways, tees, and greens offset bluegrass and golden fescue; where the routing winds through meadows, among gigundo pines, and over bird-filled wetlands, while huge volcanic peaks beckon in the distance. Holes cross the Little Deschutes River seven times, though if you’re like me and fellow warrior Tom Bedell you may not always cross it on the first try. Several major golf magazines rank Crosswater among the best 100 courses in the US. Don’t even think about playing Crosswater from its full length of 7,683 yards unless you’re suicidal or enjoy the sound of golf balls splashing into hazards. A combination of blue and white tees works best because a few holes lose their character from the whites and may even penalize a long drive hit from those tees. From the back tees, Crosswater is pure carnage. The course may provide the prettiest round you’ve ever lost a box of Titleists on.
The layout was designed by Bob Cupp, who expresses the essence of his golf philosophy through creation of so-called “risk-reward” situations on many of his golf holes. Cupp says, “A golf hole should have a basic demand and present a clear challenge of some sort. But it should never present a challenge without a reward. That reward may be that by hitting a shot closer to a bunker in a par-four fairway you get a better angle to the green, a shorter approach, a better stance, or all three.” Although many players who espy a yawning bunker or the blue glint of the river at Crosswater may alter their stance to hit as far away from the danger as possible, by doing so they risk ignoring one of the principals that architects rely on: that hitting a good shot as close to the hazard as possible will often result in a bonus to the skilled and daring player. Which is why it’s always entertaining to watch a couple of hacks like myself and Tom Bedell playing alongside a scratch player like fellow warrior Christopher Smith. At times it seemed he was playing an entirely different layout.
Crosswater opens with calm subtlety– a wide fairway with a handful of defining bunkers– like the beginning of an epic symphony that starts with a few clear, pure tones. The second hole introduces water and a few more trees. The third, a short par three, offers up a view of Newberry Crater in the background. By the fourth hole, wetlands enter the concert, and the Little Deschutes makes its entry on number five, among the toughest holes on the course. The 460-yard epic par four requires a long but precise carry over the river but short of containment bunkers and woods. The long approach demands another wetlands crossing, and the long, narrow green is divided by what seems like a buried tractor trailer. But don’t relax even if you somehow manage to make par here, because the next hole plays upwards of 600 yards.
With all the instruments in place, the tension builds in sweeping and dramatic melodies for the rest of the afternoon– lupines and forced carries, hard greens that deflect even well-struck shots, and plenty of glimpses of Mt. Bachelor and other peaks. The ninth hole is almost too beautiful to leave– a harmony of grasses, river, mountains, and trees that will leave your knees weak. Number twelve is a dissonant 687 yards from the biggie tees with water the entire way on the left side– which is longer than I like to travel on vacation. The back has an opus of wonderful solos and not a sour note, but no easy riffs, either. Sometimes you’ll be glad to find a bunker that protected you from a worse fate.
Just when the buzz over Crosswater finally began settling down to a steady, musical hum, the resort added a new log to the crackling fire of golf excellence. In entirely re-designing Sunriver’s Meadows golf course some years ago, architect John Fought took a page from the game’s great golf course architects of the 1920s and 1930s—Alistair McKenzie, Donald Ross, and H. Chandler Egan—and suggested that while the meek might inherit the earth they could no longer count on tearing up the Meadows course. In turning the lovely and friendly but formerly undistinguished Meadows into a modern classic stretching to 7,012 yards, Fought relied on elements of style employed by these legendary designers of that earlier time. In particular, Fought’s use of faced bunkers, directional bunkers, and other visually stunning techniques has transformed the Meadows into a real player’s course.
After frolicking through the new Meadows, graduate to the slightly more serious but equally fun Woodlands Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. At 6,880 yards, this traditional venue is chock full of lakes, deep bunkers, and elevated greens. While not flashy, Woodlands reveals subtle, well-thought intricacies. It’s like a Stickley table: solid, well-made and a little old fashioned as it was designed before playing from the tips became a macho test of endurance. Plenty of tight chipping areas around the greens heighten the challenge, and the fabulous finishing hole leaves a choice between hitting across a hairpin turn over a lake, or knocking a long, straight iron to a safer but far more distant landing area. Sunriver also offers nine holes of more family-friendly golf at the Caldera Links.