The Golf Capital of America: The Road to Bandon Dunes

In its November, 2011 issue, Golf Digest finally gets around to recognizing that Oregon’s Bandon Dunes is  the “Number One Golf Resort in North America,” supplanting Pebble Beach in its annual rankings.   I’ve been telling everyone for years that Bandon Dunes isn’t the best golf resort in North America–it’s the best golf resort in the world.  Nothing I’ve seen anywhere comes close to challenging Bandon Dunes as a single destination resort, even though a better place  for an extended golf holiday with multiple courses and travel in between does exist–and it is and always will be the west coast of Ireland.

Oregon may seen an unlikely location for a golf destination.  Residing in Oregon is like living under one of those mist-ers that keep vegetables fresh in the super market.    Living under the constant trickle of the good rain, you feel crisp and vigorous and blessed with an extended shelf life.  We enjoy the soft polish of that eternal drip, and the endless grey makes the rare sunny day brighter.

As we golfing Oregonians bask in Bandon’s reflected glory, it’s fitting to recall that this not the first time Oregon has laid claim to preeminence as a golf destination.   In 1933, Portland was host to the “National Municipal Golf Tournament”–that is, the Public Links.   To celebrate that event, the Portland Chamber of Commerce put out a beautiful pamphlet called “Golf in Portland and in Oregon.”   It made the not immodest claim that Portland was “The Gold Capital of America,” and a banner across the top of every page insisted, with a booster’s dead certainty, that “GOLF IS PLAYED EVERY MONTH OF THE YEAR.”

“Golf has become America’s new national game,” the pamphleteers observe, “and no city in the United States…has made such provision for the enjoyment of this game for all classes of its residents as the city of Portland.”    And that was an honest claim.   Golf has come as close in Portland as it has anywhere in America to the Scottish ideal of golf as a game of the people.    What was true in 1932 is still evident in Portland’s popular, high-quality munis.

Two of the munis celebrated by Portland’s Chamber of Commerce—Eastmoreland and Rose City–still fill with golfers almost every day, and have been joined by the two wonderful layouts at Heron Lakes, built on the flood plain of the Columbia River not far from where a once-celebrated course called Peninsula, which no longer exists, hosted the very first Pacific Northwest Golf Association’s Public Links championship.

Golf was popular in Portland, according to the pamphlet, “because it was so inexpensive.”  Private club memberships ran from $300 to $650, which in fact was quite a bit of money in 1932, when the average per capita income in the USA was under $2,000.   Still the game was affordable, and the Chamber lists green fees and the munis and daily fee courses.   Eastmoreland’s green fee was thirty cents for 9 holes, the same fee charged not only by all of the munis but by the privately owned daily fees.   The private courses also charged green fees: two bucks on weekdays, three on the weekends.

In an appendix, the pamphlet lists all of the courses in the state including a 9 holer in Bandon I had never heard of, called “Westmost Golf Club,” on Beach Road.  It charged fifty cents to play 9 holes, and a buck and a half to play all day.   That’s how golfers still like to spend their time in Bandon–playing golf all day.

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