Appeared in November/December 1997 LINKS
Were scenery alone the sole criterion for greatness, Oregon Golf Club would reside in rarefied air, sitting as it does atop Pete’s Mountain, overlooking the Willamette River and boasting drop-dead gorgeous vistas of snow-capped Mt. Hood.
Although Peter Jacobsen and the Oregon Golf Club were indelibly linked from the start, the club was actually the brainchild of a young Japanese businessman, Tadamasa Ohno. Following a foray into several successful real estate projects in and around the region, Ohno conceived the idea of creating a first-class golf club and enlisted Jacobsen, the man with whom golf and Portland were synonymous.
Ohno, a popular, free-spirited fellow with an unquenchable thirst for excellence and a passion for fast cars, died of cancer in 1993 at age 41. A commemorative plaque and rose garden adorn the hilly underside of the tee box at Oregon Golf Club’s signature hole, the par-3 12th.
Oregon Golf Club was carved from a steeply rolling property that once was a commercial Christmas tree farm. You can still see plenty of these stubby, stoic trees (perhaps awaiting tinsel and lights) as you curve your way up the entrance drive, a drive which ends at one of the country’s most magnificent modern clubhouses.
As might be expected, Jacobsen’s edict to leave things as they found them comprises the strengths and weaknesses of the design. On the one hand, you’re awed by the utter naturalness and variety of the routing; on the other hand, there are a bunch of uphill approach shots that can make for a long day if it’s at all damp or if your ballstriking is anything less than superior.
Jacobsen’s reluctance to “over-design” is evident in the bunkering. While strategically sound in terms of placement and function, most of the bunkers lack artistic flair, whereas given the bold, sweeping contours of the property, perhaps a more Tillinghast- or MacKenzie-like approach, with appropriate scale, nooks, lobes and upsweeps would have been more effective.
Nitpicking aside, Oregon Golf Club succeeds admirably because it throws so many memorable holes at you. At the option-laden par-4 2nd, which tumbles downhill and to the right for 369 yards, A huge swale left and long/left of the green is closely mown, providing a dizzying array of chipping possibilities. From the tee, check out the distant horizon, where the bottom half of Mt. St. Helens appears along with the white-capped Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood. These noble landmarks are to your left at the 3rd, a marvelous 437-yard, leftward swinging par 4 with a minefield of bunkers peppering the “shortcut zone” in the left rough.
Perhaps the first 11 holes are merely appetizers for the main course that is the 12th, which plays 173 yards downhill, with the tees and green cut into opposite sides of hills on either side of a canyon. Bunkers in front of and behind the green frame the hole beautifully, in the manner of the 12th at Augusta National. Rows of tall firs and a jaw-dropping quilt of rose gardens complete this stirring scene.
The 449-yard, 18th demands a drive from an elevated back tee isolated in the firs, over wetlands, to a sliver of fairway, followed by a rugged uphill second to an elevated green set at the base of a hill. A lone bunker front right and a cascading, stone-dotted creek up the left side pinch the green, making for a beautiful but brutal approach. It is the perfect capper to a demanding, but spectacularly memorable round.