When the 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur comes to 100-year-old Portland Golf Club—a gorgeous course characterized by giant Douglas firs and Sequoias, fast creeks, and rolling terrain—attention will turn to a city not widely known for its tournament heritage despite a rich pedigree. In fact, PGC has hosted many of the world’s best players for more than half a century.
The club’s tournament history began with the 1931 Western Amateur, followed by the Women’s Western Open in 1934. Sam Snead won the first Portland Open in the rain in 1944 shortly after coming out of the Navy.
The next year, Ben Hogan began a love affair with PGC. He set a tournament record of 63 and a PGA record of 261 by shooting 27 under par. Second-place finisher Byron Nelson said, “From the looks of that score, I think he still has nine holes to play.” Hogan then won the 1946 PGA Championship at PGC for his first major title. In 1947, the Ryder Cup resumed at PGC after a 10-year, World War II-enforced postponement: The U.S. team, led by, who else, player-captain Hogan, triumphed 11-1.
Numerous other big names have enjoyed success at Portland. Billy Casper won twice at PGC (1959–60) as did Jack Nicklaus (1964–65). A letter from Nicklaus still displayed in the clubhouse reads, “With all hope you look favorably on having us come back next year.” (The last Portland Open at PGC was in 1965; the last of any kind was in ’66 at Columbia Edgewater Country Club.)
Casper won again at PGC at the 1969 Alcan Open, a short-lived international event that was played only once in the U.S. Lee Trevino was leading until he buried his tee shot in a bunker on the par-three 17th, took two to get out, and three-putted for triple bogey to lose the largest prize offered in golf to that point—$55,000. A few years later, after winning the British Open aided in part by a heroic play from a bunker, Trevino told the media that learning that shot had cost him $40,000 in Portland.
Miller Barber won the Senior Open at PGC in 1982, while from 1986–1991 and again in 2010 Peter Jacobsen’s Fred Meyer Challenge welcomed many of golf’s greatest names in a team event that raised millions for charity. Nancy Lopez, Donna Caponi Young, and Kathy Whitworth competed at PGC in LPGA events.
The first nine holes of PGC opened on a farm in 1914. The founding members cleared the swamplands themselves, watered the course using barrels and a creek, and putted on oiled sand greens. The course expanded to 18 holes and 6,245 yards in 1918. The current clubhouse was built in 1928.
Today’s routing and all but one of the greens are original. While huge trees lining fairways create both psychological and physical challenges (their size makes objects like flagsticks seem farther away), and clever hole designs using the hilly terrain require placement and strategy, what stands out at PGC is the bunkering, which is aesthetic, strategic, and intimidating.
The journey ahead is defined on the very first hole, a long and demanding par four; fast-moving Fanno Creek conspires to make the second shot more difficult. Rhododendrons on the bank present a floral gallery. The green—only 17 yards deep—provides clues about the other putting surfaces, which mix great subtlety with high speed, and are protected by trees, water, and sand.
On the 339-yard 3rd hole, a line of sentry trees along the left side forces players to aim down the right, where a bunker sits at 230 yards out. A plaque on the tee notes that Hogan aimed his tee shot at the gate of an adjoining property. Golfers today can still do the same.
The finish is as strong as a lumberjack. The par-three 17th green is framed by large grass bunkers and wrapped almost entirely by a creek. The long uphill finishing hole stretches 558 yards and concludes at a tough green where savvy players know to leave the ball below the hole.
Club atmosphere is much like the Northwest—stately yet casual. Members wear shorts and seem to be enjoying themselves in the men’s grill; the renovated dining room buzzes at lunch; women members play golf and cards with abandon, all while gazing upon the beautiful topography on the outskirts of one of America’s great—if still somewhat undiscovered—cities.