Set on a high-desert plateau on the eastern flank of the Cascades near Mt. Bachelor, Sunriver, a mecca for river rafters, mountain bikers and fly fishermen, has also evolved into an exceptional 54-hole golf retreat. Awarded a Gold Medal by GOLF Magazine earlier this year as one of the top resorts in the nation, this sprawling property set at 4,000 feet hangs its hat on Crosswater, a 7,683-yard firebreather crisscrossed by the Deschutes River and its tributaries. It is a great course, a U.S. Open-caliber course, but for those who don't bring their "A" game or don't have much skill or panache to begin with, it is a giant slice of humble pie. The Woodlands, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. layout opened in 1981, has a loyal following, but Sunriver's links du jour is the revamped Meadows course, which has become the favorite venue of visitors and locals alike.
The resort's original South course, opened in 1968, was long, flat and bland. Nice scenery, but little if any strategic interest. Over time, trees began to crowd the fairways. Errant shots would ricochet among the pines. Golfers began to drift away to other pastures. Enter John Fought, a former U.S. Amateur champion and two-time PGA Tour winner who collaborated with Bob Cupp on the design of Crosswater. Fought's mission was to turn this humdrum, claustrophobic layout into a sparkling resort spread, a challenging but not overwhelming course that players at all skill levels could enjoy. His brilliant creation, superimposed on the old site and debuted in 1999 following a $3.5-million overhaul, has become the resort's most popular course.
Fought, a fan of classic Golden Age layouts built by Alister Mackenzie and Donald Ross in the 1920s, replaced all 18 greens, added dozens of flashed-face bunkers to signpost the holes, took out hundreds of pines to create more width, reversed the direction and changed the par of several holes and also installed a new irrigation system. "This was not a facelift," Fought insists. "The Meadows is a completely new course built within the framework of the old one."
With four sets of tees ranging from 7,012 to 5,287 yards (par 71), the Meadows, which starts at the handsome main lodge, has something for everyone¿except sleepyheads who don't arrive ready to get down to business. Formerly, the opening holes were milquetoast. Now, they're eye-popping. The second hole, previously a dull-as-dirt par four, is today a long, hair-raising par five, the elevated tees offering a clear view of the fairway. However, the landing area for the second shot is narrowed precariously by water to the left and a strategic bunker to the right. The pitch to the green must be spot on¿the putting surface is bracketed by sand and water. In the reconfigured scheme, the second is the first of seven holes that swing near the meandering loops of the Sun River, from which the resort takes its name. The third, at 462 yards from the tips, is arguably the toughest par four on the Meadows. The tee shot must be aimed to a small group of pines on the left, while a pair of yawning bunkers some 25 yards short of the green tightens the approach and plays havoc with depth perception. The green is large, but a yanked approach shot ends up in the drink.
Most of the holes on the revised Meadows have a welcoming spaciousness, but there are still a few narrow holes where the pre-existing corridors were left intact. For example, the par-four 12th, hemmed in by mature pines but bunker-free in the landing zone, is the tightest hole on the course. You don't have to travel single-file down its fairway, but you do have to play an accurate drive followed by a pin-point approach to a narrow green that is defended by a deep bunker.
Signature holes on the back nine of this walker-friendly layout include the 16th, a medium-length par three aimed directly at the frosted cone of 9,060-foot Mt. Bachelor; and the par-four 18th, a sharp right-to-left dogleg that calls for a bold tee shot over a gaping bunker, its rippled fairway leading to a well-bunkered green set on the banks of a lake. Like the rest of the course, it's a honey, combining equal measures of beauty and challenge. The United States Golf Association feels likewise: The Women's Amateur Public Links Championship will be played here June 18-23.
Green fee $60 to $110 for resort guests, $70 to $125 for outside play. Rates include cart and warm-up session on practice range.
Junior fees (under 18 years) and twilight rates are lower.
the deal Through June 16, the Resort Package, featuring deluxe accommodations and unlimited play on the Meadows and Woodlands courses, starts at $99 per person, per night, double occupancy from Monday through Thursday. The weekend rate is $119. Tax not included. Two-night minimum stay required. Rate includes cart, use of driving range and putting course.
contact Sunriver Resort, P.O. Box 3609, Sunriver, OR 97707; 800-547-3922; www.sunriverresort.com.