Road Holes — 24 June 2013 by Jim Street
Where nature is the name of the game

WELCHES, Or. – The oldest resort golf facility in Oregon is making a comeback.

More improvements are on the drawing board, including a warm-up range, but playing The Resort at the Mountain the way it is now is like taking a pleasant stroll through nature’s wonderland — so green, so lush, so beautiful.

Golferswest.com was among the media invited to the renovated facility located on the western slope of Mt. Hood, just off highway 26 and less than an hour’s drive from downtown Portland. The  240-acre property is family-oriented and even has a nine-room pet-friendly complex (maximum 50-pound pet).

Whereas a golf mecca like world-renowned Bandon Dunes, located on the edge of the Pacific  Ocean, and Sunriver, situated in the middle of the state near Bend, The Resort at The Mountain, which opened as a nine-hole course in 1928, is more accessible to more people than either of its better-known Oregon resorts — it is a mere three-hour, 45-minute drive from Seattle.

According to our host, general manager John Erickson, the Resort at the Mountain was a “tired and run down” place until a recent $17 million facelift by the Seattle-based Coastal Hotel Group made it what it is today — a fabulous place to enjoy many aspects of the great outdoors.

There is hiking, swimming, three price-friendly golf courses re-designed by the late John Harbottle III, an 18-hole lighted putting course (The Greens) with real grass and high rough, tennis, volleyball, basketball, badminton, biking, croquet and lawn-bowling, all on-site. During the winter months, snowboarding and skiing are close by.

The Resort seems to have it all, and we took in as much as we could during the two-day visit.

The Greens Putting Course

The Greens Putting Course

One of our media colleagues soothed his muscles at the 5,000-square-foot spa following an 18-hole round on the Pine Cone and signature Foxglove courses.

To top off the day, the group dined at Mallard’s Café and Pub, followed by a good night’s sleep in one of the 157 refurbished rooms that include a fireplace.

Our focus, of course, was on golf.

Each of the courses — Pine Cone, Foxglove and Thistle — offers its own kind of challenges.

“They all have their own personality,” said head professional Bryce Finnman. “Pine Cone basically borders the property. It’s a par 36 and the signature hole is the par-5 fifth, where your tee shot comes right out of the trees. That definitely makes it interesting.”

Indeed, the tee box on the 491-yard hole is surrounded by so many trees that artificial grass is necessary, due to the lack of sunshine. So far, real grass has not been able to survive, but the grounds superintendent has not given up trying.

“We’re still working on different kinds of seeds that can hold up for 100 rounds a day,” Finnman said.

There is something cool about the first tee being elevated, which is the case with No. 1 at Pine Cone, a straightforward, 426-yard par 4.

Straightforward No. 1 at Pine Cone

Straightforward No. 1 at Pine Cone

A 258-yard drive down the middle, and a 5-iron from 168-yards, set up a par on the hole – the only par I had on Pine Cone, which measures 3,368 yards from the black (back) tees.

The 10-over 46 included a “7” on the par-5 sixth, the big number triggered by an OB tee shot.

Meandering down lush tree-lined fairways surrounded by spectacular hills removes any angst when having a bad hole on Pine Cone. The same goes for Foxglove, The Resorts’ signature nine.

“It’s the most popular one with our guests,” Finnman said. “They will call and request that Foxglove be part of their round. It’s a fun nine.”

The 3,218-yard par-36 course features a huge rock right smack in the middle of the first fairway. A large tree emerges from the right side of the boulder.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have been to a trade show or golf show and people will stop by our booth and talk about the rock,” Finnman said. “The rock is gigantic has been abused with incoming golf balls. I have had people climb the rock and hit balls.”

Finnman explained that the rock was “delivered” to its final resting place when Mt. Hood blew its stack in 1866. The ensuing lava flow carried the rock many miles down the mountain.

"The Rock" on No. 1 on Foxglove

“The Rock” on No. 1 on Foxglove

My tee shot on the 308-yard hole missed the rock, leading to my second par of the day – not counting the 13 pars (and a hole-in-one) on the par-36 putting course – a miniature golf course without a clown’s mouth or spinning wheel.

Our final round of the trip was played on Thistle, a 2,956-yard par 34 layout.

“People tend to think it’s the easiest of the three courses because it is a par 34,” Finnman said. “But I like the layout of Thistle probably the best of all.”

Unlike the other two courses, Thistle has just one par-5, the 523-yard fourth. And it’s a doozy, a slight dogleg right with a creek running through the middle of the fairway, some 100 yards from the green.

A really good drive puts you in position to clear the creek, but us short hitters must rely on accuracy off the tee, a good layup and even better approach. I did none of them and absorbed a dreaded snowman.

At dinner that night (sumptuous Elk shank) Bryce asked each of us which of the three courses was our favorite.

My choice: Foxglove.

 

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Jim Street

Jim’s 40-year sportswriting career started with the San Jose Mercury-News in 1970 and ended on a full-time basis on October 31, 2010 following a 10-year stint with MLB.com. He grew up in Dorris, Calif., several long drives from the nearest golf course. His first tee shot was a week before being inducted into the Army in 1968. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he was a war correspondent for the 9th Infantry Division, Jim took up golf semi-seriously while working for the Mercury-News and covered numerous tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1982, when Tom Watson made the shot of his life on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. Jim also covered several Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournaments, the women’s U.S. Open, and other golfing events in the San Francisco area. He has a 17-handicap, never had a hole-in-one, although once he came within two inches of an ace, and witnessed the first round Ken Griffey Jr. ever played – at Arizona State during Spring Training in 1990. Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Kapalua Plantation Course, Pinehurst No. 2, Spyglass Hill, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Chambers Bay, North Berwick in Scotland, and Princeville are among the courses he has had the pleasure of playing. Hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway is not a strong part of Jim’s game, but he is known (in his own mind) as the best putter not on tour. Most of Jim’s writing career was spent covering Major League baseball, a tenure that started with the Oakland Athletics, who won 101 games in 1971, and ended with the Seattle Mariners, who lost 101 games in 2010. Symmetry is a wonderful thing. He currently lives in Seattle and vacations in Arizona (and other warm climates) as much as possible.

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