SUNRIVER, Ore. — As any golfing enthusiast would understand, the words “unlimited golf” caught my attention when I was perusing the Sunriver Resort website.
Plans already had been made to join up with Bill (Noodles) Newlun, a College of the Siskiyous baseball teammate (1964) and longtime buddy, to play some golf in Central Oregon – roughly half-way between his home in Weed, Calif., and my residence in Seattle.
I was just starting to explore some golfing possibilities when this paragraph hit me between the eyes:
“Celebrate 18 seasons at Crosswater this summer – by playing their 18 new greens! Similar to our Unlimited Resort Golf Experience package, but better! Sunriver Resort’s Unlimited Crosswater Golf Package includes unlimited play on the Meadows, Woodlands and Caldera Links Golf Courses, along with one round at the famed Crosswater Club per day during your stay.”
That would be 63 holes! Now we’re talkin’.
With a few strokes of my computer we were good to go for a couple of days of practically non-stop golf.
This is the third year the unlimited golf packages have been offered to Sunriver Resort guests and the packages continue to grow in popularity.
“We just felt that if people are going to come here on a golf package, why limit them to one round per day?” said Scott Ellender, the Director of Resort Operations. “A lot of golf packages at golf resorts will limit you to one round per day, or not let you play on day of arrival or day of departure. I just said, ‘they are obviously serious golfers and if they are going to book a golf package, let’s make sure they get their money’s worth.’
“If they want to play 36 holes – or more – each day, and want to play on the day of arrival and departure, they can do that. We want to make sure they’ve played as much golf as they want. That was the premise (of the unlimited golf packages).”
There are four courses to play — Crosswater, Meadows (pictured), The Woodlands and Caldera Links (a par-3 9-hole course). The Woodlands, located on the north end of the Resort, had not yet opened for the season during our visit, so we had to take a rain check.
The greens at The Woodlands are being converted to bent grass and the five greens that were sodded in the spring needed more time to mature. Half of the course now has bent grass greens and the other nine will be the same within two years.
Each course has its own character, providing a terrific experience regardless how many holes you play.
And as you can imagine, “unlimited” can be a big number.
“We don’t keep a log of it,” Ellender said, “but we’ve had some guys play all 63 holes in one day. It has been done.”
It was not done by this duo of mid-60, near-20 handicap golfers. Our limit was 36 holes a day, and even that was a bit taxing for the old bods.
“Just another case of a 23-year-old mind taking over a 65-year-old body,” Noodles accurately put it.
A week earlier, the resort was glowing in bright sunshine and temperatures in the 80s. In other words, perfect golfing weather.
Not so much on the two days we played.
The first senior moment of the journey came early. Noodles forgot to pack his golf shoes.
Age is a horrible thing. But being the quick thinker that he is, he decided to wear his sneakers, a pair of shoes that have so many colors they literally could be worn with just about any outfit.
After a 30-minute warm-up session at the driving range, our 9:48 a.m. tee time approached. We checked in with the starter, loquacious 77-year-old Howard Potts, and headed to the 10th tee to play the back side first. Before arriving at the tee box, we exchanged greetings with our playing partners – Bend, Ore., residents Nelson Von Stroh and Roger Ragland, an Australian native with a brogue to prove it.
He’s tall, lanky, hits the ball a ton and wore bright yellow golf shoes, battling Noodles for the title of “brightest shoes on the course.” Judge for yourself (see picture).
Nelson doesn’t hit the ball as far as Roger, but usually hits it right down the middle. As 2- and 4-handicappers, they play from the blue tees. To be social, Noodles and I decide to also play the blues. Bad idea. We should not play the blue tees. We should play the white tees.
Over the next four hours or so, we see our playing partners on tees and greens. They are in the fairways on almost every hole, while we are in trees, marsh and other areas that are not conducive for hitting golf balls.
“I am regressing,” Noodles said.
“Welcome to the club,” I respond.
That being said, the first round of our golf venture was a ton of fun. Noodles and I both hit some good shots, taking some of the sting from the stinkers. Both of us shot in the low 90s — roughly 40 degrees higher than the temperature.
We put the clubs in my car and drove to Crosswater, located about five minutes away. There, we met Scott Barton, an assistant golf professional at the Meadows course, and Jason Scarlett.
Barton, a former Oregon State golf team player, played from the back (silver) tees. The rest of us played the whites, an overall distance difference of more than 1,500 yards.
I had never played in the same foursome as a pro, but the sound of the ball coming off Scott’s club face was something neither I nor Noodles had ever heard before. Click. Click. Click. Far more times than not, the ball went straight. It was a very impressive performance by the ex-Beaver. (pictured)
Aptly-named Crosswater is the signature course at Sunriver Resorts. It’s rated among the best 100 golf courses in the U.S. and is one of only two courses in Central Oregon that has bent grass tees, fairways and greens. The greens were completely restored and the 18 new greens were unveiled on Memorial Day weekend.
“I didn’t know what bent greens were,” Noodles said. “But I can tell you that these are the best greens I’ve ever seen. It’s like putting on a carpet.”
The course winds through a series of marshes. There are 20 bridges, 13 of them wooden structures. You cross over the little Deschutes River seven times during the round on seven sturdier bridges. Nature came first when this gem was built in 1993-94 and opened in ’95 and on one hole, we saw two bald eagles in a nest at the top of a tree.
“On a clear day, the views are spectacular,” Barton said.
This was not one of those days, but not even the rain and 50-something temperature could dampen the round. Crosswater is now on my list of favorite golf courses ever played.
Our first tee shot was at 9:48 a.m. Our final putt of the day was struck at 7:44 p.m.
The weather forecast called for rain and it was pouring when I climbed of bed at 6 a.m. “Sun”river? I don’t think so.
We had a 10 a.m. tee time for Caldera Links, but after finishing breakfast around 8-ish, we decided to drive over to the course to see if it would be open for play despite the weather. Deb, the receptionist, informed us that it was and asked if we wanted to play earlier than 10 o’clock.
We grabbed our clubs and proceeded to take two laps around the nice little layout. The rain stopped just about the time we reached the first tee.
We played from the back tees the first go-around, ranging in distances from 110 yards on No. 1 to 175 yards on No. 8 . We had a match play competition and ended up in a tie. I had one birdie. The colorfully-dressed Noodles (left)was shut out in that category. It took about 45 minutes to play nine holes, so we decided to play it again, this time from the forward tees,which ranged from 65 yards on No. 1 and 9 and 100 yards on No. 2, 4, and 7.
I went par-birdie-birdie-par, won each of those holes, building an insurmoutable lead en route to a 3-and-2 victory, shooting a spiffy 1-0ver 28. We shared the entire course with one other golfer.
It was the first time that either of had played a nine-hole course and agreed that it was a great way to warm up before playing a regulation 18-hole course.
An hour later, we were back at the Meadows Course, raring to go for our next 18 holes. The earlier rain had driven away most of the would-be golfers so we went off a twosome, abiding by the “cart path only” rule in place for the soggy day.
And we played the white tees.
The round took less than 3 ½ hours to play and our scores were slightly better.
At the end of the day, both of us were pooped. Seventy-two holes in 48 hours was a lot. But we’d do it again in a heartbeat.