My five-day golf-athon in central Oregon began at Tetherow in Bend, which, unbeknownst to me in advance, was like being thrown in the deep end of the pool on your first swimming lesson.
I learned later that this notoriously tough Scottish links course was dubbed Death Row by locals after it opened in 2008 but has since been softened by eliminating some of the more troublesome fairway bunkers. But the challenge on the greens remains – and it’s a doozy. It was even more so for me coming from California and its slower summer green speeds. The slick greens at Tetherow felt like they were rolling like a 16 to me.
But, with the help of a caddie, I eventually settled in and began to embrace the challenges of the course while enjoying the mountain surrounds and uniqueness of the layout.
And that’s the real takeaway here. This is a gorgeous golf course that dazzles you and challenges you and calls on you to tap into your creativity to conjure up plays you’re likely not making elsewhere – putting from 50 feet off the green, for instance.
If you’re open to your short game being pushed to the limit, then you’ll enjoy playing here. My short game is my strength and it shined on the back nine, salvaging a scorecard that left me wondering if I’d score at all after a messy front nine.
The bogeys I’ll forget; the layout I’ll remember, especially the stunning 17th, a par 3 that might alone be reason enough to play here.
What follows are my first impressions and a few tips for playing Tetherow.
Love Links Golf, Even When It Doesn’t Love You – If you haven’t played links golf much, or recently, Tetherow might be a jarring experience for you.
As I’ve said, the style of play takes some getting used to and will test you in the transition. I drove it in some gnarly rough with my opening tee shot and then, despite hitting it exactly where caddie told me, found my tee ball in grassy side-hill lie on the second, depriving me at least 50 yards in a fairway that was a mere two yards away. Those are the breaks of links golf.
And those breaks have broken some of the best.
“Players who are single digits come out here and shoot 90,” our caddie revealed.
To avoid that sort of scorecard whiplash, you’ve got to be smart around the greens and know what pins to attack and what pins only invite misery.
On most courses, the tee shot is half the battle. It feels more like 25 percent here. Saddle up your short game and get ready for a wild ride.
A True Caddy Course – We were fortunate to have a caddie, and I can’t imagine playing this course for the first time without one.
Besides guiding your play, they help you appreciate the intricacies of the course and the myriad of shot options.
I had what looked to be a fairly straightforward chip on one of the first greens until the caddie started to consult. He proposed one alternate chip to back the ball into the hole and then, pointing behind me and to my right, said, “Or you can use the mound and hit it back here.” Or I could putt.
Personally, I love that variety, and how much fun would a scramble be here?
Even with his assistance, however, there was no saving our group on No. 9, an uphill par 4 with a distinctive split pine tree in the fairway. My drive found the fairway, but my approach to a back pin bounded over the green. When I talk about leaving certain pins alone, this is what I mean. The play was leaving it out right or short, but not long.
The hole was cut just above the slope of the green. My pitch back ended up 50 yards down the fairway. I wasn’t alone. I took a six on what initially looked to be my first par of the round.
Fortunately, I bounced back with a birdie on the short par 4 10th to kick start a solid back nine.
Bandon In Bend – I’ve yet to play Bandon Dunes, but from the photos and first-hand accounts, Tetherow had that feel to me. I asked our caddie about the comparison.
“We’re the closest thing to it in central Oregon,” he said. “We just don’t have the ocean.”
No, but they do have ponds, mountain views and a layout that delivers one unique hole after the next in a setting that seems older than it is. It’s so natural that it’s like the course has always been there.
The short par 4s, such as the 10th, in particular are a blast here and tempt you to grab driver when that’s not always the smart play. You’ve got a lot of options off the tee here on most holes. You can play to your strengths and stay playable and then take your chances on the greens.
You’ll have fun discovering this course, but don’t pick a favorite hole until you’ve played …
No. 17 – There are some holes, like the cliff-side par 3 at Kapalua’s Bay Course, that you’ll always remember the first time you played them. This is one of them.
We’ve posted about this hole already, but it bares repeating. Set in the backdrop of an old quarry, this hole simply amazes at first sight.
With a snow-capped mountain perfectly framed in the distance, you glimpse a gorgeous green with a wealth of sand and scrub between you and the hole. But you’re not thinking about the desert. You’re looking to conjure your swing of the day – even if takes two. If you’re only playing this hole once, you don’t want to walk up to anything less than a putt.
I pushed my first attempt into the canyon wall and watched it trickle into the sand. I flushed my second and found it sitting beautifully on the back fringe. A mulligan par sent me to 18 with a smile and little care about the next outcome. No. 17 made my round.
Here’s guessing it’ll make yours too.
For more information on golf and tourism in the Bend/Redmond area, go to www.visitcentraloregon.com.