By Robert Kaufman
It was a long drive, but well worth it, from San Francisco to Pronghorn, a premier private golf community located in the high desert of Central Oregon, nothing – I mean, nothing – was more welcoming than the chilled six-pack of local brewed Black Butte Porter waiting at my accommodation. Unless you count the bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir I uncorked while dining under a nighttime sky covered by a sea of brightly lit constellations.
Daytime drama at Pronghorn offers a whole different stage of natural beauty to capture guests’ attention. As big and bold as the American West is, this 640-acre jewel encircled by 20,000 acres of federally protected land and a 1,000-year old Juniper forest, the second largest in the world, provides the very best in year-round activities under the shadows of the surrounding Cascade Range. It is a vast landscape of tranquility where the only life moving quickly are Pronghorn’s namesake antelope roaming in herds of 80-100 at speeds up to 60 mph.
Driving past the entrance into Pronghorn and continuing another ten minutes to the resort community, visitors will eventually come face to face with a luxurious resort community and recreational paradise that has been attracting primarily second-home (or more) buyers since the property was built during the sizzling economy of the early 2000s.
“Members are mostly coming from (San Francisco) Bay Area, followed by Portland and Seattle,” says General Manager Spencer Schaub, who came on board in 2010, when Troon Golf took over management. “As for why people buy here, roughly 90% would immediately say they’re golfers and wanted to be in a golf community. But that was usually followed by ‘my wife’s a cross-country skier or I’m a fly fisherman or we love to mountain bike or hike’ and that played into their decision.”
Averaging more than 300 days of sunshine during the year year, who would argue with that reasoning?
Unfortunately, for Pronghorn and many similar-type high-end gated golf communities, the end of the 21st century’s first decade brought economic disaster that resulted in a dramatic decline of buyers at clubs dependent heavily on real estate. Those that were able to survive the downturn, like Pronghorn, acquired in February 2012 by Honolulu-based, The Resort Group, did so in part by reevaluating their business model to open up new opportunities to keep golfers, not just homebuyers, visiting to play their two championship courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio.
An important part of that plan included opening up the two private courses to public play. That transition got underway on the Nicklaus Course in 2008, allowing non-members or guests staying on property to play. For a couple years, that news never filtered out much beyond the gate resulting in a continuing low number of golfers on the course so, when Troon Golf took over management in 2010, they instituted a more aggressive campaign to lure outside play. That program, along with the addition of reputable boutique operator Auberge Resorts and being recognized with Golf Digest’s 2016 Editor Choice Award for “Best Golf Resorts in the Pacific Northwest, Pronghorn certainly is a top contender for the ultimate stay-and-play getaway in Central Oregon.
“It was really in 2010, that we started pushing,” says Schaub. “We had two amazing courses that were very under utilized so, we kept the Fazio private and started taking daily and resort fee play on the Nicklaus. We later amended that policy to allow guests who stay a minimum two nights to play two rounds, including one on the Fazio.”
Until Pronghorn opened its tee boxes, the only nearby resorts offering quality stay and play golf opportunities throughout the Bend, Oregon locale were Sunriver and Black Butte Ranch. As the Pacific Northwest’s first luxury-branded five-star resort with 48 guest suites, Pronghorn’s new strategy quickly started to pay dividends for the residential community ten minutes from the Redmond airport.
Stretching to 7,239 yards, the Jack Nicklaus Signature Course was the first course within Pronghorn’s boundaries in 2004, and seven years later, these impeccably manicured 18 golf holes catapulted to No. 23 in Golf Digest’s list of “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses.” At 3,200 feet elevation, golfers are afforded panoramic views of up to nine, typically, snowcapped, mountain peaks while traversing the minimalist design layout combining strategy and playability.
In 2007, the second course opened thanks to the work of another of the game’s greatest architects, Tom Fazio. A bird’s eye view of both courses will indicate landing areas on the Fazio course looming twice as large as its counterpart making it the more favorable for members. With all this space, the 7,462-yard course also capitalized on one of nature’s major forces in this geographical zone – the Newberry Volcano. It is long extinct but it left behind a blanket of lava rocks and even if you don’t play golf, it’s worth a walk to one of the most unique golf holes in the world – the par-3 eighth that includes a 45-foot canyon and exposed lava tubes on both sides. Aside from this “wow factor”, the course offers plenty of challenge throughout a number of elevation changes and water features.
Having two top-tier courses side-by-side provide members and guests extraordinary amenities to enhance Pronghorn’s position as a prime golf destination, especially during the long summer days when it’s very feasible to play 36 with plenty extra time to work on your game at the onsite golf academy.
When ready to rest the sticks, sit back and pop the cork on a signature bottle of Oregon wine to cap a marquee experience in Central Oregon!
Pronghorn offers ongoing specials for the traveling golfer. For the latest offers, visit www.pronghornresort.com/special-offers.