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Portland, Oregon's local favorite, Heron Lakes Golf Club, gives muni courses a good name

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor
Heron Lakes Golf Club - Great Blue course - hole 16
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Robert Trent Jones Sr.'s Great Blue course headlines one of two 18-hole courses at Heron Lakes Golf Club. (Courtesy of Kemper Sports)

While Portland, Oregon's most prestigious club is Pumpkin Ridge, the local municipal, Heron Lakes Golf Club, home to two Robert Trent Jones Jr. designs just north of the city, is a worthy, affordable option.

PORTLAND, Ore. - Portland is one of America's great livable and unique cities, and its residents are an especially outdoorsy bunch during the sunny summer months.

So it makes perfect sense that the city would have a dynamite municipal golf system, which is highlighted by Heron Lakes Golf Club, just minutes north of downtown.

Featuring two of the five municipal golf courses of Portland, Heron Lakes G.C. has always been considered an area gem since the first 27 holes were laid in 1971, followed by an additional nine holes that would later add to the separating into two 18-hole courses that debuted in 1992 and resulted in the Greenback at Heron Lakes Golf Club and Great Blue at Heron Lakes Golf Club.

In June of 2008, Kemper Sports was tapped by the city to oversee management of the facility and make the course an even better asset to Portland's golfing citizens. Considered by local players as little more than a "mom-and-pop shop" for many years, the course still offers that same local vibe and green fees low enough that it can be any golfer's weekly course.

So far, improvements appear to be working as the club experienced a 13-percent increase in rounds played through the summer of 2009 compared to a year prior.

For visitors to the Portland area, the two courses, especially the Great Blue, are fit for those who don't want to fork over Pumpkin Ridge-type green fees.

It's a muni that has attracted some of the game's best players, just look at the course records: Johnny Miller holds the course record on the Greenback: 63, while Tiger Woods holds the Great Blue course record at 64. Stretching to a length more than 6,900 yards, Great Blue most recently hosted the 2000 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, won by D.J. Trahan, and with a new clubhouse plans in the works, the club hopes to welcome back a top amateur event in the near future.

"No break, Heron Lakes," is how the starter described the Greenback course to my group before teeing off, and that's pretty accurate. The breaks are more subtle, though they're pretty large and yield a good amount of long lag putts.

Great Blue, on the other hand, features more undulations and shelves, and the possibility for some tricky pin locations, especially on the par 5s, such as the 16th, where finding yourself above the pin is a recipe for three-putting. The championship rating is almost two shots higher at 73.2/140, and the eighth hole is a long par 4 for any handicap, thanks to a sharp dogleg around a river. While there are some birdie opportunities to be had, like the short par-4 third hole at just 326 yards, No. 18 is a sinister closer with an intimidating tee shot: a 413-yard par 4 with water down the right side and in front of the green and bunkers left.

Heron Lakes Golf Club in Portland: The verdict

The Portland area's top two upscale games in town are at Pumpkin Ridge (with its Ghost Creek course and Witch Hollow course) and Reserve Vineyards & Golf Club with its Cupp course and Fought course. But those who want to stay close to the city and are more money-conscious, Heron Lakes makes a good case to skip those courses.

If your group only has time for one round, and you're a pretty good stick, play the Great Blue, which is as challenging as you'll find in the area and has better hole variety.

Where to stay in Portland: Hotel Lucia and Hotel Deluxe

Portland is as artsy and weird of a city as there is, so to do your Portland stay right, steer clear of the cookie-cutter properties and check out one of two Provenance brand hotels downtown.

Opened in 2006, Hotel Deluxe offers the look of a Golden Era property in a beautifully renovated building within walking distance to all of downtown's attractions. No two guest rooms are alike, and the lobby bar, Driftwood, is a dimly lit, sophisticated hideout to meet up. It's around the corner from the MAX rail red line that connects straight to the airport.

Hotel Lucia is more modern-themed but showcases the black-and-white photographs of David Hume Kennerly. Hundreds of fantastic shots are on display in guest rooms, hallways and public spaces.

While both hotels are stylish, rest assured a great attention is given to the comforts of the room as well. Pillow menus are a common aspect to each of Provenance's hotels, where you can choose from a selection of sizes and firmness to ensure it's just like your pillow back home (if that's a good thing) and iPod docks mean your own tunes can set your own mood.

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Heron Lakes Golf Club - Greenback course - hole 3Heron Lakes Golf Club in Portland - clubhouseHotel Deluxe Portland

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Golf in Portland

    Bryan McLean wrote on: Jul 9, 2013

    Great Blue is a great course. Greenback is average, but a decent value. I know The Reserve gets all the non-Pumpkin Ridge accolades, but Langdon Farms (Bob Cupp) is a better design and Stone Creek (Jacobsen/Hardy) is right behind it...and it's the best value in Portland. I'd play both before going to The Reserve.


  • Heron lakes

    Edward wrote on: Sep 12, 2010

    Slow Play is a problem. Played the course twice in 2 weeks and it took 4hrs 45min. the first time and 5 hrs the second. Great courses, but the player assistance need to do more that ride around in the carts