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Juniper Golf Course near Bend, Oregon: A high-desert gem with greens like gold

Scott ReschBy Scott Resch,
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Variation from hole to hole, and greens that roll true? Affordable Juniper Golf Course possesses both in spades. (Scott Resch/TravelGolf)

REDMOND, Ore. -- When people talk about golf in Bend, Ore., clubs such as Pronghorn, Tetherow and, increasingly, Brasada Ranch seem to dominate the discussion.

And for good reason. All are world-class facilities with courses designed by some of the game's most renowned architects.

Juniper Golf Course, about 15 miles northwest of downtown Bend, isn't going to win any awards for its clubhouse. (It's a modest structure with basic furniture.)

Nor will it ever figure into a discussion about branded golf courses in Bend. (Talented as he is, John Harbottle just doesn't resonate with the Average Joe the way Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and Peter Jacobsen do.)

But ask any golfer what they want most in a golf experience and the answer is almost always the same: some variation from hole to hole, and greens that roll true.

Juniper -- a muni, it should be said -- possesses both ... in spades.

"We're proud of what we've got here, and the way the course is routed and the way the greens roll are two of the big reasons why," said Bruce Wattenburger, head professional at Juniper Golf Course and a former member of the PGA of America Board of Directors. "We haven't been a U.S. Amateur qualifying site five straight years for nothing."

Juniper Golf Course: The course

Juniper Golf Course begins with a couple of blind, dogleg-right par 4s, but then it opens up in a way that reveals all its glory: holes that play fairly straightaway framed by -- you guessed it -- junipers, sagebrush and rocky outcroppings, some of which bisect the hard and fast fairways and add a level of personality that is striking.

Prime examples exist at the par-4 fourth and par-5 fifth. At both, the second shot must carry a natural desert ridge. The Three Sisters -- a trio of snow-covered volcanic peaks -- loom in the distance, adding another dimension of distraction.

"In a lot of ways, the course reminds me of Bandon Trails (along Oregon's south coast)," said Rocky Kirwin, a 6 handicap and Seattle resident. "There is a rugged beauty to them both, and both possess links qualities.

"Key differences, I'd say, are that the forestscape here is a little less dense, the bunkers are shaped in more of a traditional manner and water comes into play on a few holes.

"I played Juniper twice on my trip in May (2011) -- once in the morning, once in the afternoon. When the wind kicks up -- which seems to be the case just about every afternoon around Bend -- it's a bear of a course. I can see why they'd want to hold big-time tournaments here."

Juniper Golf Course: The facilities

Just as the 7,186-yard course meets the highest standards, so too does Juniper's practice facility.

The natural turf driving range is double-ended, and there's plenty of room to practice putting, chipping and bunker play, thanks to three separate areas dedicated strictly to each.

And while the clubhouse lacks that wow factor, it does possess a sizable patio overlooking the ninth and 18th greens and an indoor bar/restaurant that is often -- and easily -- "transformed into a party space for wedding receptions and the like," Wattenburger said.

Juniper Golf Course: The verdict

It's no secret the Bend area has become a hotbed for golf in recent years.

But while a lot of the region's newfound recognition is the result of high-priced resort courses sprouting up on patches of high-desert terrain that can require some drive time, the best option from a value and convenience standpoint is this public beauty a mile from the airport.

The greens themselves are reason enough to visit.

"If I had a nickel for every time someone said how much they enjoyed putting here I'd be a rich man," Wattenburger said. "I'd imagine a lot of the return customers we get is by virtue of the attention we pay to those greens."

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Juniper Golf Course - hole 1Juniper Golf Course - hole 15Juniper Golf Course - hole 3

Formerly managing editor of Golf Connoisseur and editor-in-chief of Luxury Golf & Travel, Scott Resch now writes only when he gets a wild hair. The Park City, Utah, resident spends most of his time generating editorial coverage for Mandarin Media's overseas golf course and hotel clients and over-thinking his golf swing.

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

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