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Golf, fishing, boating and more for the family: Black Butte Ranch resort in Oregon is a must-visit

David R. HollandBy David R. Holland,
Black Butte Ranch -- Big Meadow Course - No.14
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Mountains guard No. 14 at Black Butte Ranch's Big Meadow golf course. (David R. Holland/TravelGolf)

BLACK BUTTE RANCH, Ore. -- Those early ranchers, farmers and loggers who settled the area around Black Butte Ranch and its two superlative golf courses -- Glaze Meadow and Big Meadow -- were blessed with a view that even pioneers must have stopped daily to gaze upon.

This central Oregon panorama includes the Cascade Mountain range with sweeping views of Black Butte, Three Sisters, Mount Washington, Broken Top, Three Fingered Jack and Mount Jefferson. Even Lewis and Clark stopped by and enjoyed the views and Paullina Springs which can be seen from the fairways of Big Meadow Golf Course.

Closer up, Black Butte Ranch, a 1,800-acre family vacation destination, is blessed with 300-year-old Ponderosa pines, lodgepole pines and aspens towering into the blue sky with trout-filled lakes beckoning outdoorsmen of all ages.

The trees, however, had grown so much in the decades since Glaze Meadow Golf Course was designed in 1982 by Pacific Northwest legend, Gene "Bunny" Mason, that many mountain views were blocked, fairways had narrowed and greens had gotten smaller over the years.

Enter John Fought, a native of Portland, Ore., 1977 U.S. Amateur Champion and two-time PGA Tour winner. Fought, who began his golf-course architecture career with Bob Cupp, was tasked to take the existing fairway corridors and build a classic experience, complete with a new irrigation system, all new grasses and bunkers moved to match today's long hitters.

"When I first walked the golf course, I knew it could be so much better," said Fought, whose younger brother Jeff is Black Butte Ranch's director of golf. "One of the key decisions was to select a logging company that could thin out the trees. More than 765,000 board feet of timber was removed -- it was like rediscovering the mountain views."

And the amazing thing is a first-time visitor could never tell so much timber had been erased from the landscape after the $3.75-million renovation. The thousands of trees were logged, stumps pulled out of the ground and their holes filled in -- thus creating a buffer of grass between fairways and the remaining trees.

Then Fought drew upon his love of classic golf course design to create an experience any golfer can enjoy.

"I believe in the more classical architectural values as opposed to the modern movement of millions of yards of dirt," said Fought. "There are very good designers who create artistic landforms. It's easier to do that than it is to take land that is natural and find those places and embrace them into the design, moving as little as possible to make a natural course."

One of Fought's most recent restorations was to transform prestigious Dallas Country Club, designed by Tom Bendelow, into a layout with many Donald Ross characteristics.

The new Glaze Meadow Golf Course

Fought's major challenge at Glaze Meadow -- now 7,007 yards, par 72 -- was just remolding a layout that had become quirky and had declining number of rounds played. Mason originally routed the course using the trees sometimes in the middle of the fairways or behind greens -- like hole No. 1.

It was a dogleg par 5 with Ponderosa pines and an outcropping of rock in the middle of the fairway. Imagine standing on the first tee and seeing that in your line of sight to the green. Other holes had sharp doglegs with trees to negotiate.

The project, which began in the fall of 2010 and finished with reopening in May 2012, included new irrigation and drainage, new bentgrass greens, and a bluegrass fairway and rough mixture. Greens are sometimes perched with edges that drop off into grass-faced bunkers. The feel is open, the views spectacular and the course is a pleasure to play, with hole after hole a memorable experience.

Probably the biggest changes came on holes No. 2-No. 5, which takes a flat meadow with natural wetlands and creates a journey where placement is paramount and distance is secondary. Towering Black Butte -- all 6,436 feet in elevation -- and colorful growth amongst the wetlands also creates an area made for the photographer.

Big Meadow Golf Course

So the question on most travel golfers' minds concern Glaze Meadow's sister course, Big Meadow, a 7,002-yard par 72 designed in 1970 by Robert Muir Graves and updated in 2008 by Damian Pascuzzo. Can Big Meadow measure up? Absolutely.

After all, Big Meadow has been the more popular of the two, hosting numerous Oregon golf championships and presenting another classic mountain experience that requires precision.

The highlight of the round, however, might be No. 14, one of the most photographed holes in Central Oregon. This downhill, 401-yard par 4 requires the golfer to avoid three bunkers that guard the left landing area. But the view of Three Finger Jack in the background is spectacular, and in the fall, aspens behind the green will show a golden glow to distract you.

Black Butte Ranch: The verdict

Outstanding golf, friendly employees, vacation rentals, superb dining and countless outdoor sports make Black Butte Ranch a destination family resort.

The practice facilities are top notch, along with expert golf instruction.

But the ranch is much more -- fly fishing, tennis, boating, four swimming pools, spa, 18 miles of walking or biking paths, horse stables and trail rides, paddle boats and more.

Don't miss dining at the New Lodge Restaurant. Here you will find farm-to-table organic herbs and vegetables geared to a Pacific Northwest menu and flavors.

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Big Meadow Golf Course at Black Butte Ranch - 11th greenBig Meadow Golf Course at Black Butte Ranch - 10thBlack Butte Ranch - fly fishing

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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
  • Renovation

    Bill Brown wrote on: Aug 28, 2012

    Excellent story. Thanks for your writing on TravelGolf.com. Been reading your stuff for many years. You are the best on the staff.


  • Black Butte Ranch

    Frank Brown wrote on: Aug 14, 2012

    Great story about the John Fought renovation. Looking forward to going there with the family.