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Golf, Eat, Stay in Eastern Oregon

Written by Chris Santella

Golf, Eat, Stay in Eastern Oregon

Golfers have a love affair with Oregon. The state is home to several nationally ranked courses that are open to public play. But great golf extends beyond the Coast and the shadow of the Cascade Mountains to rugged Eastern Oregon gold courses, where pronghorn and bighorn sheep do indeed roam, nearby. Here, the snowpack from mountains soaring nearly 10,000 feet provides enough water to support verdant valleys, tumbling trout streams and fetching fairways.

Golfers enjoying a sunset

Considered one of the country’s best casino golf courses, Wildhorse Resort & amp; Casino has four sets of tees, making it playable for all skill levels in your party.

In addition to weather that’s generally drier than the rest of the state, Eastern Oregon golf courses offer other unique draws for golfers looking for that something extra. We’re not afraid to be different — dare we say, quirky — with a reversible course, a 6-hole course and even a ghost-town course. And can you say “goat caddies?” Yep, we’ve got those, too. Best of all, you’ll be able to pack more golf into your Eastern Oregon vacation because of the proximity and affordability of the courses. Here’s inspiration for your next golf getaway.


Courses to Test Your Mettle

Buffalo Peak Golf Course (greens fee: $28-$32) is set in a valley overlooking the hamlet of Union, 15 miles southeast of La Grande. The layout makes full use of the site’s elevation changes with each nine-hole section beginning on the upper edge of the valley and then slowly winding down to the valley floor. At one hole, your drive from an elevated tee is framed by the Blue Mountains in the distance, and ponds shimmer on the valley floor below.

Just south of Buffalo Peak in Baker City, challenge yourself at 18-hole Quail Ridge Golf Course (greens fee: $28-$31), which measures 5,975 yards from the longest tees. Along with stellar greens, the course boasts breathtaking views of the Eagle Cap and Blue Mountains.

Golfer putting at Willow Creek Country Club

You don’t have to worry about crowds at the high-desert paradise in Heppner, where Willow Creek Country Club welcomes non-members to enjoy nine holes. (Photo by: Joni Kabana)

The championship golf course at Wildhorse Resort & Casino (greens fee: $45-$55) on the eastern edge of Pendleton is recognized by Golf Digest as one of America’s top casino golf courses. With 18 holes nestled against the western foothills of the Blue Mountains, the course plays on the long side at 7,128 yards from the tips — which becomes particularly challenging when the wind kicks up. The course undulates around several lakes that are teeming with abundant birdlife. All your needs are met with the fully stocked pro shop, private dining room and clubhouse bar and grill. Four sets of tees make Wildhorse playable for all skill levels in your party.

Short but Sweet Courses

Nine-hole Alpine Meadows (greens fee: $25) in Enterprise, near the Wallowa Mountains, is a quiet and relaxing course that still presents golfers with plenty of challenge. Staying closer to Interstate-84 about 20 miles west of Pendleton in the tiny town of Echo, you’ll find Echo Hills Golf Course (greens fee: $16-$18). This nine-hole municipal course is nestled in rolling hills overlooking the Umatilla River Valley, a green oasis in this desert country.

Just west, Marker 40 Golf Course in Boardman (greens fee: $15) is a nine-hole executive golf course, measuring 3,742 yards from the longest tees. Nine-hole China Creek Golf Course (greens fee: $25) in the peaceful community of Arlington, another 25 miles west, offers a more conventional design.

Aerial view of Milton-Freewater Golf Course

It’s fun for the whole family at Milton-Freewater Golf Course, which recently added a Footgolf course where players kick a soccer ball through a modified 18-hole course. (Photo by: Joni Kabana)

If you’re up for a road-less-traveled detour to experience the remote high desert at its fullest, head south on Highway 74 to Heppner to find the Willow Creek Country Club (greens fee: $12), a nine-hole course that’s shorter at 1,725 yards and welcomes non-members for golfing. Less than an hour west on Oregon State Route 206, find a cluster of nine-holers including Condon Golf Course (greens fee: $10), John Day Golf Club in John Day (greens fee: $27) and Bear Valley Meadows Golf Course in Seneca (greens fee: $7)

Rounding out the list, in southeastern Oregon, the nine-hole Country View Golf Course (greens fee: $15; kids under 12 play free) in Ontario and the nine-hole Valley Golf Club (greens fee: $17-$20) in Hines round out the region’s offerings.


More Holes for Your Dollar

Eastern Oregon’s golf courses are brimming with deals you aren’t likely to find anywhere else. Milton-Freewater Golf Course in Milton-Freewater (greens fee: $28) is an 18-hole executive golf course. For more fun, it’s recently added a Footgolf course where players kick a soccer ball through a modified 18-hole course.

The Golf Course at Birch Creek (greens fee: $25-$30), formerly Pendleton Country Club, is owned and operated by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Located seven miles south of Pendleton, this player-friendly 18-hole course has multiple tee boxes, making it accessible for all skill levels.

Big River Golf Course in Umatilla (greens fee: $29-$32) is a small but stately course near the Columbia River, beloved for its manicured greens and ease of access, even in winter weather. If you miss the fairways out here, just be careful — there may be a prickly or two in the grass.


Courses You Won’t Find Anywhere Else

The crown jewel of the region’s golf offerings is Silvies Valley Ranch near Seneca, which offers four courses —  two 18-hole, one nine-hole and one seven-hole — with a lot of charm. The 18-holers — Hankins and Craddock (greens fee: $160) — make the most of the expansive rolling terrain. What’s more, both are reversible — that is, on alternating days, the courses play in different directions. This design style harkens back to the old courses of Scotland and is slowly making a comeback. An added novelty? You can opt for a goat caddy on the two short courses, Chief Egan and McVeigh’s Gauntlet. Yes, that’s right — a goat, who likely will do a little grass trimming along the way!

Goat at Silvies Valley Ranch

You can opt for a goat caddy on the two short courses at Silvies Valley Ranch, and just try not to have fun.

Farther north, Kinzua Hills Golf Club (greens fee: $18; pay at dropbox) is the other don’t-miss spot in Eastern Oregon for offbeat golf adventurers. It’s the only sanctioned six-hole course west of the Mississippi River, where players go around three times from different tees to complete a round of 18. Interestingly, Kinzua is also a ghost town. In the early 20th century, it had been a bustling logging town of 700 company residents, but when the mill closed in 1978, the buildings were removed. Residents fled and the land was covered in a forest of ponderosa pine. Today there’s no sign of the old lumber mill or ghosts — that we know of.


If You Go:

Here’s where to stay, dine and explore nearby while on your Eastern Oregon golf courses getaway.

Northeast Oregon: Home to Eastern Oregon University, La Grande has a friendly college-town vibe with a booming downtown where you’ll find a first-rate steak at Ten Depot StreetThe Landing Hotel, a modern boutique hotel downtown, is an ideal base camp for outdoor adventuring at Mt. Emily Recreation Area and beyond.

Rugged Country: Top places to stay in Pendleton’s historic district include Pendleton House Historic Inn and Working Girls Hotel — a handful of unique suites furnished in Victorian decor as an ode to the bordellos featured in the Pendleton Underground Tour. Find the region’s freshest options for local food and drink along the Whisky and Rocks Farm Loop and River to Hills Farm Loop. Stay at the spacious rooms at Wildhorse Resort & Casino in Pendleton and visit Tamástslikt Cultural Institute to explore the region’s rich Native history.

John Day River Territory: Stay at the Hotel Condon in the heart of downtown Condon and enjoy a burger and local craft brew in the hotel’s Buckhorn Saloon or at The Condon Round-Up. A one-stop shop for amenities is the Country Flowers, where under one roof, you’ll find a florist, gift shop, deli counter, fresh espresso and ice cream, and a small branch of Powell’s Books. In the summer, be sure to bring the family for the annual 4th of July parade and fireworks, complete with a golf tournament and more. Take the family on a day trip about 90 minutes west to explore the stunning Painted Hills and John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

Southeast Oregon: Silvies Valley Ranch offers both cabins and ranch-house rooms and locally sourced ranch-to-table cuisine. Grandma’s Truck N Kitchen in Seneca serves up comfort food for breakfast and lunch.  In this region, look to explore the majestic Steens Mountain, indulge in the area’s natural hot springs and take a blissful road trip along the High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway, especially lovely in the fall when temperatures aren’t too hot.

First published on Travel Oregon