Tetherow Golf Club in Bend is the most controversial new course in Oregon. In its first full year, the course was named “Best New Course You Can Play” by Golf Magazine, acclaimed by numerous regional publications, and has already hosted the 2009 Oregon Mid-Amateur. But those accolades have been accompanied by no small amount of criticism, some of it supplied by contestants at the state Mid-Am, where the scoring average was nearly 85.

Given the controversy, it’s not surprising that the experience of Tetherow is contradictory–and enigmatic; both the accolades and criticism are well-deserved. Most golfers will find the course overwhelming the first time around, particularly when it comes to their short games. For all the bruises your ego will likely take, though, the gestalt experience at Tetherow is significantly more pleasurable than the sum of its parts.

Tetherow certainly has the feel of a modern track, with wide playing corridors and large, undulating greens. Visually, it’s surely stimulating (some would say over-stimulating), with rich textural contrasts between grass, sand, and high-desert brush. Numerous fairways are split by bunkers, not to mention grassy humps, hollows, and swales. A number of tees are elevated, and taking a confident rip with a driver is a truly thrilling experience on most holes, especially given the course’s 3,600-foot altitude.

And at the same time, although I had one of the great driving rounds of my life, I can understand the criticism that the course is too penal. If your tee shot misses one of those wide corridors, the thickness of the brush on all sides makes it difficult to find your ball, let alone recover for a decent score.

The construction and grounds crew has done an amazing job at mimicking the pure links playing conditions at David McLay Kidd’s other Northwest tour-de-force, Bandon Dunes, just a few hours away on the Oregon coast. The fairways at Tetherow play fast and firm, and the detail work around many of the grass bunkers and sandy blowout areas is first-rate. Though the course stretches to over 7,200 yards from the tips, thanks to altitude and the speed of the fairways, length is not the primary concern on any hole.

“Buried elephants, hippos, taxis and boring golf course architects lie beneath the putting surfaces at Tetherow.”

–Rob Rigg, The Walking Golfer

And yet–back to the idea of contradiction–despite this fantastic replication of the links-like experience, the layout is marred by two man-made lakes that come into play on four holes. The lakes are not the only instance of Kidd’s heavy hand, either. The greens are often contorted into contrived shapes and contours, both two- and three-dimensionally. While not lacking for surface area, the effective areas for pin placements are limited by the severe slopes and shelves that permeate the course’s green sites.

While I enjoy playing bold architecture inestimably more than the banal “championship-style” of similar courses like Chambers Bay, despite all the dramatics, a number of holes are pretty uninspired, especially on the front nine. The visual acrobatics give the sense that Kidd is showing off more than adding strategic interest to the round. On the other hand, reducing some of the dramatic slopes would deprive the course of the freewheeling, whimsical element that makes some of the shots–such as the approach to 16–so much fun to play.

Indeed, the course’s most notable holes fall deep in the back nine as it builds to a remarkable crescendo on 15, 16, and 17 and the pacing throughout is excellent.  It’s no coincidence that these holes are among Tetherow’s most understated visually, letting their innate playing characteristics inspire golfers, rather than trying to impress or intimidate them with flamboyance.

Given its dramatic topography, somewhat penal design, and high-desert setting, Tetherow struck me as a cross between Troon North in Scottsdale and Robert Trent Jones’ Cashen course at Ballybunion. Although I hold neither course in any esteem whatsoever–back to the idea of the course as an enigma–the rawness and muscularity of Tetherow’s holes created an almost-animal magnetism that I found truly appealing.

And despite my frustration at the immense sprawl of its routing–which makes walking awfully challenging–Tetherow is without a doubt a must-play in Oregon. It’s a completely unique course that you’ll enjoy discussing with your playing partners even weeks or months after you’ve finished your round.

Photos below are taken from The Walking Golfer’s Review of Tetherow by permission


Par Four
400 / 265 Yards

The elevated tee shot at the first gives golfers an immediate sense of what awaits in their journey around Tetherow–a wide, rumpled fairway dotted with grassy knobs and hollows, an undulating green raised well above the level of the approach shot, and gorgeous views of the high desert. You can hit any club from a long iron to driver, though the latter will be required to carry the upper tier of fairway to the left hand side. This bolder play also must challenge the sunken fairway bunker in order to be rewarded with a clear view (and better angle) into the green. Tee shots to the right side will leave a semi-blind approach and a particularly tough angle to back hole locations. Although the large knob protecting the right side of the kidney-shaped green would be called dramatic on most courses, it’s rather tame in comparison to some of the green sites to come.


Par Five
546 / 392 Yards

The approach to the second at Tetherow.

Kidd gives golfers an early chance to open their shoulders and rip driver here at a reachable par 5, particularly in downwind conditions. Though the right side of the split fairway (again, divided by a combination of grassy knobs and hollows) may leave a shorter second shot, there’s a nice speed slot that can assist drives down the left, making the tee shot particularly entertaining no matter which route you take. The second shot isn’t incredibly demanding but the green’s false front makes judging both distance AND trajectory important. Long left is no good, but that quadrant of the green is ringed by a backboard, so there’s a little forgiveness for a well-struck approach.


Par Three
197 / 122 Yards

After what feels like a quarter-mile walk down to the third tee to the start of “Kidd’s Corner,” one of the architect’s two man-made lakes creates an arresting par three. The upper, right-hand shelf of the green is currently being expanded to allow for some easier hole locations, but even back-left pins are accessible without bringing the water into play, as the dramatic spine in the middle of the green will funnel balls in closer. If you push your tee shot slightly to this pin, though, it’s going to be a nearly-impossible two-putt. Short is again better than long. I was happy to take par and run to the fourth here.


Par Four
481 / 295 Yards

The tee shot at the fourth.
The tee shot at the fourth.

Probably my favorite hole on the front side at Tetherow, the width of the fourth tee shot is truly impressive. But danger does lurk on both sides of the fairway, and, at least from the back tee, there’s plenty of risk-reward created by the angle of the fairway running from right to left. Even for the first-time player, the proper line is about what you’d expect–somewhere off the right edge of the greenside bunker–but the closer you come to the brush on the left, the better your angle into the green. Speaking of the green, it’s large, bowl-shaped and pretty forgiving from the left-hand side–one of the calmest on the course in terms of internal undulations.


Par Four
429 / 309 Yards

The fifth features one of the widest fairways on the course–almost as wide as the 12th at Pacific Dunes, and unfortunately, equally lacking in intrigue.  Still, it’s nice to have a bit of a breather, given the difficulty of the other shots around Kidd’s Corner.  In particular the second shot on this very hole.  The green has one of the most dramatic internal spines I’ve ever seen running parallel to the line of play.  Missing the right shelf to the right will actually leave an easier up-and-down than trying to two-putt from the left.  There’s also a bit more room between the short-right knob and the front of the putting surface than is evident from the fairway.


Par Four
424 / 283 Yards

The tee shot at No. 6.
The tee shot at No. 6.

The sixth just has a TON going on visually, and while I’m definitely not a fan of all the acrobatics, or the man-made lake to the left, the strategy and execution demanded by the hole are both pretty compelling.  The lower fairway to the left, along the lake, is more difficult to hit, but leaves a far better angle and full view of the green.  The right fairway doesn’t leave a tremendously difficult approach, but it’s definitely semi-blind.  The green is significantly raised above the level of the fairway, so regardless of which route you choose, you’ll want as short an iron in your hand as possible for the second shot.

The sixth is just classic Tetherow–the potential is there for it to be the best hole in Central Oregon, but the fact that everything about it is so overdone and that the undulations around the green are so severe actually make it less successful, in my opinion.  Still, I can’t disagree with Kidd that it’s an “enthralling hole,” as he describes in the aerial flyover on the Tetherow website.


Par Three
226 / 105 Yards

After another grueling walk between the sixth green and the seventh tee, you’re greeted with another long par three whose green contains yet another spine running parallel to the direction of play…there’s not a lot of unique characteristics to define this hole; we’ll leave the description at that.  A gaping bunker used to wrap all the way around the left side of the green but it’s since been filled in to allow for more run-up shots, given the length of shot required.


Par Four
395 / 268 Yards

A large evergreen and a crossing ridge bisect the eighth fairway.  While the tee shot itself is reasonably flat, the second shot plays dramatically uphill to a pretty tiny green pinched by two bunkers.  It’s made even tinier by a false front, a perpendicular ridge, and a fairly sharp falloff in the back.  Club selection is obviously essential here.  Despite making a bogey, I personally enjoyed this hole quite a bit.  But due to the green’s combination of a dramatic perch and wild undulations, this hole is certainly one that lends Tetherow the label of “unfair.”


Par Five
532 / 387 Yards

The ninth is one of the tougher tee shots on the course, as it must carry a waste area and slide in between a handful of bunkers.  There’s a ton of room for the second shot, although it should stay short and left of a large fairway bunker about 80 yards from the green.  Although the boulders that frame the green behind are an interesting visual touch, they seem out of character with the rest of the course, especially since a cart path lies close behind them.  Kidd has created another steep shelf in the green, this time running at a +/- 30 degree angle; another reason to approach from the left side.


Par Four
316 / 253 Yards

It’s hard not to love the tenth tee shot, a dramatic downhiller to a very reachable green if you’re playing from the right set of tees and the wind is helping.  Though there may be some hidden advantage to laying up with an iron and attacking the green with a wedge, it wasn’t evident to me in downwind conditions.  The green is so shallow, and the playing conditions so firm, that to be pin-high or in the greenside bunker short left would seem to yield the easiest angle if the pin is anywhere other than the right third.  Once on the green, though, it’s pretty flat, and a reasonable eagle putt is not out of the question.


Par Four
466 / 365 Yards

Tetherow's eleventh.
Tetherow's eleventh.

The dogleg-right 11th tee shot is my favorite on the course, again playing downhill, this time into a canyon with a huge sideboard on the left and some specimen pines on the right.  Depending on the wind, driver may not be essential, but a slight fade around the corner will leave a much shorter second shot (and a better angle to most hole locations).  There are some more grassy knobs just short of this upside-down L-shaped green, but as long as you’re not in the knobs, the recovery to any pin on the back side of the green should be pretty manageable; the internal contours of the green are among the softest on the course.


Par Four
425 / 297 Yards

Perhaps Kidd’s homage to Alister Mackenzie, the tee shot on the 12th is visually much more intimidating than it looks–a deep waste area on the left is not a good miss.  There’s really no reason to flirt with the waste area, though, because there’s a TON of room to the right, and for most pin placements, that angle is just fine anyway.  Downwind, it is probably no more than a three-wood, as a washout bisects the fairway at about the 100-yard mark (although it’s over 300 yards to reach this from the back tees, remember the course’s altitude).  As at 10 and 11, the 12th should offer some reasonable looks at birdie–the green is flat as a pancake by Tetherow’s standards.  12 is a solidly-designed hole, even for high-handicap players, that can’t be overwhelmed with power.


Par Five
588 / 397 Yards

After a walk through a tunnel and up and over a couple of ridges, you arrive at Tetherow’s longest hole.  It starts out with a thrilling semi-blind tee shot–a trait I wish more contemporary architects employed–that should be kept just left of the large pine.  Sadly, the second shot brings the second of Kidd’s man-made lakes into view, and the third shot is played to a green that is artificially bulk-headed by large rocks.  There’s also a hidden pond just short and right of the green, so laying well back in two is advisable unless you’re able to bang it long-right with a three wood.

The detail work around the fairway bunkers on this hole is particularly striking, and is worth marveling at even if you aren’t in one!


Par Three
190 / 149 Yards

There’s almost nothing to distinguish this hole, other than the fabulous views of the surrounding mountains.  The green is deep, so club selection is important; it’s probably just a mid-iron, but missing long isn’t bad.  The green is also fairly flat, so should yield a decent birdie opportunity for a well-struck shot.


Par Four
437 / 299 Yards

The understated approach to the fifteenth.
The understated approach to the fifteenth.

The man-made lake thankfully makes its final appearance off the tee (or not, actually, since the left side of the hole is hidden by the contour of the hole and some high desert brush).  The tee shot plays significantly downhill, and the smart play is probably a three-wood up the right side, just short of the lone fairway bunker.  A driver is going to bring both the lake and the bunker into play.

Frankly, I loved the second shot here–despite making a double bogey–which plays significantly uphill and over a gaping bunker for left and center-left hole locations.  The green does slope back-to-front, though, and re-grading it has apparently been the subject of some debate among certain players.  But visually, it’s about as understated as Tetherow gets, and exceptionally pleasing from an aesthetic standpoint.


Par Four
476 / 380Yards

The fabulous speed slot on 16.
The fabulous speed slot on 16.

Sixteen features another fabulous tee shot urging golfers to take a mighty lash, with a wider route to the left and a narrower route to the right of a tufted mound that splits the fairway.  There’s so much room to the left, and the green is so approachable from that side, that it’s hard for me to understand any real advantage to be gained by going down the right.  As at the second hole, there’s a nice speed slot that will propel big tee shots forward.

While others have no doubt decried the sixteenth green as too wild, I found it just downright fun.  Approach shots should be bounced in from the right, where a large slope / sideboard will kick shots forward and left.  There’s a nice sideboard long-right as well.  Shots hit too far to the left, however, have to hold a narrower, elevated portion of the green that falls away on two sides.


Par Three
182 / 105 Yards

Seventeen is one of the most beautiful inland holes in Oregon–made less so by the developers’ decision to allow homesites to encroach so closely on the right, however.  The green is set in what appears to the be site of an old quarry.  It’s pretty tiny, but with a short- to mid-iron and a dramatic sideboard on the left, it’s just the right size and shouldn’t be too hard to hit.   Watching balls kick off the sideboards to see how close they funnel to the hole is a sight that should never get old–and birdie putts should be makeable.  It’s a thrilling par three.


Par Five
588 / 373 Yards

After such an inspired stretch on the back nine (other than fourteen), eighteen is a bit of an unfortunate slog back up the hill, at least from the tips.  There’s just no way to reach the green in two, and the semi-blind approach feels identical to the ninth, making for a pretty unsatisfying end to a diverse and interesting round.  The green is also positioned several hundred yards from the clubhouse, so not only do you still have a hike even after finishing your round, but your buddies in the grill room can’t heckle as you putt out.

3 Responses

  1. Thanks for the great review!

    Personally, I’m very tired of “vanilla” golf and think Tetherow is phenomenal. I agree, the greens are a wild ride and really make you think before playing your approach shot. There is a lot of mindless golf options out there; Tetherow isn’t one of them.

    The course grows on you. Next season we are running a special all summer; you get a complimentary replay the same day or next day when you book a time in our resort tee time block. All non-member play requires a forecaddie, which is included in your green fee and costs you $20 on your re-round.

    Take care and we hope to see you back at Tetherow when we re-open on April 2, 2010.

    Martin Chuck, PGA
    Director of Golf/Club Manager

  2. I have the priveledge of playing Tetherow 5 times a week and let me tell you it calls for every shot in the book. listening to a caddie is a must for there are so many times you are not even aiming at the flag but may be 30 yards short and 15 yards left of the flag as on number one when the flag is back right. This course is abslutley one of the best course one can play. With the continuous tweeking of the course as in 2,7 and 9 greens this off season it will only get better. long live T-Row

  3. my grandparents live here i think its hard course but what do i know i dont golf its a beatiful course i’v ever been on

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