PENDLETON, Ore. - The golf course at Wildhorse Resort & Casino in Pendleton, Ore. offers pure golf for the golfing enthusiast and a wonderful recreational experience for the novice. The combination of amazing vistas, down-to-earth staff, great layout, and exceptional conditioning create an environment where you hope you can play for more than four hours. My experience was no different when I had the chance the play the course while visiting the 50th Annual Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Conference.
The Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla tribes' homeland lies approximately a three-hour drive east of Portland, Ore. The country is absolutely stunning and the course offers views from several of the tees and greens that make you stop and wonder how good your life must be to be there.
Sometimes pro shops can be intense for an Indian guy showing up to play with no partners, clubs, or golf shoes. I was treated very well by a laid-back staff during both of my rounds. I needed rentals and was pleasantly surprised when the pro, Laine Wortman, offered me an array of top of the line equipment from which to choose including Nike, Ping, and Taylor Made. The pro shop presents an array of the latest equipment and some nice, albeit a somewhat small, choice of logoed merchandise and clothing. While he was busy setting up a tournament he made me feel like my simple needs were paramount.
The first hole offers you the chance to unwind without too much intensity, but that doesn't last long. Number one is a short par-4 with a nice green that slants just enough to make putts from above the hole thinkers. The party gets going quickly on number two as you are faced with a challenge from the tee on this short par-4. Three hundred and forty-five yards from the blues screams "go time," but the out of bounds on the left and dry conditions can quickly put a damper on your enthusiasm. This little hole is as beguiling a short par-4 as you'll find because the challenge continues right through to the point when you pick the ball out of the hole.
Number three starts a series of just plain solid golf holes. Throughout the course the par 5's are solid if not a great chance to score. Number three, for example, offers a blind approach to the green as you hit over a hill, but with the right tee shot it is definitely go time as with most of the par 5's. The exception being number five with its terrific green perched on a hill behind a pond. I'm not a long driver and I had a long iron/short wood in my hand for the second shot. Common sense overcame valor and paid off with a birdie as I laid up and placed a wedge below the hole.
In general, shooting below the hole is the right idea at Wildhorse. This is likely the most appealing and beguiling part of this golf course. Like the pros, amateurs would be better served if we didn't have to worry so much about distance and concentrated more on putting the ball on line. Wildhorse gives you that PGA opportunity because just starting the putt out from above the hole on these greens can result in running the ball by a good distance.
The finishing series of holes provides for scoring opportunities and nightmares. The design is great for tournament play as you can come down to these challenging holes and make a move or find yourself lining up your putt for double bogey. Fifteen is a longish par-4 with driving trouble off the tee in the form of water. The shot certainly got in my mind as I laid the ball right into the fairway bunker to avoid the water on the left both times I played the hole.
Number 16 provides a scoring opportunity as the short par-3 is accessible, especially if you can draw the ball. On number 17, the short par-4 (only 319 from the white tees) screams at you to grab the driver out of the bag, which is just fine for almost everybody because there is no real danger if you can fly the fairway bunker. The challenge lies in the second shot because a small, elevated green can be tough to hit-and-stick if you aren't Phil Mickelson and you're only playing from 30-50 yards.
The final? is a great hole. Number 18 is a long (445 yards from the white tees), par-4 with challenges that don't stop from the drive to the approach to the fast green. The pro with whom I played in the small tourney told me about a match he played where his opponent lost it all with a two-stroke lead because of this hole. Too bad he told me because I proceeded to triple the hole and ruin my chances to break 80.
Stunning vistas, wonderful course conditions, and fast greens make Wildhorse a must play for anybody interested in a very pretty drive from Portland.
The Course in My Opinion: (Rating)
Playability: (High) If you don't get the ball above the hole and if you don't get greedy, you can score on this course. Wildhorse is straightforward and that can be a blessing and a curse if you don't think. Great for the pro or average golfer.
Course Condition: (High) This place prides itself on not having a blade of grass out of place and it shows.
Service: (High) These folks are down home from the start. Each of the people in the shop are friendly and extremely accommodating. No pro shop egos here!
Pro Shop: (Medium) I can imagine that the challenge for a more rural shop like this keeping merchandise around. The club selection was absolutely outstanding though.
Value: (High) If you are looking for an excess of flowers and a clubhouse with filet mignon, think again. If you are looking for a flawlessly-conditioned course at the right price, this is definitely your place. Cost is around $50 with cart.
Overall: (High) I would add a couple of things to the pro shop and perhaps pay a bit of attention to small things (like water on the course, for players), but other than that let's not change a thing and keep making people feel comfortable when they show up.