by Zack Hall
On any given summer day at a Central Oregon golf resort, be it Black Butte Ranch, Pronghorn, Sunriver Resort, or Tetherow, the manicured fairways and perfect greens are filled with kids playing the game with their parents or grandparents. The luxury family-friendly pools teem with activity and laughter. The restaurants fill each evening with generations of family members sharing a meal.
After Labor Day, though, Central Oregon changes its vibe.
“It becomes more of a golf environment,” said Josh Willis, director of operations at Sunriver Resort. “In the summer, we’re very much a family resort. But with the kids back in school, we are very much a golf resort. It’s just a different crowd in the spring and after Labor Day.”
From early September through the end of October, Central Oregon transforms from one of the Northwest’s favorite family destinations – which happens to have some of the nation’s best golf courses, including three in Golf Digest’s Top 100 – to a golf destination in its purest form.
In fact, it’s a bit of a local’s secret that the best golf in beautiful Central Oregon is often played in the late summer and well into fall. Things are just a little quieter that time of year, to be sure. And most courses dial down from the peak golf rates found in the summer.
But that’s far from the only draw of fall golf.
Gone is the heat of the summer. Instead, golfers find mild, sunny days that most often reach into the 70s. Extensive summer maintenance programs keep courses in pristine condition during the hotter months. But after Labor Day, that detailed care melds with the ideal growing conditions that come from cooler fall temperatures. The result is the firmest, fastest conditions of the year.
“I don’t think there is a better, more beautiful time of year here,” said Jeff Fought, the longtime PGA director of golf at Black Butte Ranch. “Of course, there can be frost delays. But for the most part, September through October offer the best months for course conditions.”
As the shoulder season continues on, the browns, yellows, and reds of autumn begin to show while the turf still pops with emerald green.
Many of Central Oregon’s top golf courses push aerification off until deep into fall, or even spring, to keep the shoulder season window open. Some years that can mean playable conditions well into November. That isn’t just at the region’s most famed resorts, either. The hidden gems of Central Oregon, such as Aspen Lakes Golf Course in Sisters or the budget-friendly Juniper Golf Course in Redmond, considered the top municipal course in Oregon, are also at their very best.
“The leaves are changing, and the native fescues that surround our courses become so colorful,” Willis said. “It’s off-the-charts awesome.”
Off the course, things change, too.
With nearly 40 breweries, distilleries and cideries, and a creative culinary scene that includes everything from fine dining to an eclectic food truck culture, Central Oregon’s epicurean attractions are not seasonal. But in the shoulder season, finding a table at the region’s favorites is just a touch easier.
The best accommodations in the region, say Huntington Lodge at Pronghorn, the hotel at Tetherow, or the vast lodging and vacation rental options at Sunriver and Black Butte Ranch, are more available and often more affordable than during the peak summer season, too.
“Mid-September all the way through the month of October are quickly becoming some of our most popular golfing months here at Pronghorn,” said Andrew Silvestri, the PGA head professional at Pronghorn. “With summer crowds beginning to dissipate, you can expect less impacted hotels and restaurants throughout town. That, combined with cooler temperatures, makes for the perfect time for a last-minute golf trip.”
Perhaps it’s a misnomer that a golf trip to Central Oregon is some great secret. It’s not really.
Rather, it’s that with kids and jobs and other responsibilities, escaping for a fall trip isn’t easy for everyone. But for those who can get away, the shoulder season presents an opportunity to enjoy the best golf of Central Oregon in a way not possible any other time of year.
“Everything is more accessible, and that makes it easier to experience more of Central Oregon.” Fought said. “It’s just a great time to be here.”
To plan your fall Central Oregon golf getaway, visit CentralOregonGolfTrail.com.
Zack Hall is an award-winning writer who developed the Central Oregon golf beat after becoming The Bulletin’s first full-time golf writer before going freelance. He is currently vice president of the Oregon Golf Association.