Tetherow — Still Firm and Fast

A golfer hits a golf ball on a green at Tetherow Resort.

Nestled where the Cascade Range meets the High Desert, Central Oregon has given some of the world’s most renowned golf course architects an opportunity to show off their creativity. The result has been a nearly impossible diversity of golf courses.

Tetherow — which opened 2008 — still stands alone, not just in Central Oregon but elsewhere. Its faded fescue fairways, gnarly bunkers, hilly fairways and dramatic elevation changes offer a links style that is most familiar in the Scottish Highlands. But offered it where one might least expect it: Oregon’s High Desert.

A course that is truly unique, even 15 years after opening. It’s just what David McLay Kidd, the famed 54-year-old Scottish architect who first made a name for himself with the original course at Bandon Dunes, set out to do when he designed Tetherow from a fire-scarred patch of land just a few miles southwest of downtown Bend. 

“One day you can be playing the Fazio Course at Pronghorn (northeast of Bend) and then you come and play at Tetherow … those two golf courses are 20 miles apart, and 200 years and a continent apart,” said Kidd, who has lived in Bend since 2006.

“I think it’s important for the golfers who are coming to Central Oregon to enjoy all the different genres,” Kidd added. “Tetherow is quite separate from everything else.”

Kidd isn’t being hyperbolic. Nor being prideful.

It’s been nearly 15 years since Tetherow first opened, and it has never quite been replicated. Not just in Central Oregon, but anywhere. Try to find another links-style course in a desert setting, and the closest you might find is another Kidd course, Gamble Sands in Washington.

Otherwise, Kidd’s creation has few comparisons.

“Americans think in terms of target golf. Just throw it in the air, and they want it to stop fast. So as golf became an American sport … that is the way the game became,” Kidd said. “It takes a Scotsman, born and raised with something else, to be intuitively willing to accept that that’s not all it is. That the ball bouncing and rolling is actually critical to the playing of the game. If golf had founding fathers, which it kind of did, that’s the golf they wanted. Old Tom Morris didn’t want lush, green grass and hitting into soft greens.”

At Tetherow, you play the game differently. You don’t play exact yardages, you play areas. You use the contours and the firm and fast fescue surfaces to your advantage. There, the ground is your guide, at least for those willing to accept what the golf course is trying to tell them.

For most golfers, the wedge is more a hindrance than a weapon. 

Tetherow Golf course overlook
A golfer at Tetherow.

Tetherow is also a challenge. It’s a style of golf that can confound American golfers, most of whom are accustomed to playing the parkland style courses of the U.S. which offer consistent lies and demand precision shots to the target. 

That’s where Kidd thinks American golfers should embrace their inner-Tom Watson.

“Come into it with a full understanding that the golf is so much more multi-dimensional because the ball is going to bounce and roll, and it won’t anywhere else,” Kidd said. “You have to play for that bounce and roll. 

“Don’t bother shooting the pin with your laser (for an exact yardage), because it will cause you nothing but problems,” Kidd added. “Golfers shoot the pin with a laser and they think, “Oh, it’s 145. That’s my 8-iron.’ Suddenly they hit the 145 club pure, and that’s never on the green. It’s gone. Because the shot was really 130, and maybe still with their 8-iron, but they needed to take the spin off of it and lower the trajectory.” 

For those golfers who get it, there is no more exhilarating way to play the game. Leaving your wedge in the bag and opting to chip with a 7-iron. Putting from off the green. Teeing off with an iron. These shots make for a great round at Tetherow.

Links-style golf courses have grown more common in the U.S., thanks in large part to Kidd’s influence — particularly his work at Bandon Dunes on the southern Oregon Coast and the popularity that came soon after. But nearly all of them reside in coastal climates. Kidd believes links-style golf will remain rare in desert environments like Central Oregon, even if fescue fares well in a dry climate. 

“We had a piece of land in a microclimate that was allowable, an architect who was pushing it, and a developer who was amenable,” Kidd said. “And now with Chris Van der Velde (Tetherow’s managing partner), a Dutchman and an ex-European Tour player, he totally gets it. You need the stars to align in order to be able to create a golf course like Tetherow.”

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