Crosswater Golf Club

Rare is the golfer who hasn’t driven past a wide-open patch of grass and envisioned a golf course on it. Case in point: Jim Ramey, a former California club pro and avid outdoorsman who moved to Sunriver, Oregon in the mid-’70s for the skiing and fly-fishing offered by his sunny new surroundings. For years as golf superintendent at Sunriver Resort, Ramey would look longingly on a nearby meadow at the confluence of the Deschutes and Little Deschutes Rivers, picturing golf balls landing where cattle then grazed.

“It was a spectacular site for a golf course,” Ramey recalls. “A meadow with mountain views and a river running through it—that’s pretty hard to top.”

As it turned out, other golf-minded types had the same idea. In 1991, Sunriver acquired the property and drew up plans for a gated community that would showcase this piece of land known previously (and aptly) as Big Meadow. After convincing the state it wouldn’t botch the job—“We promised that the course would only enhance the land,” says director of golf Brad Myrick—Crosswater Golf Club broke ground in 1993 and opened two years later. It’s a textbook example of how a golf course can co-exist with—and perhaps even enhance—its natural environment.

“I told myself, ‘We’ve got to make this course as close to perfect as we can,’” remembers architect Bob Cupp, whose other Pacific Northwest credits include Portland’s much-heralded Pumpkin Ridge. “We were given a lot of natural beauty to work with, and we tried to preserve every square inch of it.”

Item No. 1 was to remove the cattle, whose decades of grazing had worn down the riverbanks; now restored, the waterways are again a spawning ground for rainbow and brown trout. Protected by native buffer zones, wildlife such as deer, elk, coyote, otter, owl and osprey call Crosswater home. Ramey, who quickly signed on as superintendent when the course was conceived, is vigilant about minimizing chemical and fertilizer use.

The environmentalist camp was appeased: Crosswater was designated as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary in 1999. “We’re all trying to do the right thing here,” says Ramey.

Northern Paiute Indians were among the first to enjoy this high-desert landscape on the eastern flank of the Cascade Mountains. Explorers John Fremont and Kit Carson later came along to map the area. In the mid-1800s, the land was a homestead for the Allen family, three generations of which now rest in a cemetery adjacent to No. 11 fairway.

Except for the islands of bentgrass that serve as fairways and greens, plus a few houses sprinkled along the perimeter of the low-density development, the 605-acre tract probably appears much as it did to those early settlers. The Little Deschutes meanders through long fescue grasses that subtly range from rust to gold to crimson, depending on the time of day or season. Stands of Ponderosa pine ring parts of the meadow, which is accented by purple lupine and wild iris in summer. Eighteen miles to the northeast stands Mt. Bachelor, a 9,000-foot, dormant volcano that’s popular among the ski crowd.

Crosswater is a garden spot for any golfer who relishes fresh air and wilderness views between shots. And so subtle is the marriage of golf design to landscape, one isn’t intimidated by what can be a punishing layout. The target-golf routing crosses the Little Deschutes on five holes and, from the stout gold tees (7,683 yards), requires more than a dozen forced carries over water or wetland. Many mid-handicappers play a combination of the 6,811-yard blue tees and the 6,185-yard whites—from there the challenge is “really not evil at all,” says Myrick.

While labeled as private, Crosswater is open to Sunriver guests, who flock to the 3,200-acre spread in search of every adventure from skiing to mountain biking to whitewater rafting. Crosswater’s thrills include the short par-4 eighth and its wetland-encircled landing area; and the left-swinging, seemingly endless 12th hole, a water-lined par-5 that stretches 687 yards at its full length. In a 1999 Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf Match, John Daly found the water, while fellow longball hitter Fred Couples needed driver, 3-wood and wedge to get home—and still managed only a par, although he did finish with a course-record 68.

No. 14 parallels the “big” Deschutes, which flows peacefully here, as opposed to the whitewater froth that churns a few miles downstream, closer to the laid-back tourist town of Bend. The adventure concludes with an 18th-hole approach to an hourglass-shaped green set hard by the Little Deschutes.

“This golf course is like a ride at Disneyland—you get off and you want to get right back on again,” says Myrick, who like Ramey is a passionate fisherman. (Myrick includes a golf/fly-fishing competition called the “Cleek and Creel” in the club’s annual men’s invitational.)

Not only did Crosswater stand up to Couples and Daly’s onslaught, it’s tested the top players from the PGA of America (2001 Club Pro Championship) and the NCAA (1999 Division I women’s championship). Two NCAA men’s championships (2003 Division II and 2006 Division I) are on the horizon, as is the PGA’s 2007 CPC event.

Crosswater’s role as a tournament venue furthers its reputation as a world-class golf facility and casts the spotlight on a work of art blueprinted by Cupp and his former design partner, John Fought. “Every now and then a truly great opportunity comes along,” Cupp reflects. “I hate to say any one place is the best I’ve ever had to work with, because it just sounds like hype, but I’ll tell you … .”

Cupp hesitates and you wonder if he’s going to say just that. “Well, this one ranks pretty high up there. Let’s just say I greatly enjoyed this opportunity.”