IN THE PUBLIC EYE: Pumpkin Ridge (Ghost Creek), North Plains, Ore.
THE LAYOUT: Pumpkin Ridge opened in 1992 to great acclaim, with Ghost Creek named the top new public course in the nation by Golf Digest, and Witch Hollow the No. 2 new private course.
The tracks have gone on to play host to numerous amateur and professional tournaments. Tiger Woods won his second amateur title at Witch Hollow, which was also the venue for the 2003 U.S. Women's Open and an LPGA tournament from 2009-12, among others.
Designed by Bob Cupp, the goal was to give Pumpkin Ridge the feel of playing golf in England and Scotland. While there isn't a slew of hazard trouble, the rough is dense, fescue lurks not far from many fairways, most holes have subtle elevation or directional changes and the sloping greens are fast and challenging.
Ghost Creek began a pilot program in allowing carts to go off the paths for the first time in the spring of 2013. For the previous 21 years, the fairways were so immaculate in part because they didn't receive wear and tear from thousands of golf carts pounding them throughout the year. But management feared the course was losing golfers, so carts are now allowed - with a strong caution to be mindful of protecting the course.
What makes Ghost Creek arguably the best public experience in the greater Portland area is Cupp's design. He did an excellent job of creating a unique experience on nearly every hole, with Ghost Creek featuring a fun mix of long holes with narrow fairways, shorter holes with well-placed bunkers, weaving creeks into the layout, carving par-5s around tree-lined fairways and leaving enough getable holes to card a few birdies.
Ghost Creek has four sets of tees and can be stretched out to 6,839 yards from the tips with a 74.5 rating and 147 slope. The blues are an excellent test at 6,386/72.1/139 and the whites are still sneaky tough at 5,921/69.8/136. The reds play 5,111/71.0/132.
Bottom line, Pumpkin Ridge is a must-play when in the Portland area. Cupp's design is unique, challenging without being brutal and you'll rarely run into other groups while weaving your way through the property. It's still rated the No. 63 public course in the nation in 2013 by Golf Digest, which said playing host to a major PGA tournament is within the course's grasp.
GENERAL MANAGER: Roger Aggson
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: If you can keep the ball in the fairway, you can post a solid score at Ghost Creek. The fairways are kept in pristine condition and the greens roll extremely true - albeit with a good amount of tilt to many, rewarding those who can leave uphill putts.
Naturally, finding the short grass is easier said than done for most amateurs, and Cupp's design features many holes that narrow near the typical landing zone. Almost every fairway has at least a modest turn, if not a strong dog-leg, and those that are straighter typically boast a well-placed bunker or rolling creek that you must be aware of off the tee.
The flavor of Cupp's design really begins to show itself on the short 158-yard par-3 third hole. It plays short to a large green - which has a massive tier that can easily turn a birdie opportunity into a potential bogey with a poor club selection.
That's followed by easily the most difficult hole on the course - the 515-yard par-5 fourth. The tee shot plays uphill with red stakes to the left and white to the right. Anything off the fairly narrow fairway gets snagged by very dense rough. Depending on the lie, it can be extremely difficult to reach the green in three following an errant drive. And lengthy approach shots are tricky to a three-tiered green protected by fescue and trees to the back and left.
Another distinctive hole on the front nine is the short 366-yard par-4 sixth. A straight drive is rewarded with a short iron to the green, but anything left is likely jailed in the trees and a creek runs down the right. It's not a bad idea to hit a hybrid off the tee, take a lot of the trouble out of play and take your chances with a little longer approach.
The outward nine concludes with a devilish 443-yard par-4. A safe drive to the middle or left leaves a long approach with water a pond running down the left-hand side and up to the front edge of the green. Anything right is snagged by another one of those creeks or lands in rolling mounds leaving a long and awkward approach.
The back nine kicks off with one of the true risk/reward holes on the course. At 474 from the blues and 453 from the whites, it's a very reachable par-5. But beware of rolling mounds to the right and fescue to the left off the tee. Find those, and you must navigate a creek that crosses the fairway about 150 yards in front of the green and then turns up the left-hand side, making layups out of poor lies dicey.
One of the more difficult scoring holes is the 219-yard par-3 14th. It plays at least a club-length downhill, typically with wind to factor into the equation as well. The green is the biggest on the course, but that hardly means an easy part on a surface that tilts toward the front right.
Another one of our favorites was the closing 428-yard par-4 18th. There is ample area to land your drive, but hugging the left side provides far more room to work with on the approach. Anything to the right side requires a full carry over water to a green that is narrowest when approaching from that angle. However, aim left off the tee and there is a large tree that must be avoided - we found it twice in a 36-hole day. Eighteen is the second-longest par-4 on the course and the No. 4 handicap for a reason - it takes two well-struck and well-placed shots in order to head to the 19th hole with a very satisfying par.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: A good trek through the greater Portland area would include a stop at the Reserve Vineyards. The Reserve features the North and South courses, which are rotated between the public and members-only access on a half-monthly basis. If you're looking to play 36 holes, call ahead and you may be allowed to try both tracks on the same day. Both courses have five sets of tee boxes, with the North course featuring far more water in play while the South course is littered with tricky bunkers.
The Great Blue Course at Heron Lakes north of the city features greens fees more common of a nice muni while boasting a challenging layout that many golfers in the Northwest believe is a must-play when in the area.
WHERE TO STAY: If you're in town to play golf, check out accommodations in Hillsboro that centrally locate you between Pumpkin Ridge and the Reserve Vineyards. Otherwise, Portland is a short drive to either and is closer to Heron Lakes.
On the web: http://www.pumpkinridge.com