In 1924, the architect who tendered for the design of the Astoria course proposed an east-west routing with fairways laid out across dunes that run through the property. Club President George Halderman and Greenskeeper George Junor thought otherwise and so the holes were actually set out between the ridges in a north-south fashion.
There’s nothing fancy about Astoria Golf & Country Club, so don’t expect to find extravagant bunkering or complicated greensites if you tee it up here – it’s just a good, old-fashioned layout with delightful short par fours at the 2nd and 6th holes and a trio of testing par threes at holes 4, 10 and 17.
Known to some as the “St. Andrews of the Pacific,” Astoria has been hosting the prestigious annual Oregon Coast Invitational Tournament since 1937 and this week-long event has grown into one of the top amateur golf competitions in the northwest of the country.
Set on a smaller acreage about half a mile from Sunset Beach on the Pacific Ocean in the upper northwest part of Oregon, Astoria Golf and Country Club is a delightful gem. This course is a joy to play and one can see why Golfweek once had it in their top 100 classic courses in the USA. On a sunny day, which we had, the air is clean and fresh, and there is only the sound of golfers and the occasional bird, other than on the ninth hole which sits close to the busy route 101. This is pure golf for a course in the USA, where one realizes how much they love the game, regardless of what their score is. There are no contrived, artificial, or manufactured holes at Astoria. The holes here are today’s version of minimalist with very little earth moved. The holes sit naturally on the land.
My playing partner and I loved walking this course and commenting on its interesting features.
The course is a mixture of links-like and parkland as there is one hole, the ninth that features a lot of trees down the left side where there is a pond and narrow creek among the wetlands. There are numerous scattered trees around the course although one can nearly always see through them to other holes or spy the tall sand dunes.
The course features four of the most unique holes one will play due to them being routed between tall sand dunes that frame both sides of the fairway. There are three lines of dunes on the course with the clubhouse, pro shop, one of the putting greens, and par 3-tenth hole sitting atop the first dune. We stood on the elevated tees at the holes routed between the dunes and marveled at them.
In addition to these holes, there are other interesting architectural holes on the course including a par 3 set atop a ridge, a blind uphill approach shot on a short par 4, a cape hole, two holes with forced carries over water, several very elevated tee boxes, and a downhill par 4 when the bigger hitters can come close to the green. The course is beautifully routed among the rolling terrain of the Clatsop Plains.
As befitting a shorter course, the greens are often on the smaller side, with a few I would describe as tiny. However, the longer holes have the larger greens. I never felt like a green size was inappropriate for the length of the hole.
There are not many bunkers on the course but the course does not require it as there is enough challenge to the holes. I suppose if the course wanted to increase its difficulty it could add more bunkers and place them in a more penal position, but that would detract from the visual attractiveness of the course as well as not fit in with the classic design.
In designing the course which sits on a former cranberry farm, the architect, R.C.F. Ashbury wanted to route the course in an east-west fashion which would have meant going repeatedly over the dunes. The Club President, Charles Halderman and the board rejected the plan and Mr. Halderman and George Junor, the course superintendent laid out most of the course in a north-south manner, routed most of the holes parallel to the dunes. The holes routed between the dunes bring a smile to one’s face. Tom Doak said of the third hole that it would be one of the greatest golf holes in the world if not for the cart path that detracts from the hole. I would agree with him as well as with the fifteenth which I thought to be nearly its equal but again a cart path diminishes the hole. One wonders whether the cart paths are necessary on these holes. My playing partner and I did wonder how the course would have played it had been built according to the first design and said it would have been a pity to not have these “half-pipe” holes. It would likely had resulted in removing some of the highest points of the dunes to make a course playable to go over the dunes several times. In sum, the current design is definitely the best routing and layout.
One point to note is that the driving range/practice area is at the far end of the property and one should take a cart rather than walk. There are two putting greens, one atop the ridge behind the pro shop and one down below between the parking lot and ninth green.
The course is easy to walk despite having to go up and down the sand dunes several times. Most of the paths are angled to get atop and over the dunes.
The course is well-known in the area for hosting the Oregon Coast Invitational but has also hosted other important Oregon amateur events.
The playing condition of the course is very much dictated by the strength of the wind as well as the direction. Without wind, the course is likely very player friendly even with the smaller greens. With a big wind, the course plays both long and the dunes become much more of a factor as some of the dunes have areas of taller grass the higher up one goes.
The course is in excellent condition.
The course is only 6538 yards from the tournament tees, par 71 rated 71.7/123. The Silver tees are 6331 yards, par 72 rated 706/122. In our case we played as far back as we could on all tees. The twelfth hole plays as a par 5 from the silver tees but as a long 4 from the championship tees. The fifteenth can play as a short par 4 but also as a longer par 3.
1. Par 4 – 400/378. From an elevated tee in front of the pro shop one plays downhill with a sand dune line on the right. It also has scattered trees down both sides. The hole plays basically straight. As this hole played into a reasonably strong wind, it plays longer. The green is somewhat tiny with two flattish bunkers to the left side. The green has slight internal movement and tilt. It is a lovely starting hole due to that elevated tee.
2. Par 4 – 273/271. From an elevated tee one plays uphill to a green placed atop the second sand dune. There are flanking bunkers about 90 yards from the green on the side of the hill. The green has no bunkers but features a fall-off down the left side of the green. There are a few scattered trees on the right side. I loved the blind uphill shot trying to guess the yardage and line with the wind coming strong from the right. The green is titled back to front but lies naturally with the slope of the land.
3. Par 4 – 416/373. This hole is amazing with the “half-pipe” look as it sits between the second and third line of sand dunes. The view of this corridor is unique in the USA with this being a straight hole. Because the grass is not very high, a ball hit into either side of the dunes will bring a ball back onto the fairway other than possibly near the trees on the right side of the fairway that are placed nearly atop the dune. This hole is a lot of fun to play as well as a visual delight from tee to green. There is a single bunker placed well to the left of the green about a fourth of the way up the dune. Mr. Doak is right to name this hole as one of the finest in the USA.
4. Par 3 – 197/180. As exhilarating as the third hole is, the fourth is a bit of a letdown although the elevated tee adds some drama to the hole. There is a single bunker on the back right side of the green. The green is larger than it appears with a slight false front.
5. Par 4 – 461/423. This cape hole offers the better player a strategic decision to cut off as much of this dogleg right playing over Sunset Lake going down the right of the fairway. About halfway up the fairway a line of trees appear to the left of the pond but are not in play other than perhaps two trees to the left of the cart path doing down the right set between the fairway and trees. There are no bunkers on the hole other than a single bunker at the rear of the green which I did not feel to be likely in play. This hole usually plays downwind so it plays slightly shorter. The green tilts a bit to the right.
6. Par 4 – 305/299. This hole features the third sand dune to its right side. The fairway seems to have a few rolls in it. There are scattered trees down the left side and a single bunker on the front right corner. This is a somewhat small green.
7. Par 4 – 404/396. This is the eleventh index but I thought it played harder than that due to the prevailing wind in one’s face. Once again, the sand dune is high to the right with areas of taller grass on the hill. This fairway has even more dips and tiers leading to uneven lies in the fairway where the ball can often be below one’s feet. Much like the previous hole, the only bunker is on the right front corner. The green has a slight false front. I like this hole.
8. Par 4 – 371/364. You climb atop a dune and play from an elevated tee downhill. I chose the left side of the fairway off the tee and got a long roll-out. There are scattered trees down both sides with a single bunker placed on the right that likely catches a lot of balls off the tee as this bunker is blind from the tee. The green complex is a good one with a bunker on the left middle and one at the rear. The green is angled to the left with a smaller back left. There is a sizeable mound on the left side just before the bunker. The green seems higher in the middle with a left to right tilt.
9. Par 5 – 519/499. This hole plays as a dogleg left with a forced carry over a pond/wetlands with a heavy line of trees down the left side of the hole all the way beyond the green. The first sand dune is on the right, although not as high as the second and third dunes. There are scattered trees down the right side. The hole plays straight and flat after the tee shot with the only fairway bunker about 90 yards short of the green on the right side. There are two flanking bunkers that go the length of both sides of the green. The green is slightly raised but mainly flat.
10. Par 3 – 127/117. You walk up the sand dune and around the clubhouse to play the single hole on the first ridge. This short hole is exposed to the wind but it is likely as one’s back. The hole falls off to both sides although the left side has a long bunker the length of the green that will protect a ball from going down the hill. A bill missed too far to the right will go off the green. This is a really fun hole to play. There seems to be a bonus par 3 hole at the bottom of the hill as one goes to the next tee.
11. Par 5 – 537/528. From a slightly elevated tee one plays to a hole that slides a bit to the left. There are no bunkers on the hole but there are scattered trees down either side. The green is slightly raised with a small are that juts out to the back right. Although the hole lacks any architectural features, I really liked going down this hole.
12. Par 5/4 – 471/454. You reverse direction for a hole that plays as a long hole playing going essentially straight. There is a small bunker about eight yards short of the green on the right as well as two bunkers wrapping around the left side/rear. This is primarily a flat/long hole.
13. Par 4 – 414/410. You reverse direction again to play a hole without a bunker. This hole plays from an elevated tee. This is the hole that is the most benign on the course.
14. Par 4 – 443/438. You cross over a dune to play a dogleg left that then straightens. You have reversed direction again. The dune is to the right. At the green are a few trees as well as flanking bunkers on the front corners. I liked the hole but perhaps it was because the wind was at my back.
15. Par 4/3 273/197. Reversing direction again, I liked this hole as much as the third as the two dunes on either side are closer and create an even narrower fairway. I hit a poor tee shot that landed atop the dune on the left but given me a clear look at most of the green. The green is tiny with a fall-off at the rear. There are no bunkers on the hole. This is a great look from the elevated tee. For me I could not imagine playing it as a par 3.
16. Par 4 – 352/342. From an elevated tee you play to the right of the sand dune which lays to the left side. The green features bunkers on both sides going the length of the green. The green is somewhat small consistent with the length of the hole.
17. Par 3 – 175/168. From an elevated tee my playing partner and I both guessed wrong about the strength of the wind from our left. This hole plays downhill so both of us went over the green. The green features a bunker on the right but also two bunkers at the rear that are shared with the first green. The green has a back to front slant to it but is not overly complicated.
18. Par 4 – 414/406. The hole plays flat with scattered trees and two bunkers to the left of the slightly larger green than many on the course. It is a fine finishing hole but certainly lacks the drama of the ones that have a forced carry or sit among the sand dunes.
I really enjoyed Astoria as it is the classic version of a “minimalist” design. Although some people are obsessed with courses that do not offer enough challenge due to a lack of length, the course would have to change the routing and perhaps give up some of their driving range to lengthen it. I would strongly not do that. I would keep the routing just the way it is, unless one wanted to use the putting green behind the ninth green as the “new green” to add 40 yards to the hole.
My only two criticisms of the course is that the green’s internal contours could be more interesting as they are primarily flat. I would also remove the cart paths on the holes in the dunes, particularly on three and fifteen. If the course wanted to toughen itself a bit, there are a few cases where additional bunkering could be added, but I certainly would not add more than six. Some of the holes that deserve an additional bunker are the eighteenth where a center-line bunker could be added as well as on the eleventh where fairway bunkers could be added. Yet I would point out that the scattered trees offer a fair amount of defense.
My final criticism is that the course advertises itself as “the St. Andrews of the Pacific.” That is nonsense and detracts from the course. There is a similarity in that the case is a minimalist course, but the three ridge lines, parkland-like holes and the holes in the dunes are nothing like St. Andrews. There are also no double greens, raised greens, hidden bunkers, nor is it set inside a town with a large hotel nearby. Astoria has more than enough charm and fine qualities to market and describe itself differently.
If one is anywhere near Seattle or Portland, I would seek out this course. I think this course could be used as a warm-up to a trip to Bandon Dunes, although the drive would be 5-6 hours after a round.
I am very glad I played Astoria.
Mark - don’t know if you can recall The Fraggles, but your steady stream of reviews reminds me of “Uncle Traveling Matt’s” tantalizing postcards from far off places. The normal Fraggles - confined to Fraggle/Covid Rock - may never visit & so greatly anticipate his next report.
One burning question: The previous reviewer describes Astoria as “a true links course by any definition”. What’s your take on this?
BB - while there are some elements here of a links course - sits near the coastline, is on sandy soil, the land is useless for farming, it has rough comprised of native grasses, you can run a ball onto the green, it plays firm and fast, etc., However, there are likely too many elements that disqualify it from being considered as a true links such as the front nine returns to the clubhouse, there are ponds/streams/wetlands on two holes, the bunkers are not deep, there is a presence of trees on the course, the fairways are fairly smooth rather than having knobs, mounds, and knolls, there are many very elevated tees, and for me the simple fact that it has cart paths on every hole also disqualifies it. Of course, they could always remove the cart paths but I don’t pretend to know how much rain it gets in the rainy season.
Thanks Mark. It doesn’t look like a links to me but is obviously quite a unique property if it gets people drawing such comparisons when trying to classify it.
One of my besties has just moved to Portland and I’ve just recommended Astoria to him. Enjoy the remaining tracks on your PNW trip!
Somehow, Astoria County Club, a true links course by every definition and one of the only true links courses in the US, didn't find it's way into George Peper and Malcolm Campbell's, True Links. Nor did it find it's way into the 246 Links Courses of the World listed by the Links Association. Guess what, they are all wrong!
Astoria Golf & Country Club is a wonderful and rarely quirky links course where 18 holes are played over dunes in the shape of cresting waves. Often teeing off from on top of one crest and playing down into the trough of the dunes. It's played perfectly firm and fast on every visit I've made and is a joy.
I'd say it deserves to be ranked ahead of almost all courses in Portland in terms of relative interest, fun and playability, not to mention architecture.
If you find yourself in Oregon, near Astoria with golf clubs then I'd highly recommend a visit to Astoria Country Club. Let us know what you think!
I haven’t played Astoria, but from quickly looking at the club photos, it’s the strangest looking links course I’ve ever seen. It sure looks fun to play – some of the valley fairways look rather like those at Hindhead – but is Astoria really a links David?
Your comment about The Links Association made me take a deeper look. Their list of 246 links courses is the identical number referenced in True Links. The only difference between the two lists is that True Links records Cruit Island and “The Links Association” doesn’t, listing Cullen Links instead.