The 340-acre Heron Lakes Golf Club property occupies part of what was once Vanport City, a large wartime public housing development built on reclaimed land which was home to around 40,000 people, many of whom worked at the nearby shipyards in Portland and across the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington.
Vanport City was virtually destroyed in 1948 when the swollen river burst through a defensive dyke, flooding the area and killing fifteen people. Luckily, the catastrophe occurred on a holiday so many of the residents were away from their homes for the day, otherwise the loss of life would have been much higher.
Twenty years later, plans were drawn up by the municipal authorities to construct a golf facility on this fertile land, resulting in the unveiling of the Robert Trent Jones Jr-designed West Delta Park course in 1971. This layout was then extended in the late 1980s by adding of another 9-hole circuit and renaming it as Heron Lakes.
Demand still outstripped supply so another nine holes were introduced in 1992, allowing two 18-hole courses, the Greenback and the Great Blue, to be brought into play. The US Amateur Public Links championship had been held on the former in 1979 and the competition returned to the latter in 2000.
“Heron Lakes is a flagship of urban public golf,” is the opinion of the architect on the RTJII website. “We believe that golf courses can serve as the lungs of a city. Heron Lakes helps Portlanders take a deep, fresh breath. The Great Blue Course (named after the course's heron rookery) is a favorite challenge among Portland golfers.
Many locals consider the 466-yard par four 8th hole among the toughest. Big hitters can attempt to squeak a long drive between a line of trees and a pond that guards the fairway, but more conservative players will opt for a three wood or long iron aimed at a directional bunker, leaving a long approach shot into a green tucked against the pond's edge.
Great Blue's three finishing holes all present classic risk-reward dilemmas. The par four 16th fairway is split by a lake and wetlands, 17 unfurls between a slough and bunkered mounds for its entire 523-yard length [then] the 18th green is tucked behind a lake that runs parallel to the right side of the hole.”