I had wanted to play Portland Golf Club for some time as it is steeped in history holding both a Ryder Cup and a PGA as well as several other important professional events. Ben Hogan won his first major, the 1946 PGA at Portland after winning there the previous year in the Portland Open when he scored 65-69-63-64. His score of 63 remains in a tie as the lowest score recorded. The Ryder Cup was held here in November, 1947 on wet, soft course as it rained for seven days preceding the matches with the USA winning 11-1. This was the first Ryder Cup following WWII and a Portland member, Robert Hudson, funded the entire expense of both teams with the team from Britain expenses including their transportation aboard the Queen Mary to New York City, staying in the Waldorf Astoria in NYC, a 4/5 day train ride across the USA, local accommodations and then back again. Due to the journey that British team had to endure, it’s no wonder the USA won by such a large margin. Over the years the club also hosted the 1931 and 1955 Western Amateur, seven Portland Opens, five LPGA Portland Classics, the 1982 Senior US Open, the US Women’s Amateur in 2015, ten Oregon Amateurs and multiple other important golf events.
It is a course that offers a couple of steep climbs yet feels essentially flat making it a very walkable golf course. For me there is only one standout hole which is the eighteenth yet the course is very consistent in offering good golf holes. I also believe it is a golf course one will enjoy the more one plays and learns it.
The golf course is in great condition and very pretty with a horticulturist delight due to the variety of trees, bushes and flowers as well as having a couple of ponds and streams that come into play. The club’s website describes itself as a “peaceful oasis” and I would definitely concur. It is a pleasant walk no matter the score on the previous hole.
I found the biggest defense of the course to be the trees. If one can stay away from them, the course is right in front of you. This does not mean the course suffers from an absence of strategy as there are many holes where one side of the fairway is preferable as well as several of the greens offer undulations or smaller sections where “tucked” pins can be placed.
The course has several good green surfaces and complexes, yet there are too many greens and green surrounds that lack sufficient inner movement and character. Several of the holes would be substantially improved by more contour in the green that I do not believe would necessarily result in slower play or even a significantly higher score, but instead would add to the fun and excitement of the course.
The course is 6944 yards, par 72 from the Hudson tees rated 74.1/145. There are two sets of combination tees between the Hudson tees and the Blue tees which are 6353 yards rated 71.1/141. There are two sets of lesser tees and two additional combinations. In effect there is a tee for almost everywhere regardless of ability. The course was originally built with nine holes but then modified and expanded to 18 holes by George Turnbull. It was subsequently modified by Robert Trent Jones and Tom Bendelow. It is my understanding that the course can stretch to over 7000 yards which is felt necessary to host important events.
1. Par 4 – 417/398. I liked the first hole playing slightly downhill from near the pro shop. I was told to favor the left side but my tee shot ran into the line of trees down the left. Trees line both sides of the fairway. I hit what I thought was a good recovery shot but clipped a tree which sent my ball bounding across to the other side. This is a nice hole because the green is fronted by a sizeable bunker more on the right front. One cannot miss the green to the left as the land slopes towards a very close Fanno Creek, which continues behind the green down the right side as well.
2. Par 4 – 454/427. From an elevated tee you play slightly uphill crossing Fanno Creek. Trees are thicker on the left side yet there are plenty down the right side. This hole is basically straight with a single bunker on the right side of the fairway. The green has flanking bunkers with the right side being larger. The green felt too flat to me as well as the green surrounds were uninteresting. The hole is the second hardest on the front nine due to its length.
3. Par 4 – 365/325. This hole is called “little beard” for reasons unknown to me but it is more known for the white gate one sees between the course and SW Schools Ferry Road that Ben Hogan used as his aiming point for his tee shot. There are thicker trees on the left down the entirety of the fairway while the right side has its thicker trees after the bunker on the right outer corner which is in play off the tee. Because the green is placed off to the left like a fishhook, one needs to challenge the right side of the fairway. The green sits close to the road with two large fronting bunkers. The green also sits above you and has a lot of interior movement due to a ridge that produces an interior “false front.” This is one of the better greens on the golf course. I really liked the hole.
4. Par 3 – 133/124. The fourth plays parallel to the road and sits behind the driving range protected by a tall net. There is a very large and wide bunker down the right side with two bunkers on the left that can receive balls hit onto the green as it is steeply banked to the right. I thought I had gone too far left with my tee shot but my member host simply told me to wait and the result was a six feet attempt for birdie which I barely touched and still ran it by the hole by nearly two feet. This hole is one of the least visually attractive on the course but the green makes it a lot of fun.
5. Par 5 – 524/505. This is easily the most forgettable hole on the front nine as it plays slightly downhill and straight. The fairway is lined with thick trees which provides the only real defense to the hole. SW Nicol Road is fairly close to the left but the trees will likely stop a ball from going out of bounds. There is a single bunker off to the right within driving range off the tee. The other two large bunkers for the hole are placed on either side of the green about 15 yards short. These bunkers look the same and variety in their shape would have been better. I also think this hole could use a bunker at the rear. The green surrounds and surface are relatively benign.
6. Par 4 – 403/324. Another straight hole has one playing across Fanno Creek with SW Nicol Road as at out of bounds down the left. The trees are not as thick here so a ball hit left will likely find the parking lot of the nearby school. There is a bunker on the right that has to be avoided. The green sits above you on higher ground with flanking front bunkers. I liked the hole due to the location and movement in the green. Note the 70 yard difference in the Hudson tees to the member tees which was accomplished by having the Hudson tees start about 60 yards before the fifth green being put on a wedge of land protected by some trees.
7. Par 4 – 351/343. Bristol, as mentioned in the overview, is named for the pond made and funded by a member that fronts this green. The hole plays downhill so tee shots can reach the green. The trees are slightly thicker on the left. The pond begins about 75 yards before the green and goes hard against the left side but with perhaps 20 yards of short grass before the green from the front. The green has a single bunker on the right middle and two at the rear which make sense given people are likely trying to ensure they are not short. While I thought the hole was nice, I also thought the pond’s edge should go up to as little as 5 yards before the front of the green. This is probably unlikely as this is a club with members of varying ability and the course is meant for its members, but it would definitely improve the hole.
8. Par 3 – 204/182. I do not know why I did not like this hole more as it is wonderfully surrounded by five bunkers. However it plays flat and lacks visual appeal. Given that it is next to Fanno Creek (which should not be in play), I think raising this green four feet would likely improve the hole and make it both better from a playing perspective and visual appeal. I do not know if the course ever floods, but a higher green might be better as well.
9. Par 4 – 361/354. I liked the ninth due to its green which I think is the best on the front nine, even better than the third. The hole plays to a green that is slightly to the right. There is a single bunker off the tee on the left to consider that bigger hitters will not worry about. The green has four bunkers surrounding it. In addition there are various fall-offs. The green has different shelves and swales in it with an overall tilt to the right. For a short hole, even the better players will likely be okay with a par. The ninth returns to the clubhouse.
10. Par 5 – 510/491. From an elevated tee near the club’s swimming pool, this hole plays essentially straight with scattered trees down both sides. A large fairway bunker in on the left that is bent towards the fairway. A large tree on the left can block one’s line to the green if trying for the green in two. There is a bunker short of the green on the right which seems too innocent. A center-line fairway bunker at its location about 45 yards from the green would be better. The green has a bunker front left and one down the right side. Fanno Creek is behind the green but should not be in play except for those going for the green in two. The green is again a bit flattish. Much like the fifth, this is one of the lesser holes on the course.
11. Par 4 – 392/355. There is a picture in the men’s locker room of Ben Hogan hitting a tee shot on this hole which plays over Bristol Lake and sharply uphill. There are no fairway bunkers but the trees on either side offer enough defense making hitting the fairway very important due to the blind shot into the green. The green has a false front with a deep bunker on the right front, less deep on the left front. There is a final bunker on the left rear. The green is close to the boundary line of the property so going long is likely a dropped shot or even out of bounds. This green has good internal movement in it. It is a strong hole despite it being rated the #12 index.
12. Par 3 – 208/181. Playing from one of the highest points on the course just below the higher eleventh green, this hole plays downhill across Fanno Creek to a large green with two bunkers on the right and one on the left. While the bank behind the green gives the appearance from the green of providing a chance to go long yet still come back onto the green, more often than not balls will stay on that bank because it is not as steep as it appears. This hole is visually more interesting than playing but it is a nice long par 3 playing one club shorter.
13. Par 4 – 387/370. Thick trees line both sides of the fairway for a hole playing basically level and somewhat straight. But because the thick trees come in from the left, the preferred line is closer to the right. The green complex includes a right side bunker 20 yards short and then flanking bunkers. Off to the right side nearer the green is Bristol pond, but I do not think it should be in play. The green could have more interior movement and more interesting contouring behind it.
14. Par 4 – 396/371. This hole plays as a slight dogleg left with its only fairway bunker up the left side but reachable from the tee for many players. Longer players will easily clear it. The green complex has much higher land to the right that can propel a ball onto the green unless hit too far right in which case it will likely stay on the bank. The best bet to a green sloped to the left is to hit to the left side of the front right bunker placed 8 yards from the green. There is a left greenside bunker as well. This green is tilted to the left but overall also lacks inner movement. However, due to the location of the green set below the higher bank on the right, I did like the hole.
15. Par 5 – 552/535. The first two par 5’s are disappointing, but the fifteenth is a fine hole playing slightly downhill from the tee and bending left. There is a large fairway bunker on the right corner but only in play for the longer hitters. Trees are thick on both sides. What I like the most about this hoe is that the green is placed off to the left of the dogleg with an early right fronting bunker about 15 yards from the green and then bunkers that are either right/left or front/rear depending on one’s angle to the green. The far left pin location is particularly tricky. There are fall-offs on the left and rear of the green. The green surface is long and wide, yet looks shallow and is filled with a nice amount of inner movement. This is a fine golf hole.
16. Par 4 – 420/362. Another dogleg left follows with the green set about 15 yards on the other side of Fanno Creek, which crosses the fairway. There is a thick group of trees down the right side and then an outer corner bunker that I thought to be unnecessary and wish the tree line would have continued. This bunker forces players to stay left when the line to the hole is to favor the right, but trees would have added more to the beauty of the hole. The green has flanking bunkers but is very flat. This is a wonderfully shaped hole but the green is very disappointing.
17. Par 3 – 225/162. Notice the difference in the tees which creates an entirely different hole. Fanno Creek again crosses the fairway but well short of the green so it should not be in play. The green is surrounded by four bunkers of which three are in the rear. This green is also somewhat flat whereas more inner movement would enhance this hole.
18. Par 5 – 642/532. The final large difference is tees – 110 yards. There are various tees built now where the original designers would have never conceived of putting them. These tees are in a chute playing across Fanno Creek. It is a very daunting carry for shorter hitters to reach the fairway and even longer hitters will be very mindful of the narrowness of the opening. The trees are scattered down both sides of a fairway that has a few rolls in it. From these backs tees it is unlikely that the two flanking fairway bunkers will be reached. The fairway has sufficient width to hit one’s second as aggressively as they want. There are flanking bunkers about 25 yards short of the green. The green is raised with additional flanking bunkers and has a back to front tilt, a false front, and other falls-offs. This green also has good interior movement. While the first two par 5’s are disappointing, the final two par 5’s are really good.
In the Portland area, it is difficult to choose the best course. Certainly the Witch Hollow course at Pumpkin Ridge is the most difficult, Waverley has five very memorable holes as well as a great set of finishing holes along the river, while Portland is perhaps the best walk and has the most golf history.
Portland has changed its course to keep up with modern distances. For the 1946 PGA it played to 6524 yards, essentially the “Hudson/Blue” combination tees today. It currently has the Hudson tees at 6944 yards, but it can easily add some tees to over 7000 yards. The course today is good but it could be better. The first two par 5’s, the fifth and the tenth let down the course as these holes are straight, too short, and lack more interesting defensive features and character. Several of the greens are too flat. While Bristol pond (the club might refer to it as a lake) and Fanno Creek can come into play on some holes, on the seventh and sixteenth the water should be moved closer to the green as the bailout areas in front of the green are too large. Many of the greens are perfectly located on higher ground, but lack more interesting green surrounds or even a few of the greens should be raised slightly. The finishing four holes feature two of the best holes on the course yet the final four holes could be an even more memorable finish with some changes to the green complexes. I do not think the changes I suggested would make the course play much more difficult but would make it more interesting and fun. However, it is a course that has to be mindful of its members who likely prefer the “playability” aspect of it. It is very much a course that is a lovely walk and as mentioned earlier, one that will likely appreciate more the more they play it.
Date: August 17, 2021