Better known perhaps for his first Oregon project at Bandon Dunes in 1999, architect David McLay Kidd returned to the Beaver State a decade later to lay out the golf course at Tetherow Golf Club.
Named after Solomon Tetherow, one of the mid-1800s pioneers who led wagon trains through the region, the course emulates the old timer’s trailblazing exploits with a modern design that some suspect might actually be ahead of its time.
Constructed with wall-to-wall fescue, the course plays firm and fast and it offers golfers a visually stimulating experience that some may find difficulty adjusting to. Add the fact that many of the greens are heavily contoured and you have a layout that certainly deserves the description of “challenging”.
The par four 6th is a feature hole, played from a tee set high above a split fairway. Those opting for the route to the left must flirt with the water hazard which runs along that side but they’ll have the reward of a shorter approach shot. Tee shots played to the safer side to the right avoid the water risk but the angle and length of approach makes for a more difficult shot to the green.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I made my tee time for Tetherow given all I had heard. What I found was a course that held my interest from the first tee shot all the way to the end. There are probably going to be times when your ball catches one of the tall grassy mounds out in the fairway but I always had a shot from them. There are probably going to be times when you walk up to one of the greens and say to yourself that you wish you had played your approach differently. The greens are a bit on the wild side with some big slopes and breaks but I found them at a speed that made them manageable. The course is a tough one to adequately describe in that it’s very different than anything else I played while on a trip to Bend. It’s what I describe as an “emotional” golf course. You will love it or hate it but I doubt you will walk off it with ambivalent feelings. For those who have played Tobacco Road by Mike Strantz put Tetherow in that category of an American original. It’s an experience that shouldn’t be missed.
The tough part of success -- isn't attaining it -- but following-up upon it. This is especially true when you're a golf course architect -- golfers who like your work expect your future work to mimic what drew them to appreciate what you created originally. David McLay Kidd gained instant worldwide attention with his coming out party design at Bandon Dunes in 1999. The coastal course provided the framework for the Scotsman to leapfrog others in the field and become the next hot superstar in the competitive design world.
When Kidd opted to design Tetherow he was blessed with another interesting site -- just minutes from the core downtown area of Bend -- one of the most interesting of communities, especially during the summer months when the weather is simply glorious.
Kidd included a more demanding tee-to-green side at Tetherow than at Bandon Dunes. There are different avenues of attack at Tetherow and the golfer must be sufficiently skilled to get to key positions -- both off the tee and on the approach side of things. I have heard some of the critics say the amount of options is bewildering and I find that bizarre -- when does a hole with several options to play it become a liability?
The main issue for Tetherow is Kidd's desire to provide for greens with an array of internal contours and subsections that are certainly open for criticism. The word overkill comes to mind. However, one of the best hole at Tetherow is the split fairway par-4 6th -- you can play it aggressively to the more narrower left or cautiously to the right. The main issue is the putting surface which looks like the Atlantic Ocean on a stormy day. The front right location is the size of someone's closet and should have been simply enlarged -- creating a much more reasonable situation.
To Kidd's credit the movement of the holes is well done -- shaping shots is a big part of the storyline at Tetherow. One of the more underrated holes is the short par-4 10th. The hole is just 316 yards and you can start from an elevated tee -- two bunkers are placed in the center of the fairway and need to be avoided -- you can play short of them or to the sides. If you go for the green there's an alleyway to run the ball on the green but the slightest pull or push will funnel your ball into likely the two greenside bunkers.
One of the really well done elements at Tetherow is the four par-5 holes. They are clearly interesting in their differentiation. I especially like the par-5 2nd. The fairway turns right and there's an alley on the right side for those wishing to use the provided "turbo boost" to have your ball run even further down the fairway. It's a blind shot off the tee and being able to "feel" the shot is clearly a test. Even in accomplishing that you still need to hit a quality approach to a green that is well-contoured and is easy to three-putt.
The finishing holes on each nine are par-5's and both climb uphill for the bulk of their length and are good conclusions. The other par-5 - the 13th -- is first rate. You need to find the fairway so that with your second shot you can get as near to the green as possible. There's a pond guarding the left side and the green -- like others at Tetherow -- is contoured so getting near the flag is paramount.
On the inward side I really enjoyed the long par-4 16th. There's no bunkers on the entire hole and the terrain sets the stage in grand fashion. Off the tee the hole turns right -- you can run out of run down the left side although from the tee it looks quite appealing. The green is simply a delight -- elevated and any shot that lands on the green had best have brakes because going left or over the back is not going to provide a promising future. When the pin is in the rear right side -- it takes total confidence to fly one's ball to that area.
Playability is a major element in the discussion of courses today. So much of what was built in America during the development surge in the 1990's were courses that proved to be too demanding and too intensive for maintenance purposes. I have played other courses that are more demanding than Tetherow and I believe the people who argue for "minimalism" want to see such facsimile layouts that do not deviate from the acceptable script. But, I do not see Tetherow as being unduly unfair -- no question you can get a bad bounce here and there -- but that happens routinely at other courses -- most notably at legitimate links courses. But, there are instances in which the drumbeat of demands can be skillfully toned down without undercutting the core soundness of what was originally contemplated.
Kidd admits he understands the critiques he received about Tetherow and frankly the course was one of the main reasons why classic course developer Mike Keiser opted to go in another direction with other architects until Kidd reversed course with his superlative playable layout at Gamble Sands in central Washington. That effort prompted Keiser to bring Kidd on board for the second 18 at Sand Valley in Wisconsin which opens in 2018.
Tetherow will no doubt prompt many deeply held feelings. Emotion is fine. Some people have said no less about Oakmont and Carnoustie, to name just two. Tweaking Tetherow here and there can prove useful but I would not want to see core elements of the design be eliminated simply to appease an unyielding coterie of classic course groupies who see golf design through the prism of rigid uniformity in all ways. Kidd pushed the envelope at Tetherow and I salute architects who don't want to be viewed as a one-song artist because sameness and predictability are quick ways to pen one's own career obituary. Kidd learned from Tetherow -- I just hope he doesn't pull in the creative oars and be steered down the river of banality. Gamble Sands provides a most welcome fun element -- but the edginess is not there nor did it need be there. When covering the US Open this year at Erin Hills I will be stopping by Sand Valley to see firsthand the routing and holes he has created there. Be very much interesting to see the style and feel as Kidd's career evolves. We shall see.
by M. James Ward