June 26, 2007

Pronghorn's Fazio course -- a view from the other side

The eighth hole at Pronghorn's Tom Fazio Course

You have to hand it to the Pronghorn folks: They sure know how to throw a party. With a budget that would successfully fund a Third World country for the better part of a decade, it’s small wonder.

The object of everyone’s affection this past weekend was the official dedication of the new clubhouse and the Tom Fazio golf course.

Pronghorn is a rara avis situated in an old-growth juniper forest a stone’s throw from the Redmond Airport as the crow flies, though exceedingly more difficult to get to in any buggy using $3.15-a-gallon gasoline.

It’s exclusive, it’s private, and – yeah – it’s awesome.

For the vast bulk of people living in Deschutes, Jefferson, and Crook counties, it’s also off-limits. Security is tight, homes sell for upwards of $3.5 million, lots can be had for a half-million at the low end and approaching $2 million at the upper end – and you’ll need to own something to get a tee-time on the two golf courses.

The Courses

That’s right: two courses. The original was designed by Jack Nicklaus and has been open for member play for nearly three years.

How good are the two golf courses?

Take whatever you’ve heard and double it; then do it again. The setting is desert majestic, the views of the mountains and buttes are unsurpassed – even if you’ve become jaded by the stunning vistas that routinely surround Redmond – the landscape is constantly and meticulously groomed, and you can putt your ball from a hundred yards away on either layout.

For mere mortals, it’s as challenging as anything you’ll find: undulating greens that are granite-hard and U.S. Open-slick; narrow fairways that siren-call to the slicer and seriously beckon to the snap-hooker; bunkers that are often, well, pot-like; and forced carries that will encourage you to visit the gym on a regular basis, or shell out for that new driver you’ve been thinking about.

The course is long – how about a 452-yard uphill four-par from the average tees (what was Jack thinking?) – and punishing. Bring your A game, and then quickly discover that your A game likely isn’t going to be good enough.

Tom Fazio, the noted course designer, took a look at the Nicklaus course and decided to go somewhat in the opposite direction. His fairways are wide and generous --for the most part – and inviting. The greens are large, will hold a well-struck shot, and the ball rolls true: uncanny and unwavering, every time.

Don’t miss a shot, though; like the Nicklaus design, the course is still amply long and plenty penal.

The bunkers are strategically placed but escapable, for the most part, and the logic of the course – the way it strategically follows the natural lay of the land—is brilliant.

Everyone talks about the par-three 8th, which plays to 187 from the tips and 106 from the forward tees. While crafting and coaxing the hole out of the natural canyon environment, Fazio and his minions blasted the rock to sink the green and unearthed a lava tube.

You’ll see pictures of the 8th in national golf magazines, travel magazines, real estate magazines, local magazines, and even the local newspapers.

It’s as pretty as a postcard, to be sure, though not much more than an easy 8-iron (watch the putt, however; the green is fast and curvy and runs hard). If you can talk your way into a tour of the lava tube itself, bring something warm to wear: The temperature holds in the mid-50s degrees and is the perfect location for a wine cellar.

Nicklaus’ course is brute strength and rugged beauty.

Fazio’s is open and breathtaking and razzle-dazzle, like Fourth of July fireworks. The cart path crosses large bunkers a handful of times, you splash through a running creek at one point, and many of the holes are wonderfully framed by canyon walls, big-bellied bunkers, and ghost trees.

The bottom line is that you’ll never again want to visit the local municipal course down the road.

The trouble is, you can actually play the local muni down the road, provided you have $65 (add $15 for half a cart). You have to know a Pronghorn member to play the Nicklaus course and even then it will cost you $100. The Fazio layout costs member-accompanied guests a cool $125.

The Pronghorn Experience

Membership at Pronghorn isn’t cheap. Have you seen all those private jets buzzing about the skies over Redmond of late? The chances are good that the occupants’ destination is our unseen neighbor off the Powell Butte Highway.

What do they get for their investment, besides two other-worldly golf courses and quasi-famous neighbors and real estate prices that make most of us shake our heads in astonishment?

Let’s start with the Nicklaus golf center, a high-tech paradise staffed by the most efficient and overtly positive and friendly personnel you’ll run across. The people who run it can fix your game, starting with the swing and a fine-tuning of your equipment.

What else?

Let’s see: pools and whirlpools and spas, a playground for the youngsters that tickles the imagination and offers activities directed by professionals, a snack bar that’s every bit the equal to the clubhouse at every other golf club around, the prospect of an on-site convenience store (it’s a long drive to Redmond, and even to Bend), tennis courts, and a new, 55,000-square-foot clubhouse that – well, that has to be seen and savored to be fully appreciated.

First off, bring a map to negotiate the clubhouse; you’ll need it and the Pronghorn staffers have them readily available.

The place is magnificent: all desert stone and dark, big-beamed timbers and gleaming hardwood floors and high ceilings and mazes and corridors and cubbyholes and elaborate restrooms, workout rooms, and television sets (too many to count) and bars and private rooms and dressing rooms topped by exclusive private rooms and exclusive dressing rooms and non-stop hustle and bustle and service and splash and dash.

The pro shop is high-end and well-stocked and staffed by friendly, knowledgeable people who are anxious to serve and even more anxious to help. A swing tip, a quick putting lesson – it’s all part of the fine-tuned atmosphere.

So you want in?

So you want in but don’t have a spare $5 million kicking around for a lot and a new home? Easy enough:

Consider fractional ownership at the Residence Club, where $164,800 will buy you a month a year and access to the Nicklaus course and locker room in the new clubhouse. Don’t forget the $6,200 in annual dues.

Like everything at Pronghorn, the design and quality of the accommodation is upscale and highly personalized. You’d be pleased to call the place home, even for weeks at a time.

Failing that, well, take pride in knowing that a much-discussed and highly regarded golf community is located in our back yard, even if there’s a lock at the gate. You can check it all out at www.pronghornclub.com, which might be as close as you’ll ever get.

If your attitude is that you can’t get at it and despise the place as a result, consider this:

  • Pronghorn pays upwards of three-quarters of a million dollars in property taxes each year, which help support area schools, among other things.
  • Pronghorn provides jobs for 300 people during the peak summer season, when the weather in the high desert is perfect.
  • About 140 people work there during the off-season, November through February.
  • According to Pronghorn personnel, about 35 percent of the employees are from Redmond; many more hail from Bend.
  • Those same personnel will tell you quietly that some Pronghorn members are Redmond residents.

Good luck figuring out who they might be.

--by Bill Florence

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