Why the Nicklaus Course at Pronghorn Should Be On Your Bucket List
This post was originally published in April 2013, and has been updated as of April 2022.
There was just something about the exclsuive nature of the resort when it opened that was captivating, not to mention it’s setting in the middle of 20,000 acres of BLM land about half an hour outside Bend.
What does this mean?
It means despite being just 20 minutes from Bendm, it feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere.
It also just so happens to be #40 on Golf Digest’s list of the Top 100 Public Courses in America.
When I first started this blog, I made a goal that I wanted to play all of the top 100 public courses, and wasn’t sure I’d be able to start until I played Crosswater later in the summer.
I’ve been in Eagle Crest, Oregon for the last few days and had plans to play my favorite course in Oregon, Aspen Lakes. But considering the new goal, I decided to check out some tee times at Tetherow and Pronghorn – two of the courses on the top 100 in the area.
$50 for a 12:50 tee time on the Pronghorn Nicklaus course.
In the summer you’re paying $195, plus the required cart and forecaddie fees – an expensive proposition no matter how you cut it.
So I convinced my girlfriend Tate’s dad to head out there with me, and what we got was one of the most spectacular rounds of golf I’ve played in recent memory.
Check out my video review of the experience at Pronghorn Resort:
First Impressions of Pronghorn Golf Club
While initially a completely private resort, a couple years back they opened up the Nicklaus course for public play.
It’s a 4 mile drive off the main road through sagebrush to reach the resort and upon pulling up, you can tell this place was designed for the well off.
We reached the gated entrance and the attendee asked “What can we do for you?”
“We have a 12:50 tee time under Ogle.”
“Welcome to Pronghorn Mr. Ogle, follow the road around to the clubhouse.”
We parked and immediately upon getting out and preparing our golf clubs and attire, a guy drove up in a cart, welcomed us again and got our clubs on the cart. We drove up to the spectacular clubhouse and he ushered us into the pro shop.
Sometimes you go to places like this and you just feel as though everyone thinks they are better than you. A turned up nose if you aren’t wearing a Rolex Daytona is sometimes expected – and based on the exclusivity of Pronghorn, it was something I’d prepared for.
This was nowhere to be found however.
I walked up to the desk at the pro shop and asked the guy working how he was doing.
“I’m fantastic! Look at this day, how can you not be doing good?”
He had a point.
It was still March and many of the Central Oregon courses aren’t even open yet or are still covered in snow. We had a partly cloudy 65 degree day, perfect weather for a round of 18.
Note: The photos in this article were taken on March 29th. In a month I imagine the course will look completely different. For those of you not from around Oregon, it’s amazing that any course in that area could be in this good of shape at this time of year – but it is still a ways off from where it will be in the summer.
After paying we headed out to the range to hit some balls and get warmed up. We arrived an hour early, I wanted to make sure my game was in as good of shape as possible – and to be honest, just wanted to make the experience last as long as possible.
I grabbed a few clubs, walked out to the driving range, and proceeded to grab some balls from the buckets they already had out there.
You know you’re in a fancy place when all of the range balls are Titleist Pro V1s.
I mean really?!
Maybe this is a regular thing at this level of establishment, but I was totally impressed.
After getting myself to the point where I felt totally confident in my ability to hit every drive 300 yards straight down the pike (sarcasm anyone?), I headed over to their beautiful putting green and chipping area.
One thing I learned about Pronghorn throughout the round is it is exquistetly maintained, and many of the manicured features are so well done, that the golf course seems to naturally flow into the landscape.
The tree in the middle of the chipping green is an excellent example of that.
I hit some putts and drained a couple curving 30 footers which left me feeling pretty awesome about my prospects on the course.
I then quickly hit some chips and we made our way to the first tee, where I was about as excited as I’ve ever been to tee it up on a course.
The Front Nine on the Nicklaus Course at Pronghorn
We walked up to the teebox on the first hole and debated for a quick second about which tees we were going to play. From the tips the Nicklaus course at Pronghorn comes in 7.389 yards – a long course by anyone’s standards.
We thought about hitting from the Blacks, but settled on the Rust tees, which were still a solid 6,533 yards.
As much as I wanted to go big off the first tee, I told myself I wanted to score well this round. Course management was paramount, and if that meant leaving the driver in the bag more often than not, then that’s what I’d do.
At 355 yards the first hole should have been pretty straight forward, but I think my nerves got the best of me as I hooked my hybrid about 215 out into the brush.
While the course looks extremely intimidating, I actually found errant shots to be relatively easy to find, as is often the case with many high desert courses.
So much so, that I didn’t lose a single ball during the entire round (can’t remember the last time that happened).
I learned this right off the first tee, as I found my ball in relatively good shape about 10 yards left of the fairway.
I pulled out an 8 and while I made solid contact it landed straight in the greenside bunker.
If you know me, you’d know the one shot where I have zero confidence is out of the sand.
Yet, somehow, I was able to chip it up to within 15 feet on the first go. A two putt bogey left me feeling like I’d dodged a bullet.
The next five holes proceeded in a relatively similar manner.
Meaning, I usually had 2 good shots and one awful one, and then ended with a bogey.
For instance, I hit got out of a deep pot bunker on the long par 3 3rd hole, but unfortunately missed my 5 foot par putt – a recurring theme of the round
I was relatively stable until we hit the par 3 7th. A short and relatively easy looking par 3 at 137 yards from the mid tees. I pulled out a 9 and let it fly, thinking I had plenty of room for error. I landed the green and smiled, thinking that I might finally make a par this round.
My smile quickly faded as I watched my ball land the green and then slowly start rolling to the front, quickly gaining speed, until it ended up in a gully about 10 feet below the green. I flubbed a chip, and then left one short to ruin my solid string of bogeys to finish with a double.
I went bogey, double to finish out the front nine, which is particularly disappointing considering I hit every fairway after that first hole.
I ended the front with a 47 that felt much more like a 43. I couldn’t quite get a feel for the greens, and I think I was giving them more credit than they deserved on this particular day as I was leaving everything short.
On the practice green I overheard someone who looked like a regular hit a putt and say “Yep, greens are still slow. Probably still a couple weeks out.”
I’d imagine if I came back for Memorial Day I’d see the 13 or 14 stimp greens I’ve heard so much about.
Overall, I was driving the ball well, recovering well, and aside from some pesky putts, feeling good about the round so far.
The Back Nine on the Nicklaus Course at Pronghorn
For as much as I liked the front, I’ve gotta say, I loved the back.
There was a bit more elevation and in my mind, there were a few more memorable holes as well.
That being said, it started off a bit rough on 10.
What was probably the widest, most open fairway on the course, wasn’t enough for the awful slice I hit off the tee.
My first truly errant drive of the day sliced hard right and landed in the brush about 40 feet off the fairway.
My recovery shot wasn’t a whole lot better as I just launched it further down the brush.
I finally was able to get it up to the green and I luckily saved a double with a 10 foot putt. Sure, I can make the ones that save double, why couldn’t I make any for par?
The 11th was a beautiful par 4, and when the course really got exciting for me. There was a giant trap feature smack in the middle of the fairway that made you think hard about your drive.
There was a bailout shorter to the right, or you could smack it over to have a better looking second shot.
I stepped up with my driver and with a slight fade thought I’d still cleared the trap by a ways.
No such luck.
That bad boy was bigger than it looked, and my ball was hanging out right in the middle of the sand. Luckily it missed the rough that was in the center of it.
I hit a strong 5 out of the trap, and landed right on the fringe. All I had to do was two putt for my par.
I missed my 4 foot par put by half an inch, and may have shed a small tear.
The good news was, I was getting closer. I’d shaken the doubles and was getting closer to scoring.
12 was probably my favorite hole on the course. A short par 4 that was just over 340 from the tips and was playing about 275 from where I was teeing.
I was banging my driver all day, and so much of me wanted to just pull it out and try for the green in one – after all I had the altitude working in my favor!
Alas wiser thoughts prevailed and I landed a solid hybrid an easy wedge into the green.
Knowing I’d been leaving everything short, my birdie putt was pushed long, and it took me two more to get in the cup. Another bogey.
I kept the string of good long play going on what is probably the most intimidating hole on the course, the par 4 13.
A large lake surrounds the entire right hand side of the green and the green is tucked between the lake and sand on all sides.
Not the least of my problems was the distraction of a gorgeous waterfall cascading off the 18th teebox that made for one of the most memorable vistas on the course.
Somehow I managed to avoid all the trouble however and walk away with my first par of the round.
The par 3 14 was a relatively easy one measuring just 173 from the back tees.
I launched an 8 iron up, landed the green and 2 putted for my second par of the round.
The 14th was the first hole that played directly into the Three Sisters, which on a clear day would be absolutely spectacular.
Another incredible hole is the par 5 15th. The signature hole on the course, and one Nicklaus himself referred to as “Pine Valley West” due to the outcroppings in the fairway. No small comparison considering Pine Valley was rated as the #1 course in the world.
From the tees this is probably the most intimidating looking hole on the course. It’s long and it appears that there are very few good landing spots for your drive.
However once you clear the first outcropping you actually have much more room than you think, and the second was nearly 300 yards away from the mid tees – so you really have plenty of space.
A solid 250 yard drive followed by a couple well placed irons left me right on the fringe with a good look for another par.
Of course my head gets the best of me and I top my chip to the opposite side of the green. Another chip back wasn’t much better, and then I finally two putted for a double.
16 was a fun par 5 that measured 571 from the tips and started high, requiring a pretty monster drive just to make it to the fairway over the brush. That being said, it looked like so much fun, I had to give it a shot.
I settled for bogey again on the hole and then as we marched up to the par 3 17th, Kirk and I just looked at each other agreed that this hole didn’t look friendly.
Can’t go short as the intimidating bunker would swallow any balls that didn’t quite make it up to the fairway. There was also a bunker left and two in the back. The only really safe option is if you ended on the green or perhaps a little right.
I missed just short, chipped up, and once again, 2 putted for bogey.
The closing hole was relatively straight forward, but long at 418 from the Rust tees, and had an old tree right in the center of the fairway to tangle with. It turned out to be a non issue as I launched one of my best drives of the day about 280 down the fairway.
I followed with a solid 6 iron to the left of the green and missed my birdie putt by a few inches for an easy par.
Why couldn’t it have been that easy the rest of the day??
I finished the back with a 44, ending the round with a 91. Definitely left a few strokes out there, but as a bogey golfer, I was pretty happy not to embarrass myself too much on a difficult course.
Final Thoughts on the Nicklaus Course at Pronghorn Club
Playing Pronghorn at this time of the year pretty much felt like we were playing on our own private course. Aside from the foursome who let us tee off before them on one, we hardly saw another soul while we were out there.
It made for a relaxed round full of some of the most beautiful scenery you could ever expect to see on a golf course.
What truly made the round fun however, is the fact that there were numerous ways to play every single hole. It truly is a risk versus reward course. Do you try and bomb it on the short par 4s and go for the green? Do you play it safe and lay up, or go for it all giving yourself a better shot at the pin? It seemed like I was making decisions like this every single hole, and this is what truly set it apart and made it feel like a top 100 course.
I can’t wait to come back and play Pronghorn when its at it’s peak condition – although I think I’m going to have to work on my short game a bit before that happens.
Now, if only I can convince them to invite me back out for a round on the Fazio course? What do you say guys? 🙂
Next up on the quest for the top 100 is Cog Hill in May.
UPDATE June 2020:
I went back out to Pronghorn to check out the new Huntington Lodge and get a club fitting at the True Spec studio there. You can see more about their up to date offerings here:
- True Spec Golf Review: Why a Fitting at Pronghorn Could Be Game-Changing
- Why Pronghorn Resort is One of the Most Impressive In the Northwest