Imagine a world-class Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf course set in a mile-square parcel located in the middle of the largest Juniper forest in the United States near Bend, Oregon.

That’s what you find at the Pronghorn Resort located a few miles from downtown Bend, but a world away. You will feel like you got away after a visit to the Troon-managed resort.

The luxury development features custom home sites along the golf course with the homes set well back from the fairways. Traveling from Redmond, you take the same road that also goes to Powell Butte, the site of the Brasada Ranch luxury resort. One feature of both resorts is stunning views of the Cascades, often snow-capped, to the west.

No 14 on Nicklaus course

Nicklaus used the desert landscape well in crafting the challenging par 72 course. It plays 7,379 from the tips at a slope of 148 with the elevation of 3,200 feet adding about half a club. Even the gold tees (6,000 yards) play to a 128 slope. The common factor is plenty of forced carries over the desert.

It’s a tough track with greens that have plenty of subtle breaks. For non-members, Pronghorn requires a forecaddie ($22 per player plus tip)—it’s money well spent. Our young caddie, Dawson, saved plenty of balls that went into the desert and used his skilled eye to read greens (he grew up playing the course and played No. 1 for his high school all four years). The greens were rolling at 11 on the Stimp meter so take advantage of the practice putting green as well as the expansive practice area before teeing off.

One of the veteran starters told us that Jack was in the area for a wedding last year and came out with some friends to play Pronghorn. After the round, he remarked on what a tough course it is—true words from its designer.

Nicklaus took advantage of the desert landscape for most of the holes, but brought water hazards into play on par 5 No. 8 (625 yards) where a stream runs down the right side of the fairway and ends up in a lake that guards green on the right. A pin position tucked in the back-right corner brings the lake into play on the approach shot.

13th hole at Nicklaus Pronghorn

The signature hole is No. 13 that is 378 yards from the tips. The drive requires carrying the lake—the only question is how much you slice off the dogleg with the drive. The hole is essentially a peninsula with water in front and a bunker behind. Adding visual interest is a water fall that does not come into play.

On several holes, Nicklaus borrowed Donald Ross’ turtle-back green on the fronts. There are several greens that slope sharply back to front. If the approach shot or tee shot on the par 3s doesn’t carry, the ball rolls back down the slope—leaving the choice between a pitch, a pitch-and-run or a putt just like Ross’ greens at Pinehurst No. 2.

The second of back-to-back Par 5s on the back nine, No. 15, features natural rock outcroppings that define a fairway that snakes 543 yards uphill from the tee. Lean on your caddie for where to aim each shot. That feature also is found on a few other holes, while the natural desert landscape defines the forced-carries from the tees and the fairways.

Green fees for non-members range from $215 to online specials in the shoulder season of $85 per player in a foursome booked together. Those are quite limited and the forecaddies are required for all non-members on the Nicklaus course.

 Members at Pronghorn also can play the private Tom Fazio course. It’s the only resort/club property with side-by-side Nicklaus and Fazio courses. Our caddie described the Fazio course as more of a country club/resort course and a bit less challenging than the Nicklaus track. That said, it plays 7,456 from the tips at a 142 slope. The rust/gold combination plays 6,100 yards at a 129 slope.

By Tim Hunt