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Whole in one ... Oregon's Sunriver provides a total family vacation package

( 11 votes, average: 4.7 out of 5)
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Whatever, the mention of the Sunriver area in central Oregon had produced warm notions for me through the years.

It had begun decades ago when longtime friends of my parents started spending their summer vacations in a rented home in Sunriver, a tidy, master-planned community developed in the late '60s, long before it was popular for congestion-weary Californians to hightail it to Oregon for some peace and quiet.


A trip to Sunriver had never materialized because there were too many other places on our travel wish list. That is, until one final piece of the allure fell into place: golf.

Nearly all of the vacations we take nowadays have some golf element. It is the nature of this sporting bug that bites you, and when the Sunriver Resort opened its instantly revered Crosswater Golf Club in 1995, Sunriver began to rise to the must-see category.

At the time of its opening, Crosswater was the longest (7,683 yards) course in America. It was touted by Golf Digest as one of the best new courses in the country. A 1999 match between Fred Couples and John Daly for an episode of "Shell's Wonderful World of Golf" put it on the national map, and when George W. Bush became the first sitting president to visit Central Oregon in 2003, he squeezed in a round at Crosswater.

In each of the past six years, Crosswater has hosted a U.S. Golf Association, NCAA or PGA of America national championship event. And since there is no other resort golf course in the country that can make that claim, it was finally time to see what all the fuss was about.

In a weeklong stay, the Sunriver Resort more than lived up to those decades of anticipation, not only for the golf, but as a family destination the likes of which we'd never experienced.

Think of the natural beauty in the best national parks you've visited, add some spectacular golf, four-star resort accommodations and more family fun than you can pack into a week, and that's Sunriver.

It exists thanks to a group of prominent Oregonians who nearly 40 years ago envisioned an "ecological experiment" on the high-desert, eastern side of the Cascade Mountains. Their new town would be convenient to Bend, 15 miles north (and 45 minutes from the regional airport in Redmond). It would have homes on large lots and a smattering of condominiums amid lodgepole and ponderosa pines as well as miles and miles of bike paths to discourage the use of cars.

On 3,500 acres formerly occupied by Camp Abbott, an Army training base that housed 40,000 soldiers during World War II, the developers built a community intended to be a retreat for those who could afford second homes. It was hoped that part-time visitors might become full-time residents, and the facilities installed were meant to attract people of all ages: a town center with a grocery store; dozens of shops and restaurants; an ice rink that doubles as a neat miniature golf course in the summertime. There's even the requisite old-fashioned ice cream parlor, Goody's.

There are two swimming pools, including an Olympic-sized one with a twisty tube slide; stables; a marina that rents canoes and other water craft; 26 tennis courts; a massive family park; and finally, 37 miles of paved bike paths with which to access all the fun.

In other words, if you can't come here and play guilt-free golf while the rest of the family frolics, good luck finding anyplace else.

The most attractive selling point, of course, is the gorgeous, unfettered scenery. To the west rise the eight peaks of the Cascades - the most prominent of which is 9,065-foot Mount Bachelor, still heavily capped with snow in July.

In Sunriver, the property is perfectly suited for just about any sport, winter or summer. While heavily forested, there is plenty of open, marshy land created by the eruption of volcanoes 10,000 years ago. The lava flows devastated corridors of pines but also formed pristine lakes, waterfalls and rivers. The Deschutes, Little Deschutes and Falls rivers beautifully meander through the Sunriver property, and the fly-fishing for trout here is said to be world-class.

In the spring, when the Mount Bachelor ski resort is open only 18 miles away, it's possible to hit the slopes in the morning, play golf in the afternoon and then put on the wading boots and fish until sunset.

"We have nine months of winter, and three months of relatives," joked Crosswater director of golf Brad Myrick.

Golf was always a huge part of the vacation equation at Sunriver.

The first course to open was the Meadows in 1969. It was constructed next to the Sunriver Resort's lodge and is the most diverse of the property's three courses. In '99, architect John Fought renovated the 6,625-yard track (from the blue tees) that begins among the wetlands and wanders through the pines. The Meadows ($70-$125 green fees, including cart) is a tactical course, where driver isn't always the smartest play.

Next came the Woodlands ($70-$125), designed by renowned architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. Aptly named, the course winds 6,880 yards through the trees. While there are few water hazards or long carry shots, in some respects it can be the most challenging because it is the most claustrophobic.

We played what the resort calls "Family Sunset" golf, in which up to two kids play free with an adult paying twilight ($45). It was a joy for my son, although we lost more balls here than at the other two courses combined.

Sunriver had this very nice one-two combination, but it didn't have the knockout punch - until Crosswater was built. Designed by Bob Cupp and Fought, it was fully intended to take your breath away both in aesthetics and challenge. It does, magnificently.

When you hear that the U.S. Women's Public Links Championship and the NCAA finals have been played here, and that the Champions Tour plays its Tradition event here, the obvious conclusion is that Crosswater must be brutally demanding. It can be, especially if you play from the full length. Example: The lake on the par-5 12th hole runs along the entire left side of the fairway - all 687 yards of it.

But the most impressive attribute of Crosswater is that, with five sets of tee boxes, you can make the experience anything you want. You can go for the full test, which sometimes requires 220-yard carries over water - the Deschutes comes into play at least seven times - or back off and enjoy the challenge the course still presents in its approach shots and around the greens.

Crosswater ($105-$155) is the one semi-private course in the complex, and it requires a stay at the resort to play.

At many golf resorts, children are seen as a necessary nuisance. At Sunriver, they are warmly embraced. Once you're there, it's a no-brainer that Family Circle magazine once named Sunriver "Resort of the Year" and a "Top 10 Vacation Destination."

We've never seen so many kids hitting balls happily on the driving range, and there's a natural-grass putting course the young ones get a kick out of. The resort even hosts a Snag Golf clinic, which uses oversized plastic clubs for the youngest golfers.

There are dozens of activities for kids scheduled every day in the summer, and for a fee they can play for half or full days in full supervision at Camp Funnigan.

For people who don't play golf, there is the 35,000-square-foot, full-service Sage Springs Club and Spa.

The resort's 250 guest rooms range from smaller, hotel-sized rooms to suites that include a kitchen, living room, two bathrooms and a loft with two queen beds.

The resort offers summer golf packages such as the "Crosswater Experience." For $199 to $229 per person per night, golfers can play one round per day at Crosswater and unlimited golf at the Meadows and Woodlands. There's a fall package that runs from $149 to $189. A spa or golf package in the summer runs $230 to $270 per night.

IF YOU GO

For more information on Sunriver Resort, visit sunriver-resort.com or call 800-801-8765.

Tod Leonard writes about golf for The San Diego Union-Tribune.

© Copley News Service


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