The lousy economy, which could just as easily have closed the doors of central Oregon's latest destination resort, has instead thrown them wide open. Pronghorn Resort, which opened in 2006 as an ultraluxurious, private, gated golf community about 15 miles northeast of Bend, saw its home sales plummet when the economy soured. Instead of giving up, its developers constructed 48 swank lodge units, and, in summer 2010, began allowing public access to the resort and one of its two championship golf courses. (A Tom Fazio-designed course remains open to members only.)
Pronghorn has since piled up the accolades, including ranking among Golf Digest's top 50 golf resorts in North America last year (Oregon's Bandon Dunes was No. 1), and earning a top-25 rating by the magazine for the Nicklaus Course among U.S. public courses.
More modest in size and scope than Oregon's pioneering destination resorts of Black Butte Ranch and Sunriver, Pronghorn, set on 640 acres, is very much for golfers. The elegant lodge suites, with vaulted ceilings, fireplaces, flat-screen TVs and stone exteriors, neighbor the Nicklaus Course. The view from our unit was of the 18th green.
The public course is magnificent, and challenging. The signature hole, the par-four 13th, requires teeing off past a lake, avoiding a fairway bunker and hitting a green framed by bunkers and a cascading waterfall. Want a tune-up before hitting the course? The onsite Tour Academy offers personal instruction and stroke analysis.
Head instructor Mike Palen shot video of my swing, then matched it side by side against a video of Tiger Woods' swing. Mine fell a bit short of ideal, but the comparison helped me focus on standing straighter and rotating my hips more on follow-through. Between golfing and visits to the pool, the onsite restaurants have top-notch food, from smoked cheddar mac 'n' cheese or Margherita pizza at the Trailhead Grill to seared scallops or blackened halibut at Cascada.
Need a break from the links? Take a rafting adventure on the Deschutes River, a 4 1/2-hour, 13-mile journey through some Class 3 whitewater. After we shot through the rapids at Wapinitia, our guide, Lexy, warned us we'd have to do better work with our paddles because the lava rocks on later runs were "like cheese graters."
"You don't want to be the cheese," she said.
We made it through unscathed, soaking wet, laughing and wishing we could do it again.
Features: Two championship golf courses (only one -- the Jack Nicklaus Signature Course -- is available to nonmembers), instructional golf academy, spa, three restaurants, two pools, hot tub, tennis court, playground, indoor recreation area, kids club, free airport and Mount Bachelor ski shuttles.
Lodging: The 48-suite lodge has two-, three- and four-bedroom units for rent, including gourmet kitchens, Wi-Fi, home theater systems and full concierge service. Smaller junior suites feature one bedroom and bath. Frequent specials include rounds of golf or ski lift tickets as well as discounted room rates. More info: 866-372-1003, Visit: PronghornResort.com.