“Please don’t rain. Please don’t rain,” I said to myself, over and over, in a rhythmic chant as I drove back up the I-5 corridor. I haven’t gone this far since my trip to Portland last month, and the gray clouds looming overhead are giving me the idea that maybe this trip was a bad idea. I got off the interstate at the Creswell, Oregon exit and within minutes I was pulling into the parking lot of Emerald Valley Golf Club, home of the University of Oregon Ducks. The pavement was wet with the previous night’s rain, which continued to put a damper on my spirits. After a quick meeting with the head pro I was standing on the first tee box, my head full of contingency plans in case the rains came. As I stooped down and teed up my ball, an oak leaf blew across the tee box. I turned to see where it came from. I didn’t see which particular tree this leaf decided to emigrate from, but I did see the fairway light up with the sun’s emergence from its fortress of clouds. I smiled, and as I swung I couldn’t help but think sun, sun, sun, here it comes.
Anyone who has spent more than five minutes in the Pacific Northwest this time of year will tell you that it’s a wet, wet season, but if you played Emerald Valley you wouldn’t think so. The course was in fantastic shape despite the battering that the region takes from rain on what seems to be a daily basis. The maintenance of this course is a feather in the cap of the management (a duck feather, I believe). So let’s start at the beginning.
The tee boxes were the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of teeing up. I’m not hyperbolizing here, they were that good. The tee boxes at Emerald Valley had everything they needed and nothing they don’t. There are yardage signs on each of the four tees (yellow, blue, white, and red) and conveniently placed ball washers, with towels. There were next to no divots, and what few were there, were filled with sand and grass seed and kept so neat that there were no piles of sand sitting like pimples on the box’s face. Their consistency was what you would expect from a championship course. Firm enough to provide a stable address position, but malleable enough to plant and remove tees with ease.
Moving on into the fairway (hopefully). At Emerald Valley the fairways are easy to miss; they’re very narrow and have several doglegs that offer tempting opportunities to cut the corner and save a stroke for those golfers who classify themselves as “high risk, higher reward.” Each fairway is lined with old oak trees, offering a semi-permeable barricade for errant shots. But even more important than the barrier is the view. The tree-lined corridors of Emerald Valley provide dozens of opportunities for pictures. At one point, I stopped playing just to enjoy the atmosphere. There’s a druidic feel to Emerald Valley, often leading to moments of isolation promoting just you and the game.
After a good iron shot or two (or ten) and you find yourself on the green, you’re in for a real treat. These greens are what make or break your score. They roll true and fast, even in the current conditions (I shudder to think their speed during peak summer season weather). Well-maintained and trimmed, the greens at Emerald Valley are a privilege to lip-out putts on. Their difficulty I attested to their hometown team, the Ducks. Emerald offers a challenging championship level course to cut their teeth on.
After your round should you find yourself in need of a celebratory drink or a grieving one, the restaurant at Emerald Valley is a solid choice. The Front Nine Restaurant is a small, diner-like affair that has an unassuming air to it. Looks can be deceiving, because the food is fantastic. I highly recommend the patty melt. With a great kitchen comes a great bar. The Back Nine Bar offers a full bar that specializes in drinks made with fresh fruit juice. And it wouldn’t be a bar in Oregon without microbrew beers, which are present in the Back Nine’s draft selection.
In the pro shop, you’ll find yourself in the company of a kind and knowledgeable staff. I met Chris, the head pro, and his assistant professional, Colin (what are the odds?). I had a great chat with them before and after my round. They couldn’t have been more accommodating and generous. U of O pride is alive and well in the pro shop, with an entire wall devoted to memorabilia of the team. The shop is stocked with several different brands of merchandise bearing the Emerald Valley logo for souvenir golfers (like me). If it’s used on a golf course, you can find at Emerald Valley.
So, everything I’ve said so far is the technical stuff about a golf course, the physical components that every golf course in the world has, just to varying degrees. That Emerald Valley’s amenities rank in the 95th percentile of courses I’ve had the pleasure to play made the visit a pleasure, but there’s one thing that can’t be measured physically, and that is character. Right before my round started, Chris told me how Emerald Valley is a very “old-school” golf course, with the greens and tees very close together. As I meandered the fairways I got a sense of nostalgia, which surprised me. It finally occurred to me that Emerald Valley reminded me of the course I used to play when I was a kid. It put me at ease during the tension of playing a new course and trying not to embarrass myself.
A championship course can seem daunting and intimidating to newcomers, but Emerald Valley has a very approachable demeanor and the course itself seeks to put you at ease. It’s a difficult course for sure, but with each swing the course makes you feel at home. The world needs more golf courses like Emerald Valley.
At a Glance
Emerald Valley Golf Club
83301 Dale Kuni Road
Creswell, OR 97426
Phone: (541) 895-2174
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