Posted by Rob Rigg
The Reserve – North Course
The Reserve – South Course
Green Fees: $49 to $89 depending on day and time of year
The Reserve Vineyards and Golf Club is located about 30 to 45 minutes from downtown Portland in Aloha, OR. It is a semi-private club with two eighteen hole courses that are “private” in either the first or second half of the month.
I played the North Course last year and the South Course very recently. They each have different strengths and weaknesses. The Bob Cupp designed North Course is very short with several holes, like the 7th and 13th, that are a very strange design. Overall, the North suffers from excessive mounding while the South suffers from excessive bunkering. Both courses are packed into fairly tight spaces, especially the North. This situation, however, makes both exceptionally walkable.
During the summer, the conditioning at The Reserve is usuall quite good. When I recently played the South, the course was still water logged after several days of very heavy rain. The grass was longer than normal and the greens were quite slow and still recovering from their last aeration, which I attribute to the weather and not the general maintenance of either course.
The site of the Reserve is quite flat, with only a little bit of undulation. The architects were clearly challenged to add “interest” to the courses through bunkering, mounding, or via green complexes.
At $55 for a twilight round on a Friday in May, I thought the price to play this caliber of golf course was high.
Ghost Creek, the pinnacle of public golf in Portland, which is a much more challenging, interesting and well maintained semi-private course than either the North or South at The Reserve has a rack rate of $60 twilight in May. While Ghost Creek is probably a little more challenging to walk, and a little farther away for most, it is well worth the extra effort.
The South Course does have some interesting holes, although the number of bunkers and amount of sand is overwhelming. For some reason, Fought placed a lot of “short bunkers” throughout the course. These are bunkers that are only 50 to 100 yards off the tee and serve no real purpose but to penalize the short hitting bogey golfer. The bunkers on The South Course are also very large and heavily “flashed” meaning that the sand is in your face on almost every tee shot and approach. Way too many of them also have “tongues” of grass that protrude from the top. That being said, the sand on the South Course is excellent and a pleasure to play from, which most golfers will experience many times over the course of their round. I could not help wondering what type of bunker maintenance budget was required to keep them all in such great shape.
For the first time visitor, the use of sand and elevated greens also serves to make very large putting surfaces look quite small. The psychological effect of the architect’s strategy around the green complexes may have some merit, but again, I thought it was redundant, distracting and if anything it detracted from my enjoyment. For the record, I shot my lowest score of the year (through May) on the South Course, so the amount of sand and raised green complexes did not adversely impact scoring.
The first hole is a decent opener where you should probably hit a fairway wood to the 150 yard marker followed by a short iron into the green. The second is a straight forward par 3 that requires a long iron into a fairly deep green. The third is a three shotter that shares a fairway with the sixth. With a tailwind it is certainly reachable for a long hitter if you can work a draw into the heavily bunkered double green, which is shared with the 5th. The par 4 fourth and fifth holes are a fairly uneventful side by side up and back. The sixth is a long par 5, sharing a fairway with the third, that challenges the approach with another heavily bunkered green complex and a raised green. Seven is another long iron par 3 that is followed by up and back par 4s to finish a rather uninspiring front nine.
The back nine on the South Course is much more interesting and my favorite on the property. The tenth is a wonderful long down hill two shotter than crosses a creek that hugs the left side of the fairway until it flows into a pond protecting that side of the green. Fought did a great job of shaping the hole so that a strategically struck long iron or fairway wood second can be run along the right side of the fairway onto the open green.
The excellent tenth if followed by the somewhat ridiculous one shot eleventh. There is a short bunker about 50 yards off the tee, and a twin bunker fronting the green. Although difficult to see from the tee, this double green, shared with the 17th, also has another bunker in the middle of it which is tacky more than anything else. There is another huge bunker at the back of the green which means from the tee you have two bunkers staring you in the face, a small sliver of green and another bunker at the back. Two smooth swings later and my playing partner and I were both putting for birdie. Again, I found the “in your face” bunkers to be annoying more than intimidating.
If half of the bunkers on The South course were taken out, then I think it could be made into a more enjoyable and strategic layout.
Twelve is a short two shotter to another heavily bunkered green followed by the longer two shot thirteenth where the approach must traverse a rather ridiculous 50 yard long “S’ish” shaped bunker that fronts a very wide green that is not very deep. This green complex is a hackers nightmare.
The one shot fourteenth that follows is another slightly uphill tee shot to a heavily bunkered green that appears to have a small putting surface from the tee, although it is much larger when you walk up to it.
The fifteenth is a really fun hole that is dominated by a ponderosa pine about 250 yards off the tee on the right side of the fairway. A well struck drive can make the heavily bunkered green reachable in two, but you need to fly your second all the way to the putting surface which is elevated.
A short par 4 follows at sixteen which has another bunker short off the tee for the high handicapper and not a lot of challenge for anyone who can play a mid iron or hybrid at the 150 marker followed by a short iron into the green.
Seventeen and eighteen are two pretty good holes. The two shot seventeenth has a creek running up the left side but a generous landing area. The green is protected by the creek to the left, a bunker to the right, and then another bunker very far back in the middle of the shared green (with the 11th). Eighteen is a long par five with, you guessed it, bunkers galore and a raised green. I did, however, enjoy the hole. At 557, uphill into the wind to a soggy fairway, it took a solid drive to put myself about 290 to the green. The layup area is bigger than it seems, but bunkers flash at you from the left and then straight ahead about 100 yards short of the green. A layup past the 150 marker, or even better longer and to the right, leaves an ideal approach to the elevated green guarded by deep bunkers. As always, the green is larger than you think so stick to your yardage and fire at the stick or the center to have your shot at birdie.
Overall, The South Course at the Reserve was a pretty easy walk that was enjoyable at times and forgettable at others. The 10th, 15th, 17th and 18th were fun holes that I would enjoy playing again, but not for $55. For that price, I had hoped for a lot more, which means that although the North and South Courses at the Reserve are very walkable, I will not be back unless it is on someone else’s dime. And even so, I would suggest a round at Ghost Creek instead.
TWG Rating for The Reserve – North Course:
4.0 / 4 – Walkability
1.5 / 4 – Architecture and Aesthetics
1.0 / 2 – Strategy and Playability
6.5 / 10 – Total
TWG Rating for The Reserve – South Course:
4.0 / 4 – Walkability
2.0 / 4 – Architecture and Aesthetics
1.0 / 2 – Strategy and Playability
7.0 / 10 – Total
Review by Rob Rigg, 2009
The Walking Golfer Course Rating System
Total is out of 10 Points
0 – 4 points – Walkability
0 – 4 points – Architecture and Aesthetics
0 – 2 points – Playability and Strategy