The oldest Golf Course west of the Mississippi
While exploring the Oregon Coast, Menekse, my brother and I played 18 holes at Gearhart Golf Links. Gearhart has a very long history and is recognized by some golf historians as the oldest golf course west of the Mississippi.
We were warmly greeted by the General Manager and Director of Golf, Mr Jason Bangild. With a history as extensive as Gearhart’s, he graciously agreed to meet with us after our round to talk about the past, present, and future of the golf course.
The first thing any golfer notices when arriving is the striking cedar-shingled clubhouse, named the Kelly House, which simply put is cool. It is well stocked with a wide variety of everything a golfer needs and includes some of our favourite Oregon brands, like Jones Bags and Seamus headcovers.
After checking in, we hit a few balls into the practice net that is built into the clubhouse (as Jason said, they didn’t build driving ranges back in 1892!), missed a couple of putts on the practice green, and made our way to the first tee, where Jason met us and gave us an overview of what to expect on the course in terms of the tee markers, yardage markers, etc. I hit my tee shot a little right, and Menekse hit hers down the left side of the fairway, while my brother boringly hit his down the middle (like all day)- and we were off.
The word links is in Gearhart’s name for a reason. The fairways are perfectly firm and fast, with plenty of sandy soil that provides excellent drainage which all give the course a true links feel. There are plenty of deep pot bunkers scattered here and there and being close to the ocean means the wind is always a factor. The fairways are full of fun knolls and gentle mounds and invite the player to play on the ground. The greens can be approached on the ground but are a little smaller than most links that we have played. But, to be honest, the size of the greens fits the length of the course. I was probably 20 yards short of the 8th hole (a great shortish par 5) and elected to putt.
The layout runs north and south, so the prevailing westerly wind would always be a factor. But not for us today- it is mid-January, and we are extremely fortunate to have the most glorious weather with beautiful blue skies, and temperatures right around 12 degrees (lower 50’s F), which for the Oregon Coast this time of year is almost unheard-of.
The front nine takes you out north of the clubhouse. We especially liked the 3rd hole, a short possibly drivable for some players par 4. We also really enjoyed the 8th, a reachable par 5 that takes you straight west towards the ocean, so the wind would the deciding factor here.
Between the 8th green and 9th tee is the Sand Bar, one of the greatest ‘halfway houses’ that we’ve ever seen. And, it is run by McMenamins, so you know the Ales are outstanding.
Starting with the 9th hole, the course heads down south of the clubhouse. The 10th is another short par 4, and the 11th is a monster of a par 3 at 221 yards. Both holes afford incredible views of the Kelly House.
We really liked the 14th (a short par 4) and the 15th (a short par 3).
We also liked all the small details located throughout the course.
The back nine finishes with another monster par 5. At 640 yards from the stones (588 from our tees), the length, together with its elevated small green, makes 18 a very tough finishing hole.
Overall, I think we enjoyed the back nine slightly more than the front. The back felt more links like in our opinion, maybe because of the small pond that fronts the 5th and 7th holes. But the course was truly awesome. Everywhere you get great lies and can hit crisp irons and sharp wedge shots. The bunkers are truly punishable, and I was lucky to only see one all day. Menekse on the other hand, well let`s just say she enjoyed her day at the beach, while she poured sand out of her shoes in the parking lot?
What a history!
After our round, surrounded by hundreds of old black and white photos of the course in the Kelly House, we had the pleasure to sit with Jason in one of the many on-site pub areas to talk about the history and direction of the club. The club’s logo incorporates the first mention of golf in Gearhart in 1892. But it is thought that there were 3 holes located just south of the existing course in 1888, but written documentation has yet to be found. The course moved to its existing location in 1892 and was expanded to 18 holes in 1913. Though there are more than one claims of the oldest course west of the Mississippi, but Gearhart Links has the most credible evidence.
We talked to Jason about what brought him to Gearhart (via Canada and Hawaii!). The course is owned by Mr. Tim Boyle, the President and CEO of Columbia Sportswear Company, and he has provided Jason with the opportunity to turn Gearhart back into what it was meant to be. Jason and his team removed some 400 trees a few years ago to bring back the true links feel of the course. And from what we witnessed, they are succeeding.
The next project that Gearhart is currently working on is completing a true putting course next to the halfway house. With a great Hammerhead Ale beer from McMenamins and your favourite Billy Baroo in hand, there aren’t many better places in the golfing world to spend the day.
Located just over an hour from Portland, Gearhart is something special, and we couldn’t recommend it more highly! Get out there soon, because this course isn’t going to be able to be called a hidden gem for long.