Yet another steaming summer has nearly passed without you pulling the trigger on that golf pilgrimage to Ireland.

We understand you may have your reasons. There's the seasick economy, the evolution-deniers in Congress, your lack of an actual job that pays in American currency, yes, there's all of that, plus Lambchop may leave you if she hears you stayed in a Celtic castle without her. But these are mere speed bumps in the gated subdivision of life. Man-up, please, and check your passport expiration date.

Alright, we will handle this in the lamest way possible, the venerable Q & A format.

Remind us again why we should fly across the Atlantic to play the world’s greatest links courses instead of going to Myrtle Beach?
If golf is a near-religion for you, it only makes sense that you should worship at its ancestral home, the links of the British Isles. The game is simpler there –- no valet parking and $300 sweaters, no mango-scented towels at the turn. Just you, the wind, the dunes and a caddie named Seamus who killed the last American he saw taking five practice swings. This is not croquet-and-crumpets. Your wits and stamina will be tested. You won't be using a cart. But with any effort you will meet fantastic people who treat you like long-lost family. You'll discover an entirely un-American game of golf, one that offers infinite options and maddening hazards, all wrapped in a natural, less-contrived beauty that would make Van Morrison cry for his momma. Oh, and there’s this –- in Ireland the public is welcomed to play at a handful of courses ranked in every serious world top ten list, cathedrals like Royal County Down, Portrush and Ballybunion. Try that at Augusta.

When should we go?
May and September are my favorites -– a bit cooler perhaps than July but statistically drier in most of Ireland. But the summer months are just grand, and if for some reason you can only go in April or October, don’t despair, you'll be joined by all the locals on a gorgeous links free of doctors from Dallas. So, yes, you still have time and good weather to make this trip right now.

We hear that it occasionally rains?
Listen to your mother. Prepare for horizontal icepick rain and wind that would blow the freckles off Molly O'Hare. But almost certainly you will come home raving about the blue skies and 60 to 75 degree temps. The high-latitude skies make everything seem like a New England fall day. In 16 years of trips I’ve had only two days that were entirely rained out, and several week-long spans without a drop of daytime rain. Links courses are built upon eons of sand and they drain within hours.

Pack waterproof tops and bottoms that are easily removed, a knit ski cap, non-bulky sweaters, longsleeve athletic wear, some medium-thick wool socks and a few gallon-size baggies to keep socks, cameras, scorecards and such dry in the inevitable ocean squall. But, again, dozens of summer days require only a golf shirt. (By the way, I think this whole wicking-moisture-away-from-your-skin era of undergarments is just a grand marketing scheme to convince you that clammy polyester shirts suddenly became space-age Internet fabric that defies the laws of petrochemicals. Let me know if you’ve found something that will stay absolutely dry against your skin while you're sweating beneath a sweater and waterproof jacket. I sure haven't.) Good options, if you so desire, would be hand warmers and those thin rain gloves that give you a solid grip when wet. Absolutely bring your golf bag's rain cover, but if you bring an umbrella, make sure it is of the gale-proof Davek or GustBuster variety.

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Why Ireland over Scotland?
Oh, we love Scotland. Selcraig is Scottish for three-putt. But we will deal with Scotland another day. Ireland's world-famous links may not boast the ancestral home of golf (St. Andrews) or several British Open venues (Carnoustie, Muirfield, Troon, Turnberry) like Scotland, but its greatest courses are uniformly more dramatic, the dunes higher, and the music, pubs and people are an estimated 23 percent livelier. The Scots can't help this; they're closer to England.

Nothing is a bargain for dollar-wielding Yanks, but you'll save a bit of money in Ireland over Scotland. The Republic of Ireland is on the euro (trading at $1.42 today), while Scotland and Northern Ireland are on the British pound (trading at $1.62).

Should we drive over there?
This is all a matter of personal preference. If you really love to drink, don't even think of driving in Ireland. Their rural roads are gut-clenchingly narrow and dangerous for the sober rookie, much less a tipsy tired golfer. They've thankfully cracked down on what they call "drink driving" there, and while their blood alcohol limit is .08, like many U.S. states, the police have much wider latitude to do blood, urine or breath analysis at roadside checkpoints and the maximum fine for driving blotto is 5,000 euros. This is the single best reason to let a veteran bus driver chauffeur you around the country. They also don't get lost.

However, for the bold adventurer or sad overworked golf writer, taking a rental car will give you the freedom to do more photography, meet more people, explore the best of Ireland and just be more spontaneous. If I had always had a bus deadline to meet, I probably would not have met half the Irish friends I have now who offer me their homes. Nor would I have stopped at the obscure country courses, bookstores, golf shops or restaurants that "the group" often ignores. I must admit that I quite like having the confidence to drive over there now, after a dozen trips or so. I just feel far more connected to the country. Yet, some of the finest folks I've met were wise funny bus drivers. This is a purely individual decision that shouldn't be decided on cost or convenience alone. Know thyself.

What region of Ireland makes for the best golf trip?
The good news is that it's nearly impossible to make the wrong decision. I'll give a quick overview, but watch for stories in the future that go into greater detail about each region. (All prices are in dollars. These prices are only a range, usually from cheapest weekday off-season to most expensive weekend high-season. No caddies or carts included. Obviously check websites for precise prices, discounts and online booking information. And by all means, bargain if something seems too expensive.)

Dublin and the East Coast: Dublin is a great city full of music, film, festivals, pubs, parks and good walks. Lucky you. From a hip hotel you can easily get to County Louth Golf Club (known as Baltray; $92 to $192, no visitors Tuesday), The Island ($78 to $142), Portmarnock Golf Club (not to be confused with Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links; $205 to $248, certified handicap required); Druids Glen ($85 to $128) and Druids Heath ($50 to $78); and The European Club ($142 to $255), an exquisite but unpretentious course, the only world-class links designed, built and owned by a golf writer, the clever Pat Ruddy, who claims it actually rains less at his place. Ask about Marian's apple tart and Ruddy's famed golf book collection. Don't get suckered into The K Club, an obscenely overpriced ($191 to $400), flat, Palmer-designed, Florida muny still coasting on its 2006 Ryder Cup fame.

The Southwest: Home to some of the finest links in the world, and still the destination of about 70 percent of Ireland's visiting golfers. Ballybunion ($198 to $255 for the Old Course, $92 for the mighty Cashen; certified handicap required) is friendly, has tons of history and offers good bargains; Dooks Golf Club ($78 to $92, founded 1889) is an overlooked delight; Lahinch ($135 to $235 for "Old," $43 for the Castle Course) is eccentric and incomparable, an Old Tom Morris and Alister MacKenzie monument, with good two-for-one discounts; Waterville ($170 to $228, winter half-price) is a big and bold, Fazio-tweaked design that attracts lots of Yanks; plus Tralee, Dingle, Fota Island and swanky castles like Adare Manor.

The Northwest: Rising in popularity every year, this rugged region of tiny-but-lively towns, lovely country estates and salmon-choked rivers was named European Golf Destination of the Year for 2011 and boasts courses every bit as good as the Southwest’s, but at a 30-50 percent discount. Enniscrone, Carne, Rosapenna (Sandy Hills), County Sligo (Rosses Point), Donegal (Murvagh), Ballyliffin, Portsalon and Connemara are all brilliant, scenic and invigorating courses. Rather than price each one, count on finding them all between $50 and $105, but every club offers an array of discounts (junior, evening, four-ball, etc) and multi-round or hotel packages. I am a member of Carne, which has a new nine holes coming soon and just might have the highest golf dunes in the world. Read up on this exceptional course with John Garrity’s masterful “Ancestral Links.” Every Easter the best amateur golfers in Ireland, including Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy, have teed it up at Rosses Point for the West of Ireland Amateur, played since 1923 on this stunning promontory. Portsalon has one of the most beautiful beaches in all of golfdom. Sandy Hills is more Pat Ruddy magic.

Northern Ireland: Remember, you are in a different country. Pounds, not euros. Some folks pay allegiance to England and the Queen (Unionists, Loyalists), some folks bristle at the thought (Nationalists, Republicans) and the vast majority would rather not be bothered. Don’t wear your Texas Rangers or Boston Celtics jerseys around town, as these team names represent not only the U.K.’s most bitter soccer feud (between two Glasgow teams) but also stand for Protestant (Rangers) or Catholic (Celtics) loyalties in Norn Iron’s simmering strife.

But you'll neither hear nor see any of that on Northern Ireland’s great golf courses. Let’s make this simple: You shouldn’t leave here without playing either Royal Portrush ($113 winter to $243 high weekends, ask for the Dunluce Course) or Royal County Down ($81 winter, $267-$291 high, simply called Newcastle by locals), two consensus world top-tens roughly an hour from Belfast in opposite directions. They are unrelenting, magisterial tests of golf that will likely put a kink in your niblick. (Rory McIlroy, at age 16, set the Portrush course record of 61, which, when you complete your inaugural round will seem humanly impossible.) Splendid courses nearby include Castlerock, Portstewart, Ardglass, and two gorgeous parkland courses in Belfast, Malone and Belvoir (say Beaver) Park. Some consider it heresy, but don’t be afraid of breaking up your links-centric holiday with some maples, elms and New England-like trout ponds. Malone ($121 to $137) has idyllic rolling hills, 27 holes and a fishing club(!), while Belvoir ($105) beckons with its Harry S. Colt pedigree and a marvelous new clubhouse and dining room.

What are some realistic prices for guided golf tours?
There are several excellent tour companies, and prices for just about any budget. The guys who run North & West Coast Links, John McLaughlin and Justin Farrell, represent 11 courses, but can help arrange trips throughout the island. Here are two typical trips they offer to the West: (1) Fly into Belfast (air fare not included). Six rounds of world-class links, at Ardglass, Portstewart, Royal Portrush, Ballyliffin (Glashedy) and Rosapenna (Sandy Hills and Old Tom Morris); seven nights four-star hotels, Irish breakfast each morning and all ground transportation. About $2,222 per person, based on eight traveling. (2) Fly into Shannon, Dublin or Knock airports (air fare not included), rent and self-drive a van; five rounds at Donegal, County Sligo, Enniscrone, Carne and Connemara; six nights four-star hotels; Irish breakfast. About $1,300, based on four traveling.

Maura Nolan’s Irish Links Tours is the official tour operator for the 2011 Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle in County Meath, Ireland, and also offers golf tours to Scotland, England, Wales, South Africa and Italy.

Do we always have to make formal tee times months in advance?
No you don’t. Obviously, that’s the best way to guarantee a round and to avoid disappointment, but particularly in the downtrodden Irish economy, walk-ups are welcomed. Call ahead and know when to avoid member tournaments and, yes, big bus tours.

This all sounds grand, but we are terribly cheap church mice who can’t be paying $100 to $250 a day to play golf, no matter how fantabulous.
Throw off those chains, you golfing proletariat! No, you don’t have to pay retail. If you have time and creativity, you can save great wads by researching regional golf passes through Tourism Ireland, Northern Ireland Tourist Board, and the best golf tour consortiums, North & West Coast Links and SWING (Southwest Ireland). Or simply write the club secretaries or course managers and say, "We’re an American foursome, can you cut us a deal?"

But there are still better ways. Let’s say you want to play Portrush, but the championship Dunluce links is booked up and over your budget. Ask to play its sister course, the beloved and under-rated Valley Course ($40 to $60) – David Feherty calls it one of the ten best in Ireland -- and try to join some members. Be your charming self, buy a beer or two and ask how you might join them later and pay the Dunluce guest rate. Repeat as needed at Portmarnock, Ballybunion, County Down….that’s right, dump the tour bus clique, introduce yourself and make friends. Every club member in Ireland is aghast at what tourists pay to play their golf courses.

Present company excluded, who should we be reading to get prepared for this trip?
"Links of Heaven," 2007 edition, by Richard Phinney and Scott Whitley, is the most comprehensive, candid and clever of the Irish golf guide books, followed closely by Jim Finegan’s more poetic, “Emerald Fairways and Foam-Flecked Seas.” But for great narrative tales on and off the course, try Tom Coyne’s “A Course Called Ireland,” “A Pint of Plain,” (Irish pubs) by Bill Barich or “No News at Throat Lake,” by the Guardian’s fine golf writer, Lawrence Donegan.

Have you more random wisdom that might make the trip go smoothly?

** Give some thought to NOT going as The American Foursome. Yes, I know, that seems illogical, even un-American, but when you do everything as the Yankee Quartet you stand little chance of ever playing a round of golf with someone from Ireland. It is those friendships forged on the first tee by spontaneous needs of the less-than-foursomes that you will cherish long after you’ve forgotten your score at Enniscrone. Or, go as a foursome, but one day split into pairs, beg to be attached to local twosomes and meet up later in the bar. Seriously.

** Bed & breakfasts really save money, bring you closer to locals and usually have owners who know the golf scene. In Ballybunion, for example, Patricia and Maurice Boyle's Old Course B&B, just 50 yards from the fifth fairway, offers four immaculate rooms, fine food and conversation, free wireless internet and it's walking distance to town -- all for 40 euros and up. And you'll find B&Bs like this in every golf town.

** If you've never driven on the left side before, plan your flight arrival for daylight hours, go to a smaller airport — you want to learn in Dublin traffic? -- and rent an automatic. You'll know why when you negotiate your first roundabout.

** Take lots of business cards, plenty of balls (though don’t make caddies carry them) and a favorite spare driver, because it’s your most expensive club. Show up at least an hour before your tee time, have a meal, study the land, slow down, take photos, avoid the car park rush.

** If you are used to riding in a cart for 51 weeks of the year, walking Ireland’s links might be an ordeal. Despite their flat appearance on TV, true links are the hilliest, most ankle-breaking golf terrain in the world. It’s not too late to quit smoking.

** Great caddies can be fun and hugely helpful. Poor ones can ruin a round. Be sensible if money matters. Again, try to play with locals who know every swale and steeple.

** Resist the overwhelming urge to play 36 holes in a new town every day. An Irish tour bus driver once told me: "I actually feel sorry for these men. They can't remember where they are by the third day. They see little of our country and mainly talk to themselves." Amen.

** And most important — there is fun, memorable golf to be had at the $40 to $80 range, the welcome is genuine, and the local flavor more enchanting. Don't think you have to play County Down every day.

-- Texas-based journalist Bruce Selcraig is a former Sports Illustrated writer whose work appears in the New York Times, Smithsonian and Irish Times, among others. E-mail him at Selcraig@swbell.net.

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Golf, Golf-NC

Imagine the crazy luck of Oregon.

One day, back in 1999, Oregonians were just minding their own business, logging, beavering, checking for moss on the children -- it rains occasionally -- when greeting card magnate Mike Keiser, who lives in friggin Chicago, opens the first of four remarkable seaside links at Bandon Dunes on the southern coast, forever altering the landscape of American golf.

Knowing what they do now, most states would have groveled like Mayberry courting Toyota and trucked in half of Yemen to find Keiser the sand he wanted, but back then Oregon seemed content with their Ducks and track stars. Bandon Dunes sounded like a fun project, most thought, but perhaps not the life-altering pilgrimage it has become for thousands.

Aye, but that’s what it is, the St. Andrews of America, a quartet of gorse-lined Scottish courses unlike any golf canvass in our hemisphere. And since I was the last golf writer alive not to have seen it all, I loaded up my college scholar in June and took us for two weeks of Oregon golf, which also included some munies, mom-and-pop nine-holers and swanky masterpieces around Bend, Oregon’s high-desert playground.

For most travelers an Oregon golf vacation will thankfully begin in Portland, an endlessly satisfying town that despite its “cultural creative” influx still resembles a working class port city, even if many of its Willamette River docks are now yuppie lofts. The Rose City is thick with authentic neighborhoods featuring sidewalk movie theatres, stunning parks, great mass transit and dozens of real local taverns, not just brewpubs. Our favorite was the Dockside Saloon, where Terry and Kathy Peterson not only open at 5 a.m. every weekday with a full menu, but also seemingly know every worthwhile golf course in the state. (Ask Kathy how she became the undoing of Olympic skating thug Tonya Harding.)

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You could spend a good week here playing Portland’s stellar public courses, but time and rain – Oregon just had its second wettest spring on record -- limited us to two of the best, Eastmoreland and Heron Lakes. Nearly a century old, Eastmoreland is bordered by the city's Rhododendron Gardens and Crystal Springs Lakes, which make the 6,529-yard, walkable layout feel like a deep-forest wildlife preserve. Thirty bucks covers a weekday walking round. Legend has it that Walter Hagen loved No. 13, a short par-five. Busy Heron Lakes offers 36 holes of Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and Sr. design work ($50-$60), with Greenback being the more tame layout and Great Blue, which hosted the 2000 USGA Amateur Public Links Championship, the more adventurous, at 6,900 yards of sand-and-water peril. Located in the fertile floodplain between the Willamette and Columbia Slough, both have a tranquil wetlands setting but can get noisy when the nearby Portland International Raceway is humming.

If you love college towns, evergreen Eugene and The University of Oregon not only offer the ethically-challenged but consensus top-five Ducks football program, but, of course, iconic Hayward Field, the throbbing heart of Track Town, USA and the ghost of Seventies legend, Steve Prefontaine. If you want a $250 round and are a private club member, get your head pro to arrange a "reciprocal" play at the Eugene Country Club, a Robert Trent Jones, Sr. re-design (1967) that's full of Doug firs, Big Leaf Spruce and Oregon Oaks, and is ranked in America's top 100 by Golf Digest and Golfweek.

Cue the bagpipes. Foolishly, I was one of those who thought no matter how much Bandon Dunes Golf Resort paid homage to Scottish links and the minimalist British Isles golf experience many of us revere that it would inevitably fall short. Oh, how I love to be wrong. Incredibly, Mike Keiser's creation exceeds its enormous and well-deserved hype.

At times during my rounds at Bandon, I did 360-degree spins in the fairways and looked in vein for anything that shouted American Golf Resort. There were no garish tee markers and signage. No golf carts – the courses are designed for walkers. Yes, the golf is pricey at $245 per course, but the food is not, and there’s no sales tax in Oregon. No valet parking or spa. No SWAT team of frat boys named Brent trying to forcibly carry your clubs 30 feet. No assault of dark leather and testosterone in the clubhouse. And the staff is uniformly polite, helpful and smart, without the oily sheen of corporate hospitality. (Hint: They treat their employees well. I met one waiter who had been there 12 years and now earned four weeks vacation.) Plus, a par-three Coore-Crenshaw course, Bandon Preserve, will open next July.

For those not familiar, here is the Bandon lineup:

Bandon Dunes (1999, David McLay Kidd), just 27 when he first saw the land, Kidd and his father, Jimmy, both Scots, took inspiration from ancestral links like Machrihanish and North Berwick; now ranked No. 7 by Golfweek.
Pacific Dunes (2001, Tom Doak), the iconoclastic Doak now has his name on five of Golfweek’s top 15 post-1960 courses in America, and this is probably his best. You will not find a contrived or indifferent hole. Golfweek’s No. 2.

Bandon Trails (2005, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw), the designers of Golfweek’s No. 1 course in America, Sand Hills, in Mullen, Nebraska, carved the third Bandon track out of a more inland coastal forest, a massive sand dune and a lovely meadow; Golfweek’s No. 29.
Old Macdonald (2010, Tom Doak and Jim Urbina), a tribute to architect C.B. Macdonald, the father of American golf architecture, Old Mac is a sprawling canvass with blasted bunkers, oceanic fairways and greens larger than St. Andrews’; Golfweek’s No. 3. Caddies range $80-$100. [Full disclosure, I am a rater for Golfweek.]

There’s little need for hole-by-hole narratives here. Instead, go buy Stephen Goodwin’s new edition of "Dream Golf," which expertly tells Keiser’s fantastic pursuit of his Bandon golf mecca and describes the landscape in marvelous detail. Though Bandon Trails doesn’t qualify as a links, all four courses generally play like their Scottish ancestors, complete with native gorse, constant wind, ragged fringed bunkers, tight fescue fairways and inscrutable greens built upon eons of sand. (Women golfers will especially appreciate that all four courses now have more forward, "Royal Blue" tees that have proven popular.)

If for some reason you are physically prevented from reaching Ireland or Scotland, you need go no farther than Bandon Dunes. Tiptoeing out on a limb, I’ll venture to say Pacific Dunes is the finest course I have played in North America. Tom “Golf Should Be Fun” Doak practices what he preaches by keeping the tips at a reasonable, yet always challenging 6,700 yards. In normal stiff wind, mere mortals will not overpower this cliffside exam. There are just too many exacting approach shots, uneven lies and rippled greens complexes, but when you inevitably fail, Doak doesn’t waterboard you into submission. He often allows you to find your ball in benign native rough and at least dream of heroic pars. You could shoot 110 here and never lose your ball.

"I’ve played Pacific Dunes about 50 times now with all sorts of players," Doak wrote me recently, "and there is still nothing I would want to change. I was lucky that it came at the perfect time in my career -- 12 previous courses from which to learn mistakes, and enough time to build up a talented team – and luckier still that it’s a public course so that everyone can come and see my best work."

Old Macdonald, the newest course at Bandon, is a joy to play, more expansive and equally thoughtful, with such huge multi-tiered greens – one is 22,000 square feet, 75 yards from stem to stern -- that you’ll often be thrilled to only three-putt. Cresting no. 3 fairway, for your first glimpse at the Pacific and all your golfing colleagues below, is like a Three Tenors concert.

Off the course, I was just as impressed with the on-site cabins, uncluttered natural setting and flawless shuttle bus system at Bandon Dunes. A frustrated, non-golfing wife once described the cabins (roughly $200 to $600 May to October) as “exalted Best Westerns.” That comes from spending too much time in them. They’re spacious and comfortable, but without the dozen Balinesian pillows that mean so much.

There are no cute shops, no funky local flavor, within walking distance. There are, however, great hikes in the forest, along the gorgeous beach, and at three lovely state parks nearby. The small town of Bandon, five miles south on Hwy. 101, naturally has its share of tourist flotsam, but there’s a nice variety of restaurants in the Old Town harbor area and several good mom-and-pop motels that beckon frugal golfers.

Two local golf courses are worth checking out. Bandon Crossings, five miles south of the town, is good enough that Bandon Dunes pros often send folks there. Exceptional par-threes, bentgrass greens, about $45-$75 in the summer, check for discounts. And for unpretentious charm, try Old Bandon Golf Links, a nine-hole, 2100-yard delight originally laid out in 1927 and now lovingly kept by Troy Russell, former super at Bandon Dunes, and wife, Kim. You can even rent hickory-shafted clubs and authentic hand-made gutta percha golf balls (for $20 each!), watch their sheep dog work his flock and stay next door at the newly-renovated Inn at Face Rock. Now this feels like a golf trip.

Bandon to Bend is a splendid journey if you’re not impatient. The winding road beside the brrrisk Umpqua River, home to one or two bass and steelhead, is lined with Fifties postcard cabins and wide-load logging trucks that made us scream like Miss Alabama. Although Bend, population 77,000, has been featured by almost every outdoorsy magazine worth its Chapstick, Central Oregon’s high-desert array of destination golf still remains largely undiscovered by those back East who may think Oregon means only damp green coastal golf.

Not unlike Boulder or Asheville, Bend is an educated, very white, lite-jazz kinda town where it seems everyone kayaks to breakfast and hails from somewhere else. Bend was deluged with pre-recession, upscale migrants, but got hit hard by foreclosures and double-digit unemployment. Act now if you dream of a fairway McMansion.

With summer’s long days we took our time climbing up to 3,200 feet and cruised directly to a sunset round at Pronghorn Golf Club’s Nicklaus course – there is also a more private Fazio track – which felt a bit like a Scottsdale resort without the cactus. The impeccably groomed course, ranked no. 149 by Golfweek, seems almost poured onto the sagebrush steppe landscape, a threatened or degraded ecosystem that occupies much of central Oregon. Tipping out at 7,400 yards, the course winds its way through lava outcroppings and scattered junipers. The bunkers are razor cut, the greens as smooth as Secretariat’s rump. It’ll cost in the $125-$200 range, but check for discounts.

Our home base for a few nights was Brasada Ranch, an 1800-acre, family resort 16 miles northeast of Bend that offers horses, fishing, rafting, a spa, swimming, and dining of the informal fireside and artsy grub varieties. The golf is a relaxed and wildly scenic experience known as Brasada Canyons, crafted by former Tour player Peter Jacobsen and partner Jim Hardy. There’s no gut-check intimidation here, just wide fairways, elevated tee boxes and a Cascades backdrop of Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top, Three Sisters and Mt. Jefferson. In the spring, I’m told, you can ski Bachelor in the morning and do 18 holes by sunset.

New owners are putting real attention to Brasada – the cabins are already sublime man caves – but we were taken with the staff, from the smart trailguide at the stables and the front desk’s sweet border collie to restaurant manager Lee Ottow, who not only finds great locally-grown produce, but also owns a reclaimed golf ball outfit, 9Lives Golf Balls, that will soothe any hacker’s wallet. Check Brasada’s website for package deals with nearby courses.

Tetherow Golf Club, designed by the adventurous David McLay Kidd of Bandon fame, is the hip new guy in central Oregon, having won some national magazine huzzahs since its opening in 2008. Close to downtown, the sprawling 7,300-yard course unfurls like a “Bonanza” episode from the moment you step on the lofted driving range. I’m one who liked Kidd’s Bandon course and his loved-or-loathed Castle Course at St. Andrews, whose mogul-icious greens the Scottish lords later insisted be tamed. But I walked off Tetherow thinking, hmmm, it’s gorgeous eye-candy, relentlessly difficult and has some links qualities I enjoy, but ultimately I thought there was just too much going on – heaving fairways, penal bunkers, potato chip greens, uphill approaches, false fronts, showy rock outcroppings, water features, angry gnomes. It felt like a symphony with nothing but crescendos.

The front desk guys begged me to take a caddie, and of course one might help on your first visit, but caddies can’t cure that visual busy-ness that detracts from the calm coherence one expects at great courses, and finds at, say, Coore & Crenshaw’s Bandon Trails, which has similar topography. But by all means, play Tetherow, recently ranked No. 141 by Golfweek, and drop me a line.

My favorite course in the Bend area was Sunriver Resort’s Crosswater Golf Club, a Bob Cupp and John Fought creation (1995) that has hosted several senior PGA tour events and has been a fixture on Golfweek’s top 100 modern list. Unlike most Bend spots, Crosswater offers a serene and flat layout of wetlands and wildlife that lures you into forgetting that you must hit more than a dozen forced carries over water. You’ll cross the Little Deschutes River five times, dodging in and out of forested greens complexes. I caught it at dusk and was charmed by the stillness, the wooden bridges and the proud bald eagle whose nest rises above the no. 13 tee box.

If you have more time, cruise online to the Central Oregon Golf Trail, where you’ll find details on nearly 20 more courses near Bend that may fit your skills and budget better than these.

FOOD

We ate well all over Oregon, from Portland’s ubiquitous trailers to our outdoor breakfasts at Brasada Ranch, but none were more satisfying than our grilled salmon and baked ziti dinners ($20 and $14) at Terrebonne Depot, a century-old remodeled train depot 17 miles north of Bend, in little Terrebonne. (Open 11:30 am, closed Tuesdays) It’s all lovingly local, with a fun menu that runs from Moroccan couscous to fancy rib-eyes and awesome ground buffalo nachos. Best of all, the restaurant is just minutes from the exceptional Smith Rock State Park, a world-famous rock climbing haven.

Imagine our delight, being Texans, that Oregon has discovered the joys of glass-bottled Mexican Cokes, that is, Coca-Cola bottled in Mexico using the original cane sugar recipe (not that frothy high fructose corn syrup in cans) that gives this childhood vice a cleaner crisper taste. We found them in even the tiniest towns.

Sampling Bend’s assortment of craft beer is now made simple (and safer) with the Bend Ale Trail and clever entrepreneurs like John Flannery with GetIt Shuttle who will take you by pedi-cab, horse-drawn carriage, bicycle or bus to the many cool breweries in town. Find all the details at VisitBend.com.

Travel Oregon, Travel Portland, and the Central Oregon Visitors Association each have worthy websites that work hard to find cool stuff at all price and sophistication levels. And it never hurts to ask for discounts.

WHERE TO STAY

Portland is full of fine hotels, but few are more convenient than the Hotel Fifty, just across from Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland. There are 13 light-rail (MAX) stops within a quarter-mile of the hotel, including runs to the airport.

Around Bend, the aforementioned Brasada Ranch is perfect for the rural resort crowd, but if you want that gritty urban ambiance that defines Bend, ahem, try the Oxford Hotel, an eco-friendly boutique inn surrounded by galleries and restaurants.

Bruce Selcraig lives in Austin and writes for The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic and Mother Jones, among others. You can reach him at selcraig@swbell.net.

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