Silvies Valley: Once in a Lifetime. Discover the appeal of goat caddies and a reversible golf course.Written by Gord Montgomery
By Gord Montgomery
Nestled in the high desert in eastern Oregon, Silvies Valley Links & Spa is a unique golf experience in more ways than one. Spread out over 144,000 acres of rolling terrain and mainly home to a goat ranch, this destination among other amenities tees up three, no make that four, golf courses.
You see, one course is actually two, in a wondrous work of routing that’s known as a reversible course, the first built in over 450 years. The two 18-hole designs, the Hankins and the Craddock, meld together to feature 21 greens, 18 fairways, and 29 tee boxes. And if you’re concerned about running into cross-traffic on the course, don’t be. One day you play clockwise and the next counter-clockwise so everyone is always going the same direction.
4th hole: Craddock Course
Silvies’ Director of Golf, Dave Lewis, explained the eccentricities of these layouts, noting, “People don’t get it to begin with. What we have is 36 holes of golf and they are distinctly different – they just happen to be on the same dirt,” encompassing around 170 acres of land as opposed to the 350 acres a normal 36-hole facility would use.
Silvies Valley is home to only the third such design in the world along with The Old Course at St. Andrews and The Loop in Michigan. Dreamed up by owner Dr. Scott Campbell, a non-golfer by the way, and designed by Dan Hixson, the idea began as a four-hole combo. Then it was upped to six, and finally, the entire loop was put into play. What separates the two 18s is the fact the Craddock runs uphill while the Hankins goes downward. Together, they fool the eye, especially on your second tour of the property.
14th hole: Hankins Course
“These are two utter distinctly different looks for your brain,” Lewis continued. “And people swear that, ‘I haven’t been on this hole before! But yes, you were yesterday! It was just a different part of the fairway.”
There are nine double greens here, but only one hole per green per day. You play the same fairway on the par-4 and par-5 holes with seven of the eight par-3s being standalone entities. The courses run on a north-south line at around 5,000 feet elevation. As you go north you head uphill into the pine trees.
Turn around to go downhill, and you’re confronted with sagebrush and the massive valley below.
Each routing is virtually the same distance – the Hankins 18 plays to just over 7,000 yards from the back tees, winding down to 5,300 yards. The Craddock track plays 40 yards shorter off the back deck, reducing to 4,338 yards moving forward.
A word of advice here: If you go, make sure you take a rangefinder. Why? Because there are no yardage markers on the fairways as many see double-duty. And one other thing: Because these courses are open only to resort guests, no tee times are needed. So just show up, tee it up, and live it up for a round or two of golf on a unique layout.
In my writing career I’ve had the opportunity to use a caddie five times, but they were always the two-legged variety. At Silvies, I had a four-legged looper for the first, and likely last time ever. And it was probably the best ever!
You see, here in Oregon, on a goat ranch/people retreat, goats act as caddies on the two smaller golf courses, the Chief Egan par-3 and the demanding 7-hole challenge course known as McVeigh’s Gauntlet.
Why a goat? Well, actually there’s a good reason.
“When McVeigh’s was built, it was too severe to take golf carts on,”
PR guy Mark Conn said of the teeth- chattering, butterfly inducing tee shots and approach whacks that face those brave enough to come to this foreboding, winding, canyon-crossing, up-and-down knee-knocker.
On this day I hooked up with Charlie, who as it turned out, was a rookie bag toter. Other than stopping to munch on sagebrush — and poop on occasion — he was a joy to be with. Sure, he didn’t read putts at all and his intermittent comments on my swings or ball flight was simply “Baaaaaaddddd.” Overall though, he was the G.O.A.T. of caddies I’ve ever used.
Gord Montgomery (L), Charlie the Goat (R)
Chosen specifically for this job, the soon-to-be caddies are the third
kid born to a mother who can only look after two babies at a time. So, Charlie, and his sidekick caddie pal Chunky, like other triplets, were hand-raised. They were quickly indoctrinated into their future
role by showing an affection for humans; being able to manoeuvre an obstacle course (McVeigh’s is, simply put, rugged territory); and a willingness to shoulder a customized saddlebag.
Charlie: The G.O.A.T of caddies !
Charlie proved to be a real trooper who worked for peanuts – real peanuts, with salted in the shell preferred. While he’s a workhorse — please excuse that mixed four- legged metaphor — Charlie’s only rule is he won’t carry a full set of clubs. But on this 7-hole layout you only need a few clubs as the longest hole is a par-4 of 277 yards. Because of the lack of sticks, you can add a few extra pack pounds to the pack with cans of all-important adult beverages a.k.a. beer. And trust me, on the Gauntlet, those pops are a very welcome ego soother!
Charlie and Chunky also work the much more sedate Chief Egan par-3 layout, which totals less than 900 yards. It’s set up for first-timers and family fun, complete with a goat to keep you company if you wish. After all, they do commiserate over poor shots without making snide comments (as caddies in Ireland like to do), and are willing to partake in your selfie …. as long as you have peanuts to pay them at the end of the round!