SENECA, Ore. – Silvies Valley Ranch is rugged, dusty, hay rich, sagebrush covered and expansive. It is filled with wild critters and domesticated animals. It has towering Ponderosa pines, starry skies, trout-filled ponds and the Silvies River. It has chuck-wagon dining and a Lodge with gourmet meals. It even has a runway for private air traffic.
“Today the ranch is made up of 140,000 acres of deeded and leased National Forest and BLM lands in and surrounding Silvies Valley. Of the more than 60 square miles of deeded property, there are 6,000 acres of mountain meadows, 14,000 acres of Ponderosa pine forest, 20 miles of the Silvies River, over 20 named creeks and drainages, goats, cattle and horses, as well as a rapidly growing population of native wildlife,” said owner Dr. Scott Campbell, a born and bred Oregonian, veterinarian, entrepreneur, job creator, rancher, Scotch lover and visionary.
The Ranch is bigger than Singapore.
So what makes it ever better? Easy answer – a golf course, nope, scratch that. In this case a version of four golf experiences. The Hankins Course, Craddock Course, Chief Egan par-3 layout and the yet to be finished McVeigh Gauntlet, a seven-hole course that will perch greens on knobs or hills minus fairways.
But the main attraction gaining world-wide press is the second reversible 18-hole golf course in the USA. Architect Dan Hixson, author of award-winning Wine Valley in Walla Walla, Washington, and Campbell, a non-golfer, decided on the reversible nature after discussions back in 2010. Campbell wanted an Oregon designer, and he had two formidable choices – the other being David McLay-Kidd.
After a whirlwind of media visits this summer I asked the Silvies Valley Ranch golf-course architect what question he hasn’t heard yet about his “reversible” design.
“I think the discussion that has not happened concerns what is the future of reversible courses,” Hixson mused. “Here in the USA there’s only two – mine and Tom Doak’s – The Loop at Forest Dunes in Michigan. Most golf purists know that The Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland can be played as a reverse course, but no one really knows if reversible courses are going to be a trend or not.”
The benefits seem to be impressive. “First, you get two golf courses for the price of one,” Hixson said. “Second, you can have one crew maintain it instead of crews for two 18-hole courses. Third, environmentally, you only use 100 acres instead of 200. And, fourth, you have the opportunity to do something truly unique.”
So what are the challenges? Picture a typical golf course with bunkers that flash up or present a low point and a high point going toward the green. Well, in a reversible course, you must envision bunkers that you can easily see and play from going both directions.
“I was fascinated by the bunkers in a reversible design – it just presented so many ways to be creative,” said Hixson. Bunkers on The Craddock, 7,035-yard, par-72, and Hankins Course, 7,075-yard, par-73, are played “through the green” meaning you can ground your club and take practice swings that pass through the hard-packed native sand.
Also one distinct difference in Silvies and The Loop (opened in 2016) was the fact the Michigan course is on flat land. Hixson had elevation changes. So instead of a downhill hole becoming an uphill trudge going the opposite direction he decided to go with 27 greens instead of 18. That way he became more creative and able to skirt having too many uphill holes. The layout plays to nine shared greens and nine separate greens.
Both layouts are named for the original pioneers who homesteaded the land in the 1800s.
“The Hideout”, a hilltop clubhouse, is powered by solar panels and features three garage doors that open to an outdoor patio overlooking the 18th hole of the Craddock 18. The nine-hole par-3 Chief Egan course is also in the panorama. The clubhouse also has food and drinks along with typical pro shop hats, shirts and logo items.
The centerpiece of the Hideout is an antique golf club piece of art that hangs from the highest point of the clubhouse. Tygh Campbell, an accomplished metal worker designed it along with the bunker rakes each with different golf sayings or phrases. He also heads up the Ranch’s haymaking business.
Adventures away from the golf courses
As exciting as any roller coaster ride, Dr. Campbell and Colby Marshall took my group of journalists on a RA Polaris RZR Razor off-road terrain tour of Silvies Valley Ranch, showing us dips, swales, pastures, rugged hills, Ponderosa forests, an old homestead, and wetlands.
We walked among the South African Boer goats (tasty chevon we enjoyed at the Lodge), and made friends with the Border Collies and Great Pyrenees. The wildlife you can see includes antelope, bald eagle and the usual suspects of elk and deer are also abundant.
We also stopped off at the Pistolero Range and fired the Colt Peacemaker – the six-shooter that tamed the old west. But there’s also the Rifleman Range and the Sharpshooter Range, where you can experience long range buffalo hunter-style shooting.
Other activities include goat herding, biking, hiking, fishing at Otter Lake in front of the The Retreat at Silvies Valley Ranch.
Another impressive amenity is that you are issued your own golf cart to navigate The Retreat. Most are “hunter” camouflage, but the staff and owners are mostly Oregon State Beaver fans or grads so if you show up wearing a Oregon Duck golf shirt you’ll get a pink golf cart.
Lodging and Dining
The Retreat at Silvies Valley Ranch is a 36-room resort with a conference center, full-service fitness center, pool and spa opening in summer 2018. Flexible guest room plans allow for customized configurations, creating social living spaces for groups large and small. The private retreat provides the ideal location for family reunions, buddy trips, and gatherings.
Who would not love the “log cabin” two-bedroom units with view of Otter Lake and pasture that was having night-time hay bailing activity under a full moon. The units have wifi, a bedroom at the entrance, then a living room complete with fireplace, TV viewing, and kitchen conveniences, and another bedroom at the far end. There’s also a hot tub on the deck and large picture windows to take in the ranch panorama.
The bathroom had skylights, metal work everywhere with symbols of the old west, animals, and golfers (done by Tygh Campbell). The copper bathroom sinks and rain showers were perfect.
Other units aimed toward golf foursomes will be ready by fall. Eventually the ranch will offer 34 guestrooms with a real estate phase also planned. As much as possible construction material has been recycled from the ranch lending a smaller carbon footprint.
Dining options at Silvies Valley Ranch include The Dining Room, The Gun Room, and The Porch at the Lodge, as well as The Hideout.
In-suite dining and outside catering are also available, as well as numerous entertaining spaces for rustic, gourmet picnics and gatherings. Perhaps the most unique dining option is the full-service chuck wagon, available both day and night for special occasions. All on-site restaurants serve western-inspired fare, including Silvies Valley Ranch Certified Organic “Heritage Naked Beef” and chevon (tasty goat).
How’s this for a dining experience – ranch-made sourdough bread, French mushroom bisque, smoked salmon cake, cucumber mint gazpacho, dill crème fraiche, citrus roasted chicken with grilled artichokes, nicoise olives, lemon jus, dijon chevon rib chops with apricot mostarda, browned butter cauliflower potato puree, garlic braised kale and Swiss chard and to end flourless chocolate cake. Are you kidding? This is a 134-year-old ranch.
A Family Success Story
This story could be endless. Dr. Campbell has extensive research of the ranch’s history dating back to 1883 and even ancient historical thoughts. He gives homage to the Paiutes, U.S. Calvary, the early homesteaders and more recent ownerships that went bust.
Dr. Campbell, whose extended family dates back to 1863 in Oregon, bought roughly 140,000 acres in 2007 after cashing in his stock of the Banfield Pet Hospital, where, as company CEO, he oversaw growth to more than 700 clinics in several countries and many which are located in PetSmart stores.
And the entire family pitches in – mom Sandra heads up the goat herding operation, son Tygh does metal work and heads the haymaking and son Rand does anything and everything along with getting his law degree.
The operation also wants to be known for its eco or green stance in improving the environment. Four thousand bird and bat houses were hung to attract birds who will dine on insects and mosquitoes. Ponds were stocked with trout and stream improvements include 300 artificial beaver dams to restore waterways. River otters have returned and more than 600 miles of fences repaired.
The family has been busy as beavers (and once upon a time SVR’s acreage had 200,000 beavers before 1820s trappers came through).
If you are looking for an upscale boondocks escape this is it. It’s a three-hour drive from airports in Redmond (near Bend) or Boise, Idaho. Take some advice from me and my driving companion. Fill up your rent car on the way to the ranch.
Whew, I’m tired just thinking of all the incredible work that went into this special place in the boondocks of no-cell tower eastern Oregon.
Story by David R. Holland