Nothing can prepare you for the glorious sense of isolation and escape that envelops you at Silvies Valley Ranch.
We made the journey to this spectacular corner of eastern Oregon, in search of a truly unique golf experience. And yet long before a putt had dropped, I knew our time would be about so much more than birdies and bogies. What I wasn’t prepared for was the silence – not just the wonderful quiet here but the feeling of life slowing down, the disconnection from the noise of day-to-day life and the perspective which comes when you lean into a truly restorative experience like this one.
In golf terms, unique is a word which doesn’t quite do Silvies Valley Ranch justice.
You’ll find two championship courses (one reversible) two challenging and enjoyable short courses, and an incredible, original putting course. Oh, and goat caddies. Yes, that’s right – goats who actually carry your golf clubs and drinks around the golf course. But we’ll come to them.
Joy at journey’s end
The journey to Silvies Valley Ranch had been an experience in itself. The 3-hour drive from Boise had been as scenic as I imagined it would be in my dreams. We snaked through the geological splendour of towering stone formations that have stood guard over these mountains for millions of years. The whole thing felt like a welcome step back to a different age, I could feel time (and my pulse) slowing but none of it prepared us for the warmth of the welcome at Silvies Valley Ranch.
A “Horseshoe Nail Cocktail” slaked our thirst. The garnish was an actual nail for shoeing a horse, which skewered a crab-apple picked from the 120-year-old Crab Apple tree nearby. From the get-go, it was clear Silvies Valley Ranch was a place where history, tradition, nature and words really meant something. Going by the cocktail, it was a place where they didn’t just talk the talk.
We navigated the sprawling 140,000-acre wonderland on our own camo-decaled supercharged electric golf cart. Sustainability may be a buzzword these days but at Silvies Valley Ranch, it’s a way of life. It’s nothing new, here, sustainability has been practiced for generations as a necessary way of maintaining livelihoods and protecting a treasured ecosystem. That ecosystem is gloriously varied: you’ll find mountain meadows and Ponderosa Pine forests; The Silvies River and more than 20 named creeks; and then there’s the elk, deer, antelope, grouse, black bear, cougar, coyotes, bobcats, beaver, otters, hawks and eagles who all call this stunning place home.
Pioneering history at its heart
The history of the place is just as varied. The Silvies name is derived from Antonine Sylvaille, a French trapper who ‘discovered’ the valley in the early 1800s. Long before that the Paiute people had occupied the land (the 9-hole ‘Chief Egan’ course bears the name of their last War Chief) – those with a keen eye may still spot archaeological artefacts scattered about the site. The valley was a rugged and unforgiving place for those making a life here after The Homestead Act of 1862, allowed hardy pioneers to settle. The Craddock and Hankin families overcome those challenges to consolidate their homesteads and in doing so, provide the blueprint for the ranch as it is today. Fittingly the championship 18-hole golf courses are named after each family.
Today, the Campbells own Silvies Valley Ranch and have used their pioneer roots in eastern Oregon, to restore the ranch to what it is now – a truly luxurious destination where their values come through in every facet of the guest experience.Those values are the reason Dan Hixson was chosen to ‘design’ the golf courses here and why Silvies landed on something so special – a reversible course layout. Not unlike many of the first links courses, where “nature was their architect, beast and man her contractors”, Hixson recognised that Mother Nature had done the hard work. He didn’t have to redesign the land, he just had to feel and listen to it to find the courses.
Guided by the values of Silvies Valley Ranch, he then saw the chance to do something magical in the same way Old Tom Morris had done with the Old Course, St Andrews. He saw an opportunity to create a reversible layout that would allow a regular switch in playing direction to prevent wear.
So, at Silvies, guests play the Hankins (a 7-letter word) Course on odd numbered days of the month and the Craddock (an 8-letter word) Course on even days. This allows guests to experience 36 holes of wonderful, varied golf, while the team here only have to maintain 18. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that the downhill par-5 will become a daunting uphill brute the next day.
What Hixon has done is masterfully arrange a puzzle of 16 fairways and 27 unique greens, 9 of which get to rest depending on the days routing. And he has weaved these holes through meadows, pine forests and upland desert sage together to create a journey of sensory variety. For those unfamiliar with sagebrush, it’s the North American western version of gorse or heather. It also happens to be a forage of choice for the local antelope who you’ll see on the course as you do sheep in Brora.
Goat caddies at Silvies VALLEY ranch
The quirky touches are memorable too. You’ll find cheeky metal signs on the bunker rakes, done by the owner’s son Tygh, with slogans which read “Beer Time,” “Uh Oh,” or “Shit!”. You’ll be presented with unique challenges on each course’s scorecard that create opportunities to win prizes and sign the champions’ book in the pro shop. For instance, if you one-putt each of the last four holes on the Craddock Course (good luck on these firm, fast and undulating greens), or use the high altitude to hit the longest drive of your life on the 18th hole of the Hankins Course.
You can approach the wonderful short McVeigh’s Gauntlet or Chief Egan courses, as seriously or as relaxed as you please. After all, if you choose to take Chunky or Houdini, the goat caddies (yes actual American Range Goats) out for your loop, how angry can you really get about choosing the wrong club? The caddies wear a customised saddle that comes equipped with a Sunday bag on either side, cupholders and peanut stash pouch. All told, the goat caddies at Silvies Valley Ranch can carry six clubs, six drinks and some snacks for you to tip them with. You needn’t worry about convincing them to keep moving, a ranger tags along to keep your caddie on track. And, if you are struggling with your game, these well acclimated goats can double as emotional support animals, just don’t try and fly home with them.
unique and magical: golf at Silvies
The Chief Egan course, which sits in a meadow at Paiute Creek and works around Egan Pond, might be better suited for your goat caddie. With the benefit of high elevation, firm and fast turf, nothing more than a wedge is required here with holes ranging from 70 to 120 yards. The Gauntlet is a far cry from the pleasantries of a 9-hole stroll in the meadow chasing birdies and birdwatching.
Myles McVeigh, after whom The Gauntlet is named, was an early pioneer who emigrated from Scotland. He played a wee bit of golf, even creating a small course on his homestead, he produced rye and partook in a gauntlet of drinking and fun with friends. In honour of Mr McVeigh The Gauntlet is a serious golf and physical challenge, which will test even the hardiest highlander. Among the challenges are to play with seven or fewer clubs, use or lose less than seven balls and drink seven beers. The seven official holes range from 97 to 277 yards, but a strategic player won’t bring more than a 7 iron. It’s all about position.
The opening three holes are an incredible hike between peaks and valleys. There is even a bonus hole before the 4th, where you reach the highest point on the course and find a shaded bench under the beer tree. A beer tree? Well near the roots are some ice-cold drinks, allowing you to drink in a breath-taking panoramic view. It feels like you’re standing in your own personal national park. What follows is a gradual downhill trek to The Hideout, where all pre and post round gatherings occur, but the holes don’t get any easier. Despite its rugged nature we felt like returning to the 1st tee as soon as we holed the final putt at McVeigh’s Gauntlet. The same could be said of each of the golf courses at Silvies Valley Ranch, even the 18-hole reversible putting course, named after the first woman to golf in the valley, Claire Owens, is truly wonderful. Nestled by a meadow filled with wildlife, around Otter Pond, it’s a stunning spot. And if that doesn’t sound like a fun place for some putting practice, I’m afraid I can’t help you.
golf just a part of Silvies magic
The golf is an exceptional and serene experience here, but it’s actually just a small part of what you can do at Silvies.
Don’t miss the handsome Scotch selection at The Lodge just make sure you don’t miss the dinner bell. Nearly all the food comes from the ranch, and you’ll need if you want to take on all the wonderful activities that can be squeezed into a day here, not least the chance to feel like a cowboy.
Dinner is a special time with different members of the leadership team at Silvies Valley Ranch spending time with guests to talk about life on the ranch and how to have the fullest possible experience. That might lead you to book a shooting lesson, a western style horseback ride or to get involved in the seasonal ranching activities. Or maybe you’ll just pay a visit to the spa. However you choose to spend your time, you’ll find camaraderie from golfers and non-golfers alike, you may eat something you’ve never tried before, and you’ll definitely learn plenty of new things.
Our time at Silvies Valley Ranch was an experience I know I will never forget. The chance to follow in the footsteps of the pioneers who settled in this valley – the original wanderers – was a privilege. The chance to spend a week in their shoes is a journey you will never regret making. The greater the effort, the greater the reward – as it was for them, it will be for you.
Tel: (541) 573-5150
Address: 40000 Cowboy Lane Seneca, Oregon 97873
Email: [email protected]
*For more information or to book a trip to Silvies Valley Ranch visit Silvies.us
*Zack Pollack was a guest of Silvies Valley Ranch.
SILVIES VALLEY RANCH: frequently asked questions
Q: How do you get to Silvies Valley Ranch?
A: If you’re driving, it’s 3.5hrs from Boise and 5hrs from Portland. Beware of some GPS, which might take you a route which cuts out the real adventure. Silvies Valley Ranch also has its own private airstrip, via Straightline Private Air.
Q: How long should I stay at Silvies Valley Ranch?
A: Guests are recommended to stay between 5-7 days simply because there is so much to see and do, but three days is a guide as an absolute minimum.
Q: Do cell phones work at Silvies Valley Ranch?
A: There is wifi at the lodge and in your rooms but the good news is that you won’t have any signal on the golf course or if you’re hiking, fishing and horse back riding. Enjoy it.
Q: How many golf courses are there at Silvies Valley Ranch?
A: The are 4 golf courses at Silvies Valley Ranch, all designed and built by Dan Hixson. The reversible Hankins and Craddock Courses, both 18-hole championship courses, rank in Golfweek’s top 50 courses in the US. McVeigh’s Gauntlet is a stunning 7-hole challenge course, and Chief Egan is a fun, mountain meadow 9-hole par 3 course. The four courses are built on 600 acres of the high desert ponderosa pine forest and mountain meadows.
Q: Are there really goat caddies at Silvies Valley Ranch?
A: There sure are. Silvies has the largest herd of organic meat goats in the world and they are not only used to improve sustainability but also help golfers out on the course. Purebred American Range Goats are carefully picked out when they reach the age of two and can caddy for around 6 years, carrying up to six golf clubs, a dozen golf balls and six drinks cans, along with a few dozen peanuts for them.