Casting On Course
Orvis takes fly-casting to a golf format
- By: Fly Rod and Reel
An Interview with Hutch Hutchinson, Orvis Southwest Regional Business Manager—Designer of the Bend, Oregon, fly-casting course along the Deschutes River.
The original idea for the Orvis casting course came from David Perkins, after he watched the casting competition at the 2007 Fly-Fishing Retailer (industry) Show. He was intrigued by some of the features Hutch had come up with for that event and said, “Have you ever built a course?”
There have been several courses built before, but none have been permanent. This was new territory.
There was something called The Danish Games, which was built for fun. But casters must be pretty sophisticated to have any success on this course.
About the Danish Games: It started as a tribute to one man’s tireless enthusiasm for an obstacle course casting game at FFF gatherings. Poul Jorgensen, a fly fishing guru of Danish ancestry, must have grown concerned about the American infatuation with power and distance, while his years of experience taught him that finesse and line control were skills of equal importance for the accomplished fly fisher. While it is impossible not to admire and wish to emulate Bruce Richards, who has come so close to repealing the notion that casting distance is a function of youth and muscle mass, even Bruce will tell you there is more to casting than distance alone. And for those of us not blessed with Bruce’s perfect casting stroke (and having passed the mantel of youth), the probability of effectively competing in the distance competition seems hopeful at best.
But fly-fishing is a sport for a lifetime, and once we accept the fact that 100 foot casts are in our past (or in our dreams), but probably not in our future, we can focus on what is really important: using finesse and having fun. The Danish games provide the perfect opportunity to pursue our new goals. Named in honor of fly-fishing legend Poul Jorgenson, and developed by Poul in collaboration with Floyd Franke, the popularity of the games has been growing with each succeeding Conclave.
According to Floyd, “The course consists of nine casting stations, each presenting a casting challenge. The object of the game is to get the fly (yarn) in the ring in the least number of casts… Begin your casting at Station #1, proceed to Station #2 then #3, and so on until you’ve cast at all nine stations.” Scoring is similar to golf in that the object is to complete the course with as few casts as possible. There are no restrictions on the type of equipment which may be used- one particularly adventurous group even tried to use two-handed rods last year. A good score will require a versatile set of casting skills. For example, Station 2 requires the ability to direct a tight loop 35 feet through a 3 foot wide hoop suspended five feet off the ground. Other stations require casting right and/or left handed around, under, and between obstacles. Most participants become increasingly enthusiastic as the game progresses. So come see what the buzz is all about. Not only will you have a great time, you will also be sharpening your casting and fishing skills.”
In December 2007, Hutch received and email from Orvis land developer George Haskins about building a permanent course at the new corporate store in Bend, Oregon. The idea was to have the course ready for the Grand Opening in November 2008.
Hutch flew up there to survey the property to see what they had to work with, for creating holes over water, land, and grass. He walked the property with Haskins and Bill Smith, who owns the mall and the land the course was to be built on.
The original idea was to build just two or three holes close to the store, but seeing the property—which offers land on both sides of the Deschutes—gave Hutch the idea for something much bigger.
“We need to do something no one else has ever done,” he said.
The idea to create a golf-style casting course had been bouncing around for awhile, but nothing had ever been done on this scale.
Marketers saw it as a way to tie casting into the lucrative golf industry—a way to draw golfers into fly-fishing.
Haskins, an avid golfer, looked at what they could do with the property and said, “This is golf with a fly rod.”
Pretty much everyone involved saw the value in the project, so it proceeded smoothly.
After his first visit, Hutch envisioned a 9-hole course, but Haskins argued for 18.
So, Hutch got to work planning the holes: “The vision I had was eighteen different stops along this route, but we had to make it appealing to everyone, even beginners.”
Ultimately, he came up with more like 54 holes—18 holes, each with three different skill levels. “It was a much bigger project than I thought it would be. There’s always been stuff for expert anglers, but nothing for beginners.”
But, of course, intermediate casters make up the largest group: “I can very easily figure out how to appeal to the Rajeffs and to beginners, but the bulk of the market is in the middle.”
The holes came together in several different ways. In some cases, the landscape dictated the casting challenge. In other cases, Hutch came up with a challenge and then looked for a place for it on the course.
Hole #6 involved trees, so it was the perfect place to make experts use a curve cast. Intermediate and beginner casters could be forced to avoid the trees in different ways.
Hutch knew that he wanted to include Spey casting holes, and he wanted to make use of the river. So they came up with one river-right #7) and one river-left (#10) Spey-casting holes.
By April, 2007, they had the initial map laid out. The designs were approved by Hutch, Haskins, and the Smith family (Bill & Matt).
They hired a design firm from Chicago to render Hutch’s rough drawings to create maps for each hole, as well as a scorecard.
A local construction company built all the targets out of aluminum so they would be permanent. Of course, everything had to be vandal-proof, as well, which added to the expense. Wouldn’t want someone walking off with your targets.
Holes were named after Oregon features by a local writer named Gary Lewis.
Construction took 2 1/2 weeks, and was finished October 26. “We delivered what Dave Perkins was looking for,” Hutch says.
It was always part of the plan that the course would be public and free.
Par for the course is 91, and it doesn’t matter which level you’re fishing it. There’s no handicapping, so experts and novices can actually compete against each other and compare scores.
Hutch’s favorite hole is #14 (Puget Sound Beach) because it really represents how golf is played.
• 530 feet between you and the target, so you’re hucking line as far as you can
• Dogleg right to avoid a cottonwood
• Unlike gold, you have to deal with where your backcast is going
• You have to decide whether you’re going to go for the hole or lay up
• If you end up too close to the hole (say a few inches or feet) you have to then cast AWAY and try again
• Putting is tough with a 9-foot rod.
There’s a big board at the corporate score that highlights low scores.
Hutch’s first time through, he scored 31 under par on the Intermediate, 8 over on expert.
Hutch’s credentials: Member of ACA (www.americancastingassoc.org), certified master caster and examiner by FFF, Orvis certified instructor. Hutch also serves on a committee that is trying to come up with plans for a course to offer to schools and colleges. The idea is that the set-up costs should be about $150, using materials available from any hardware store. Other members of the committee include representatives from ACA, FFF, Orvis, Sage, and Scientific Anglers.
No details yet, but Orvis will be hosting a major tournament on the course this year, with enough proze money at stake to draw competitors from around the world. Keep your eye on the Orvis Web site for more information.
For more on the casting course, contact Orvis Bend, (541) 312-8200.