My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
The Golf Bucket List
What I've realized both before visiting Bandon Dunes and after reflecting a bit afterwards, is that if you ask 10 people to rank its four courses, you'll likely get 10 different rankings. From talking to countless people, there is no unanimous best-of-the-four, and no worst. For me, it went #1 Pacific Dunes, #2 Old MacDonald, #3 Bandon Trails, and #4 Bandon Dunes, but it's safe to say that if I played them again, and perhaps faced different weather conditions and/or played them in a different order, I might completely change my mind. I played Bandon Dunes last, and was coming off of a day and and half of wind and rain? Was I just tired and a bit grizzly? Entirely possible! I guess I just found that Bandon Dunes had some of the better holes at the resort, but also some of the most underwhelming holes at the resort.
With that said, that's what makes Bandon so cool...you want to go back! There is so much to take in with each course and so much variety available in them due to the width and different playability in different conditions, that you could go back every year and see something a little different each time. I can't wait to go back to Bandon. Word on the street is that they're going to be building a fifth course sometime in the future, though permits and government regulations continue to get in the way. Let's hope they succeed, because the hundreds of acres at Bandon are stacked with world-class golfing potential. It would be something of a crime if Mike Keiser wasn't allowed to continue to invest in the land and treat the world to the fruits of his love for "Dream Golf."
Bravo Mike Keiser and all who are involved with Bandon Dunes. A wonderful place and a wonderful experience.
#16, Par 4, 345 Yards
With the prevailing wind at your back, it is much easier to carry your drive onto the top fairway than it looks. The approach shot from the upper fairway is much shorter and provides a good look at the green. Do not attack the right hand hole locations, as the gorse is much closer than it appears from the fairway.
This is probably the most famous and most photographed hole at Bandon Dunes. Your drive first needs to carry a beautiful canyon, though it should only come into play for a topped, or otherwise very poor shot. From there, you'll need to gauge the wind to figure out where to aim. With the wind quartering to the right and into my face, it was harder to get to the upper level than the description above suggests. With that wind, it played as a bit of a cape hole, with the angle of attack being important to get on the right level of this divided fairway. From there, it is a short shot into a green that allows a miss to the left, but punishes a miss short or left.
#15, Par 3, 131 Yards
Favor the left side of this green, as the deepest bunker on the course lurks on the right, and the bank on the left will feed all shots toward the center of the green.
A very good par 3 takes you back to the Ocean. I really enjoyed the stretch of 14-16 and would probably rank it just behind 4-6 as the best three-hole stretch on the course. Nothing further to add to the notes above. When you get to the green and look North, there is a really cool vista where you have #15, #12, and #4 greens right in a line, with the Pacific to the left.
#13, Par 5, 537 Yards
Playing downwind, this is a very reachable par 5. Significant topography down the right side of the fairway may present awkward lies, while a drive down the left brings the only internal water hazard on the golf course into play. Steep slopes short of the green will funnel balls into a deep collection area.
I gotta come clean here. I was aiming to the wrong green until just before I hit my third shot. I thought I was hitting into the 17th green, but started to notice discrepancies between the yardage markers and my laser. Oops, I guess a caddy would have helped on this one, or having other players on the course in front of me. With that said, I didn't get into any trouble as there's more than enough width on the hole to play toward that incorrect green until your short wedge into the green. At least I realized my error before I actually play into the wrong hole!
#12, Par 3, 153 Yards
Club selection is crucial to this shallow, firm green. A sod-faced bunker awaits short shots, and natural fescues approach quickly from behind. A shot played into the front right opening of the green will serve you well to any hole location.
This is the third one-shotter on the course that plays in the 150-155 yard range from the green tees. However, the holes go in three different directions, so they play plenty differently in the Southern Oregon winds. The one plays a bit like a Redan
#11, Par 4, 351 Yards
Fighting the prevailing wind, this hole will play extremely long. Avoid the sod-faced bunker that guards the right side of the green, and be aware that the green slopes away from you.
This is one of the tighter holes at Bandon Dunes, and also one of the narrower greens to hit. There is ample room to miss the green on the right, but be sure you're at least pin high if you're going to miss right to avoid the aforementioned bunker.
#10, Par 4, 339 Yards
A drive down the right provides the shortest approach shot, while playing to the left provides the best angle to this very shallow green. Don't be intimidated by the blind second shot; just trust your yardage.
There is more room to the right off of the tee than you can see. The bunkers are roughly the middle of the fairway. Long or right on the approach into #10 is basically the only play at the Bandon Dunes course where you could face tree trouble. I was told that there might be a hidden liquor bottle somewhere on this hole, but I completely forgot to go looking when I was on it. Oh well, I had a long drive from Bandon to Portland waiting for me after my round, so it was just as well.
#9, Par 5, 520 Yards
You must avoid the pot bunkers in the center of the landing zone. Left of them provides a more generous fairway, but a longer distance to the green. With the prevailing wind usually helping on this medium length par 5, going right of the bunkers could make this a two shot hole.
Centerline bunkers split the fairway in the driving area and second shot landing area, requiring some thought on each shot. This is the only course at the resort that actually follows a modern-day traditional routing and returns to the clubhouse at the turn. So, grab a refreshment before heading back out to do battle on the back.
#8, Par 4, 342 Yards
Check your yardage to carry the cross bunkers; it can be deceiving. The narrow opening in the front of the green makes the green seem narrower than it is. You can use the hump in the front left of the green to feed balls toward the center. Don't fall asleep at this hole! It is harder than it looks.
This is a prototypical links golf hole. The ideal line is over the cross bunkers, which aren't that far away, but when the wind blows, the ideal line can change, and the architect built a line to the left of the bunkers, such that you don't need to carry them. Into a strong wind, I took the safe line to the left of the bunkers, which avoided the trouble off the tee, but gave me a longer route into the hole and over pot bunkers. I had to pick my poison...off the tee or into the green. I figured I could take a safe line into the green too and take my chances with getting up and down. Again, you don't want to be in most of the bunkers out here. I thought this was a really well-designed hole. I'm sure it doesn't get all the acclaim of the Ocean holes, but I thought it was one of the better strategic holes on the course, especially when playing into the wind.
#7, Par 4, 372 Yards
The fairway is much wider than it looks, so relax and make a comfortable swing. Favor the left side of the fairway, which is actually over the outcropping of beach grass. Pay particular attention to the hole location, as this is effectively a three tired green. Although it is desirable to be on the same tier as the hole, when the hole is cut back left, it is advisable to find the middle of the green and take your chances on a long putt.
Not a long hole, but lots of undulations, humps, and bumps create a tricky and precise shot into this green to avoid a nasty up-and-down.
#6, Par 3, 153 Yards
Against the prevailing wind, this hole requires much more club than the yardage suggests. Beware of the sod-faced bunker on the left. It is very deep. A missed shot to the right of the green will leave a manageable chip to save par.
As is the case at all of the Bandon courses, most greens at Bandon Dunes are very large, so gauging the distance is important to avoiding an extremely lengthy putt. At nearly 50 yards deep, this green is no exception.
#5, Par 4, 400 Yards
Remove your attention from the breathtaking scenery long enough to muster the concentration necessary to drive the ball into the right half of the split fairway. Since the hole will play directly against the prevailing wind, it may be necessary to consider conceding this as a three shot hole, rather than risking a big number.
With the wind at my back when I played it, this hole played a touch easier than suggested above, but it still packed a nasty punch. The split fairway provides strategy into an otherwise wide target area. However, the second shot tightens up significantly with tall dunes flanking either side of the approach. Beyond being a world-class golf hole, the best part about this hole for me is that it stopped raining for the first time in about 40 hours when I played it! While the winds didn't stop, it would be dry for the rest of my round at Bandon Dunes.
#4, Par 4, 362 Yards
Use the bunker straight-away as a target for your tee shot. Club selection on your approach is vital, as the green is protected in the front left by deep bunkers, and the Pacific Ocean awaits any balls hit long. A low trajectory shot hit up the right side of the green may be the best play.
This is one of the handful of tremendous golf holes at Bandon Dunes. It played straight into the winter winds, which made it extremely difficult. The embedded youtube clip (sorry it's extremely shake) gives a sense for the strength and thundering roar of the winds that you can face at Bandon. From the green tees, it's 229 yards to the pot bunker through the fairway. Clearly, it's critical to stay short of it and out of the dunes to have a good shot into the green.
The blind second shot
#3, Par 5, 489 yards
The first par 5 also represents the first real opportunity for a birdie. Take a look at the entire hole and analyze the second shot landing area, as it may be blind from the fairway. Enjoy the view!
As I alluded to on the second hole, the prevailing winds change with the seasons. During the summer, the winds tend to blow down the coast, from the north. However, during the winter months the winds typically come from the southwest. It was March when I was on the property, but we definitely had winter prevailing winds each day we were there. While the courses have sufficient width to be able to be played in any conditions, it was pretty clear that they were built with the summer winds in mind. This first three-shotter on the course played a bit tougher than intended with a hard wind blowing into my face from the tee. The trick to Bandon Dunes is to avoid the many pot bunkers throughout the course, and that's definitely evident on #3. You can see from the bunker picture below (the bunker that fronts the green) what can happen if you hit them!
#2, Par 3, 155 Yards
A medium length par 3 that requires a significant uphill shot. The prevailing northwest wind will blow the ball from left to right, causing shots to often end up short or in the right side of the collection area. An extra club may be recommended. The undulating green puts a premium on putting.
Definitely an opportunity to continue a good start here. The description above refers to the prevailing winds during the summer. During the winter months, the wind blows out of the southwest, making this hole essentially straight downwind. No major hazards to avoid, but the slopes of the green, the collection area, and two pot bunkers will certainly test the short game of any shot that misses the putting surface.
#1, Par 4, 352 Yards
Someone once noted that the first hole of any golf course shouldn't be too difficult. That is exactly the case at Bandon Dunes. Tee shots should favor the left side of the fairway and an approach shot that favors the right side of the green will avoid the enormous hump that sits in the left middle of the green.
There was something awesome about being told that I was the first one to brave the weather and head out to the first tee. I had the course to myself with nobody in front of me. Sure, it was raining pretty hard, but I was already plenty wet, so it couldn't really get much worse. With many of the resort facilities to my right, I put my ball in the air and away I went. OB is all down the right side, but there is more than enough room to the left that OB shouldn't even by on your mind.
The Golf Course
OK, so my resort background is done, so it's time to get to the meat of this page, and that's the review of the actual Bandon Dunes golf course. This is the original course at Bandon--the one that started it all. Mike Keiser took a bit of a risk in hiring an unknown architect in David McLay Kidd to build his course, especially since this would be his first solo design. With that said, it's not without precedent that a golf course is built by someone with no prior experience (Pebble Beach, Oakmont, Merion, etc...). A few words from Mr. Kidd, courtesy of the yardage book:
"From the moment I stepped out on these wild, wind-shaped sand dunes, I knew this would be the opportunity of a lifetime. Mike Keiser, the owner, wanted something authentic and true to the Scottish tradition. My reply was, 'No real estate, no golf carts, no clubhouse on the beach.' I imagined the routing having the structure of a symphony--a strong start, a sense of anticipation, small crescendos and an incredible finishing sequence along the Pacific. The course had to provide not only a challenge to every skill level but both a sense of adventure and an exploration of this great landscape. As on true links courses, each hole offers several strategies to reach the green. Although the best line of attack requires accuracy, which can be tricky. Players must consider the sea breeze and the firm sand-based turf. And newcomers to links golf must master playing the ball along the ground, shots that have all but disappeared from today's game. it thrills me now to watch the public playing the game as it was originally meant to be played, on the finest linksland I have seen outside the British Isles."
After countless times changing and tweaking the routing with Mr. Keiser, Kidd's course opened for public play in 1999 and was an immediate hit. Many American courses claim to be a links because they're near an Ocean or have some heather grass. However, Keiser and Kidd had built the real thing in Southern Oregon where fescue grass could be grown on sandy soil, and the course could be maintained in firm and fast conditions. For the first time, Americans could experience true links golf without crossing the pond.
When I woke up on the last day at the resort, it was questionable whether I would even get in the fourth and final Top 100 course at Bandon. My original itinerary had us playing Bandon Dunes for the second 18 of the second day, and me playing Pacific Dunes on my own for a second 18 of the final day. However, wind and rain caused a several hour delay for a college tournament that was taking place at Bandon Dunes on the second day, and the course had to close to resort guests to be able to finish the college kids' rounds. So, since I had only played three of the four courses as of the eve of my departure, I flipped the last round from Pacific to Bandon. However, there were multiple reasons it was questionable whether that would even happen. Number one, it was a late tee time, and there would be only about 4.5 hours to get the round in, even under sunny conditions. Then came the bigger problem, which was that it was the final day of the college tournament, and I was worried that another delay would potentially cause the course to close again, or at least delay my starting time so that I wouldn't be able to finish. Strangely enough, this was a time when nasty golf weather actually played to my advantage though. About two hours after they teed off, the miserable weather caused the tournament officials to cancel the final round of the college event. Since some of the teams had flight reservations later that day, they were unable to delay play, and had to quit. Good news for me, as that opened up the tee sheet for the afternoon!
With awful conditions in the morning, much of my group was not interested in enduring another round in the rain and a high wind advisory at Old Mac, so the plan was to play Bandon Trails instead, because it's a bit inland and more isolated from the winds. However, as the round got closer and closer, a few people dropped out. We were left with five, and those five weren't entirely committed to the round either. We ended up playing Bandon Preserve instead, figuring 13 par 3's would be a little more manageable than a full golf course. For me, that saved a couple hours of time that I would have been at Bandon Trails and opened me up to be able to play Bandon Dunes. After talking with the pros, they said they needed an hour or so to set up the course for public play, since they only had one set of tee boxes set up for the college kids. After that, I'd be able to get out. Since the college kids had cancelled play, I was a bit concerned that the course wouldn't even be open. However, this is Bandon, and it's built to be played in miserable conditions. It can take a lot of rain and stay fair, and it certianly was that day. After letting some time pass, it was time to tee it up. I was on my own and was the first one out on the course after the college kids quit....yes, I'm a die hard golfer and one who's committed to my quest. I wasn't going to let some rain and wind stop my from checking off a Top 100 course, especially one that's so hard to get to. If the course let me go out, darn it, I was playing!
The Bandon Dunes course is the only one at the Resort that can stretch to over 7,000 yards, with the back tees measuring 7,212 yards, and playing to a fierce rating / slope of 76.8 / 150. I can guarantee that the way the wind blows out there, nobody by "plus handicaps" should even give a second's thought to playing back there. In fact, I by-passed the next set up too, in favor of the Green Tees, which play to 6,221 yards, and a rating / slope of 71.7 / 139. That's a bit shorter than I typically play, but it was raining pretty hard and Southern Oregon was under a high wind advisory when I started out, so for my last round of my Bandon experience, I wasn't in the mood to take a beating. Below, I'll quote each hole from those Green Tees, with each hole's commentary from the yardage book in italics. Then, if there's anything I have to add, I'll add it below that. I apologize in advance for some of the cell phone photos in the rain. Mid-way through the front nine, it gets a little better
Then there is the question of how long to stay. From my perspective, it all depends on how much golf you're willing to play in a day. As I mentioned, there are no carts at Bandon (absent a strongly-worded doctor's note). I think most people play 36 holes in day, if not more, but I realize that's not for everyone. If you wish to play every course once, which I would recommend if you're going to endure the difficult travel to get there, you'll probably need at least three days to get the full experience. Squeezing everything into two days is likely not enough for most people. We were there for three days and three nights, and an extra day would have been nice, especially since it gives you some wiggle room if you face an afternoon of awful weather and would like to take a break and dry off!
Before I start with the Bandon Dunes Course, I promised I'd try to offer some of my unique thoughts and observations. Here goes:
I could go on and on and on, but I'll start getting to the golf course and pictures.
The gigantic practice area:
When I first booked my trip to Bandon Dunes, I was extremely giddy. I would be able to check another U.S. state off of my list, since I had never stepped foot in Oregon. Moreover, I'd be at the consensus best golf resort in the world, where there are four golf courses that occupy a spot in every Top 100 list there is (except GolfWeek Classic of course). However, what I wasn't excited about was the concept of reviewing and blogging about Bandon Dunes. What made the task so intimidating was the fact that Bandon Dunes, since it opened in 1999, is probably the most written-about resort in golf. Books have been written, including Dream Golf, which tells the story of Bandon in far more detail than I would ever attempt. Articles have been written in every golf magazine. Golf Channel's Matt Ginella talks about Bandon frequently on TV. It goes on and on and on. So, what could I possibly bring to the table that's new and unique? It was a daunting task to say the least. So, after landing in Portland on a Wednesday night, it was my goal to find something different and unique to write about. Odds are, whatever I thought was unique has probably been uncovered by someone else's blog/review, but I'll give it a shot.
Since this page covers the namesake Bandon Dunes golf course, I'll touch on the overall experience at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort on this page, and then leave the other three related pages exclusively to the golf courses.
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort:
Bandon Dunes was created by Mike Keiser, the co-founder of Recycled Paper Greetings, one of the world's largest greeting card manufacturers, based in Chicago. Keiser is a golf nut and had a dream to build a course that practiced "golf as it was meant to be," which has become the resort's slogan. At the time ground was broken at Bandon, Keiser had already built, owned, and operated a small 9-hole private club in southwest Michigan called Dunes Club. That club was reserved for a small number of his friends. However, Bandon would for the masses, or what Keiser calls "retail golfers."
It was all about the golf with Mike Keiser. A typical golf course developer might have put the clubhouse right out on the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean, saving the best views for visitors who would dine at the club's restaurants or stay in its guest rooms. Keiser thought otherwise, and saved the best views for the course's golf holes, with clubhouses inland. There would be no real estate to be sold on the hundreds of acres he owned. There would be no carts, for Keiser believed that walking was an important part of the game. Finally, when it came to building the best golf courses possible, anything was on the table. It was about creating the best golf holes possible, not about following an arbitrary template where each nine has two par 3's, five par 4's, two par 5's, and always returns to the clubhouse at the turn.
The resort that is Bandon Dunes first opened in 1999 with only one golf course and an adjacent Lodge. What stands now is four regulation golf courses, a 13-hole par 3 course, a 100,000 square foot putting course, a world class practice facility, bars, restaurants, multiple options for lodging, and a priceless view of the Pacific Ocean. The courses at Bandon are as follows:
However, different from many of the world's golf destinations, the amenities stop there. There are no pools, tennis courts, swanky shops and cafes nearby, or things for kids to do. Bandon Dunes does have massages available, but it's because many guests could use a rub-down after playing a full day of golf...not because people are making the trip for a relaxing day at the spa. People come to Bandon Dunes for one reason, and one reason only--to play world class golf. For Americans, who have little experience with golf the U.K, and Ireland, they come to play world class LINKS golf. It is fair to say that Bandon Dunes is links golf. Firm, fast conditions. Wind, rain, fescue surfaces, gorse, Bandon has all of the boxes checked for links golf, and only fails in the fact that the courses weren't built 100+ years ago.
So, when planning a trip to Bandon, the first consideration, is how to get there. For those planning to fly, as I did, there are really three options. Portland (PDX) offers the most flight options and the lowest prices, but is about 4.5 hours away. Eugene is about 2 hours closer to Bandon, but it's likely there will be an extra leg on your journey as there aren't as many direct flights available. The final option, is the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport, located fairly close-by in Coos Bay/North Bend. This airport serves United Airlines and SeaPort Airlines, but there are few flight options available, and for me, it added cost and a great deal of time/layovers to the trip. If I had a private jet, it would be the way to go, but for traditional commercial travel, I chose Portland and dealt with the drive time. Flying into Portland wold also allow me to add some rounds to the either side of the trip, and see Oregon on the drive to and from Bandon. From Portland, it's about 2 hours down I-5, followed by another couple hours on 2-lane rural roads, meandering through sheep farms, high hills, green fields, rivers, sand dunes, and moss. It's really a pretty drive, and I would have missed out on a lot of natural beauty, had I flown into North Bend.
OK, you've arrived in Oregon, so where to stay? I'm guessing nearly everyone who comes to play Bandon Dunes golf courses stays on site, but I could be wrong. The Resort has many different options, from single bed rooms, to double rooms, four bedroom suites, and cottages. My group had eight people in it, and we selected two four bedroom suites at the Lodge. Each bedroom had its own private bath, which was really cool, along with a common area with leather seating, a nice TV, and a refrigerator for drinks. Here is a short and crude walk-through of our Dunes Suite:
#63, Top 100 Golf Courses in the World (2015)
#34, Top 100 Golf Courses in the U.S. (2015)
#8, Top 100 Courses You Can Play (2014)
#2, Best Public Golf Courses in Oregon (2014)
#7, America's 100 Greatest Public Courses (2015-2016)
#37, America's 100 Greatest Courses (2015-2016)
#2, Best in the State of Oregon (2015-2016)
#18, Par 5, 513 Yards
This wonderful finishing hole offers you a chance to finish strong. A drive in the left side of the fairway avoids the bunkers and hazard on the right, as well as providing the best look at the green on this dogleg right. If you encounter a blind second shot, use the right edge of the clubhouse as a reference point.
I wouldn't have called this a wonderful finishing hole, as the yardage book did. It's ok. They could have done more. Mainly just humps and bumps on a fairly straight hole with trouble on the right. A few pot bunkers in the driving zone, but nothing on the second shot. Again, I expected something a bit more memorable, but after some of the fantastic Ocean holes, maybe my sights were set too high.
Above is the line into the hole from the left side of the fairway--by the bunkers. Below is the angle into the hole from the left rough.
#17, Par 4, 375 Yards
A drive down the left side of the fairway provides the best angle to the green. The tee shot plays slightly downhill, while your approach is more uphill than you think. Because this hole has the deepest green on the course, it is essential that you factor the hole location into the length of your approach shot.
My least favorite hole on the course, and it has so much potential! However, I thought it was strategically wrong. Why? Because left is the preferred angle, and there is no reason to not aim as far left as you want...over the bunkers and into the rough. And that's exactly what I did. With the gorge on the right and the pot bunkers on the left, way left seemed to be the safest spot, and it was even rewarded with the best angle into the green! With the gorge being the most penal part of the hole, I would have built a hole that gave the player a risk/reward decision related to how close to hit the ball to it, and would reward the gutsy play. However, this hole rewards one who chickens out and blasts it way left. I just didn't get it, but maybe I missed something, or maybe the rough is more penal in other parts of the year?
Below is the view from the lower level of the fairway, with the photos above from the upper (left) level. Obviously, being on top is much preferred.
#14, Par 4, 332 Yards
This dogleg-right has a shallow green tucked behind the distant dune. Consult your carry distances to determine which fairway bunker to use as a guildeline for your tee shot. Drives toward the left will provide a better angle to the elongated green.
Not a bad short par 4 here. Avoiding the 7 pot bunkers in various spots of the fairway is the key to scoring. The green complex, with a dune behind it and a bunker in the front-right reminded my very slightly of the 14th at Sand Hills.