My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
The Golf Bucket List
I wouldn't put Bandon Trails at the top of the "Bandon Four," but it's no slouch either. I wouldn't travel to Oregon to see it, but once in Oregon, I would be sure not to miss it. By all means, if you're going to Bandon, you must play all four courses, and misses Trails would be a big mistake. It has a different feel from the other three courses, and you won't experience any Oceanfront holes, but it's fun golf and is well worth the time.
#18, Par 4, 363 Yards
The fairway is undulated and guarded by bunkers on the right and left sides. A well positioned tee shot down the left-center of the fairway will provide you with a shorter distance and the best angle in to the green. Yardage is key on the approach; take note of the prevailing wind and the elevated green as shots played past the false front will provide the best results. Enjoy your walk to this green as you have reached the Trails End.
My advice on this hole is to leave driver in the bag, as the landing area for driver can direct the ball into the bunkers on the left side. Being back in the dunes, wind will be more of a factor on this hole, as it is much more exposed than the preceding holes, which are more protected from the Ocean breezes.
#15, Par 4, 367 Yards
Playing into the prevailing wind, this hole will require a strong drive to get as near to the cross bunker as possible. This will leave a short iron shot to an undulating and well protected green. A precise approach is a must, as you want to avoid leaving yourself above the hole, and a false front awaits any shots that come up short.
This green is 50 yards deep, so make sure you use a rangefinder or consult the pine sheet before picking a club on your approach. Trouble is very close to the green on all sides, so up-and-downs will be tough if you miss the green.
#14, Par 4, 306 Yards
Another short par four with a multitude of options. A driver may leave you a shorter and only slightly easier second shot. if you elect to play it safe from the tee, it is best to favor the left side of this fairway, as shots missed to the right will face a blind approach at the most shallow angle to the green. This hole's greatest defense is its green - the smallest on the course.
This is the most debated and criticized hole at Bandon Trails. Many think the green is too extreme and doesn't reward good shots. It has been softened from its original design to be more accepting of pitches and approach shots, but it's still awfully demanding around the green. Ignore the distance and hit whatever club you can keep on the left side of the fairway. Like the hole or not, it's a really cool view from a tee perched high up and looking down at the fairway. Unlike many, I actually liked this hole, and thought it was fun. For a short hole, playing downhill to boot, it's to be expected that the green is a challenge. From the shots I saw, I thought it was fun and fair.
#13, Par 4, 374 Yards
Accuracy is the focus on this medium length hole. The ideal angle requires a tee shot toward the left fairway bunker. The dense native area right of the fairway comes quickly into play. An accurate approach to this elevated green is critical, as a deep bunker and dense foliage guard the right side.
This is one of those holes where the tee box can play tricks on you. It seems to aim you directly into the woods to the right, and that's right where I can. Be disciplined to align yourself correctly to hit a good drive, which favors a draw. After that draw from the tee, a fade into the green is preferred, a tactic used often by Pete Dye, among others.
#12, Par 3, 235 Yards
Take plenty of club on this long par three. The green slopes will help funnel the ball toward the middle of the green. Subtle contours short and right will collect errant shots and help them toward the green.
A very fun and fair hole for a one-shotter of this length. Tons of room to miss the green and be safe, but your short game will be tested to get up-and-down from some of those spots. I'm not sure why the bunker on the right of the hole is there...to frame the hole I guess? This par three doesn't have the visual allure of the other three one-shotters at Trails, but it's still plenty good.
#11, Par 4, 429 Yards
This hole does not bend right as much as it appears. A strong drive down the left side of this enormous fairway provides the best angle into this green. Even the best tee shots will leave a lengthy approach to this green guarded by water on the right.
Unless I'm forgetting somewhere, this is the only water hazard (besides the Pacific Ocean) that is in play at any of the four Bandon Dunes courses, which is part of why it's fairly tough to lose a ball at the resort. Of course, hitting it into the forest at Trails, or into the gorse at the other three courses can result in a lost ball, but generally, playing a complete round with one golf ball is very practical. This hole, with its length and the water on the right side for your approach shot, is probably the toughest hole at Trails. Just getting to the green is only half the battle, as the green is HUGE, and can test the best of lag putters. Getting out with a par would definitely give you a leg up on your competitors.
#10, Par 4, 393 Yards
This fairway is very generous. The open right side of this hole lures you in that direction, which will leave you a longer approach crossing open sand to the green. Be sure to take enough club and fire at the middle of the green. There is plenty of room to miss left.
Hugging the left side of the fairway, and near the long bunker that lines the left side, is definitely rewarded with an easier shot into the green.
#9, Par 5, 522 Yards
Framed by dense coastal forest, the scale of this hole is deceiving. Check the yardage to the large fairway bunker on the right, as it may narrow the fairway in the landing area. From there, depending on the wind direction, you will have to decide whether to lay-up or blast away! In either case, there is much more space to receive your shot than it appears. At the green, you can comfortably miss long or left.
My only complaint about this hole is the tree that lays at the far edge of the fairway bunker on the left of the fairway in the landing zone for your second shot. Having the tree there makes a recovery shot from that bunker extremely difficult and is something of a double penalty.
#8, Par 4, 299 Yards
This reachable par four gives you a great opportunity to weigh risk vs. reward. A well-struck drive may find the putting surface, but long putts on this undulating green will be no bargain. A lay-up off the tee to your ideal wedge yardage may be the more prudent play.
Coore and Crenshaw don't seem to build any courses these days without at least one "driveable" par 4, and their portfolio of work has some really good ones. What seems to be common among most of them is really difficult greens. This wasn't one of of the toughest greens I've seen among the C&C short par 4's, but it was still the primary challenge on the hole.
#7, Par 4, 406 Yards
Swing freely on this long uphill par four. The fairway is very generous. Don't be afraid of the large fairway bunker on the left as the best approach to the green is from the left side of the fairway. A fairway wood or long iron second shot will be required to this elevated green. The green is shallow on the left side and protected by a bunker behind.
As a fader of the golf ball, this hole looked really good to me from the tee. It's 278 yards to reach the left bunker from the Green Tees, so I basically aimed right at it with a cut, which worked quite well.
#6, Par 4, 359 Yards
Aggressive players may choose to carry the small fairway bunker off the tee. There is plenty of room left of the fairway bunker, but will offer a longer approach. Short and right of this green leaves a cautious player the best chance at par.
Here is another hole where centerline bunkers are put to good use to make the player thing rather than just bombing away from the tee. From the Green tees, it's a 200 yard carry over the first bunker and a 250 yard shot to reach the second one.
#5, Par 3, 124 Yards
Don't let the length of this hole give you a false sense of security. Double check the hole location and total yardage to this long green. Club selection in critical, as your ball must end up on the same tier of the green as the hole. This green is the most undulating on the course, and a two putt will be well earned.
This 48-yard deep green was built in a Biarritz style, with a deep swale in the center tier. With that said, it's much shorter than a typical Biarritz, and a bunkers guard the front side, so it plays more for an aerial shot that lands and sticks on the proper level rather than a shot that lands and rolls. It is probably the most photogenic hole on the course, and is extremely fun.
#4, Par 4, 363 Yards
A sand ridge running across this fairway challenges the player off the tee. Distances to carry the ridge are shortest on the left, which will also give you the clearest view of the green. Balls clearing the ridge will shoot forward towards the green. If you are faced with a blind approach the only safe miss is short and right of the green.
A wall of bunkers lines the left side of the fairway and serves to stop balls that might be going toward the trees. The right side of the fairway runs the risk of obstructing your view into the hole.
#3, Par 5, 532 Yards
Take aim at the bunker in the middle of the fairway as only the best tee shots can bring it into play. Once on the fairway, factor the wind direction and carry distances to set up the ideal yardage for your third. The back of the green is deceptive and drops off abruptly.
One of the main design features that disappeared in the second half of the 20th century was the centerline bunker. Modern designers like Tom Doak and Coore/Crenshaw have brought back this feature on some of their courses to inject strategy back into the game, especially in cases where the fairway is adequately wide to accommodate shots played to either side. The centerline bunker off the tee is likely not in play, as said above, but the two bunkers that divide the fairway in the landing area of the second shot, definitely need to be considered to leave an easy pitch for the third.
#2, Par 3, 166 Yards
Judging the impact of elevation change and wind will make club selection critical on this par three. The place to miss, although not visible from the tee, is short and left of the green. Par will be a struggle after any tee shot that misses right of this green.
This is the first of the dynamite par 3's at Bandon Trails, and it's also probably the toughest of the four, especially when it plays into the wind as it did the day I played. The target seems awfully small from the tee. As is often the case on Coore/Crenshaw courses, just getting to the green in regulation is no guarantee of a two-putt par. The green is 42 yards deep and gauging the distance incorrectly can result in a long putt. Even though the card says 166 yards, this one lasered to 195 yards for us.
#1, Par 4, 356 Yards
With the prevailing wind at your back, a driver may not be required. The fairway is much wider than it looks so relax and make a comfortable swing. Your tee shot should favor the right side of the fairway, as most shots will feed back to the center. The second shot is slightly uphill through a saddle of sand dunes.
As I've said a number of times throughout my Bandon reviews, the yardage book (and the golf courses for that matter) assume the summer prevailing wind, which is out of the North. The winter prevailing wind is out of the Southwest, which makes holes play quite differently than what they were likely built for. In early March, when we were there, we faced the winter winds each day. With that said, the first hole, the most exposed on the course and closest to the Ocean, played into the wind. With an uphill shot into the green that played into that wind, it took my Driver & 4 Iron to get around the green. I wasn't disappointed with an opening bogey in those wind conditions.
View general commentary of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Bandon Preserve, and The Punchbowl here
In the early 2000's, the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort stood as a world class one-two punch of golf courses, with Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes luring visitors from all over the world to test out two American links. This was a blessing and a curse for Mike Keiser for a variety of reasons. First, tee sheets were quite full, with little capacity for additional players. Second, visitors were only staying for a couple days to play the two courses and leave. Would more people be willing to make the difficult trip to Southern Oregon if there was even more golf to play? And, once they were there, would they stay longer to make sure they saw all there was to offer? With these thoughts in mind, there needed to be more golf at Bandon Dunes. So, enter Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to build the third course at Bandon. Bandon Trails would be quite different from the first two tracks. It would begin and end in the sand dunes, but the remainder of the course would wind slightly inland, through meadows and forests. The course would play like a links due to the firm and fast conditions and sandy soil, but it wouldn't feature quite as much wind, being a bit inland and more protected by trees. In the words of the architects:
"In the profession of golf architecture, all one can ask for is to be given an extraordinary site and the freedom to work with it. We were afforded both at Bandon Trails. We have tried to tread softly on this spectacular landscape, laying out a golf course that required little alteration to the site while providing golf as diverse as the land itself. As its name implies, Bandon Trails will take you on a journey, a nature walk if you will, through windswept dunes, meadows of vegetation framed by indigenous shrubbery, and through woodlands of towering fir and spruce trees. Sometimes the journey and the golf will be wild and tumultuous, sometimes serene. Whichever, we hope it will always be interesting and enjoyable."
Trails (as it's known in Bandon shorthand) is possibly the most polarizing course at the resort. Some people really enjoy the Coore/Crenshaw interpretation of a links course near the Oregon Coast. However, others find it the most underwhelming of the four, possibly due to the fact it's the only Bandon course that lacks Ocean views. I've seen enough Coore/Crenshaw original designs now that I think I can compare and contrast them reasonably well. What I love about their designs it the variety you'll see during a round. They're excellent at mixing short par 4's with long per 4's, and also with their par 3's and par 5's. You'll see a little bit of everything on their courses, and will likely use nearly every club in your bag. Typically, greens are very large in their designs and Trails is no exceptions. While the wind is typically not as strong through the trees, it's still within a few hundred yards of the coast, so the course needs to have the width and the greens of an ample size to be fair in Ocean winds. This course definitely has that width, and is fair in all conditions.
What I liked best about Bandon Trails were the par 3's. I thought they were excellent and the most memorable part of the course. With that said, outside of the par 3's, I wasn't sure that the course captured the feel of Bandon as well as the others. I was frequently reminded of Dormie Club on many of the holes at Trails, which is a strong complement as far as the quality of the golf course, but also meant that you could have probably picked me up and set me down in the sand hills of North Carolina and the experience would have been similar. Notwithstanding that mild criticism, Trails is another fine example of minimalist design, with which Coore/Crenshaw have become experts and geniuses. Without moving much dirt, they are able to built masterpieces that flow naturally over the land they're given, while having sufficient interest to keep the golfer engaged. Of course, it helps that they're frequently given tremendous pieces of land. One wonders if they'd be able to create a minimalist course as interesting in a dull piece of land like where TPC Sawgrass was built.
There are five sets of tees at Bandon Trails, with the tips bearing a Black color, and measuring 6,759 yards with a par of 71 and a rating / slope of 73.6 / 130 yards. Give the conditions we faced, the playability of the courses, and the order we played them in, if there was any course I would have played from the tips, it probably would have been this one. However, the next tees up, the Green tees, were what we chose for our round, and they were a good length to make for a fun round. The greens played to 6,247 yards, with a rating / slope of 71.1 / 129. In the firm and fast conditions at the Bandon courses, holes can play shorter than their scorecard yardages. Of course, this assumes calm winds. While calm winds are rare in the exposed areas of the resort, they are a bit more plausible in the protected corridors of Bandon Trails. I'll quote the yardages from the green tees below, with comments from the architects (from the yardage book) in italics:
#49, Top 100 Golf Courses in the U.S. (2015)
#13, Top 100 Courses You Can Play (2014)
#4, Best Public Golf Courses in Oregon (2014)
#14, America's 100 Greatest Public Courses (2015-2016)
#74, America's 100 Greatest Courses (2015-2016)
#4, Best in the State of Oregon (2015-2016)
#17, Par 3, 159 Yards
A par three framed by a menacing bunker right and two bunkers back and left. A false front forces you to fly the ball well onto the green. However, the green will feed balls into an open collection area long and right of the green, from which a par is manageable. A prevailing crosswind makes it all the more difficult to launch a high, soft shot on to this green.
The last of four very strong par threes at Bandon Trails. After this, it's back up to the sand dunes to finish your round.
#16, Par 5, 494 Yards
Against the prevailing wind, this uphill par five will play longer than the yardage indicates. The tee shot is visually intimidating. The slopes on the right side will funnel errant shots back to the fairway. On your approach, beware of a strategically placed bunker on the right, and factor your distance to it to ensure you finish comfortably short or beyond it.
Aside from the uphill nature of the hole, this is a definite chance to get one back. Two full shots got me about pin high and a up-and-down gave me a birdie -- the only one of my round at Bandon Trails