My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
The Golf Bucket List
Having not seen Pebble Beach yet, I can't say whether Pacific Dunes deserve to be #1 or #2 on the list of the nation's best public courses. However, I've seen many of the remaining top 10 public courses, and I'm comfortable saying that I support Pac Dunes' position relative to them. Between the tremendous Ocean views, the variety of holes (short and long) the atypical routing, the firm and fast setup on fescue grass, there's just something about Pacific Dunes that is more unique and better than the Kiawah's, Whistling Straits and others that populate the Top 100 lists. Maybe it's the fact that Pacific Dunes doesn't intentionally try to beat you up, where Kiawah and Whistling Straits are more known for the difficulty than their fun factor. With that said, there's plenty of difficult at Pacific Dunes when the wind blows, but it's also more built for the wind and elements than the other two are. I loved Pacific Dunes and would be plenty happy playing there every day. After our 18 holes in the morning, it was over to Bandon Trails for our afternoon round, and the next course to check off the list.
#18, Par 5, 575 Yards
A sloping fairway and an enormous bunker put a premium on your drive. Favor the left side of the fairway on your second shot to avoid the tall rough on the right. This green is slightly bowl shaped so shots will automatically move towards the center of the green. The greenside bunkers are nice to look at but not to be in.
The finishing hole at Pac Dunes is a bear. It's long, it's fairly tight, and it presents more opportunity for a high number than a low number. Finish strong on this one and you deserve your post round refreshment of choice.
#17, Par 3, 189 Yards
Drawing the ball into this hole makes great use of the design features, which will funnel balls onto the green. A steep ridge runs along the back of this green and will make chipping and putting difficult.
Those who know my golf game well know that on occasion, the ball comes into contact with the hosel. It's frequent on driving ranges, and far less frequent on the course. However, on this hole, it happened...yes, the s-word. So, it was hard to experience Doak's version of a Redan when I was hitting my second shot from well right, near the gorse. That hosel on my 5 iron was quite possibly the difference between breaking 80 this day and not. Oh well.
#16, Par 4, 338 Yards
Check your yardage to the corner of this dogleg right hole. A long iron or fairway wood may be a good choice. Your best option from the tee is to play to the left side of the fairway. The green will open up from there. The green slopes from front to back and the approach is downwind. Holding this putting surface will be a challenge.
While this short par 4 probably cannot be drive, but for the longest of players, it is definitely of the drive-and-pitch variety. The landing zone is fairly wide in the zone of about 230 to 270 from the tee. The stretch of 14-16 are where you need to put good numbers of your scorecard or you'll be losing shots to your competition.
#15, Par 5, 504 Yards
This hole offers a generous landing area, so relax and make a great swing. With the wind behind you, it is possible to reach this green in two shots. difficult collection areas protect the putting surface so short-siding your approach shot will leave you little opportunity to get up and down.
Not much to add really. This hole is definitely a chance to make a good score. Not much to it as long as you stay out of the sand.
#14, Par 3, 128 Yards
An approach that misses the green on this short, downwind hole, will leave you on of the most difficult up-and-down's on the course. Figure your yardage to the front of the green, because balls will certainly release to the hole.
A simple hole as long as you hit the green. For such a short hole (it's only 145 from the tips even), the green is plenty big. It's 36 yards deep on the left side and 32 yards deep on the right side. This should be an easy par or better as long as you don't hit a poor tee ball.
#13, Par 4, 390 Yards
The thirteenth is one hole that you will never forget! Venturing into the prevailing wind this long hole, will play even longer. There is much more room to the right on this fairway than it appears from tee. With a very deep and slightly elevated green it is going to be difficult to tell where the hole is located, so consult your hole location carefully.
An awesome hole with high dunes to the right and the beach and Ocean to the left. It's all right in front of you, so two long and straight shots will give you a chance to score. However, miss one of them and you're immediately on your heels and playing defense for the remainder of the hole.
#12, Par 5, 507 Yards
A par 5 playing against the prevailing wind. Direct your tee shot at the cross bunker in the middle of the fairway. Check your yardage to make sure your second shot will clear that same bunker and if not, be sure to avoid it. There is plenty of room on either side. Don't let the flat putting surface fool you. Putts can be tricky.
If the wind is down, you can get to this hole in two, but I didn't have the guts to aim at the green that bends a bit to the left at the end. I aimed into the safe part of the fairway to the left and took my chances with an up and down from 30-40 yards. Unfortunately, I failed in that quest, but it seemed to be the safer and better play for me.
#11, Par 3, 131 Yards
Fondly referred to as "a real sweetheart," this short par 3 will always post a strong challenge. The green is surrounded by native beach grass, bunkers, and gorse. Forget about the hole location, and focus on getting your ball in the center of this green, the smallest on the course.
This is one photogenic golf hole, but for its short distance, it packs a punch too. Missing the green will more than likely require an up-and-down from one of seven bunkers that surround the green. Miss left of the bunkers, and you'll be dropping for your third shot.
Looking backwards at the rumpled fairway of the 9th
#10, Par 3, 163 Yards
The biggest obstacle at the tenth, besides the distraction of the scenery, is the thick rough and mounding left of the green. A large elevation change from the upper tee combined with the prevailing wind, make club selection critical on this par 3. Try to keep the ball flight low. A safe place to leave your approach is short of the green.
The second nine is where Doak breaks from traditional routings. With only two par 4's on the side, it's a really fun nine with four par 3's, beginning with the back-to-back par 3's of #10 and #11. It's bold, but it makes the best use of the land, and it works. All I can add to the description of this hole is that anything to the right of the green will kick onto the putting surface. I hit a 4 iron to a hole that was playing 191 yards that I thought would have missed right, but kicked to about 3 feet from the hole. It was loads of fun watching the ball get closer and closer to the cup, which left an easy putt for birdie!
The lower green has the flag on it. The upper green is to the right of the bunkers.
#9, Par 4, 379 Yards
Check the sign on the tee to determine what green you will be playing. The fairway at the ninth is much wider than it appears from the tee. If the lower green is being used you will want to drive your ball a little left of center, and the steep sloping fairway will help tou toward the hole. To the upper green, use the tallest mound in the fairway as your target. The center of the lower green features a large mound. The upper green slopes away.
The opening nine finishes off with an interesting hole that feature two possible greens. For me, it was the lower green that was in play, which is the green on the left side. The fairway is essentially two fairways laid side-by-side, but of course, you would rather be on the fairway that lines up with the green you're playing. If you don't (and I didn't) hit it to the correct side, you can still recover and hit the proper green, but of course it's not as easy. It seemed like the upper green would be more difficult, but having not played it, I can't say that for sure.
#8, Par 4, 369 Yards
Into the prevailing wind, a drive favoring the left side of the fairway will avoid the fairway bunker on the right, and provide the best angle to the green. Getting your approach shot close at the eighth can be a chore. A false front and a large pot bunker guard the front of the green. A nice bail out area is long and right where a steep slope will funnel balls back onto the putting surface.
In my opinion, the difficulty of this hole is around the green, which is shaped like a sideways number "8" on a slight diagonal, with a pot bunker in the front. The green actually bears a touch of a resemblance to #12 at Augusta National, without Rae's Creek of course.
#7, Par 4, 436 Yards
Regardless of wind direction, this is one of the most difficult holes on the course. if you are forced to lay up it is best to do so at about 85 yards to avoid bunkers. Approach shots that are not hit on line will fall prey to heave contours in front of the green. While making your way to the green, notice the natural bunkering on the left side. it is quite remarkable.
The toughest hole on the front side, this one is a tough par. It's the first hole at Pacific Dunes that winds through trees. There isn't much room to miss around the green, but if you have to pick one side of the other, missing to the right is preferred.
#6, Par 4, 288 Yards
The sixth hole offers many options. Whatever you do, take enough club to carry the fairway bunker on the right. A shot to the right center of the fairway will give you the best angle into this slender green. if you find the left greenside bunker the best bet is to play out sideways. This green is extremely narrow and slopes dangerously off to the right.
It seems like nearly over course built since 2000 or so comes with at least one "drivable," or at least very short par 4. Every original design I've played from that era (that I can remember) has one. Coore/Crenshaw, Doak, and Hanse have gotten very good at building them. This one is no exception. The fairway is extremely wide, but anything down the left half isn't very good, even though it's cut short. I hit the aforementioned left greenside bunker. Trust me when I say, you don't want to be there. From there, you're likely playing for a bogey, with par being a good score. Keep it down the right side off the tee and birdie is a realistic score.
#5, Par 3, 181 Yards
With the prevailing wind at your back, you will need to play this hole significantly shorter than the actual yardage. A shot slightly left of this green will filter down onto the putting surface. This two-tiered green will challenge even the best putters.
A tough one-shotter here with a long and narrow green. It played 191 yards when I played it and was a 3/4 5 wood, which plugged into an awful lie in the left bunker. Two shots to get out, two putts, and a double bogey result. After four pars to start of the round, reality sunk in.
#4, Par 4, 449 Yards
The entire length of this par 4 plays on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Take aim just right of the fairway bunkers and hit it long. The approach shot should also favor the left side of the green as a large slope on the front left of this green will direct balls to the right. Enjoy the view on the right but keep your golf ball left!
After a relatively soft opening three holes, Doak fights back with the fourth hole. The fog started rolling in right when we got to the tee, so photos didn't come out as great as they otherwise could have. Playing downwind in the summer, this long par 4 is very unforgiving to a slicer with a deep cliffs falling all the way down to the beaches of Southwest Oregon awaiting a banana shot. On the left side, set a bevy of bunkers, both in the landing area, and at the green. A tough hole, for sure, but a gorgeous one.
#3, Par 5, 476 Yards
The view from the elevated tee presents the challenge of this par 5 as you head straight to the Pacific Ocean. Choose your target either left or right of the second bunker depending on the wind. The second shot should favor the left center of the fairway to open up the green for your approach. Take enough club on approach as short shots tend to feed right toward the bunker.
After flying a few thousand miles, and driving over four hours, I was finally rewarded with an awe-inspiring view from the third tee. I couldn't get enough of the look of this hole, especially with the yellow flowers of the gorse in bloom (those flowers make a miserable plant actually look nice!). Navigating your way around the centerline bunkers is the key on this one, with ample room on either side. We were met with a fairly calm morning when we took on Pac Dunes, but the prevailing winds in the summertime will typically make this hole play into the wind, making the centerline bunkers even more obtrusive. For me, I got lucky with a shot that carried the first bunker and ended up just short of the second bunker. Better lucky than good!
#2, Par 4, 335 Yards
The best angle to approach the green is from the left side of the fairway. However, the left side features most of the trouble. Check your yardage to see if you can carry the middle bunker. With mounding on the left and right of this green most balls will funnel towards the center.
Tom Doak "gets" strategic, risk/reward golf and this hole is a good example of it. A player to takes a little more risk off of the tee and pulls it off is rewarded with a preferred second shot. That's the way it should be. Being on the right side of the fairway won't kill you, but you'll have a worse view of the hole and will have to come in over a bunker.
#1, Par 4, 304 Yards
Welcome to the first hole at Pacific Dunes. The fairway landing area is generous, so try to gauge your tee shot to leave a 100 to 125 yard approach shot into the green. A tee shot left of center will provide a better line to this green nestled into the sand dunes. Good luck and enjoy the day.
This is the perfect "gentle handshake" opening hole, and is a perfect opening hole for your first round at Bandon Dunes Resort, if you happen to play the courses in the same order I did. You can hit essentially any club you wish from the tee. I chose driver, as did most of my group, but it's not critical for a hole of this length (unless you're playing from the Black Tees). Staying left, as mentioned above, is definitely preferred to have the best view of the green, and to avoid having to hit your approach semi-blind and over a dune. You'll quickly notice that you're not going to hit-and-stop shots on the firm-and-fast fescue greens at Bandon. So, play for the bounce and roll-out.
Even someone with no business knowledge could tell you that it's a flawed business plan to open a golf resort in a remote location with only one golf resort. Mike Keiser is no amateur when it comes to business strategy, and it didn't take him long to break ground on course number two after he opened the first course at Bandon Dunes. To build the second course, Keiser took another chance on an unproven architect. In this case, he hired something of a "boy genius," the notorious Tom Doak, who had trained under master architects like Pete Dye, but was possibly more famous for authoring the controversial book called The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses. In that book, Doak built a name for himself my critiquing many of the world's best and/or most famous golf courses. The book rubbed some people the wrong way, but for better or worse, it established him as a font of architecture knowledge.
The second course at Bandon, to be known as Pacific Dunes would be located just up the coast to the north from the first course. Where Bandon Dunes followed a traditional routing, Pacific Dunes would not. Doak wanted to create the best 18 golf holes, with little concern for whether the 9th hole returned to the clubhouse, or whether each nine followed a typical formula of two par 3's, two par 5's, and five par 4's. This is obvious with a quick look at the scorecard, where the second nine has only two par 4's! What Doak built in the context of the country's best publicly-accessible golf courses, and all golf courses for that matter, is nothing short of a masterpiece. The course winds in and out of dunes. It's routing that trades time fronting the Ocean with time back in the Dunes is effective in giving you a taste of Ocean beauty, taking it away, an then bringing it back again several times. The result is a course that's consistently ranked either #1 or #2 in every rating of the best public courses in America. Doak said of Pacific Dunes:
"Every architect dreams of building among the sand dunes, in the same terrain where golf was conceived in the British Isles. Pacific Dunes is that dream come true for me. I suspect that any golfer would have found some of the same holes, like the par 4 thirteenth hole along the ocean, but it was an enormous responsibility to find the best possible routing on a site of such potential. The rippling fairways are mostly as we found them; so are the natural bunks at the second, seventh, eleventh, thirteenth, sixteenth, and eighteenth holes, which guided our routing of holes. The layout is short enough to give every golfer hope, but its rugged nature will test every facet of your game. We hope you have many more opportunities to play over this beautiful ground, and to come to appreciate it as we have."
Again, as Doak points out, there was no intent to follow any formula of building a golf course, for which the distance on the scorecard is another example. The course tips out at only 6,633 yards from the Black Tees, to a slope and rating of 73.0 / 142 and a par of 71. This is almost unheard of in today's world of building "Championship" golf courses. However, the goal here was to be fun and fair, and with the windy acreage the course stands upon, there are plenty of holes that play both longer and shorter than their yardages. The intent here was to test the player, but to be fun, and a course that the player wants to come back to. Pacific Dunes achieved all of these goals. Pac Dunes was my first round at Bandon, and I hadn't played on Fescue since Chambers Bay. Much to my delight, I seemed to get used to it rather quickly. My group played from one teebox from the back, or the Green Tees, which measure only 6,142 yards, but still provide plenty of fun and difficulty, and play to a slope and rating of 70.7 and 133. I'll quote those distances below, and provide the verbiage from the yardage book in italics.
For general commentary on Bandon Dunes Resort, the Punchbowl, and Bandon Preserve, click on the Bandon Dunes page, here
#20, Top 100 Golf Courses in the World (2015)
#12, Top 100 Golf Courses in the U.S. (2015)
#1, Top 100 Courses You Can Play (2014)
#1, Best Public Golf Courses in Oregon (2014)
#2, America's 100 Greatest Public Courses (2015-2016)
#18, America's 100 Greatest Courses (2015-2016)
#1, Best in the State of Oregon (2015-2016)