Bandon Dunes was the first of the links courses Mike Keiser envisioned for this dreamy piece of coastline in Southern Oregon. His strategy from the outset was to introduce real links golf to America where it was all about walking the course, dealing with the elements, and playing golf close to the ground. All the trappings of the resort are simple and understated, he intended to let the courses speak for themselves in the pure language of golf that he experienced in Scotland and Ireland.
His idea was to hire a young talent with a knowledge of links design who was not famous enough yet to ignore his suggestions. Fortunately, as you can read in the book Dream Golf-The Making of Bandon Dunes, Keiser spent years studying links courses all over the world so his opinions were worth taking into consideration. David Kidd was a twenty-something Scotsman with little design experience, the son of Jimmy Kidd who himself was a bit of a force in Scottish golf as the head caretaker at Gleneagles one of the most fabled resorts in Scotland. As with so much that has gone down in the development of Bandon Dunes, it was just Keiser’s gut feelings that told him David Kidd was the man for this job.
The landscape canvas Kidd had to work with at Bandon was smothered in gorse, a wiry sticker bush that is native to the British Isles. Gorse harbors the ultimately unplayable lie and is the signature element of the links courses of Scotland. The fact that it existed at all in this remote corner of Oregon was the result of a seemingly arbitrary act of an Irishman who settled in this area in 1875 and introduced the plant. Gorse flourishes like a weed and it quickly came to cover the sand dunes and gorges throughout Bandon. The gorse provided a unique opportunity to chisel a true links course out of the palisades of this seaside terrain and have it retain an aura of Scotland unfamiliar in this part of the world.
(Click on any picture to get an enhanced view of the image)
What Kidd produced was the perfect introduction to links golf in America. The Bandon Dunes Golf Course has it all-firm sandy turf for hard and fast fairways, gorse and sea grass covered sand dunes through which to wend holes, natural blow-out bunkers created by the elements pepper fairways and green complexes, stunning cliff-side exposure to the Pacific Ocean for visual drama, and, of course, plenty of seaside wind to validate the links style of golf most suited for the sum of those parts. To look at what he created it belies his prior lack of experience in links design and confirms Keiser’s feeling that a Scotsman brought up in a family where links course care and maintenance were the topic of conversation at the dinner table every night would be the right man to figure out how to draw eighteen unique and genuine links holes out of this coastland.
The course begins benignly enough from a tee box in front of the viewing windows of the Lodge. A wide and inviting driving area masks the importance of picking a very particular landing area for the best look at a very severe green complex you cannot see from the tee. This is a theme that is repeated throughout, very accurate driving lines, particular to the tee marker you are playing from and the wind direction and velocity of the day, is a must to having good chances to hit greens in regulation and putt for pars. This is why your caddie counsel is crucial to success on all of the Bandon courses-you need local knowledge even the first time you walk these links.
The opening stanza of the first three holes is just a warm up for what is to come-he gives you a chance to find a swing and start to understand the bounce of the turf and the effect of the wind. After you chase down your drive on the fourth hole you turn the corner and get your first jaw dropping view of the Pacific framing this green. Your first reminder that this is links golf is in this approach shot. Links Rule Number 1- the ground is your friend and a low pitch and run into a tight green complex minimizes the influence of the wind and improves your odds of getting it close.
The next two holes turn to the North into the prevailing breeze and now trajectory control on all shots becomes paramount. Your second shot into number five is a classic links look through a hallway created by ridges of sea grass laden dunes on either side to an alcove green set against a gorse covered back drop. Yes Dorothy, you are now in Scotland. What follows is the first of a seemingly endless number of dramatic seaside par threes on these courses that are suspended over the Pacific. You will find that measured distance means nothing at Bandon-effective distance is what you must determine. Links Rule Number 2-a one club wind on the inland holes becomes a two to three club wind on those holes exposed to the beach.
Seven to nine turn inland but they do not provide much of a breather. Kidd used the rippled and rolling topography to create wonderful elevation change and roll out puzzles to solve on each approach shot. One of the real challenges he presents is trying to determine just where the fairway ends and the putting surface begins on these green complexes. The grasses used for fairway and greens are so similar and kept tightly mown that you almost get no visual distinction between them. The good news about that is that without much transition you can often putt from 20 to 50 yards from a hole position. This is a very valuable arrow to have in your quiver instead of a pitch especially downwind or if you short side yourself on the approach. Links Rule Number 3-you can putt from anywhere.
The inward nine begins the march back to the sea with a funky links hole that will blow your mind. Another wide open driving area that demands a precise decision to place your ball in a position to negotiate the blind approach to the green created by a giant mound about 50 yards short of the green. This hole reiterates Links Rule Number 4-measured distance on the scorecard tells you nothing about your likeliness of making a par.
The twelfth hole is probably the most photogenic of all the three pars on the grounds. It is innocuous enough looking from the elevated tee with the green sprawled across a mound wrapping around a sod-wall bunker and framed by a tufted muffin dune on the right and a small wall of dunes on the left. Oh, did I mention that there is this ocean that dominates the rest of the horizon. The shot required from about 150 yards here will take all your guile and talent to pull off. The best shot is an Irish knock down draw that starts at the front right edge of the green and uses the curve and contour of the putting surface to feed to the pin. Links Rule Number 5-the best shot path is often not directly at your target. Using ground contour and roll out in a diversionary approach to your destination is often the preferred route.
Kidd takes you away from the sea for two holes to catch your breath like he did on the front but is setting you up for the crescendo, a finish that will dominate your thoughts well past dinner. The fifteenth is a marvelous par three, not dissimilar to number six but with a little less visible exposure to the ocean. When you walk around the dune behind this green to the sixteenth tee prepare to be wowed…..let me take that back…prepare to be overwhelmed by the distracting coastline vista that dominates the next hole.
From the tee on sixteen you look across a rocky gorge at a split fairway created by a furry bunker laden ridge that bisects the landing area. You likely have a wind aided drive so the upper (and desired) fairway is well within reach. Links Rule Number 6-the actual size of the challenge is often disproportionate to it’s appearance. As it says on your side view mirror, things are often closer than they appear. If you hit a soaring tee ball to the upper fairway the walk up that ridge to rediscover your ball is very pleasing indeed. It will be followed by a knee-knocking sensation as you contemplate the short pitch to a wind exposed green hanging perilously over the gorge.
Turning for home the last two play along a cavernous environmental area on the right that separates Bandon Dunes from Bandon Trails and the Bandon Preserve Links Par Three Course. The visuals here of cypress trees, gorse canyons, and majestic shorelines make it well worth the cost of admission.
When you are done take the time for a 19th hole refreshment in the Lodge bar that overlooks the tenth tee. The sublime image late in the day of golfer silhouettes walking into the setting sun captures the true spirit of Bandon Dunes.
Architect: David Kidd (1999)
Tee Par Rating Slope Yardage
Black 72 74.1 143 6732
Green 72 71.7 139 6221
Orange 72 72.4 128 5072
(Click here to review Bandon Dunes Golf Course hole-by-hole descriptions)
For more Bandon Dunes images click to see Postcard From Bandon Dunes-Day 1.