Coore and Crenshaw may have had the hardest task at Bandon being asked to bring a third course on line following the accolade and fanfare the two spectacular links courses Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes had received. The rugged terrain they were working with was much more challenging with distinct elements of sand dunes, grassy meadows, and dense forests. It was going to be a monumental task to deliver 18 walkable holes with unified character and natural flow.
These guys are key protagonists in the “minimalist” approach to course design that seems to be pervasive today. Their goal is not to move a bunch of dirt to create holes with a signature Coore-Crenshaw look but rather to discover holes that nature has lurking in the existing terrain. As Coore says in the book Dream Golf, “We don’t want our holes to look like golf holes…they should look like landscapes which just happen to include a golf hole”. Their approach to designing Bandon Trails was to spend endless hours walking the ground learning the site discussing all the possibilities as they enticed these holes to reveal themselves. The result is a cohesive presentation of unique and challenging holes distinctly different than their links cousins but just as enthralling.
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The first hole is a classic links presentation with the tee looking out over a range of sea grass covered sand dunes that barely reveal a path for a golf hole. This is a bit of a design feint since you won’t really see this again until the final hole of the day. A fairway club with the correct shot shape will search out a path between the massive dunes leaving you a short pitch up to a long and narrow green wedged into the dunes above.
As you come off the first green to the second tee the look transitions quickly from links to sand barrens as you are descending into the meadow. The next five holes would feel right at home at Fazio’s Pine Barrens course at World Woods as they are characterized by the meadow’s more subtle elevation changes, plentiful waste areas and penal blow-out bunkers, and a blend of fir and spruce trees, native vegetation, and sandy soil. Thoughtful navigation of these holes is required because the arrays of sand hazards must be avoided and the rolling contour of the firm fairways will make that a challenge. The third and fourth holes meander across the meadow with the sand and mounds giving you alternative routes to play depending on the wind effect and the pin positions. The par three fifth hole composes all of the elements in a jaw dropping Kodak moment that will take your breath away. The hole has a picket fence made of old tree branches in front of the tee and behind the green an indigenous accent used repeatedly throughout the course.
At the seventh you are leaving the meadow and about to begin scaling the most rugged terrain of the course. The addition of elevation change to club selection will up the shot values from here out. The climb begins with a severe uphill par four that is the number one handicap hole on the course. Transition on this hole is so abrupt that the greenside bunker that has a two-club elevation change of it’s own.
A technical test is next in a short, possibly drivable par four-a tight rope walk across a ridge with serious bunkering waiting to gather a shot without proper conviction. Lots of choices on how to play this one, it can be a scoring opportunity providing you plan wisely and execute accordingly.
The ascent to the top of the property resumes as you play a very engaging ramped par five to end the front nine. They used uphill to mask the generosity of the landing areas on each shot. This hole has a links feature you see throughout the course in that this green just seems to emanate from the fairway with little texture demarcation, This provides a very hazy frame of reference for approach and recovery shots. As you saw on the links courses use of your putter from well off the green can be a valuable tool when approaching a short side pin.
My conviction is that what makes this such a difficult course is controlling your roll outs due to the combination of the firm fairways and the downhill landing areas. The problems presented by the through space on the drive and approach on ten are good examples of this. You must shape your shot to move away from the waste areas or else the downhill roll out will bring them into play. The eleventh is an imaginative natural rolling par four that scurries up and over the existing fall of the land. All they had to do was mow some grass for the tees and green, nature had already done the rest.
In this middle section of the course there is dramatic scale created by the backdrops of dense hardwood trees perched on the rugged hills. Add to it the aromatic smell of the forest and a bold dash of blue sky above and it will captivate all your senses as you contemplate the shots to be played. At this point in the round you are as aware of the nature walk you are enjoying as the golf challenge you are experiencing.
From the thirteenth tee to the final green you are going to play a unique array of challenging holes traversing some of the most rugged terrain in Bandon. On the tee of the par four thirteenth you feel like you are standing in your socks at the top of a playground sliding board-good luck staying on your feet on any shot on this hole. The green itself is like a bikini waxed tortoise shell-getting the simplest pitch shot to remain where it lands is quite a chore.
It is such a severe transition from the thirteenth green to the Kitzbuhel starter’s gate that serves as the next tee box that they have to provide you an automated ride. The fourthteenth is a very enticing short par four where the effective landing area for your tee shot is the size of a picnic blanket. From the perfect landing spot the pitch required is very precise. The green is the shape of a size nine left orthotic insert and the surface available is not much bigger.
Fifteen is a quasi-breather because the landing area is sufficiently generous to fool you into believing this is an easy hole. But the second shot is to a raised narrow green set in a tight alcove of sand and furry growth. The shot demands the utmost accuracy to keep the ball under the hole and avoid a sure three-putt.
Standing on the sixteenth tee you have a sense of what it is like to be a window washer on the Empire State Building. You are looking straight up the face of a fairway incline that looks like it will not hold your ball much less your full body weight. Add a prevailing wind in your face and you have the full Chinese death march par five experience ahead of you. The good news is the ball seems to not only hold on the steep incline, but with the firm fairway, it actually bounces forward way more than you expect. The green sits exposed on another high point on the property so the real challenge here is getting an approach shot to hold on a firm windswept green and then two-putt on the way out of Dodge.
The par three seventeenth is the most photographed holes on Bandon Trails. Much like the postcard three par you saw on number five, which just so happens to be about 30 yards to your left, this one is pure eye candy. But beware this is an unwrapped Halloween treat tinged with a little of the wicked witch’s juice so prepare to be challenged. You are playing a short shot across an environmental divide to another tortoise shell green wedged between some very unforgiving bunkers. Good news is they gave you a chipping area long and right. Bad news is the recovery shots from there are as difficult as from the unforgiving bunkers. If they offer you a bogey and a free pass to the eighteenth tee I would take it.
You are now transitioning rapidly out of the sand barrens to the links motif you started with four hours ago. Much like number one, the Trail ends with a finishing par four that is links golf from tee to green. The tee shot is a blind carry over a massive hill to an undulating landing hollow below and to the left. From there you have a three story short iron to a long and narrow green draped across a plateau adjacent to the clubhouse. This green is exposed to the Pacific winds and will be firm and fast so figure out a way to keep your approach in front of the flag you can barely see.
Once you have putted out do a 180 and appreciate the stunning view back down this last hole and of the tree laden hills beyond. It should occur to you what a remarkable achievement it was that Coore and Crenshaw composed such a dramatic and playable golf course on this rugged and diverse terrain.
Architect: Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw (2005)
Tee Par Rating Slope Yardage
Black 71 73.7 133 6765
Green 71 71.1 129 6260
Orange 71 70.8 122 5064
(Click here to review Bandon Trails Golf Course hole-by-hole descriptions)
For more Bandon Trails images click to see Postcard From Bandon Trails-Day 2.