As the fourth course built at Bandon Dunes Tom Doak and Jim Urbina had probably the hardest task yet because of the fact they were being asked to add to a family of courses all in the top 100 in the country and they had to do it on the least desirable piece of the really desirable land for links courses. Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes had used up just about all of the available seaside land so there was no way to build holes with the tactical drama and adrenaline rush of the shoreline holes that give those two tracks their character.
This piece of ground is a sprawling tract wedged between two massive dune ridges-there is only one corner with a clear view of the shoreline-so the holes they would construct would have to find a character value in another way. The good news is they had the sand based soil for links golf and the proximity to the ocean just over one of the ridges so wind influence would be there to facilitate creation of a more sublime but equally interesting links golf challenge.
After serious consideration Mike Keiser came upon the idea of creating a course that celebrates the best of the British Isle influence on links golf. Something that is a bit of St. Andrews, a bit of Prestwick, a bit of North Berwick and Lundin Links and Littlestone and many others from Scotland and Ireland. They then reached further and decided to celebrate a formula used by the father of American golf course architecture, C.B. Macdonald, and build holes that did not replicate the great holes of courses like these but used characteristics of those holes to create unique holes that shared the unique character and playability. In doing so they did the double mitzvah of creating a testimony to Scottish links golf and a homage to C.B. Macdonald’s genius at the same time.
Once settled on the Macdonald approach Keiser hired the only man other than C.B. Macdonald who was suited for the task. Tom Doak is the most recognized American expert of links course design having studied it first hand in Scotland and Ireland, built a photographic catalog and knowledge base second to none of the original holes, and studied in detail the careers of guys like Mackenzie and Macdonald and their approach to course design. With the trusted hand of Jim Urbina at his side, someone who has helped Doak build some of the most memorable links courses of our generation around the world, they set out to build a little bit of Scotland in Oregon.
As you can read in the book “Dream Golf-The Making of Bandon Dunes” or see in the DVD “Creating Old Macdonald” these guys had a huge task in trying to meld into 18 holes a seamless presentation of many of the great holes C.B. Macdonald emulated repeatedly in the 12 courses he built. The granddaddy of them all for C.B. was the National Golf Links he built on Long Island in 1910 that remains in the top 10 of just about everyone’s list. The National has representations of the Eden (St. Andrews), Sahara (Royal St. Georges), Alps (Prestwick), Redan (North Berwick), Road Hole (St. Andrews), and many others with less familiar lineage. It was Doak and Urbina’s aim to use many of the characteristics that Macdonald used for his versions at The National as templates in fashioning what we see at Old Macdonald.
The result is a wonderfully playable walking course with the full panoply of Scottish links elements presented in a seamless flow of holes meandering across hollows and hummocks set against a backdrop of tall gorse covered dunes. Unlike at the other courses at Bandon the gorse and the tall grasses are well off the playing area so you will find plenty of room to play your shots and a very easy time finding your result. You can likely play the entire round with the same ball which reduces anxiety considerably. It may lack the visual drama of it’s flashy neighbors across the dunes but they integrated all the mystery and intrigue of Macdonald’s work to create a challenging links experience that the discriminating golfer will savor and enjoy every time they play it.
Of the four courses at Bandon this is the one with 100% fescue grasses throughout-tees, fairways, and greens. This is the tightest grass and most appropriate for links golf. Because of the flowing contours they created and the fact the grass does not vary throughout it is almost impossible to distinguish where fairway ends and greens begin. The exposure to constant wind from the nearby Pacific helps the turf plays dry and fast and balls roll forever following the contour of the ground on what seems to be an almost existential path. As a result the full collection of trajectory controlled shots that use the ground and slopes as an ally are the way to get the best results around here.
The bunkering is similar to the Bandon and Pacific, mostly scabby jagged blow-out bunkers that look like they are more the creation of nature than the hand of man or machine. Doak threw in a few punitive sod wall pots on his versions of Eden and the Road Hole along with a generous helping elsewhere of very intimidating bunkers with vertical railroad sleepers shoring their faces. They paid special attention to the slopes around the bunkers that will feed insufficiently enthusiastic approaches into them. Just as the Eden hole feeds the Strath Bunker or the Road Hole feeds the notorious Road Bunker at St. Andrews, these holes at Old Mac will make you plan and execute with intent to avoid anxiety. It is safe to say that if you want to score well here it is key to navigate your way about Old Mac without spending much time getting sand in your shoes.
Probably the most authentic Scottish feature at Old Macdonald is massive greens with imaginative contours. This is a result of trying to make many of the green complexes similar to their originals. The green at the Short Hole (#5) with three distinct segments and a huge wall at the back to play off is something you will find at 6th at The National. The slope on Eden (#2) will feed a shot back toward the front of the green to pins set above the Strath Bunker just like it does at St. Andrews. The contouring of the green on Long (#6) replicates precisely the imaginative green on the 14th at St. Andrews and it dictates a low pitch and run approach from the left . The long and narrow ribbon of a green on their version of the Road Hole makes for the familiar agonizing possibilities playing delicate pitch shots to save par. The scale of these green complexes puts a huge premium on keeping your focus on the 25 feet of green between you and the hole and ignoring the acre and a half of green around you. If your mind wanders three putts will invade your scorecard.
The expansiveness of the course presents itself on the first tee where the driving area seems to invite you to hit it anywhere. But as it is on links courses across the pond there is a precise angle of advantage depending on the pin location of the day on this massive putting surface. The green is over 50 yards deep and just seems to emanate out of the fairway-the lack of definition of target is something you better get used to. After a technical interlude of the Eden and the fearsome Strath Bunker on the second hole, Doak will jump you over the dune ridge on number three with a blind tee shot past a haunting Port Oxford Cedar from which the bulk of the course will spill out below you. From here the scale of the challenge for the day becomes apparent.
The holes meander about this valley but they are far from lacking distinguishing topography. Holes like Ocean (#7) will abruptly wisk you off of the valley floor straight up the face of a dune to a green perched staring out over the Pacific Ocean. This is a good example of the subtlety of Old Mac-the shot up to this green needs to be of measured trajectory to manage the strong wind influence you cannot feel from the ocean side of the dune. With a low shot of intensity required you must use the high back contour of the green to contain your shot and remain on the green. On the Cape (#9) you are playing a long second shot downwind into a green sitting slightly above you with unfettered access. Here the green is over 40 yards long to accommodate the roll our of a low running approach. Great links holes give you the tools to deal with fast turf and windy conditions, you just have to use your head and your hands to play shots to be successful.
There are eighteen chapters of delight on this course, many of which will seem very familiar to you from your own experiences in Scotland or images you have retained from watch the Open Championship on television. The devil, and the delight, is in the details which you will find attached. To fully enjoy Old Macdonald get yourself a good caddy, check your ego at the starter’s hut, and be prepared for an invigorating walk through a museum of C.B. Macdonald treasures.
Architect: Tom Doak/Jim Urbina (2010)
Tee Par Rating Slope Yardage
Black 71 74.1 133 6978
Green 71 71.3 127 6352
Orange 71 70.4 118 5044
For more Old Macdonald images click to see Postcard From Old Macdonald-Day 3