Pacific Dunes Golf Course

Pacific Dunes LogoIt was Mike Keiser’s intention to provide a visitor to Bandon the full monty of the British Isles links experience.  In the designs of Bandon Dunes and Old Macdonald the Scottish flavor of links golf is well served.  At Pacific Dunes Tom Doak has composed a more Irish feel with bold topographical holes accented with dramatic bunkering of Royal Country Down and more subtle craggy wind-affected holes like Ballybunion.  Doak is a true student of the links tradition and brought the full force of his knowledge and talent to the creation of Pacific Dunes.  It stands by itself as an original collection of imaginative links challenges specifically suited to the seaside tract he had to work with at Bandon.

The links formula of high tees set in the dunes hitting to low landing valleys and then back up to greens perched on ridges of the dunes makes each hole a defined envelope, almost a world of it’s own.  This is not a cloistered feeling of playing in alcoves like at Waterville, Portrush, or Lahinch just holes visually defined where the strategic options are right in front of you.  Tall dunes faced in gorse, sea grass, and trees fill the canvas, firm bouncy turf allow roll out under the wind, harrowing blow-out bunkers define playing lines, and large contoured greens facilitate effective ground management of approach shots.  The firm turf and wind effect, probably the most pronounced of the courses of Bandon, put a premium on managing your trajectory and roll out to get around with your scorecard in tact.  If the wind is up I would go for the 133 slope for the day-the challenge will be sufficient I can assure you.

Bunkers on Par 3 11th are fearsome

Bunkers on Par 3 11th are a fearsome thing to behold.

Besides the wind the most talked about feature at Pacific Dunes has to be the fierce bunkering.  It may seem hard to believe but the depth and severity of the bunkering you see now is not what was originally intended.  As Doak operatives will tell you, once the bunkering is done on a seaside venue like this with battering winds almost every day, nature will have it’s way and the bunkering contours will take on the natural shape and severity of the dunes around them.  Best advice is plan to play the gaps between the bunkers and be cognizant of the prevailing roll out which may feed a ball without firm intent into their grasp.

Full links elements on display on the opening hole.

Full links elements on display on the opening hole.

Much like all the courses at Bandon, the use of fescue grasses in high concentration on fairways and greens makes it extremely difficult to make the visual distinction of where the fairway ends and the green begins.  But this facilitates the use of low running pitches and the Irish wedge, putting from well off the green, which will be valuable tools in your arsenal out here.  Familiar to those who have played links courses across the Atlantic, the large and flowing contours of these greens help the green staff set up the course for the prevailing wind of the day.  If the hole is downwind they will tend to give you a deep pin and plenty of green to temper your approach.  In the upwind condition front pins and interior backstops in the green are useful.  The most important is to listen to your caddie on how to use the ground contours to your advantage. It is often the case that a diversionary line is the best way to get it close to your target.

The coolest part of this design has to be the unusual balance of holes and the hole sequencing, Doak was not bound to any normal formula we are used to.  The par is 36 on the front with just one par three and one par five.  The par 35 on the back nine starts with back-to-back three pars and then followed by two more par threes and three par fives in the next seven holes.  There are only two par fours on the inward nine so without a normal hole balance you are jumping from pillar to post the whole way home.

The views can be downright distracting as you can see behind the third green.

The views can be downright distracting as you can see behind the third.

The opening holes are a quick introduction to the strategic genius of this design.  The first three holes make it clear that you will get no slow build up to the challenge-you have choices of playing lines that require confident decisions and competent execution right out of the gate.  As you climb the hill to the third green the imminence of the effects of the sea are cascading from over the back edge.  Walking to the back of this green the panoramic view of coast of Oregon is unveiled and it is nothing short of overwhelming.  Full coastal distractions affect the play on four as you tight rope walk the cliffs on one of the hardest par fours of the day.  The short fifth has Royal County Down written all over it with a hidden landing area and deep greenside bunkers with eyebrows.

Links and North Carolina collide on the approach to the 7th.

Links and North Carolina collide on the approach to the 7th.

The ensuing inland holes might be considered a wee bit of a rest if they weren’t so hard.  You are in for  a bit of North Carolina with a tree lined hallway fairway on seven and a crowned green on eight.  After a blind tee shot over the dune ridge at the ninth what unfolds is the dramatic walk back to the edge of the world.  The hint is evident standing on the ninth green that things are about to change again.

First of back-to-back seaside par 3s that start the inward nine.

First of back-to-back seaside par 3s that start the inward nine.

He must have had a bit of Cypress Point in mind as the back side begins with two very difficult seaside par threes.  Carding a total of eight strokes between them is no embarrassment.  Ten through thirteen you will need to be lashed to the mast to survive.  An alcove wind greets you on the tenth tee and will have it’s way with your tee ball if you don’t control your trajectory and turn it into the breeze.  The eleventh is one of the most rigorous short pitch three pars you will ever play-a teenie putting surface surrounded by furry looking mounds and sand pits full of disaster.  A brief respite on twelve but thirteen is probably as fierce a seaside par four as you will ever play, especially into the prevailing breeze.  The scale of the dunes to the right of this green dwarf the playing area-it is hard to focus on the task at hand with that looking over your shoulder.

The target on #16 is a sliver of green hanging perilously over a chasm.

The target on #16 is a sliver of green hanging perilously over a chasm.

As you traverse the dune ridge to the fourteenth tee you are afforded some protection from the breezes but the inland finish is very strong all the way to the house and will test your patience until the last putt falls.  On fifteen and sixteen he used the topography to throw you off balance.  The sixteenth is played over a fairway with heaves and plunges that will make you think you are in a Herman Melville novel.  The green sits like a plank jutting off the bow of the ship, getting it on there and keeping it there is a tall order.  If you are lucky enough to play in the spring an amphitheater of blooming gorse awaits you on the Redan style seventeenth.  Don’t be too distracted by the floral backdrop because the golf challenge is once again very real.

A version of the Redan at 17 surrounded by gorse laden dunes.
A version of the Redan at 17 surrounded by gorse laden dunes.

Much like the opening holes the finishing hole speaks to the genius of the Doak design team.  What should be a manageable serpentine five par is fraught with sand pitfalls and gnarly vegetation.  Picking good lines and hitting articulate shots make it a routine three-shot hole but any wayward sway of the ball can bring a bad aftertaste to the beer awaiting above the 18th green.

It ends as it starts with fear blended with visual poetry.
It ends as it starts-fear blending with visual poetry.

In a place where every element of the golf inventory is first rate this one probably has the hallowed place at the top of the pile.  As with all of these links courses the medal score is tertiary to sporting a good match and enjoying the glorious surroundings that Doak has enhanced with his clever design.

Bandon, Oregon

Architect:  Tom Doak (2001)

Tee                  Par     Rating     Slope   Yardage

Black               71        73           142       6633

Green              71        70.7        133       6142

Orange            71        69.8        128       5088

(Click here to review Pacific Dunes Golf Course hole-by-hole descriptions)

For more Pacific Dunes images click to see Postcard From Pacific Dunes-Day 4

Old Macdonald Golf Course

Old Macdonald LogoAs 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.

There is mystery in the valley that contains Old Macdonald

There is mystery in the valley that contains Old Macdonald

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.

#13 Leven is a short Par 4 with a shelf green jutting out of the side of an office building dune

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.

#14 Maiden is a CB Classic-this version is very snarky if you drive out of position for the day’s pin

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.

Your tee shot must circumvent the

Your tee shot must circumvent the “Strath Bunker” on Eden (#2)

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.

Hell Bunker on #6 is no place for the timid.

Hell Bunker on #6 is no place for the timid.

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.

First hole is open and expansive..but choose your path wisely.

First hole is open and expansive..but choose your path wisely.

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.

A severe climb to the perched green overlooking the Ocean on #7

A severe climb to the perched green overlooking the Ocean on #7

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.

18th is the gathers everything once you pass through Dolly’s Gate

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.

Bandon, Oregon

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

(Click to read complete Old Macdonald hole-by-hole descriptions)

For more Old Macdonald images click to see Postcard From Old Macdonald-Day 3

Bandon Trails Golf Course

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.

The first would feel right at home at Enniscrone or Waterville in Ireland

(Click on any picture to get an enhanced view of the image)

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.

The full Pine Barrens look unfolds across the meadow on #3

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 #7 the ascent into the enchanted forest begins

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.

With a solid plan well executed you can avoid the awaiting trouble on #8

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.

The natural beauty of the setbacks frame the experience

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.

The slippery topography on #13 makes controlling your result very difficult

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.

The green complexes like #15 put real pressure on where your approach ends

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.

Cannot help but be overwelmed by the scale of the climb on #16

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 devil is in the details at the visual par 3 17th

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.

The final perch…where does the fairway end and the green begin?

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.

Bandon, Oregon

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.

Bandon Dunes Golf Course

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.

The Lodge quietly overlooks the opening and finishing holes.

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.

A full array of links elements are present on the par 3 second hole.

(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 first ‘Wow’ of the day is the view of the fourth green against the Pacific.

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.

At the 10th your driving strategy must account for the blind access to the green.

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.

Don’t be fooled by the visual serenity of the par 3 twelfth.

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.

Shock and Awe from the 16th Tee-click to enlarge the awe   (photo courtesy of Les Samuels)

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.

Seventeenth green is wedged by a canyon that eats meek or overzealous approaches.

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.

A captivating image-a late look down number 10.

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.

Bandon, Oregon

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.