It 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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