By: Andrew Penner
Pressed along the wind-blasted Oregon Coast and boasting four stunning 18-hole courses, the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort is – for good reason – one of the world’s premier golf destinations. I have visited Bandon three times now and each time I’ve left awed and amazed. But my last journey there was special in ways I didn’t think possible. It was a father/son pilgrimage that will be etched in my mind for years.
The sprawling Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, founded by businessman Mike Keiser in 1999, is a place where golf, in its purest form, reigns. There are no homes. No carts. No concrete paths. It’s a walking game. And a wimpy, fair-weather attitude doesn’t cut it. If you go, you golf. Rain, sleet, snow, gale-force winds, it doesn’t matter. You peg it up and play. As their slogan says: “The Spirit of the Game Resides Here.” And you don’t mess with it.
The four championship courses at Bandon Dunes – Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails, and Old Macdonald – are lay-of-the-land treasures. All are comfortably ranked in Golf Magazine’s prestigious list of the top-100 courses in the United States. Unlike other developments, the golf is treated like the trump card and the best land has been designated for golf holes. You simply could not boast four golf courses of this quality if that wasn’t the case. The accommodations, which consist of a main lodge and cottages, are set back from the sea and can best be described as contemporary and comfortable. People don’t come here to stay, they come here to play. The food is first-rate.
Pacific Dunes, which opened in 2001 and was the second course at the resort, is widely considered one of the top links courses in the world and would get the nod as the best track at Bandon. Designed by architect Tom Doak, Pacific Dunes is an eclectic, sea-hugging crusade with off-the-charts character. Holes were not sculpted or forced here. Rather, they were uncovered and “found” in the humps and hollows that border the sea. The run from the 9th to the 13th, which includes back to back par-3s, is one for the ages.
The other courses are also magnificent in their own way. The original course, Bandon Dunes, was designed by, at the time, an unheralded Scotsman by the name of David McKlay Kidd. Not surprisingly, his career skyrocketed after building Bandon. The layout is memorable for many reasons, but its most powerful attribute is the fact that both nines feature bold and beautiful runs along the sea. Unquestionably, the routing is sublime, a notable theme at all the courses at Bandon.
Bandon Trails, which opened in 2005, takes an inland route through the forest. It was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, who are, in many respects, the founding fathers of the minimalist, lay-of-the-land links movement that resurfaced with the venerable Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska. While Bandon Trails never makes it to the coastline, its beautiful rhythm and flow – through the woodlands, wetlands, and pine-flecked dunes – serves up plenty of spine-tingling moments. Like, for example, standing on the perched tee on the par-4 15th, where a panorama of sea and sand awaits. It’s a delicious short par-4 of the finest order, one of many holes to savour.
Old Macdonald, the fourth championship instalment, is yet another wonderful links at the resort. (A beautiful 9-hole par-3 course, The Preserve, also designed by Coore and Crenshaw, rounds out the offerings.) Designed by a team led by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina, Old Mac is a tribute to the topsy turvey links of yesteryear. It’s a playing field quite unlike anything else in golf, complete with massive fairways and greens the size of city parks. Thanks to its amazing wind-sculpted topography, it’s the type of course, the type of puzzle, that could never be solved.
Weeks before our trip I gave my father, who is 65 years young, the lowdown. “Dad, if we go, we’ve got to be prepared for the worst. It’s the Oregon coast in mid-January. Bring all the rain gear you’ve got. Things could get nasty.”
Things did get nasty. Like about three inches of rain nasty. But, because it was Bandon Dunes, we ploughed through it. In three wet and windy days, we played every hole. And, strangely enough, in the midst of the downpours, soaked to the skin, numbed by the wind, some very cool things occurred.
For starters, my dad played the best golf of his life. He had never seen a place quite like Bandon Dunes (not that there’s anything comparable) and he was, most definitely, inspired. He belted drive after drive down the middle of the fairway and strategically plotted his way around the course like a champion. To be honest, I was worried about him going in. I didn’t think his game – or his legs – would hold up under the rugged conditions. But I was wrong. At 65, he seemed to have more energy than I did. But, then again, he looks after himself incredibly well. At Bandon, as you’ll discover, good physical fitness will serve you well.
I can honestly say my Dad, who is a mid to high handicap player, has only beat me once. And, yes, I’m proud to say it was at Bandon Dunes.
Without a doubt, Bandon has some incredibly difficult holes. The 455-yard fifth on the original course, for example, is about as demanding as golf gets. First, the drive must soar over an unkempt island of sand and stunted pines. Then the long approach must be squeezed through a narrow, dune-lined slot. It’s often considered the toughest hole on the entire resort.
But, for dear old dad – or, miraculously, me – this wasn’t the case. As the sun broke through the clouds, we had one of the most memorable golfing moments of our lives. After hitting my first fairway of the round, I managed to smash a long-iron to the back of the green, but some eighty feet from the hole. Dad, riding his groove and brimming with confidence, hammered his 5-wood approach to twenty-five feet. Not expecting much of anything, I stepped up to my putt and slammed it into the back of the hole for an extremely unlikely birdie, one of the longest putts I’ve ever holed.
I looked over at Dad and he gave me a little smirk. I knew what he was thinking. Sure enough, he nonchalantly rolled his putt into the cup with perfect speed right on top of mine. We high-fived, laughed, slapped each other on the back, and sauntered side-by-side to the next tee. A perfect memory for, in my opinion, a rather perfect place.
Andrew Penner is a freelance writer and photographer based in Calgary, Alberta. You can visit him at www.andrewpenner.com.