“Ever since it opened in 1999, Bandon Dunes has been one of the stories in golf, an improbable tale that got better with each telling. On a remote stretch of the Pacific Coast, at the edge of beyond, a golf course had appeared – and not just an ordinary course, but a seaside course of great drama, purity and beauty. Early visitors to the place came back with stars in their eyes, claiming to have discovered a true American links.”
– Stephen Goodwin, Author, “Dream Golf – The Making of Bandon Dunes”
A very successful entrepreneur and founder of Recycled Paper Greetings, a greeting card company, Mr. Keiser wanted to build a great links course in the United States, one that would compare favourably to his favourites in Scotland and Ireland.
He looked long and hard for an appropriate parcel of land and eventually saw great potential in a gorse-covered piece of property on the Oregon coast. The 1,215 acre property in Bandon had been for sale at a price of $4.8 million – Keiser would offer half that amount – $2.4 million in cash, less than $2,000 an acre and a deal was signed less than a half hour later.
The purchase was completed in 1991 and it took eight more years for his dream to come to fruition when Bandon Dunes finally opened to great praise in 1999. Keiser would add three more courses over the next 11 years in Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails and most recently, Old Macdonald. All four courses are highly-acclaimed and the resort itself is generally considered one of the finest in the world.
I’ve been following the progress at Bandon for many years and was just biding my time, waiting for an opportunity to present itself so I could finally see what all the fuss was about.
That opportunity finally came in January this year, when the organizer of The King’s Putter, an annual Ryder Cup style event put on by participants at Golf Club Atlas indicated that the waiting list for the 2011 tournament being held at Bandon was down to two people. I put my name on the list and found out a couple days later that there were a few cancellations – I was officially in!
The event took place in mid-March, just before Bandon increases their rates both for golf and lodging. The weather can be a bit sketchy at this time of year but in reality, it can be sketchy at any time of year so why not go when it’s a bit less expensive, right?
Getting to Bandon is not easy – the running gag among architecture aficionados is that it’s easier to get to Ireland or Scotland than it is to get to Bandon – and it’s really no joke. The closest airport to Bandon is in North Bend, Oregon, approximately 45 minutes away by car so that certainly is reasonable. However, getting to North Bend is the difficult part, with only two cities offering direct flights into the airport (San Francisco and Portland) on only one major airline (United). Many people choose to fly into Portland and drive five hours while others fly to Eugene, Oregon, which is three hours away by car.
For my first time, I decided it would be best to fly right into North Bend but that meant an insane travel schedule, with three layovers and an evening in the Seattle-Tacoma airport just to get to my final destination. I saved money doing it this way and it also ensured that I’d get to play 36 holes on my first day at Bandon, which seemed like a good trade-off.
The trip got off to a rocky start, as our scheduled flight from Chicago to Seattle got re-routed to Spokane when a man started having heart troubles on the plane. Thankfully, there were nurses on board and they were able to keep him comfortable until we landed. We were delayed an hour and a half but I had a five-hour, overnight layover in Seattle so I was quite happy getting some extra shut-eye on the plane as opposed to an uncomfortable airport terminal bench.
I arrived in North Bend right on time early on a Thursday morning and was met at the airport by fellow King’s Putter participant and GCA’er Will, who made the long journey by car from Vancouver Island. We hadn’t met in person prior to this event but had corresponded many times by email and he kindly offered me a lift to Bandon, an offer that was graciously accepted.
I don’t know if it was the good conversation or the fact I was half-fried from travel and lack of sleep but the car ride seemed much shorter than 45 minutes. We pulled up to the lodge and checked in – I would be rooming with another KP and GCA’er from the Chicago area but was told by reception that he hadn’t yet arrived at the resort.
It wasn’t raining but the skies looked ominous and it was frigid, perhaps a shade over five degrees Celsius (40 on the Fahrenheit scale). We grabbed our clubs, put on our rain gear and jumped into one of the many waiting shuttles that provide transportation between the golf courses, the restaurants and the accommodations.
This was to be my first round of 2011 and it was the first time I had even picked up a golf club in over five months so we hit the range for a quick warmup session prior to our game. Will and I were teeing off at Bandon Trails, the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw collaboration that provided a third course for resort guests in 2005 after the highly-acclaimed openings at Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes.
By the time we got shuttled to Trails, rain had started to fall and the winds were picking up. We checked in with the pro shop and minutes later, we were standing on the glorious first tee, which showcases awe-inspiring views in every direction. Will has visited Bandon on multiple occasions but since it was my first time, the starter gave me a quick overview of what we’d be seeing out on the course before heading back to shelter.
As an aside, I will be providing detailed photo reviews of all four courses at Bandon in the near future so I’m going to try to keep this post as more of a trip report than a general review.
I pulled a three-wood from my bag for my opening tee shot and nailed a nice draw right down the middle. Will and I decided to play for a beer, with me giving him four shots in a match play format. We’d make matching pars to start our day, easily my best opening hole of the year score in my life as I’m used to matching par in trees hit most years. Thankfully, there aren’t any trees on the first hole at Trails so maybe I’m on to something!
It didn’t take long for the rust to show – I’d hit my tee shot on the lovely downhill par three 2nd into a sandy area well right of the green and end up making a triple bogey six on the hole. I’d follow that up with another triple on the par five 3rd when my tee shot was push-sliced toward the road and we couldn’t find my ball.
By the time we reached the picturesque par three 5th, the weather had changed dramatically for the better, with glorious sunshine gleaming down upon us. I’d quickly find out that this would be a pattern at Bandon, with the weather seeming to change every 45 minutes, as if on cue.
The warming sunshine agreed with me, as I’d hit my tee shot tight on the 5th and make the putt for my first birdie of the year. I’d follow with a second birdie on the par five 9th hole to take a three-up lead through the outgoing side. Will would get back to within two after his first birdie on the awesome par four 13th hole, one of my favourites at the entire resort but that’s as close as he got, with me taking a 3&1 victory after making par on the gorgeous par three 17th. I’d end up shooting an unsightly 86 in my first round of the year or an ESC 84 after taking two shots off for the triples. Trails is the hardest golf course at the resort in my opinion and demands more from an accuracy perspective, especially off the tee, than any of the three other courses.
We got shuttled back to the main lodge, grabbed a quick bite to eat at the little halfway house inside and moved to the first tee at Bandon Dunes, the David McLay Kidd design that started it all in 1999. We were paired with a couple of GCA’ers that were also partaking in the King’s Putter festivities – Joel, a writer from Savannah, Georgia and another Canadian in Bryan from Toronto.
We again got wildly varied weather during our four hour round at Bandon, with wind, rain, cold and heavy cloud cover once in awhile making way for short, teasing glimpses of sunshine. While Bandon Trails is routed through dunes land, meadows and forests, Bandon Dunes is quite exposed to the elements, with many holes that play hard by the ocean, making wind much more of a factor. Will and I again played for a beer and this time, the match wasn’t as close, as I played steady but unspectacular golf, making no birdies or doubles on my way to a 79 and a healthy match play victory.
Will drove me over to my Chrome Lake room and dropped me off. I had some time to get set up in the room and shower before dinner and I must say that I was extremely impressed with my accommodations, which were similar to the “casual luxury” found at Ballyneal.
There were two King-sized beds, a very much welcomed electric fireplace with leather chairs situated to take advantage of the warmth after a tough round, a HD television and plenty of storage space. There were also two washrooms: one with just a mirror, a sink and a toilet and the other with a mirror, sink, standup shower and a bathtub. Everything you need for a great golf getaway!
I called the shuttle service for a ride to McKee’s Pub, as the plan was to meet up with many of the 30 other GCA’ers who also arrived a day early for dinner. McKee’s is a two-floor Scottish-style tavern that sits off the first fairway at Bandon Dunes near the main lodge and offers a casual alternative to guests at the resort. McKee’s was absolutely packed when we arrived and Will and I were fortunate to get a couple seats at the upstairs bar. Most of the other GCA’ers were already halfway through dinner, including Bill from Pensacola, Florida, the King’s Putter organizer this year and a gentleman I had met and played with last year at Ballyneal.
I needed some carbs in the worst way after a grueling 36 hole day and went against the norm by getting the Seafood Linguini – most everyone gets the house specialty meatloaf dish but I craved a big pasta dish in the worst way and boy, it was a good choice! Will made good on our bet and bought me a couple of draft beers, which definitely hit the spot and we finished the night talking to others about our thoughts on Bandon Trails and Bandon Dunes while also hearing about what to expect at Pacific Dunes and Old Macdonald, the two other courses I’d be playing on the trip. I got a ride back to my room from one of the guys and set the alarm for 6:00am the next morning – I had another 36 hole day ahead!
The actual King’s Putter event was starting on Friday afternoon but most of the guys already at Bandon had lined up morning rounds and I was no different. I took advantage of the great buffet breakfast in the main lodge before getting shuttled over to Pacific Dunes, the second course built at Bandon and the most acclaimed on the property. The Tom Doak designed masterpiece, built in 2001, is ranked 16th in the world by Golf Magazine and is ranked right near or at the top of every list of public golf courses.
I was unbelievably excited about playing Pac Dunes but my enthusiasm was short-lived, as my game was an utter disgrace that morning. Playing with Brad from Calgary, Jed from San Francisco and David from Australia, I got off to a rough start by yanking a 4-iron off the short par four 1st hole on my way to an opening double bogey. I’d bogey the wonderful 2nd hole and hit my first green in regulation on the par five 3rd, only to three-putt that for yet another bogey.
Things would get worse. Much worse.
I’d go on to double bogey the next four holes in succession and that’s being kind. Actually, I picked up on two of those four holes just to get out of my playing partners’ way – I could barely get the ball airborne! It was pretty embarrassing but the guys I played with were great, even sticking it to me with some jokes like my buddies back home would do. It loosened me up a bit and I finally made my first par of the day on the 8th hole, getting up and down from right of the greenside bunker and bogeyed the 9th to shoot an ESC 49.
I’d fare much better on the back nine and start making some cleaner contact, shooting a 40 to save a little bit of face. The weather was actually decent that morning – a little bit of everything again but the wind was down and the rain stayed away until the end of the round.
We hopped on the shuttle and immediately went over to Bandon Dunes, as our first round KP matches were about to begin. I was teamed up with Tom from Los Angeles and we would be facing my Canadian compadre Will and his partner John, a Palo Alto native in a fourball match.
My struggles continued into the afternoon and I would go without a birdie for a third consecutive round. We had some crazy weather that afternoon, with heavy rains and a brief but very painful hail storm while we were on the oceanside 16th hole. We were able to seek some cover beside a huge dune left of the fairway and the sun once again would appear less than a hole later to take some of the sting away. I made some pars and helped our team somewhat but really, Tom carried us in a match that went right to the end. Will made some huge putts during the match, none bigger than the birdie four he rolled in on the 18th hole to salt away a 2up victory for their South squad.
We had a low-key dinner planned at McKee’s that night with all the KP’ers but again, the place was overbooked and a number of us were relegated to the Gallery restaurant in the lodge. I had one of the better beef tenderloins of my life and we’d venture over to McKee’s later that night for a few more beverages before calling it a night. I would find out that my scheduled roommate for the trip had to cancel at the last minute – the wonderful staff at Bandon allowed me to keep the whole room to myself for half price, an added bonus!
Saturday was a big day for the KP – 36 more holes of match play, with the morning round taking place at Old Macdonald and the afternoon round at Bandon Trails. Old Macdonald is the newest course at the resort, a Tom Doak and Jim Urbina collaboration that was built based on the principles and design ideals of legendary architect C.B. Macdonald.
Old Mac, as it’s affectionately known, seems to be the subject of most debate when it comes to discussing the best course at the resort. There definitely seems to be a “love it or don’t get it” mentality and little room for middle ground amongst those who had played it so I was anxious to see it for myself.
The weather was absolutely horrific to start, with rain coming down sideways and temperatures around 40 degrees but this crew plays in everything! Things would let up somewhat during the middle portion of the round but generally speaking, the Saturday AM round saw the worst weather on our trip.
Old Mac was similar to Ballyneal for me in the fact that it’s tough to blow up out there but equally as tough to put a really good score together. Lots of easy bogeys but not many routine pars are to be had.
I was paired with Bandon native Gray and we faced John from Palo Alto (my second match against him already) and Pete from the San Francisco area. I played a pretty solid front side, making my first birdie in over 60 holes on the par five 6th hole (named “Long”) and went out in 38 shots.
I’d have trouble scoring on the back side, as we fell behind by 3 but Gray went all PGA on our opponents, making three consecutive birdies starting on the 14th to bring us back to within one. He was carrying me like a rented mule but his back gave out on the 17th and it was up to me to send the match to a deciding final hole. I had a three footer for par on the 17th and needed it for a halve to stay one down but I’d lip out on the high side to give our opponents the 2&1 victory. Fittingly, it would start to absolutely pour again as we finished the 18th hole and high-tailed it over to Bandon Trails for our next set of matches.
After grabbing a quick burger at the Trails End restaurant, I was off in another fourball, this time teaming with Joel, another San Francisco resident in a match against John, a North Carolina native in the U.S. Coast Guard and his partner Michael, a native of South Carolina now living in Manhattan.
Things finally started to click for me in this match, as I’d par my first five holes of the round and shoot a decent 39 on the front. The story of the week takes place on the 12th hole, a really tough and long par three measuring 242 yards.
We had just fallen two down in the match after I took three shots to get down greenside on the 11th and I continued my clutch play with a wayward 3-wood tee shot into the trees left of the 12th green.
I figured I was out of the hole but decided to take a look for my ball, just in case. Michael asked if I needed help but I just said I’d take a quick look.
Anyway, I’m peering into the trees and all of a sudden, I start hearing noises – branches being stepped on – I squint and try to get a closer look.
Then I see it: a burly black THING slowly lumbering toward me with a little white spot near the head. I start RUNNING from the trees as Michael looks on with concern. He thought it was a hive of bees but I stammer that I think there was a bear in the trees. All of a sudden, the bear continues with its walk and steps out of the trees!!!
Only, it’s not a bear but a big, burly Bandon Trails ranger, wearing a black rainsuit with a floppy rainhat and the Bandon logo. As the colour returns to my face, the punchline to this joke is revealed…he holds up a ball, like George Costanza in that one Seinfeld episode…
“Who was playing the Titleist 8?”, he asks.
The guys start howling in laughter and I can only laugh myself.
Thankfully, my sense of humour remains intact after that embarrassing moment!
I’d make birdies on the 15th and 17th holes but it was too little, too late in a 3&2 loss, my third consecutive defeat in King’s Putter play. I shot a very respectable 77 that round, easily my best of the trip thus far but it wasn’t enough.
Our group had a private room booked that night, with a wonderful buffet dinner and a couple of great guest speakers in Mike H and Joel Z. Mike’s speech was touching and inspirational, as he discussed the bond between members of the group while Joel’s speech, centered on golf in general with some Pete Dye sprinkled in, was informative and downright hilarious at times.
It was a really great evening.
We had one more set of matches to go the next morning and with the South team ahead by a wide margin, it would take a comeback of epic proportions for my North team to prevail. Ben Crenshaw wasn’t available to make his Ryder Cup motivational speech so we’d be on our own.
The respective captains decided on matchups during the dinner and I was pitted against my buddy Will in a Canada versus Canada match at Pacific Dunes, my nemesis from Friday morning.
I was extremely determined to get at least a point and I finally came through on Sunday morning. Everything came together – straight drives, accurate approaches and perfect putts. I made three birdies on the front side alone and five overall, including a decisive birdie two on the 14th to win my match against Will 5&4. I actually had a very good chance to break par but ended up shooting a 75 after finishing three over on my last three.
My North squad took half the points in the singles matches but our lack of success in the previous fourballs meant a resounding victory for the South, leaving the much-revered King’s Putter in their possession for yet another year.
It was a truly wonderful event and I am planning on taking part again next year, when the KP ventures into Canada for the first time, taking place at Now on the Tee favourite Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club!
I backed out of my afternoon round at Old Mac, as my legs were absolutely killing me, even after wearing my brand new TRUE Linkswear shoes for the trip. All of the courses at Bandon are walking only and I was woefully out of golf shape after my 5+ months of hibernation. Those that remained at the resort had a great dinner in the Tufted Puffin lounge that night and I headed to bed relatively early in order to prepare for my last day at Bandon.
I’d play Old Mac the next morning with David from Australia and Bryan from Toronto and while my golf game left much to be desired, I once again really enjoyed attempting the shots demanded at this course.
I absolutely loved every minute of my trip to Bandon and I wouldn’t hesitate returning again at the same time of year. Yes, the weather wasn’t great but it never seemed to be bad for more than three holes at a time and the March price point just can’t be beat.
What do I think about the courses, you ask? Well, again, I will go over each in plenty of detail over the coming weeks but I’ll say this: when I eventually return, I see no reason why I wouldn’t equally split up my rounds between all the courses onsite. They are all truly that good!
There will actually be another course to consider when I make my return. The resort is building their fifth course just right of the first tee at Trails on some tumbling dunesland – it will be called Bandon Preserve and will be a 13-hole par three course designed by the Coore-Crenshaw team, offering yet another wildly different alternative to guests at Bandon. I can see many players looking for a low-key way to end their day venturing over to the Preserve for a quick round before dinner.
The golf at Bandon is without par, both from a quality and quantity perspective. The service is spectacular but not overbearing and the food and accommodations are all first-rate.
If you can honestly tell me that there is a better golf resort than Oregon’s Bandon Dunes in this world, I’d have to see it to believe it. Bandon is pure golf at its finest and I can’t wait to go back.