Bandon Dunes

Bandon Dunes
Bandon, Oregon, USA

6732 YARDS (PAR 72)
COURSE ARCHITECT: David McLay Kidd (1999)
LAST PLAYED: March 18, 2011.
LOW SCORE: 79 (+7)

– Golf Magazine Top 100 Courses in the World 20120-21: #80
– Golf Magazine Top 100 in the U.S. 2017: #35
– Golf Magazine Top 100 Courses You Can Play 2016-17: #8
– Golf Digest Best New Upscale Course 1999
– Golf Digest America’s 100 Greatest 2019-20: #36
– Golf Digest America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses 2019: #7
– Golfweek Best Modern Courses USA 2019: #8
– Top 100 Courses of the World 2020: #68
– Top 100 Courses of the USA 2020: #30

“The one that started it all. I was 27 years old when I first set foot on the property, and I knew in an instant I was looking at the opportunity of a lifetime. My mandate was to create the first genuine Scottish-style links course in America, and I believe there are few places outside the sand dunes along the Oregon coast where this would be possible.

I spent eight months on the ground with the crew at Bandon, designing the course in the field. A routing plan and basic sketches were all I needed. As is often the case, land that was largely unsuitable to any other self-sustaining use proved perfect for golf. The greatest challenge was not unearthing the golf holes but clearing the fragile dunes of the overgrown gorse and pine trees, neither of which are native but were choking out the indigenous plants.

As much as the course is my design, Bandon Dunes is the vision of one man, Mike Keiser. The resort has grown, with a second, third and fourth course in play, however I remain grateful for the opportunity and proud that the original Bandon Dunes course that my team and I built continues to earn accolades and entertain golfers.”
– David McLay Kidd, Golf Course Architect, DMK Golf Design

I‘ve already given a brief overview of the history at Bandon Dunes Resort in my previously written trip report. While developer Mike Keiser’s story is fascinating in its own right, the thing that resonates with me most is the fact that Keiser was bold enough to enlist a complete unknown in David McLay Kidd to design and build his dream course on the Oregon coast.

The Scottish-born Kidd went right into golf design upon graduation from college in 1989, following in the footsteps of his father Jimmy, who had a prolific background in turf maintenance. David would eventually move to Gleneagles Golf Developments, a Scottish design firm and completed a few low-budget projects while there.

He’d get his big break when Mike Keiser came calling in the mid-90s. Keiser was considering a number of big-name candidates for his project on the Oregon coast and Kidd, likely thinking his firm didn’t have a chance in hell of gaining the commission, decided to swing for the fences when articulating his vision to Keiser.

– a clubhouse emanating from a central village, set back from the coastline in order to build anticipation for the players
– no housing, no unnecessary structures, no cart paths and a walking-only course
– approaches to greens should be open, with no forced carries

Kidd yearned to build a true links course and this was music to Mike Keiser’s ears. In December 1994, Keiser confirmed that Kidd and Gleneagles Golf Developments had won the commission to build Bandon Dunes.

The rest is history – the course opened in 1999 to rave reviews from players and critics alike, propelled Kidd onto the short list of superlative young architects in the business and put Bandon, Oregon on the map of great golfing destinations in the entire world.

Many of the photographs shown in this review were taken by yours truly before heading to the airport on my last day in Oregon. I didn’t take any pictures while playing, as the weather was far too unpredictable during my stay. With that said, I would like to express my gratitude and thanks to fellow Golf Club Atlas members Tim Bert and Kyle Henderson, both of whom have been kind enough to allow me to utilize their photographs of Bandon Dunes as showcased in their respective photo tours at GCA. If you’re looking for more commentary on BD, please check out the links below:

Tim Bert Bandon Dunes GCA Photo Tour
Kyle Henderson Bandon Dunes GCA Photo Tour

NOTE: All yardages are from the back tees, which measure out to 6732 yards, with a course rating of 74.1 and a slope of 143.

1st Hole: 386 Yards Par 4

The opening hole features an intimidating tee shot, with the clubhouse and maintenance buildings running hard down the entire right side. The player can go well left off the tee to avoid the out of bounds and also the center-line bunker that’s less than 100 yards from the green. Still, the ideal line off the tee is to hug the right side in order to set up the best possible approach into the elevated green, which is over 50 yards deep. There are a couple of deep bunkers left of the green that must be avoided at all costs.

There is talk that the green may eventually be moved a bit to the left in order to move play away from the buildings on the right.

The Lodge at Bandon Dunes


A distant look at the 1st Tee from the Inn


Approach to the 1st


Looking back from behind 1st Green


2nd Hole: 189 Yards Par 3

This hole originally was meant to play from behind the first green to a green that sloped severely from right to left toward a sandy waste area.

However, that plan got ditched early in the process and now the tee sits close to 150 yards away well left of the first tee. The waste area remains but now is in front of the golfer and directly in front of the green, with short tee shots rolling back down the slope in many instances. Wind is a real factor on this tee shot and the player will want to likely hit one extra club just in case.

Tee shot on the par three 2nd


3rd Hole: 543 Yards Par 5

You reach the highest point on the golf course here on the 3rd tee and it’s here that the player likely says “wow” for the first time.

The hole itself is unremarkable but the view is anything but, as the raging Pacific is showcased in the background, as are many of the other holes on the course.

Breathtaking is an appropriate word!

There is a bunker on the inside of the slight dogleg off the tee but the hole plays straight away for the most part. Birdie is attainable on this mid-length three-shotter.

Tee shot on the par five 3rd hole


4th Hole: 410 Yards Par 4

The tee shot on the 4th doesn’t reveal much other than some large ridges to the right of the fairway. It takes about a 200 yard walk into the fairway before Bandon Dunes finally pulls back the curtain and the Pacific Ocean is shown in all her glory. That second shot is a stunner and is the start of a remarkable stretch of golf right through to the 7th green. The green is open in front and encourages a low, rolling approach to a large, undulating putting surface with the ocean right behind.

Just stunning!

The visually intimidating 4th Tee


The ocean makes an appearance!


The beautiful approach into the 4th


The 4th Green with the 5th in the background


5th Hole: 428 Yards Par 4

This is one of my favourite holes at the entire resort and the ocean runs hard down the entire left side. There are little fescue-covered mounds right in the middle of the landing area off the tee, giving off quite the claustrophobic effect. The hole doesn’t let up from there – the approach is hit toward a green that sits in an amphitheatre of dunes.

Again, the hole will accept shots that come in low and it’s usually a must, as the prevailing wind is into the player here. This is a world-class par four, without doubt.

5th Tee


The 5th from just right of the fairway


Approach shot on the 5th


Looking back toward the tee on the 5th


Looking back through the dunes from behind the 5th Green


6th Hole: 161 Yards Par 3

Along with the 5th and the 16th, the 6th hole at Bandon Dunes is likely the most photographed on the course. Running in the same direction as the 5th, with the ocean on the left, this par three plays into the wind most of the time and features a deep green that falls off a bit on the right.

Other than the wind, there’s not a lot protecting this hole but lets just say that nature provides a suitable defense.

The gorgeous par three 6th


7th Hole: 383 Yards Par 4

The routing is slightly awkward here, as the golfer walks back from where they just came from to get to the 7th tee. The course moves inland at this point and that may be a letdown for some but I strongly believe that the 7th is among the finest holes on the course.

The tee shot is deceiving, as the best line of play is much further left than one would imagine, as there is a hidden parcel of fairway that allows for the best approach into the elevated and severely undulating green. Kidd knew he needed something to keep the player interested after leaving the ocean behind and this three-tiered green certainly qualifies.

Tee shot on the par four 7th


Zoomed in shot from the 7th Tee


Looking back from behind the 7th Green


8th Hole: 359 Yards Par 4

The tee shot here will grab your attention, with a number of cross bunkers sitting right in the middle of the fairway about 200 yards away and a few more running down the right side. Hitting into one of those hazards is likely a one-shot penalty, as they are incredibly deep and reaching the green in one stroke is unlikely.

The par four 8th Tee


Approach shot on the 8th hole


9th Hole: 558 Yards Par 5

The closing hole on the front side returns to the clubhouse and is relatively unremarkable. The tee shot needs to avoid some center-line pot bunkers right in the landing area but a well-placed strike will allow the long hitter a chance to reach the open-fronted green in two shots. The green is interesting and features some nice undulations in addition to falling off quite sharply to the left.

Approach shot on the par five 9th hole


10th Hole: 362 Yards Par 4

Here is a very well-designed golf hole with much more strategy than it initially appears. Long hitters will pull driver and launch a shot straight for the green but the second will feature a short wedge shot to a green that’s obscured by a ridge, rendering the shot blind. A more prudent play might be to go well left of the direct line to the green, which opens up the approach and allows the player to use that knob to their advantage. Solid mid-length par four and one of my favourites at BD.

Tee shot on the par four 10th hole


A partially obscured approach on the 10th


The 10th green


11th Hole: 384 Yards Par 4

Here’s another interesting hole that features bunkers running down the left side. The player needs to flirt with those in order to set up the best approach into the very narrow, elevated green that features a deep sod-walled bunker in the front right.

Bunkers line the left side of the par four 11th hole


12th Hole: 199 Yards Par 3

The par threes as a whole at Bandon Dunes are very strong and the 12th may be the best of the lot, as the ocean again makes an appearance in the background. The tee shot is elevated but the greensite is where all the drama resides, with a sizable dune just off to the right and a small but deep sod-faced bunker prominently positioned in the front-left of the relatively flat green. A true beauty.

The oceanside par three 12th


Greenside at the 12th hole


13th Hole: 553 Yards Par 5

Once again, the player leaves the ocean and moves inland to the most rumpled fairway on the course. Those fairway undulations provide the major defense on this long par five, which also features a wetland area off to the left. The greensite is slightly elevated and features a dramatic falloff on the right, making up and downs a rarity from that side.

Uneven lies aplenty at the par five 13th


14th Hole: 359 Yards Par 4

This mid-length par four is another of my favourites and is played uphill with cross bunkers splashed all across the landing area. Big hitters can launch shots over them and even challenge the green if the hole is playing downwind but most approaches will be played from between 150 and 100 yards to a green set beautifully into a large dune. This hole is one of the inland stunners at BD.

The uphill par four 14th hole


Approach shot into the 14th


15th Hole: 163 Yards Par 3

The 15th is the last one-shotter on the course, a little 163 yard stunner to an elevated green benched into a dune and featuring perhaps the deepest bunker on the course in the front right. The ocean is once again visible in the background and overall, this might be my favourite par three at Bandon Dunes.

The tough par three 15th with deep bunker short right


16th Hole: 363 Yards Par 4

I can’t think of many holes in the world that top this one, both for beauty and strategy. The ocean sits hard on the right and from the elevated tee, you can see for miles beyond the green right down the rocky coastline. Just an awe-inspiring view.

The hole itself is wonderful and features a huge chasm that cuts into the fairway about halfway down the length of the hole and past that sits a cliff of redshot clay. The player can go directly at the green, which runs the risk of hitting the clay or even worse, falling off the cliff into the ocean below. A more prudent play is to hit well left off the tee but that will leave a tougher approach into a green that features a bunker protecting incoming shots from that side.

This is a glorious golf hole and one that you will yearn to play over and over.

The spectacular par four 16th


The gorgeous 16th late in the day


Looking toward the ocean from left of the 16th fairway


Laying up short off the tee is no bargain!


The stunning approach into the 16th


17th Hole: 389 Yards Par 4

The player leaves the ocean for the last time and the routing leads them back toward the clubhouse. The 17th has been changed a bit over the years as the tee shot was a bit too difficult at first, with a number of bunkers left and a large chasm off to the right, ready to grab drives that go astray.

The approach is a beauty to perhaps the deepest green on the course and is slightly uphill as well and features some great undulations.

The par four 17th tee


Approach shot into the 17th


Short approach into the 17th green


18th Hole: 543 Yards Par 5

The 18th is a bit of a letdown, a medium-length par five with some centerline bunkers dotting the right side of the landing area. The approach is slightly downhill to an interesting greensite, with the large clubhouse looming in the background.

Landing area off the 18th tee


Approach shot into the 18th green


Interestingly enough, if you put a gun to my head, I’d likely say that Bandon Dunes is the most inconsistent golf course among the four at the resort, something you’ll likely find a bit shocking considering how positive I’ve been throughout this review. In effect, it proves just how great all the courses are at Bandon. I’d say that BD features some of the strongest holes at the entire resort, with #4, #5, #6, #7, #10, #14, #15 and #16 all being superlative but it also features some of the weakest, specifically the closing holes on each nine.

The course plays well for players of all abilities and every green is accessible either through the air or by ground, a necessity with all the wind you’ll deal with on an oceanside golf course.

BD plays firm and fast throughout as a true links should and the golf course is simply fun to play. The views are overwhelmingly beautiful on the oceanside holes and Kidd did an admirable job making the inland holes interesting and unique as well.

Topping it off is the fact that BD is a walking-only course, as is every course at the resort and while the routing is awkward at times, I can say that BD is a treat to walk either with a bag on your back or alongside a caddie.

The original course at the Bandon Dunes resort arguably is one of the most important designs in the past 25 years. The minimalist approach taken by Kidd continued the trend started a few years earlier by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore at the sublime Sand Hills GC and kick-started a new era in golf design, one that would be perfected a couple years later at Bandon with the completion of the second course, Tom Doak’s Pacific Dunes.

While I still think the other three courses at the resort are more consistent from 1-18, there’s no doubt in my mind that my impressions could change on future visits and I’d still evenly spread out my rounds when booking my next visit. Bandon Dunes is easily one of the finest courses built in the modern era and it is a must-see for any architecture aficionado.

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