Pacific Dunes

Pacific Dunes
Bandon, Oregon, USA

6633 YARDS (PAR 71)
LAST PLAYED: March 20, 2011.
LOW SCORE: 75 (+4)

– Golf Club Atlas 147 Custodians of the Game: #34
– Golf Magazine Top 100 Courses in the World 2020-21: #24
– Golf Magazine Top 100 Courses in the US 2017: #14
– Golf Magazine Top 100 Courses You Can Play 2016-17: #2
– Golf Digest Best New Public Upscale Course 2001
– Golf Digest America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses 2019-20: #17
– Golf Digest America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses 2019: #2
– Golfweek Best Modern Courses USA 2019: #2
– Top 100 Courses of the World 2020: #23
– Top 100 Courses of the USA 2020: #13

“Every architect dreams of building among the sand dunes, in the same terrain where golf was conceived in the British Isles. For me and my associates, Pacific Dunes is that dream come true.

I suspect that any golfer would have found some of the same holes, like the par-4 13th along the ocean, but it was an enormous responsibility to find the best possible routing on a site of such potential. The rippling fairways are mostly as we found them; so are the natural bunkers at the 2nd, 7th, 11th, 13th, 16th, and 18th holes, which guided our routing. Our layout is short enough to give every golfer hope, but its rugged nature will test every facet of your game.

It was the highlight of our careers to participate in the creation of Pacific Dunes at what is rapidly becoming one of the great golf resorts in the world, and we had only one chance to get it right.”
– Tom Doak, Golf Course Architect, Renaissance Golf Design

Tom Doak was only 11 years old when he first realized that he wanted to design golf courses for a living. He had just played golf with his father at the recently completed Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, South Carolina and the Pete Dye design captivated him.

Doak would go to school at Cornell and wrote letters to many of the top golf clubs in the United States, including Pine Valley, Merion and Seminole requesting to visit and study their designs. He would soon join Pete Dye’s staff as a laborer in 1981 and was part of the crew that helped build Long Cove in South Carolina.

Doak would eventually qualify for a traveling fellowship awarded to outstanding graduates and he ended up spending about a year in Great Britain, studying all of the great designs and 172 golf courses in all. A great majority of that time was spent at the home of golf, St. Andrews, as a caddie.

He would return to work for Dye upon completion of his post-graduate studies and would eventually start writing, first for Golf Magazine as a feature writer then on his own, publishing his thoughts on architecture in “The Anatomy of a Golf Course” in 1992 and his reviews of other courses in “The Confidential Guide”, released to the public in 1996.

By this point, Doak had built a few golf courses on his own, including High Pointe near Traverse City, Michigan and Stonewall, a private club in Pennsylvania.

It was actually Doak who would contact Mike Keiser when word got out that he was looking to build a golf course at Bandon. Keiser let Doak visit the site and he fell in love with the tall and shaggy dunes on first sight, prompting him to write a letter to Keiser saying how much he’d love to be involved in the project.

Keiser certainly had his concerns with Doak, who had ruffled many feathers after the Confidential Guide was made public. But he still went on a couple of golf trips with the young designer, visiting Stonewall and eventually playing golf in Ireland together. Keiser would award the Bandon Dunes commission to David McLay Kidd but agreed to let Tom Doak build a second course at the site when the time was right.

It was just another stroke of genius from Keiser, as Doak and his crew would design one of the greatest courses in the last half century at Pacific Dunes and become one of the forerunners in the minimalist movement that gained steam throughout the first decade of the 21st century.

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 Pacific Dunes as showcased in their respective photo tours at GCA. If you’re looking for more commentary on PD, please check out the links below:

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

All yardages provided are from the back tees at Pacific Dunes, which measure 6633 yards in length, with a course rating of 73.0 and a slope rating of 142.

1st Hole: 370 Yards Par 4

The tee shot at the first paints a pretty clear picture of what you’re going to see at Pacific Dunes – severely undulating fairways and partially blind shots as well. It’s an easy opener if you can hit the ball straight off the tee, as it will set up a short approach to a small green that sits much lower than fairway grade.

The small green requires an exacting approach but it’s a relatively gentle opener.

The clubhouse at Pacific Dunes


1st Tee


Approach to the 1st


Partially blind approach from right side


Looking back toward tee from behind 1st green


2nd Hole: 368 Yards Par 4

You are faced with an elevated tee shot at the second and what a glorious sight it is! The player gets his first look at the golf course in all its beauty, as you can see the ocean in the distance and the incredible landscape on which the course was placed.

The main obstacle on the second is the “Shoe” bunker located right in the middle of the fairway in the landing zone, so named for the man who spent days building the bunker with only a shovel. The bunker dictates all of the strategy off the tee and allows the player to decide on the best route to the green. The options continue on the approach, as the green contains an incredible amount of undulations which can propel the ball in every direction.

This is a wonderful par four and starts a pretty incredible stretch of world-class golf.

2nd Tee


Zoomed in shot from 2nd Tee


Approach shot from short of the “Shoe” bunker


Approach into the 2nd


Gorgeous look back down fairway from behind 2nd green


3rd Hole: 499 Yards Par 5

The first three-shotter at Pacific Dunes features an elevated tee shot to a very wide fairway. The prevailing wind is into the player here and despite the modest length of the hole, reaching the green in two shots is no bargain.

The greensite is tremendous here, with lots of little knolls and slopes taking the ball into many different directions.

Tee shot at the 3rd


Zoomed in view from the 3rd tee


Landing area down the left side of the 3rd fairway


Approach shot from left side of fairway


View from the front left of the green at the 3rd


4th Hole: 463 Yards Par 4

This must be one of the most photographed holes in modern golf and for good reason. The ocean runs hard down the entire right side of the golf hole and slicers likely lie awake at night worrying about this tee shot the next day! Most players will attempt to bail out left but that will leave a very difficult approach over bunkers to a green that slopes sharply from left to right. The ideal line is from the right side of the fairway so the player must gamble with the cliffside if they want to attack.

A stunning golf hole and a very difficult par as well!

Tee shot from the middle deck


A look from the back tees, as the angle of attack changes and becomes much more difficult


Approach shot from right side near the cliffside


A popular area on the left side of the fairway, bringing bunkers into play


A look from behind the 4th green back toward the tee


Another gorgeous look down the length of the 4th from behind the green


5th Hole: 199 Yards Par 3

This par three was the first hole Doak built at Pacific Dunes and features a natural valley that must be navigated off the tee. Approach shots to the left will kick sharply toward the green and a shot that lands about 15 yards short can work very well here.

Tee shot at the par three 5th


Another look from the 5th tee


A look from behind the 5th green toward the tee and the ocean


6th Hole: 316 Yards Par 4

A common trait among the best golf courses in the world is having a truly great short par four. The 6th at Pacific Dunes certainly qualifies and it is on a short list of the best I’ve ever played.

The hole looks innocent from the tee, as the player sees the very wide and inviting fairway well below from the elevated tee and pulls out driver with confidence. Most tee shots will find that fairway.

However, there is much, much more to this hole than just finding short grass and it’s never more evident once you see what’s ahead of you on the approach. Any shots coming from the left side of the fairway face a near impossible short pitch to a green that’s long but incredibly narrow and features a dramatic falloff both in front to a massive and deep bunker and in behind to a chipping area that’s about 15 feet below green level.

I fell victim to this hole on my first play, hitting left off the tee, going long on my approach then hitting my chip onto the green and over, down into that cavernous bunker. I’d eventually pick up in frustration! Thankfully, I’m a quick learner and played a long iron off the tee the second time around down the right side, which set up a straight-forward pitch into the length of the green and I’d make a satisfying birdie three.

One of the great, natural short par fours in golf.

The elevated tee shot at the short par four 6th


The ideal approach on the devilish 6th hole


Middle of the fairway but the difficulty level has now increased substantially on the pitch approach


A look back down the 6th from the narrow putting surface


7th Hole: 464 Yards Par 4

The long and difficult 7th hole contrasts nicely with the short and devious 6th. There is ample room off the tee here but the approach is long and difficult and likely necessitates a long iron or perhaps a fairway metal into a green that features blowout bunkers left, a natural sand ridge to the right and a series of natural, fescue covered mounds out in front.

It’s visual overload and one of the prettier inland holes at Pacific Dunes. Par is a wonderful score here, as the green is one of the toughest to read on the entire course.

Tee shot at the par four 7th


Zoomed in look from the 7th tee


Approach shot into the 7th


Another look from the fairway on the 7th


A view from the left side of the fairway and a look at the “seven sisters”, a name for the gnarly bunkers that make their way up toward the green


Looking back from behind the 7th Green


8th Hole: 400 Yards Par 4

The fairway is quite wide and inviting here but there is tremendous interest at the green, which is crowned slightly and offers many ways to access it, with the conventional approach from the front left or using the slopes right of the green to bring the ball onto the surface.

Tee shot at the 8th


The approach from the middle of the fairway


Yours truly in a bit of a predicament in the shore pines left of the fairway…I’d somehow make par!


A look from the back right of the green


9th Hole: 406 Yards Par 4

The par four 9th features two different green sites, one lower left and the other, upper right. The tee shot is quite intimidating and features what must be the longest forced carry of the day over a multitude of sandy hazards to a blind fairway. Shots hit left may get the old “member’s bounce” and tumble well down toward the lower green but you’ll need to be much further right if you’re playing to the upper green.

Neat golf hole and the two green sites gave Doak two wildly different options for the 10th tee shot as well.

Intimidating look from the 9th tee; the lower green requires a drive over the left bunker in the distance while the upper green requires a tee shot well right of that


Approach into the lower green at the 9th


A good look at both the lower green on the left and the upper on the right


Gorgeous look from the approach area to the lower green


Looking back from the lower green on the 9th


10th Hole: 206 Yards Par 3

The two green sites on the 9th offered Doak the opportunity to build two very different tee shots on the par three 10th, which are dictated by the pin placements of the day. If the pin on the 9th is on the lower green, you will be playing the lower tee on the 10th, which is a full 206 yard shot, usually into the wind and usually requiring a fairway metal to a green sitting in a natural bowl. If the pin on the 9th is on the upper green, the tee shot at the tenth is a much more modest 170 yard shot from a very elevated tee but the angle is a bit more difficult, as the green sits slightly diagonal to the player from here.

The hole is stunning from both tees and make sure to get your camera out for this one!

Tee shot from the lower tee on the 10th


Tee shot from the shorter, upper tee deck at the 10th


A slightly different look from the longer, lower tee at #10


A look at the 10th green from front left, with the 11th green in the background


Looking back toward the lower tee from behind the 10th green


11th Hole: 148 Yards Par 3

Similar to the wonderful 17th hole at Sand Hills, only with the ocean in full effect, sits the glorious 11th at Pacific Dunes. A little touch of poetry!

Doak throws convention out the window by having two par threes in a row but what else could he do when presented with land this good? Wind is a major factor here, even though most players will utilize nothing more than a short iron to navigate earth, sand and sea. The bunkers needed a lot of work but the mastery of Doak and his Renaissance team is in full effect here, as you’d never guess that this hole wasn’t completely natural.

Another photogenic stunner.

The spectacular 11th tee shot


That’s me trying to hit the smallest green on the course…thanks to David Elvins for this great photo!


Looking back toward the tee from the 11th green


Another view from behind the 11th green, looking back toward the tee


12th Hole: 529 Yards Par 5

The second three-shotter at Pacific Dunes and perhaps the easiest birdie opportunity on the course. There is a wide fairway and the green is slightly offset to the left with a sizable dune framing the back of the green. The putting surface is shallow but very wide, meaning approach shots from the right have the optimal line into the green.

Tee shot at the par five 12th


A look at a deep fairway bunker down the right side of the fairway


A look from the middle of the 12th fairway


Approach shot from right of the green, which opens everything up for the player


Beautiful look from behind 12th green down length of the hole


13th Hole: 444 Yards Par 4

You know you are playing one of the greatest holes in all of golf when the Pacific Ocean, which runs hard down the entire left side of the hole, isn’t even the most spectacular hazard!

That title is reserved for the massive and completely natural sand dune on the right side up near the green. This hole is sensory overload but you have to maintain your composure because a big score is always lurking with this much trouble. Wind plays a major role here as well, as this is likely the most exposed area on the entire course and thankfully, Doak realized that a large green would be necessary to help offset the difficulty of the elements.

Spectacular in every way…

The tee shot on the glorious 13th


Another view from the tee on the par four 13th


Approach shot on the 13th


Looking at the green from right of the fairway, with the massive dune looking ominous in the distance


Another great look at the 13th, this time taken near the 14th green


Looking back down the 13th from behind the pin


Another beautiful view from behind the 13th green


14th Hole: 145 Yards Par 3

One of my favourite par threes at the resort. The yardage certainly doesn’t intimidate but it’s a very tough green to hit, with wayward strikes seeing balls propelled either well left or even worse, down the huge hillside right of the green.

Tee shot at the par three 14th


A second look at the 14th from the tee


15th Hole: 539 Yards Par 5

This is a pretty straight-forward par five that is definitely reachable for longer hitters. Like most of the holes at Pacific Dunes, the fairway is wide, with some centre-line hazards but the difficulty and strategy lies near the green, as there is a prominent knob near the right front portion of the green that must be avoided to give yourself the best chance at birdie. The green is slightly elevated in front so many balls tumble back down the slope and leave tricky pitch or chip shots off short grass.

Tee shot on the par five 15th


Landing area off the tee on the 15th


Looking back down the 15th from behind the green


16th Hole: 338 Yards Par 4

This may be one of the most unheralded holes at Pacific Dunes, an innocent looking mid-length par four that doesn’t really bare its teeth until the approach. The fairway features many uneven lies and that doesn’t help the second shot, which must be hit to one of the most narrow putting surfaces on the course, with a large falloff area short and right of the green, which also sits at a slight diagonal to the player.

Here’s a prime example of a shortish hole that can really come up and bite you if you aren’t giving it your full concentration.

16th tee


A great look at the heaving fairway on the 16th at dusk


Another great look at the approach on the 16th, with the prominent falloff short right


17th Hole: 208 Yards Par 3

A par three that plays much shorter than the yardage due to the redan characteristics of the design. Shots played short right will see the ball bump and roll sharply to the left and this is likely the smartest way to play the hole, as attempts to reach the pin on a direct line bring an enormous front bunker into play.

Tee shot on the par three 17th


Another look from the 17th tee, with much more room on the right then it appears


Late-day shot near the 17th green


18th Hole: 591 Yards Par 5

The player must deal with a long par five finisher, one that is most certainly a three-shotter for all but the finest players in the world. There is a cavernous bunker down the left side near the corner of the dogleg that likely eats many balls and must be avoided at all costs if you want to finish on a high note.

There are other bunkers to contend with up the entire length of the hole and approach shots that are hit slightly left may get a generous kick back toward the pin on the right. A worthy finisher and pars will always be welcomed.

Tee shot on the long and difficult 18th


Immense bunker running down the left side…is that a skeleton in there?!


Approach shot into the 18th


A look from back right of the 18th green


I went to the resort with the highest of expectations for Pacific Dunes, having heard nothing but accolades from people whose opinions I greatly respect and I was even more excited after reading Stephen Goodwin’s fascinating book “Dream Golf – The Making of Bandon Dunes”.

All I can say is that the course had me from the moment I hit my first shot.

The routing is very bold and I’m sure Tom Doak had some reservations about having a front nine with only one par three and one par five then following it up with a back nine with FOUR par threes, including two in a row, three par fives and only two par fours. It was a brilliant choice, as each hole flows beautifully from one to the next and feels just right.

Like Bandon Dunes, there are some spectacular golf holes, most notably #2, #4, #6, #7, #10, #11, #13 and #16. Unlike Bandon Dunes, there is nothing average or below average – there isn’t a real weak moment on this golf course in my opinion.

The best compliment I can give Renaissance is that the inland holes are just as strong or perhaps even stronger than the ocean holes.

Like BD, Pacific Dunes 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.

I found the conditions at PD to be a bit slower than any of the other courses at the resort. I believe Bandon Dunes features bent grass on the greens while Pacific features fescue throughout the course. The greens weren’t in bad shape but they were noticeably slower and bumpier than the other courses but it never hindered my enjoyment in my two plays. Again, like BD, the views are overwhelmingly beautiful on the oceanside holes but the real difference between Bandon and Pacific is on the quality of the inland holes: BD’s are above average but Pacific’s are almost all brilliant.

Like all the courses at Bandon, Pacific Dunes is walking-only and what a glorious walk it is! The routing ensures minimal walks from green to tee and other than a bit of difficulty getting my riksha up the hill between the 13th green and 14th tee, there are no issues whatsoever navigating the course by foot.

Tom Doak and Renaissance Golf knew this opportunity provided by Mike Keiser was a once-in-a-lifetime shot at building a course that not only could stand the test of time, but also put their firm on the short list of designers you want to employ if you have a special piece of land and want to get the most out of it.

They succeeded in brilliant fashion.

Along with Coore and Crenshaw’s Sand Hills and David McLay Kidd’s Bandon Dunes, Doak’s Pacific Dunes proved to the world that a different approach to design was not only more cost-effective but ultimately could provide the golfer with more options and a much more enjoyable playing experience versus other modern designs from the 1970s through the ’90s. I’m quite certain that people will look back at these courses decades from now and know that golf design changed for the better because of the efforts of C&C, Kidd and Doak.

All of the courses at Bandon Dunes are wonderful in their own right but I believe Pacific Dunes is the crown jewel at the resort and easily can take its rightful place amongst the best golf courses in the world.

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