Bandon Bound: America's Golf Mecca

Bandon Bound: America's Golf Mecca
Generally, situated far off the beaten path -- these desirous and cherished locations celebrate the classic nature of the game itself. Core golfers -- those ritually playing in excess of 50 rounds per year rightly seek them out because of their rarity -- similar in manner to religious pilgrims heading to shrines of paramount importance.

Specific venues have entered the golf scene in recent times -- a renaissance of classic designed layouts honoring the past but ever so relevant given the technological advancements made in clubs, balls and overall turf science.

Located on the Pacific coast in southwestern Oregon is the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. This is the holy grail -- the mecca within North America that brings to the forefront a link to golf's grand past albeit through a 2015 lens.

As golf course development accelerated throughout the United States in the late 1980's and throughout the 1990's the expansion of courses was too often tied to unrelated elements -- the selling of real estate and other top ticket amenities. Often these courses were fairly predictable luring visitors through such marketing terms as "championship course" and "signature hole." In many cases world class golfers had their names affiliated with an endless procession of automated cookie-cutter production outcomes. Speed of result became the norm -- robotic assembly line efforts churning out quantity at the expense of quality. Akin to fast food burgers -- the courses were pedestrian, predictably formulaic and often one play and done.

Paint-by-the-numbers design became the driving ethos as ownership and management types who knew little about golf simply ordered more and more of the same. Courses served as water-intensive sponges -- relying exclusively on an aerial game and mandating vast sums of money in order to provide even better post card images than the ones preceding it.

Bandon DunesThe brainchild for Bandon Dunes is visionary Mike Keiser -- celebrating the future of golf with a return to the game's grand past.

Bandon Dunes provides a completely different narrative. The driving force is tied inexorably to founder Mike Keiser and his vision for what golf should be once again. Keiser has played many of the classic links and the inspiration for the four courses at Bandon comes from his personal affection for the revered Royal Dornoch Golf Club in Inverness, Scotland. The Old Tom Morris design was the home for Donald Ross -- the man responsible for that other golf oasis in the United States -- Pinehurst and its storied #2 Course. The Old Course at Dornoch is blessed with a superb routing -- featuring compelling putting surfaces in conjunction with Mother Nature where nary a day goes by when conditions remain tranquil and predictable. Bandon does similarly. The golf - with no distractions or clutter -- is the sine qua non.

The movement for a revival of classic designed golf came a few years earlier with the opening of Sand Hills -- a Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore private club design -- located in the tiny outpost of Mullen, Nebraska. The resulting enthusiasm of golfers for what Sand Hills tapped into was all the proof Keiser needed as he set to embark on his effort with Bandon.

Keiser saw Bandon as being the exact counterpoint to what much of American golf design and courses had become. The slavish linkage to electric and gas carts -- the elimination of golf as a walking game -- the death knell on caddies -- and the failure to truly connect with your golf partners when playing the game.

Having golf holes permitting multiple ways to play them and being suitable for all handicap levels became his agenda. The "links" to both the aerial and ground game when playing would be an essential ingredient so maximum elasticity would always be present no matter the weather conditions.

Interestingly, Samuel F.B. Morse -- the man responsible for Pebble Beach - saved the land adjacent to Carmel Bay for some of the greatest holes in golf. Keiser did likewise at Bandon -- three miles of coastal frontage with no housing in site. Where others might have stacked monstrous clubhouses on top of the cliffs facing the Pacific Ocean -- Keiser insisted that specific land area be free of daily bombardment from endless trips via service vehicles.

The Keiser formula of sand dunes, ocean and architects who embraced his inner beliefs has proven prescient. The call of Bandon has been heard by discerning players relishing the spirit of the game and its return to its real roots.

textWhen coming to Bandon be sure to hire one of the caddies to enhance your overall golf experience.

During peak summer months -- Bandon engages roughly 350 caddies. The employment works for locals and gives golfers a connection that has faded from view. Smartly, Keiser also achieved clear architectural differentiation between the courses. That was achieved in having different architects ply their talents. Keiser did not want one showcase course but equals that would create a constant interest and celebration in what they respectively provide.

Getting to Bandon is no easy chore. Flying to Portland is just one part of the adventure. Either riding by auto or taking a short puddle-jumper plane ride is part of the experience. Likely someone flying from New York City can be on the tee at The Old Course at St. Andrews faster than heading to Bandon.

You'll likely wonder if the time and energy to get there is worth the travel hours involved. In a word -- yes. Mike Keiser followed his inner thoughts -- he went forward when others were shaking their heads and questioning if such a remote locale could be such a driving force. Like the movie "Field of Dreams," -- Keiser has achieved "if you build it they shall come." No serious golfer's bucket list can be complete without a visit there.

Bandon DunesThe short par-4 16th at Bandon Dunes tempts the bold play from the tee -- choose wisely!

Bandon Dunes (May / 1999)
6,732 Yards / Par-72
74.1 CR / 143 Slope
Architect: David McLay Kidd

The facility's first 18-hole course. Keiser opted for little known David McLay Kidd as course architect -- a young Scotsman with little to show at that point professionally. Many in the broader golf community questioned whether Kidd could deliver the architectural goods given the quality of the site. To his credit Kidd created a layout that didn't overwhelm the natural qualities of the site. Hats off to Keiser for making sure the sweeping putting surface contours originally envisioned by Kidd would be tamer so average golfers would not be inordinately bogged down to the demands.

Bandon Dunes starts near to the clubhouse and provides two quality opening holes. It's at the par-5 3rd when you gaze in the nearby distance and see the shimmering Pacific Ocean that the golf adventure truly commences.

The trio of holes starting at the par-4 4th is simply grand stuff as you work towards the Pacific Ocean. The par-4 5th and par-3 6th round out the triple play and you then fully realize why you are there. The course then turns inland for the middle of the round before returning close to the Pacific on the inner half of holes. Unfortunately, the par-5 concluding hole is in some ways a bit anti-climatic given what has come before it.

Bandon Dunes provides for rolling land and when the sun is setting over the Pacific the majesty of the moment is grand stuff.

Bandon DunesThe long par-4 4th at Pacific Dunes runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean -- mesmerizing views and top tier golf woven gloriously together.

Pacific Dunes (July / 2001)
6,623 Yards / Par-71
73.0 CR / 142 Slope
Architect: Tom Doak

In the film industry -- rarely does the sequel top the original. When the first 18 holes opened -- the name of Bandon Dunes became more known but it was when Keiser opted to hire a young and extremely talented architect named Tom Doak that the resulting ascension for both parties hit levels no one remotely envisioned. Doak had plied design successes but none had served as a clear launching pad to worldwide acclaim. The creation of Pacific Dunes became a true tsunami game changer.

Doak's desire to create a strategic challenge without relying upon excessive length and overall difficulty dovetailed with Keiser's vision. Unlike other new courses being opened around the time of Pacific Dunes -- Doak opted for a course that plays slightly more than 6,600 yards but beguiles players with the need for sound positioning on all shots -- especially on the varied and complex putting surfaces.

The impact of Pacific Dunes is still being felt. Unlike Sand Hills in Nebraska which is private and therefore has extremely limited play -- public accessibility for Pacific Dunes took what happened at Bandon initially and simply amplified the message several times over. Keiser tapped into a rising star in the architecture side of things and whatever doubts there may have been previously with what Keiser sought to do -- was completely vanquished.

Pacific Dunes is a vexing layout because what seems simple often times is far more complex. Doak didn't provide easy to discern strategies -- the player must summon courage and be sure to not play shots beyond one's capability. Escape routes are included and sometimes acceptance of limitations is better than reckless valor.

The layout can be docile when weather conditions permit but should the notorious winds gather steam and blow strongly -- Pacific Dunes has a bite equivalent to "Jaws" -- as in the shark variety. There are many fine holes worthy of note but the concluding trio -- a tour de force closing with the short par-4 at the 16th that temps the bold play off the tee, followed by a long par-3 that demands the proper ball flight and concluding with a long par-5 that like an honest judge - no bribes or short cuts permitted. There are few "must play" courses in one's golf life -- Pacific Dunes joins that rarified grouping of courses.

Bandon DunesThe 1st hole at Bandon Trails is the best starter among the facility's offerings.

Bandon Trails (June / 2005)
6,765 Yards / Par-71
73.6 CR / 130 Slope
Architect: Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw

The 3rd course to open at Bandon Dunes is one that went completely the opposite way of the first two. Instead of having the course run close to the Pacific Ocean -- Bandon Trails opts for ocean views at the very beginning and end of the round. The bulk of the round is spent in forest and meadowlands -- away from the fresh breezes that routinely can blow with strong force on many days at the resort.

The Trails was the work of the architectural talented twosome of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. Crenshaw, the former two-time Masters champion and Hall-of-Famer, forged a partnership with Coore and there work together has been limited to key locations and select clients. Prior to their involvement with Bandon Trails -- the tandem had sent clear signals concerning their overall capabilities with such world class standout minimalist designs in the likes of Sand Hills in Mullen, NE in 1995 and Friar's Head in 2002 in Baiting Hollow, NY. The views of Crenshaw and Coore also meshed well with Keiser and originally it was his intention to have them create the first course at Bandon but the idea was shelved for a time as Keiser did not want to use them so soon after their efforts with Sand Hills.

Bandon Trails opens brilliantly -- a mid-length par-4 of roughly 400 yards starts the day from an elevated tee area. The Pacific is in the nearby distance to the far right and the hole is long enough to stretch the muscles but not so long as to put the player in a foul mood. The key with the 1st rests with a green that's slightly elevated and set in a saddle area. Once you finish with the splendid downhill par-3 2nd the journey commences inland as you move deeper and deeper into the forest -- the timber at no time provides a bowling alley closeness but does serve to cut-off the howling winds faced with the other more exposed layouts.

Bandon Trails has a solid mixture of holes but the clever nature of Crenshaw and Coore shines immensely with their efforts on the shorter holes. The par-3 5th ranges from 104 to 133 yards. The green is nearly 50 yards deep and has a range of different subsections that mandate proper placement from the tee. The green is akin to rough seas on the North Atlantic -- bobbing and weaving in all sorts of devilish manners.

The most noted hole at the Trails is the par-4 14th -- playing to a max of 325 yards. The tee sits high above the green -- and the temptation baits the bold play -- attempting to get near the putting surface in one massive blow. Be forewarned. Such a shot had best be precisely married -- both for line and distance. The slightest of errors will make what seemed like a simple par-4 hole into one that pulverizes your scorecard. There is a bailout area to the right but for such a play you then are left with a daunting wedge shot -- from a tight lie with a ball that may or may not be above or below your feet to an elevated green protected by sand from that angle to a green that is as narrow as Marilyn Monroe's famed waist in her prime.

The Trails finishes strongly -- four holes representing two par-4's, a stout uphill par-5 and a beauty of a par-3 serving as the penultimate hole. Crenshaw and Coore did not have the ideal site but it is hard to imagine a more capable result -- a course that provides a clear contrast with nary a lessening in terms of the golf hole quality it clearly provides.

Bandon DunesThe spectacular par-4 7th at Olde Macdonald. Standing on the green as the sun slides into sunset is one of golf's grand spots.

Olde Macdonald (June / 2010)
6,978 Yards / Par-71
74.1 CR / 131 Slope
Architect: Designed by team lead by Tom Doak & Jim Urbina

One of the really superb things about Bandon is its ability to reinvent itself -- eschewing staleness from simply deciding to live off past headlines. The course portfolio provides complimentary design quality but within each layout a clear and discernible difference -- adding a collective value far beyond many multi-course complexes.

A great example of this came with the fourth course -- Olde Macdonald named for Charles Blair Macdonald -- the father of American golf. It was Macdonald who created the sterling National Golf Links of America in Southampton and played a key role in the formulation of the United States Golf Association. Macdonald was a keen student of the top links courses in the United Kingdom and he sought to create such courses during the early days of American golf.

Fans of his work included Keiser as well as architects Tom Doak and Jim Urbina. The finished product also included the comments of a number of interested observers who were called upon to provide their thoughts as the work progressed.

At Olde Macdonald the first two holes are good and can play a good bit longer when the prevailing north wind is blowing. The real qualities of the course start in earnest when you reach the 3rd tee. The shot is blind over a large hill and a bit of unease but the transition of the land from one side to the other is sheer brilliance. As you head over the rise you see the bulkf of the property with the Pacific set just off in the neary distance.

Olde Macdonald blends an array of strategies -- the key for the player is realizing what you are capable in doing and executing with that in mind. The par-4 7th should be noted given the involvement of Keiser with the hole. The dog-leg left becomes even more challenging as you gaze at the elevated putting surface. Gauguing the wind and knowing how to flight your approach is central to any possible success. When you climb the hill and reach the putting surface the emotions of the moment will likely overwhelm you. The Pacific churning and the property in full view. There is a wooded bench located near to the par-3 8th -- be sure to enjoy the moment fully.

The remaining holes for the inner half is equally well done. The design doesn't allow for predictability -- making constant changes and having players adjust accordingly. I am a big fan of the par-4 -- caled "Alps" and long a staple of what Macdonald had designed -- the 3rd hole at National Golf Links being the model. Players getting to the right side may be able to see the putting surface which sits below the fairway. Those in the center or left will need to hit a solid approach to a target that cannot be seen. If the pin is placed in the far right corner be sure to have said your prayers before executing. Olde Macdonald ends well with a split fairway at the par-5 17th and a long par-4 closer featuring a smartly added "punchbowl" putting surface. In my mind, Olde Macdonald rivals Pacific Dunes as the two most noted courses of the facility but no matter my opinion decide for yourself.

Bandon DunesThe 13-hole "short course" at Bandon Preserve provides a great opportunity to sample what the main courses provide albeit on a smaller scale.

Bandon Preserve (May / 2012)
Par-3 Course / 13-holes
Architect: Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw

One of the more interesting design additions has been the creation of "short courses." These layouts, when done well, provide a miniature version of the kind of shots likely encountered when playing any of the main featured courses. Keiser smartly opted to go with Crenshaw & Coore again and the net result is a delicious 13-hole short course that is masterfully done and will provide a range of thrills and challenges. Keiser's charge to the architects was a simple one -- "take what Mother Nature offered."

The outcome has done that exceedingly well.

22 acres of land were used and the talented design duo have provided a wondrous mixture of different holes -- green shapes and shot making challenges. Keiser responded to customers who wanted an alternative to playing 36-holes on the main courses -- the short course provides a solid alternative.
The total number of holes came about simply because of the land available. There wasn't not enough room for 18 -- and 13 simply worked out. Some of the holes push the fairness boundary but short courses often feature match play events -- not pencil and scorecard events.

Given Keiser's desire to work with his neighbors -- all net profits from Bandon Preserve go directly to Wild Rivers Coastal Alliance (WRCA) -- an organization that supports conservation, community and economy on the southern Oregon coast.

Bandon DunesThe Punchbowl is Bandon's putting course. Great way to test your skills either before or after you play.

The Punchbowl (2014)
Architect: Tom Doak & Jim Urbina

To keep the many visitors who come to Bandon occupied it only seemed a matter of time before a top tier putting course would be created. For those who have been to St. Andrews the concept was adopted for Bandon with the net result being a 100,000 square-foot 18-hole putting course adjacent to the 1st tee at Pacific Dunes. The course is regularly changed to keep interest alive and well. Very smartly done by architects Doak and Urbina. Be sure to check it out when on property.

Bandon Dunes firepitWhatever course you opt to play the end result of good conversation and food makes for a day you'll long remember.

Overall Golf Assessment: For golf connoiseurs a visit to Bandon is a must. The focus and detail for the golf dimension is second to none. Keep in mind, weather conditions along the Oregon coast are always changeable. Some days can be blessed with light winds and pleasant temperatures. At other times, heavy wind and rain can intrude just as well. If you want more of a guarantee on the weather side then Bandon may not be your cup of golf tea. Pack accordingly -- top tier rainsuit and always at least two pairs of golf shoes.

The lodging options are good and the food, while not cuisine at the highest of high levels, is far more than adequate. Be sure to take time and enjoy one of the most comprehensive of practice areas -- it is massive and well prepared to handle all one's needs.

Bandon will reignite your inner golf passions to the max. Just a quick word to the wise -- be sure all members of your group are really into the golf -- Bandon isn't a classic full-service resort so the daily menu of golf may not fulfill the appetite for everyone.

Bandon DunesThe lodge exterior over Chrome Lake.

PHOTO CREDITS: Bandon Dunes Golf Resort / Timothy Scahill

LEAD PHOTO: Aerial photo of Bandon Dunes -- where land and ocean meet in a glorious setting.