On the Oregon coastline, approximately 4.5 hours south of Portland and 2.5 hours south of Eugene is the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, which currently has four 18-hole courses (Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails and Old MacDonald), a par 3 13-hole course (Bandon Preserve) and an 18-hole putting course (The Punchbowl). The collection of courses are some of the best in the world, with Pacific Dunes and Bandon Dunes being ranked in the top 100 in the world, Pacific Dunes being rated as the best public course in the country and all four of them being ranked in the top 100 in the U.S. The coastal terrain is staggering in beauty and is very well used while Bandon Trails is further inland, using the meadows, forest and dunes for a breathtaking and strategic round.
Bandon was the vision of Mike Keiser, a golf enthusiast who spent a lot of time in Scotland, playing links courses and the Golden Age courses of the U.S. and wanted to create a different type of golf resort. Keiser wanted a resort that focused on the golf, instead of having golf as a mere amenity to the casinos, restaurants, shops, pools, etc. that comprise most resorts. He wanted the courses to play as links, which meant searching for a specific type of terrain, on the water. And he wanted everything to be affordable for the average golfer. Keiser wasn’t interested in having his courses host PGA events, but wanted them built to be interesting and playable for the average golfer and accessible to every range of golfer. No housing, no cart paths, no frills. Just some where with really great golf that anyone could visit and play. This vision, how it was carried out, and its overwhelming popularity, makes Bandon one of the more important places for public golf in the last half century, in my opinion.
The story of finding the land, making it suitable for golf, then hoping people would show up, which eventually they did in droves, is a fantastic story that you can read about in the book, “Dream Golf.” I’ve read it twice. The resort started with a single course, Bandon Dunes, which was designed by David McLay Kidd, a relatively unknown Scottish golf architect at the time, who had to clear acres and acres of gorse, a thorny, dense, very flammable, plant that covered much of the land and discouraged many before from considering golf courses. Incidentally, gorse is not native; it is actually from Scotland and was brought over to the Bandon area over a hundred years ago, but once it starts to grow, it takes over and spreads. At any rate, Kidd was able to clear the gorse and built a spectacular course that shot up in the rankings and attracted the curious golfing public. This led to a second course being built, this one by Tom Doak, who was still a little new when he designed Pacific Dunes, which surpassed Bandon Dunes in the rankings and resulted in a fantastic one-two punch of a golf resort. Bandon Trails was then added, designed by Coore and Crenshaw, followed by Old MacDonald, designed by Doak and Jim Urbina. Coore and Crenshaw then added the Bandon Preserve par 3 course, then Doak added the Punchbowl.
While Bandon is a little tough to get to, the journey is well worth it. Keiser saw how courses like Sand Hills soared in popularity even though they were built in remote areas with limited accessibility. It showed that if you build good golf, people will come. Still though, Sand Hills is an exclusive private course while Bandon would be public and larger in scale, needing many many more to travel there and keep it running. It was a little bit of a gamble, but it paid off. In fact, the drive there (we came from Eugene) was gorgeous in itself. The remoteness of Bandon, away from any planes, sirens, roads, anything really, is sanguine. The air is purer, the colors more vibrant and you are truly in paradise, away from the toils and troubles of everyday life. Most of the courses hug the cliffside with the ocean, beach and rock complexes below. The sound of the crashing waves dominates the round when the wind is right, which soothes and energizes at the same time.
The golf is very good at Bandon. While I ended up liking the courses a little differently than I anticipated, they’re all so good that I would travel there again to play any of them. The caddie program is top rate and the two caddies we had both added a lot to the trip. You’re able to request certain caddies and I received a lot of suggestions, but I wanted to see who we got randomly and we were not disappointed. The caddie remains with you during your trip and you’re able to use them as much as you want.
The trip started with a flight to Eugene, rented a car and headed down to Bandon. Climbing the forest hills with the sun getting through in spots was a nice intro to the area, which then started down the 101, around lakes, climbing twisting mountains with majestic pines and water, with all types of lights and colors reflecting off of the horizon, the drive was long enough to set the tone and adjust to our surroundings without being too much of a haul.
With the limited sunlight, getting there in the afternoon, and the Preserve closed that day, a couple of us went through the Punchbowl, wagering the first beers of the trip. Initially we wanted to take a links lesson with the pro and had tried for weeks to book it, but the pro would not call us back. Quite honestly, I saw him when we were there and almost asked him why he never bothered to at least call back and say he couldn’t do it, was unavailable, or whatever. Instead, he just didn’t do anything, which is weird since his lessons are advertised on the website and have heard rave reviews about. Oh well. At any rate, the Punchbowl was a lot of fun and the perfect way to ease in to how much golf we were going to play. The drink shack wasn’t open, so a waiter from the Pacific Grill would holler at all of us from the patio and we would shout back what drinks we wanted, then he would walk them down to us. The sun eventually set and we had dinner at the Gallery, which is the upper end restaurant.
Our golfing schedule consisted of the following:
Day 1: Bandon Dunes a.m., Old McDonald p.m.
Day 2: Pacific Dunes a.m., Bandon Trails, p.m.
Day 3: Old MacDonald a.m., Pacific Dunes p.m. (ended up doing Bandon Preserve here instead).
In order to get all 36 holes in each day with the shorter days, we started at sun up and usually ended at or a little after sunset.
|PGG at work|
After the first day of golf, we went back to dinner at the Tufted Puffin, which is the lounge bar. You could order off the Gallery menu if you wanted, or order off the bar menu, which had some of the best food at the resort in my opinion. Actually, it turned out to the my favorite place to hang out after the rounds, just a very relaxed place with a great beer and food selection. We then checked out the Bunker Bar downstairs, which has pool, poker tables and you’re able to smoke cigars. We ended up hanging out there a little later than we intended, making getting up in the morning for Pacific Dunes a little more difficult. But there was golf to be played, and not even all the whiskey at the Bunker Bar could stop us from playing it.
After the second day of golf, we hung out at the Bandon Trails clubhouse, which ended up being my second favorite place to hang out. The views of the dunes, the open space and windows everywhere made it really cool. I wish we stayed there for dinner but had reservations at McKee’s Pub. McKee’s was very nice in calling me to remind me of the reservations, which I forgot about and we were half an hour late for, but they graciously held the table and we showed up, it was crowded. McKee’s was fine but a bit of a let down in terms of ambiance and food quality. We smarted up and turned in early, as two full days of golf and walking close to 15 miles a day started to wear on us.
After the third day, we ended up going to the Pacific Grill for a couple drinks, which ties for my second place to hang out. The fire pit outside overlooking the Punchbowl and the cushioned chairs near the window overlooking the Eighteenth were great places to hang out. Another underwhelming dinner at McKee’s and turned in early to head out in the early a.m. for Eugene.
Generally, the resort itself focuses on the golf but the lodging and amenities are good enough to make everything else pretty enjoyable. The rooms (Chrome Lake) were pretty good, with a fireplace, views of I assumed was Chrome Lake and even a shoe drier. There is a shuttle service to drive you any where within the resort you need to go and they were always very fast. I can’t remember having to wait for one. The food was good enough and there are plenty of different places to eat and drink that you start to get preferences and know where you want to go. The service and staff were always nice. Pricing was pretty reasonable for everything, yet we were there in the offseason of January.
|Lobby at the Lodge|
|View from the room|
|The gorse; see it, know it, love it|
For those who are into brilliant golf, awe inspiring scenery and comfortable down home hospitality, this place will do.
Here are some of my random thoughts and tips for Bandon in terms of the resort:
– We went in early January and the weather was terrific. Played in short sleeves the first two days then just had some wind the third day. It was a gamble and I was ready to golf in anything, but was well worth the risk considering the rates that time of year.
– If I could plan it over, I would have booked the Sheep Ranch the third day. It’s not a resort course, but a bunch of greens and tees set up by Doak as he was building Pacific Dunes. There’s no set routing; you tee it up and play to whatever green you feel like. It would have been a great way to end things. The Sheep Ranch might be one of the resort courses in the next few years as well.
– It’s said over and over, but get a caddie for at least some of the rounds. It’s an impressive stable and every one of them I talked to was interesting, nice and awesome. They add to the experience tenfold.
– By the second day, there was no need to use the range (which is nice BTW). 36 holes walking was enough to get the swing grooved and with the shuttles to get there and back to the course, time was better spent elsewhere that early in the morning.
– Here’s what I brought to combat any type of weather:
2 pairs of waterproof shoes
2 hardcore waterproof jackets
2 pairs of waterproof/windproof pants
10 pairs of synthetic, not cotton, socks
Bucket hat, waterproof
3 hats, all of which I water proof sprayed
2 pairs of coldgear long underwear
Assortment of quarter zips
2 pairs of waterproof golf gloves
heavier duty golf gloves
A 10 pack of hand warmers
A bunch of golf shirts
While I never used the hand warmers, blister kit, body glide, ear muffs, long underwear, bucket hat or weather gloves, I was glad I brought them just in case. I was indeed comfortable every round. Changing socks between rounds is a good idea, but that means you’re keeping your dirty pair in the your golf bag, unless you go back to your room. I opted for staying with one pair a day.
– I learned a bunch of shots for the wind. The bunt drive, punch shots with almost every club and the bump and run. We played one round in a lot of wind and it helped a lot. It also added to the fun.
– Tight lies. Real tight. The fairways play firm and fast, which is fun but takes a little getting used to.
– Because of the lies, you’ll hear from a lot of people to leave your 60 degrees wedge at home. I don’t know about that. My 56 and 60 turned out to be some of my most useful clubs, especially out of the bunkers. My caddie couldn’t believe it, but kept pulling those for me since they were working.
– When we got there, we had no idea where to go or what to do. The road signs didn’t indicate where to check in or anything, so we just stopped at a random building (ended up being the Inn) and they were able to check us in. No info was given on where anything was, so I pressed the shuttle button on my phone and asked to go to the Punchbowl. Then the bartenders over at Pacific gave me all the info on where to eat. Just push the shuttle button like I did and ask to go wherever. Easy enough.
– Try to find the whiskey box that’s hidden on one of the courses. Our caddies wouldn’t tell us where it is, but I had connections…or a very keen internal whiskey radar.
– When I go back, I will make sure I’m not golfing an hour or so before sunset, grab a beer or two, some wine, whatever, and go to the bench on the far side of the Seventeenth tee of Bandon Dunes, and take it all in.
The course reviews are forthcoming and will be posted a little differently. They’ll be posted in order of preference, with my favorite last. They’re all great and I liked all of them a lot, but the order surprised even me.
UPDATE, JANUARY 2023: It all happened easily enough. A text from my brother-in-law simply stated, “let’s go back.” They were opening up reservations for the beginning of 2023 and he was grabbing one for the same week we went last time; the first week of January. Sheep Ranch had just opened so I wanted to visit and I thought just like last time, I would go to L.A. first, then fly to Bandon from there (nope, both ways were from Philadelphia).
I felt like a veteran of the place and already had plans for what would be different. I wanted to stay in the Lodge, closer to everything. We looked at the suites but then realized we were all leaving at different times, so opted for single rooms at the Lodge. I didn’t care about the days and order we played the courses. I left that to others, but did want one day with both rounds at Sheep Ranch. There would be more time at the Pac Dunes and Bandon Trails clubhouses. More time at the Tufted. Less time at McKee’s. Tee times were nearly identical from last time to get in 36 in limited daylight. Packing lighter, drinking less during golf, more at dinner.
There was something else bringing me back. It was the innate ability of the place to mix the serenity of solitude with the revelry of camaraderie. Especially that time of year. The brilliance of each course feels like your own, then you go to whatever clubhouse and hash it all out with your group and others. It was definitely the golf. I wanted to see it again. Most of all, however, it was something I can’t explain. Maybe it was to see how much I have progressed as a golfer, both in ability and in evaluating the designs. Maybe I just knew that once wasn’t enough. I had to see it again. That halfway house at Old Macdonald overlooking the ocean, like some remote little alcove on that ridge. The tee at the Twelfth at Bandon Dunes, with that sod faced bunker and where it all started. The walk at Bandon Trails and how enchanting it remains the entire time. It probably, quite simply, was something mystical. Pulling me back, had been since I left last time.
The drive both directions was much more harrowing. In the dark and in pouring rain on the way there, there were no views; it was pure survival, focusing on the hills and turns and water. On the way back, we ended up taking Route 38, which cuts through the mountains more and were met with fog and icy roads. The place, however, seemed very much as I had left it. My room overlooked Bandon Dunes and we had dinner at the Tufted that first night. It was an early night and making our way to Pacific Dunes the next morning, I felt spry. It’s no surprise that my best nine holes were the first. The pangs of travel caught up to me eventually, culminating in a voracious battle with the closing holes at Bandon Dunes. I swore at the wind, found myself in the ravine to the right of the Seventeenth and bladed my approach at the Eighteenth, which had me chipping fairly close from the Tufted. I almost gave up on the rest of it and went in for a drink.
Redemption was not found on the course but it certainly was at dinner. We opted for the Pacific Dunes clubhouse, quiet with outstanding food. And wine. A raccoon came up to the door to say hi. This. These were the moments I was searching for. Moments I knew were here but evaded me last time.
The next day started at Old Macdonald, where a work matter left me scrambling for the course by myself with minutes to spare. I could see how my B or C game still kept me in it and scoring well. My bunker game abandoned me but I found my driving and iron swing, more than making it up for it. A much larger clubhouse is being built behind the Eighteenth which will be the new location for the steakhouse and I think they’ll have a sports bar as well. There was redemption here, except for the Seventeenth. I hit a glorious fairway wood shot on to the green. I was surprised a rain of praise was not being thrown at me. My caddie simply said, “you really like the Eden hole.” Yes, I hit to the wrong green. I don’t care, it was a good shot. Lunch at Bandon Trails was next, another imperative that was just as good as anticipated. The round at Bandon Trails was similar in a lot of ways to last time, just as fun and with great company. My drive still booming, we finished at dusk. It was steak night.
The wind came at night and shook everything in its path. We braved it the next morning at Sheep Ranch and gave it a good go, but went in after eight holes. Lunch with the caddies at the Pacific Dunes clubhouse was put in place instead, talking all things golf as wind and water lashed at those not yet wise to the scene. Some weird issue with my room caused me to transfer rooms and of course, my new room wasn’t ready when we finished lunch and I needed to shower. I got a good look at the men’s locker room, then spent some time between the pro shop, gift shop and the Tufted. We finally gained the courage to go back out for a goodbye round at the Preserve. One last cocktail at Bandon Trails clubhouse and we were off, the closing group of the day. Refreshed by the golf, we decided on steaks yet again. It was going to be an early morning, so I was in bed before I knew it, thinking of the drive, the golf, the flights, everything, that would get me back home. In just under 24 hours from when I walked out the hotel room door. And like that, the dream was over. I found myself in my door in the early morning, crawled into bed and asleep like the rest of the morning. Waking up, indeed, like the whole affair was a dream from a sound night of slumber.
The resort was more crowded this time than last. Golf has been more popular recently so it makes sense. Still, it didn’t affect anything. There was no waiting either on the course or off.
I reached out to Joe Zwickl to see if he could caddie for me. I remember his comments on Pinehurst 3 in a No Laying Ups video and they helped me book a round there as opposed to elsewhere. It was one of my favorite rounds that trip. He was available and was terrific. We settled in nicely and talked all things golf and golf course design. Our other caddie, Amber Iverson, caddied for my friends and was great. Like last time, the caddies were a huge part of the trip. I initially planned on not using one but after meeting them and my legs screaming after the first day, am glad we decided on them. I hope they are there when I return.
I don’t have any revelations or break throughs. I initially went to Bandon with high expectations and they were surpassed. I was expecting to go this time and perhaps have a little bit of a letdown since it had been experienced before but that didn’t happen. I loved the place and courses even more. It’s all so fresh in my mind, has been since the first time I went.
I think that’s why it all seemed as if I never left.
My thoughts on the courses have been updated and are in each review.
Here are the course reviews:
If you haven’t been to Bandon, run there immediately.