Course: The second course built at the resort, designed by Tom Doak in 2001, Pacific Dunes is heralded as one of the best public courses in the country, even besting Pebble Beach a few years (it’s currently #2 in the Golf Digest rankings and Golf Magazine), and one of the best courses in the world (#26 in Golf Magazine). It was built on a tremendously magnificent site strewn with large sand dunes and sweeping views of the Pacific that Doak used to showcase his genius, propelling him to course architecture stardom. Knowing that the opportunity to work with such a spectacular site came along rarely, Doak rised to the occasion, even when the pressure of an architect in working on a site is more making sure you don’t screw it up more than it is making it great.
Pac Dunes is a very good course. It succeeds in its randomness, fitting in well amongst the dunes, beach grass and gorse. It almost felt like a storm had just came through and you were golfing in the aftermath, in the best way possible. And the holes varied in style of play and terrain nicely, some tightening up between the dunes while others opened up, allowing several different lines to the green. The routing follows the theme of randomness, with the back nine now famous for its back to back par 3’s, with most of the holes being 3’s and 5’s. There’s a lot to get to know here, especially the subtlety of the greens and strategy abounds on most every shot. True to Bandon, many of the holes can be played on the ground, especially around the greens.
The course is also beautiful. Natural beauty. Rugged coastline, cavernous bunkers, towering dunes, jutting mounds. Likely what’s underlooked here is how well Pac Dunes plays in the wind; wide when in the open while the mounds and hills provide some protection on the tighter holes. Being a Doak fan and in love with Dismal Red, I was looking forward to playing here probably more than any other course at Bandon. It did not disappoint.
One of the new and challenging things about the trip to Bandon as far as reviewing the courses go is trying to come up with which one is your favorite, second favorite and so on. It’s certainly one of the main topics at almost every table at dinner, with the virtues and shortcomings emphasized, discussed over and over. And after that exercise the self evident truth is it simply comes down to personal preference since all of them are great. I’m sure it also helps to play them each multiple times, which we weren’t able to do. I ended up playing Pac well and could have died a happy man right there on the Fourth fairway. There was, however, something missing for me during the round. Perhaps I had built it up too much in my head, perhaps it was something else, but I wasn’t blown away. There wasn’t a hole I really fell in love with, despite loving the whole course, if that makes sense. The variety was lacking a bit for me as well. If anything, it shows just how much I liked the other courses. With that said, I would journey here again just to play Pac again, and get lost amongst its cliffs.
We ended up playing Pacific Dunes the morning of our second round. With our caddies now old friends and a tiny bit of rain every now and then, a rainbow appeared just over the First green as we teed off. I wasn’t kidding when I said this place is paradise.
The First is a 304 yard par 4 (from the Greens). The tee is set off to the right of the fairway, which runs pretty straight to the green and is between rising dunes on each side, appearing more narrow than it usually is. The fairway ripples, as does most of the course, up to the green set off to the right amongst the dunes. A deep bunker front left and another on the far side of the green, which runs from right to left. A nice opener with a challenging approach shot and green wakes you up early.
A rainbow blessing our opening tee shots
Approach shot territory
Getting closer to the green
The green, from the left side
The Second is a 335 yard par 4. A nice wide fairway with a menacing small bunker in the center, right where you want your tee shot to end up. It’s known as the “Shoe” bunker, who is a local that worked here from the beginning, who dug that bunker. Shoe grades each day’s weather and greets you over at Bandon Dunes. A nice guy who will take a photo with your group and was nice enough to show me where the sunrise was coming in on our first day, the photo of which is in the Bandon review. Shoe definitely helps give this place its special personality. As for the hole, the green is a amphitheater-esque feel, yet falls off the far side.
A look at the green from the right side
A look at the green from short center
The green, from the far side
The Third is a 476 yard par 5. The march to the ocean continues, which started on the First tee, proceeding essentially the same direction for three holes, northwest, with the ocean finally revealing itself until the second shot here, off to the left. The fairway on that side melds with the Twelfth fairway, interspersed with spots of gorse. It reminded me of Prairie Dunes, with the Twelfth and Thirteenth connecting amidst the gunch. There are deep bunker pervading the center of the fairway that must be negotiated from the tee as well. The fairway then narrows leading up to the green, which is raised from the fairway, and more bunkers randomly and generously placed short of the green. Off green has plenty of short grass area, keeping the ball in play but making for some tricky recovery shots. A nice par 5 that demonstrates width is a good thing, with plenty of options and lines to the green.
Down the left side of the fairway, with gorse hanging out off to the left
Approach shot territory
More fairway, looking back
Off green, lots of it
The Fourth is a 449 yard par 4. With the march complete, we now proceed along the ocean, off to the right, in dramatic fashion. The fairway is wide and horizon vast, doing incredibly well at accentuating the spectacular landscape you find yourself. There aren’t any dunes, trees or anything else; just unimpeded enjoyment of the ocean and fairway. There are bunkers on the left that come into play if you really hit it over on that side, but the green is inviting, running from the fairway and dunes off to the left, while a sheer drop to the beach awaits off to the right of the green. There’s also a bunker there as well! I like how Doak simplified this hole, allowing the surroundings to take center stage, yet maintained the width for plenty of options on each shot. A highlight hole that must be played if you’re at Bandon.
Just off fairway to the right
Approach shot territory
A closer look
Off to the right of the green
The Fifth is a 181 yard par 3. The green is uphill of the tee area and is a carry over the beach grass, yet there is a lot more room before the green than it appears from the tee. The green is deep yet narrow, running from left to right, with sunken bunkers on both sides. A deceptively tough hole.
Short and left of the green
The Sixth is a 288 yard par 4. A short par 4 with lots of risk reward that starts off the tee. Tee shots off to the left are safer, but the approach will be blind and the gigantic bunker comes into play. Taking on the right fairway bunker from the tee and carrying it means an easier shot into the green with the ideal angle. There’s a far bunker on the right so even if you carry the first and hit it too far, you end up in it. Lots of fun and strategy here.
The bunker on the left, much higher than it looks
Looking back to the tee from the green
Still trying to capture the height of this bunker
The Seventh is a 436 yard par 4. Turning back the opposite direction, this hole gets more inland and is on flatter terrain, yet is more challenging with the area closer to the green, with a forced carry over raised areas of long grass and slopes, where if the ball doesn’t get caught in the grass, it will move off to the right and likely in some of the patches on that side. The green is one of the larger on the course, yet heaves and undulates in large creases, generally moving left to right. A tough hole and subtle with its challenge with great greenside bunkering.
Moving down the fairway
From the bunker on the right side
The heaving green
The Eighth is a 369 yard par 4. What seems like a dog leg is really a fairly straight hole with good tee and green placement. Challenging the inside of the right bunker is the closest line to the green yet doesn’t necessarily give you the best look. Going left may give you a longer second shot but a better look at the green overall. Err on a longer club into the green; the false front, bunker and wind give you all the reason to take more and end up off green to the right, which will slope back towards the green.
Approach shot territory
The Ninth is a 379 yard par 4. The Ninth has two greens, an upper and a lower, and depending on which green is used affects which of the two tees is used for the Tenth. The lower Ninth green means the lower Tenth tee will be used while the upper Ninth green means the upper Tenth tee will be used. We had the lower green, which gives the ridge on which you tee off towards a lot more utility. For instance, my caddie gave ma great line and I was able to hit it where he wanted. It’s a blind shot, but once I climbed the ridge and started walking down it, I realize my ball had rolled an extra 60 yards or so, leading me with a chip shot approach. Others in my group didn’t fare so well, with some struggling over on the right side near the upper green and one other too far left, the ridge too steep on that side and bringing the greenside bunkers on that side into play.
The hole was very reminiscent of the Seventeenth at Dismal Red for me. When I told my caddie, he said he had heard that before. I loved Dismal 17, so am fine with this rendition as well and love how Doak utilized all of the good land with alternate greens and tees.
Above the dune and looking right, to the upper green
And the lower green
Looking back at the ridge from the green
The front nine gets you out to the ocean as close as possible, then comes back inland before it’s on the way out again, akin to the back and forth of the ocean itself. I tend to really like Doak’s par 4’s and there are some good ones on the front, with strategy and fun in the forefront. I would rank them 6, 7, 8, 4, 3, 9, 2, 5, 1.
The back nine starts with the 163 yard par 3 Tenth. Of course, that’s from the lower tees; it’s a shorter drop shot from the upper tees. We played from the lower tee and I’m sure the upper tee had a clearer view of the ocean, but the lower was a nice vantage point of the hole and I always enjoy the sound of the nearby ocean, out of view. The wind is very much in play but the green is generous enough to accommodate for it. Probably my favorite place on the course was this green, with the surrounding dunes, framing the ocean right before you and a mildly undulating green, and almost nine holes left to play, it’s pretty good.
One of my favorite views and photos of the trip
The Eleventh is a 131 yard par 3. Giving what the land gave him, Doak threw standard notions of routing aside and opted for back to back par 3’s highlight the land as best possible. Cypress Point does the same on the back nine as well. While the scenery is breathtaking and the visuals of the hole rugged and natural, it seemed a bit contrived to me in a way. It’s an iconic hole and deservedly so, but just didn’t resonate with me that much. Personal preference has its place and the surroundings are spectacular, walking from the tee to the green with ocean below starts a great stretch of holes north towards the sheep ranch that were among the highlights of the trip.
The bunker to the left of the green
The Twelfth is a 507 yard par 5. One of my favorite holes on the course and running between the Fourth and Third, the fairway is wide, even more so when considering the fairways of the other holes, a well struck tee shot allows you to make your own angle to the green, with bunkers protecting the right side a little more since that’s the better angle for the third shot into the green. The green itself is large and there’s a great dune stabilizing it behind. With the wind off the ocean very much a factor and allows all kinds of low running shots available, with some nice well places bunkers, this is a great links hole I could play over and over.
Moving down the fairway. Lots of lines available to the green.
Approach shot territory
Off green to the left
Looking back to the fairway
The Thirteenth is a 390 yard par 4. The same direction as the Twelfth, we are now along the coast and it’s glorious. A nice tee shot is necessary to get in play but once you are in the fairway, there are towering dunes on your right and the ocean on the left, with the grand green in view ahead. The green is raised after a false front, likely tricking you into a shorter club into the green only to watch come up woefully short. It doesn’t matter. The surroundings are overwhelmingly lively. I would travel here just to play this hole and the last, they’re that good, in that memorable of conditions.
Walking down the fairway
The sea was angry that day, my friends
Approach shot territory
Wow what a dune next to the green
Looking back at the fairway, the photos simply can’t capture the vitality
The Fourteenth is a 128 yard par 3. A forced carry from one dune to another where hitting the fringes is actually one of the worst ideas of the round, as most balls will likely end up in the bunkers on either side of the green. Stay straight, albeit long or short if necessary.
The green, from the front right side
A bunker to be avoided
The Fifteenth is a 504 yard par 5. A wide fairway, but gorse on either side does come into play for the bigger mis hits. Bunkers are placed diagonally across the fairway for the second or third shot, so avoiding them comes into the forefront after the the shot. The green is raised and there are various mounds and dips around it to ensure accurate approach shots are necessary yet recovery shots are plenty. Like the Fourteenth, the avoiding the bunkers is almost primary to everything else.
The green, from the right side
Some of the bunkers on the right side are no joke
The Sixteenth is a 338 yard par 4. Fantastic use of natural terrain as the fairway slopes and rumples from left to right, the severity of which cannot be discerned from the tee. The left side of the fairway is the best line, to accommodate the movement of the ball once it starts bounding off to the right. The approach shot will likely be with the ball below your feet, complicating matters as you aim left to adjust for the lie, in line of the large greenside bunker off to the left. Hopefully the ball peels to the right a little because getting out of the bunker, to a green running away from it, is a challenging proposition.
Approach shot territory
Looking back at the fairway from the green
The Seventeenth is a 189 yard par 3. Lots of Redan characteristics here with the green sloping well from left to right, with a gigantic bunkers carved into the left side of the green. There is lots of room to bail out off to the right and the shallow depth of the green makes it necessary to get the yardage correct. My favorite par 3 of the course, framed with the surrounding gorse.
The Eighteenth is a 575 yard par 5. A nice finish where the ridge and bunkers off to the left make us want to stay to the right and hit short of them off the tee. Similar to the First, the fairway is between dunes, with this hole featuring bunkers on either side as you head to the green. Slopes and mounds abound and the green complex, with the surrounding bunkers and short grass collection areas, is one of my favorite on the course. This and the Seventeenth before it make a great 1-2 combo to end a splendid walk amongst the coastal dunes.
Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory
Closer approach. A little rain to finish the round as well.
This one with the clubhouse in the background
The back nine starts near the ocean and doesn’t go inland until the Fifteenth, featuring the famous back to back par 3’s and the Thirteenth, which was essentially the focal point of the course during the planning stages. I liked the back better than the front and would rank them 13, 12, 17, 10, 18, 11, 16, 15, 14.
Generally, Pacific Dunes is a treasure of golf course architecture because it captures the essence of the spectacular terrain and beauty around it. There is challenge, there is fun, there is scenery and there is character. Based on the success of Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes was able to let its hair out, outright ignore traditional course architecture norms and focus on cultivating the best course possible from one of the best sites ever. There is a lot here you won’t see any where else, yet it all seems like it’s been there for centuries. Regardless of weather conditions, the course plays well and one will never tire of the different lines, shots and scenery the course provides. The fact that the course is public and can be played for a reasonable green fee is one of the gifts of the game. I respect and enjoyed the course, agreeing and understanding with its accolades, and likely need to get a couple more rounds here. While my hesitancy here is trivial and more a personal preference than anything else, there were a handful of holes I really liked but many fell into the category of redundancy for me in a sense. There was a lot more familiarity than awe yet I would play here over 99% of the courses in the universe.
UPDATE, JANUARY 2023: We started our trip with a round here, the first golf of 2023. Photos are incorporated into the above review. It was a spectacular starting course on the best day of weather for us, the ocean showing off with gorgeous sets and the course rolling well. The routing once again stood out. I don’t know if intentional or not, but it has a way of marching, then receding, then marching and receding to the ocean, which I found mimics the ocean in how it dances and plays with the shore. Tom Doak wrote a comprehensive book about the course where I believe he addresses the routing in detail, so he certainly addresses these considerations in depth. As someone playing the course and looking back on the round, however, that is the favorable impression it left. The back to back par 3’s, then par 5’s following them on the back is also something I enjoy very much. The greens have a good amount of aggressive variety, which reminded me a bit of Stonewall North. My lasting impression of the course is just how much I get along with it. Both trips, it is the lowest scored round. My misses always ended up salvageable, I holed out from the rear greenside bunker at the Eighth and I never really botched any of my shots (as nightmarishly as I’m capable of, at least). I reiterate that this is a course I love.
It remains, however, my least favorite course on the property. It pains me to admit but it’s more about loving the other courses more. I think it’s due to a number of fairways seeming to rely on the greens a little too much for the adventure and engagement, as well as the inland holes typically a degree or two below the holes I consider to be superior. This is deep-down reflection, however, meaning I really needed to dig down deep in nitpicking and figuring out why it’s 1E to the others. Much more at the forefront is a design that accentuates the fascinating coastal dunes without undue intrusion, allowing the elements and setting to dominate the experience while the structure of play is focused on plotting about the naturalism. Along with Bandon Trails and Sheep Ranch, Pacific Dunes is one of the better courses in terms of feeling like it has been etched within the terrain since the dawn of existence, improving its natural state in several ways. I’m not sure there are very many courses I can pay that remarkably high compliment.
Now the long wait, until we once again return and reacquaint.
Gripes: The collection nets they had scattered on some of the fairways than can be seen in some of the photos are silly.
Bar/Grill: The Pacific Grill was one of my favorite places at the resort for a drink or food. The chairs overlooking the Eighteenth green and the fire pit overlooking the Punchbowl are nice places to hang out.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Each course has its own clubhouse and each has a nice collection of stuff specific to that course. The one here is no exception; great stuff on the sale rack too.
Practice area: You have the putting green, then the Punchbowl, for putting. The range is fairly nearby but a shuttle ride.