Bandon Dunes

6,221 yards, 133 Slope from the Greens

Course:  The course that started it all, Bandon Dunes, was built by David McLay Kidd in 1999.  Kidd’s involvement in the resort was influential in creating something similar to the UK model of golf as he and his father consulted with Keiser during the initial planning stages.  In the UK, most courses plan to be there for the centuries ahead and make it all about the golf; the clubhouse is built inland instead of on the coast where the best land is, reserving that land for golf.  There are no cart paths.  The course is vulnerable to wind with minimal trees.  The turf is fescue with very tight lies, none of the lush soft green cushion most courses strive for in the U.S.  At the time, it was a gamble taking these UK characteristics and incorporating them some where that was essentially in the middle of no where.  But Kidd, as a relative unknown in golf course architecture, especially in the U.S., was willing to instill these aspects in his design with Keiser’s blessing.  While the bigger names may have either relied on what they knew and made them successful or have been too concerned with attaching their name to such risk, Kidd threw his knowledge into the course, appreciating its significance in the U.S. Not only that, but Kidd had to clear all of the gorse that was on site, pioneering the landscape while building the course, all at once.  At Pacific Dunes, a random fire cleared all of the gorse out, making their job easier in that regard.  Bandon Dunes’ success created a succession of resorts and courses of the same ilk that has now revolutionized the public golf scene in the U.S. and North America.  Streamsong, Gamble Sands, Cabot Links, Sand Valley; I would venture all of these are around in large part due to how well Bandon Dunes was initially received.  Indeed, after we played all of the courses and I asked the guys in my group which course was their favorite, they all voted for BD.

Kidd and Doak were recently at a conference together and the media asked both of them if they could change certain aspects of their Bandon courses, what would they be.  Doak answered by talking about moving tees a few feet, making a bunker wider here and there wider, etc. etc., all very subtle changes.  Kidd’s answer:  “I’d go second.”  Kidd’s point was that the onus was on him to not only capture what Keiser was looking for in a solid links layout, but he needed to make sure it would attract golfers.  Because of this, there was a lot more pressure on him and that perhaps included making it tougher for him to take chances on his course that Pacific Dunes had more freedom with.  I actually think this circumstance of the design made it much better than it may have been.  Instead of throwing the kitchen sink at the design and trying to use every single design trick he was aware of, Bandon Dunes is very good design that encourages the ground game and its large sloping features, mounds and subtlety make for a tremendously fun course.  Kidd was creative in how the ocean is revealed to the golfer during the round, not outright marching to the ocean and trying to cram every view possible, but instead pays attention to the crescendo and build up of the round to introduce everything, including the ocean, at its natural progression.  The result is a much more subtle course than one would expect, where strategy and options are emphasized a lot more than difficulty.  Mounds, ridges and the natural contours are used sweepingly, which created a sense of comfort and intrigue.  The round was seamless as well and I thought one hole fell right into the other without a thought.  Walking off the Eighteenth, you immediately want to go play another round.  With what this course did and how it transformed the appeal of links golf in North America, it is a classic.

Bandon was the first course we played of the trip, aside from the Punchbowl.  I thought it was only fitting that our foray into the resort start where it all began in the first place.  So after scrambling at the range and getting the shuttle back just as we were called to the First tee, we shook hands with our caddies, threw the tees in the ground, at absolutely embarrassed ourselves on the First hole.  No matter.  The caddies weren’t surprised and everyone was in good spirits, knowing there was some very very very very……very, good golf ahead of us.

The First is a 352 yard par 4 (from the Greens).  A nice fairway is before you, with some undulations and tilts, and the horizon beyond.  The fairway then twists to the right and downhill, with a bunker at the top and left that will collect any tee shot hit straight out and in that direction, then bunkers at the bottom of the hill to the right of the fairway.  The green is perched above the dog leg and is fairly large, with movement from left to right.  There are plenty of clubs you can hit off the tee to account for the bunker and hill, either using the hill to get closer to the green, or laying off for a flat lie even with the green.  It’s a great opener.

The First
Moving down the fairway
A look at the green from the left side

The Second is a 155 yard par 3.  The green is uphill from the tee with lots of room short and right, a forced carry over scrub.  I actually like the small bunker just after the forced carry that with the slope, comes into play a lot more often than it looks.  The green is again on the big side, which puts a premium on the flat stick, and the slope and undulations make you ponder what shots get the ball close to the hole.  With or without the wind, it’s a nice warm up, still in the opening climb to the crescendo that awaits in a few holes.

The Second
A closer look
From the right side

The Third is a 489 yard par 5.  From the raised tee, it’s possible to see the ocean in the distance, with the tee shot a forced carry over the beach grass and a lot more room on the left than it looks.  A well hit tee shot, assuming the wind isn’t too much against you, makes it possible to get to the green in two shots.  Otherwise, the fairway runs uphill a little and there are a few bunkers to contend with, especially just in front of the green, and there isn’t a whole lot of room off to the sides.  It requires precision yet there’s plenty of space to plot your way, especially if you want to use the ground.

The Third
Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory

The Fourth is a 362 yard par 4. The tee shot is a mild carry over the long grass, then the fairway turns right and narrows as it cascades around a bunker.  The walk down the fairway as you get to the turn reveals the ocean, as a shot of adrenaline, opens up before you.  A well hit tee shot means your approach will be with this view, hitting to what appears to be an infinity green.  One of the most majestic shots at the resort as the ball soars through the sky, clouds and sea, down to the green then curling towards the pin, nestling for a tap in, being able to continue to enjoy the view unfettered and unaffected by the fickle nature of the game, at least for one shot more.  Of course, I promptly hosel-rocketed my approach 80 yards to the right of the green, losing it and walking away with a double.  What can I say, the surroundings were too overwhelming.  Kidd built up this moment on the Fourth and its effect was as intended, a powerful point on the course, showing how much of an impact course architecture can have.

The Fourth
Moving down the fairway

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The approach shot, with the sky, ocean and green, all in a crescendo building from the First
Just off the green

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Some nice waves out there

The Fifth is a 400 yard par 4.  We are now at the ocean and the fairway trudges along the coast, through the dunes  and mounds.  The right side is more inviting than the left, but left leaves you with a better angle to the green.  The mounds of beach grass and the large blown out greenside bunker on the right appear subtle yet strategic, and was impressive, with a spectacular green complex.  It’s one of the more photographed holes at the resort and it’s easy to see why.

The Fifth
Moving down the fairway
The distance of sheer pristine untouched coastline is impressive
Left side of the hole, the green towards the center
Approach shot territory
The green

The Sixth is a 153 yard par 3.  Both tee and green sit on the cliffs with the ocean below, nothing stopping the wind from streaming through, which it will quite often.  There is lots of short grass off the green and a bunker on the left side that actually might mercifully stop balls from falling off the cliff.  With some of the the most beautiful surroundings you could ask for, soak it in then figure out how to get it close while managing the wind.

The Sixth

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The Seventh is a 372 yard par 4.  The course now turns inland.  Typically, the inland holes are a let down from the coastal, but one of the things I like about Bandon Dunes is there is a lot of intrigue with the inland as well.  So even though they are intended to play into the symphony as a sort of middle piece until the crescendo once again hits on the back nine, I really enjoyed the inland holes a lot.  The Seventh plays uphill at an angle to the left with the green raised from it, with mounds and contours eschewing most balls off to the right, and away from the green.  Trying to attack the hole from the right means you’ll need to carry a deep swale on that side to the green.  The slope of the green is pretty healthy on the front side, and the green is one of the more bolder on the course.  A great hole.

The Seventh
Moving down the fairway

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Approach shot territory

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The Eighth is a 342 yard par 4.  The bunkers cross the entire fairway and they’re all deep, meaning shots out of them will be simply to get out.  The placement of the bunkers is brilliant, as they challenge short and long hitters alike with the diagonal positioning with respect to the green.  Those wanting to get to the more favored right side will have to contend with more of them while those who choose left will have a much longer approach and will have to contend with the greenside bunkers on the left side.  My game started waking up here and I hit the first nice tee shot of the round, leaving me with a short wedge in, which I promptly thinned on the tight lie.  Another great inland one.

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The Ninth is a 520 yard par 5.  A dog leg right that starts running a tad downhill after the tee shot, with the gorse encroaching over on the left.  The height and thickness of the gorse gives you an idea just how much work it was clearing it out for the courses.  There are pot bunkers near the center of the fairway that need to be avoided, so going right and using the slope on that side could give you a chance to hit the green in two shots while left has more room, yet makes the hole longer.  The green melds into the fairway as it runs downhill and everything seems to funnel to the center.  A nice breather hole after playing the terrific stretch between the Fourth and Eighth.

The Ninth
Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory
Closer to the green

The front nine does well in building up excitement as you near the ocean, then delivers with some incredible holes by the ocean and inland alike.  The nine is balanced, making sure there is everything in the spectrum to experience, which is done very well.  I specifically liked the par 4’s and the pair of par 3’s were also very nice and comfortable to play.  I’d rank them 4, 8, 1, 5, 6, 7, 3, 2, 9.

The back nine starts with the 339 yard par 4 Tenth.  The temptation is there to take your tee shot over the bunkers straight out to shorten the hole, which is a fine play so long as it’s executed, but favoring the left gives you a better angle to the green, both visually and strategically as the slope of the green acts like a back board for you on that side.  Heading straight to the hole may get you a shorter shot to the green, but likely will need to carry another bunker and account for the ball bouncing and rolling after it hits, as well as being blind.  The green has lot of slope offs on the left and back side, making for difficult recovery shots back on to the green.  A very underrated hole here.

The Tenth
Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory
Just off green, to the right

The Eleventh is a 351 yard par 4.  Once again, strategy abounds off the tee with a number of lines to take to the green.  The bunkers off to the left look like they should be avoided, lining that side, deep and penal. Peeling off to the right to avoid them means you then need to contend with a large greenside bunker on the front right side, to a green that runs from front to back.  If the wind is up and against you as it’s inclined to do here, you have a challenge on your hands.  Playing towards the bunkers on the left opens up the green more and takes the greenside bunker out of play for the most part.  Width wins here and makes a great risk/reward hole and if on the left side, even more options are available into the green.  I really liked these inland holes and we hadn’t even reached the ocean ones on the back.

The Eleventh
Moving up the fairway
Approach shot territory

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The Twelfth is a 153 yard par 3.  Possibly the hole that started it all, as one of the first holes made on the resort, its inherent appeal with the ocean as a backstop while its simplicity and subtlety is nicely underscored here, which permeates throughout the course.  A single greenside bunker awaits on the left side, almost becoming the focal point of the hole.  The bunker is a devious one, with a steep sod face, making it fairly penal to get out of.  The short grass coming out of the beach grass around the green allow shots to negotiate the wind that is prevalent here as well.  A very well done par 3.  
The Twelfth
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That steep face
Off right

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The Thirteenth is a 537 yard par 5.  A downhill par 5 with a variety of hillocks and mounds along the fairway, bringing a to of randomness to where your tee shot bounces and rolls.  Generally the fairway moves from left to right, away from the green that’s set over to the left, and there is a wetlands area on the other side of the mounds on the left.  Closer to the green, the fairway breaks even stronger to the right and with the mounds, there all kinds of different shots on that side.  A fun par 5 that simply uses the terrain for its character.

The Thirteenth
Moving down the fairway

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Approach shot territory
Looking back at the fairway from the green
The green

The Fourteenth is a 332 yard par 4.  A wide fairway but there are a couple fairways that demand attention off the tee, which then turns right to the green.  Once you determine the line to the green while navigating the bunkers, the approach shot is to a green nestled in front of a ridge, with bunkers that may seem closer to the green than they are, all uphill from the fairway.  The green is deep and runs from back to front, at an angle to the fairway.  The best approach is from the left, but of course that means confronting the bunkers on that side.  This is Kidd’s favorite hole.

The Fourteenth
Moving up the fairway
Approach shot territory
Just looking out behind us, at the sky and morning mist

The Fifteenth is a 131 yard par 3.  The green sits above you, with the ocean on the back side and the deepest bunker on the course on the front right.  The bunker is enough to force you to aim left, where there is a ridge and some mounds to use to swing the ball back to the green.  The trouble on the left has been continually pushed back and when we were there, it looked like they were softening up the left side even more, making more of a bail out area.  I didn’t think that was a good change, but perhaps when the wind is up there will now be a better area to favor.  Regardless, hitting the correct yardage is fairly important here, or your recovery shot will likely be a stiff challenge.

The Fifteenth
Off the left side
A look at the work they’re doing

The Sixteenth is a 345 yard par 4.  As you finish up on the Fifteenth and start walking towards the Sixteenth tee, the scenery punches you right in the mouth, stunning you with what lies ahead.  Yet another resounding crescendo.  The tee shot is a mild forced carry over the seaside cliffs, to a split fairway with a ridge running through the middle, diagonally towards the green.  Deciding between laying up short of the ridge, or how much of the ridge to take on, must be made off the tee, but carrying the ridge means a much shorter approach to the green, which sits right on the cliff and is very deep yet a bit narrow.  Despite how the green complex opens up, the smaller sod faced bunker seems to attract a lot of shots.  After going left off the tee but over the ridge, my caddie lined me up for a blind short approach shot that settled 10 feet from the pin.  With the warm sun above us, the waves crashing below and in pure bliss, I sunk the putt for my first birdie of the trip.  Not a bad hole to get started, as with its strategy and beauty, it’s one of the best holes on the resort.

The Sixteenth

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From the left side
Still from the left, one of my favorite photos of the trip
Off the green, to the right
Cut Creek, off the far side of he green
There’s the bench I’ll be hanging out in extensively during my next trip

The Seventeenth is a 375 yard par 4.  We now start moving inland away from the ocean, with Cut Creek to the right of us, the fairway falling off abruptly on that side.  It’s deceiving, but there is more room to the right than appears from the tee, so even though it looks like you need to hit towards the bunkers on the left, right center is fine.  The approach shot, however, is another story, as the more right your tee shots ends up, the more you will need to carry the canyon to the right of the green.  It’s a tough shot and bailing left could be a smart move.  A great follow up to the Sixteenth with a little more challenge as the round starts to come to an end.

The Seventeenth
Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory

The Eighteenth is a 513 yard par 5.  With the clubhouse in the background, the Eighteenth plays along Cut Creek as well, mainly because the creek turns left along with the course.  With the creek to the right along with some trees, staying left is better, so long as you don’t hook into the gorse on the far left, or the bunkers on that side.  The line to the green is better on the left as well, as it avoids the bunkers on the front right of the green, and there’s ample room on that side both before and beyond the green.  The green is large and its slopes invite an array of shots from most angles, just mind the general undulation from back to front that seems to get faster towards the front.  A nice chance to finish strong, the hole gives a sense of coming back home after the journey around the coastline.

The Eighteenth
Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory

The flow of the back nine is terrific, as the loops to the water an inland, then again, create outstanding cycles of play and a great balance of challenge, beauty, fun and even inspiration.  I would rank them 16, 12, 17, 10, 13, 11, 14, 15, 18.

Generally, the aura of Bandon Dunes as a course that helped start a welcome trend in course architecture is self evident as you play it.  It embraced the tenets of pure links golf, allowing so many different shots and styles of play, adapting to the weather changes and cleverly set out its beauty in a way that made it an even better experience.  The course is very strategic and it’s obvious Kidd pored over the design details to ensure it played exactly as he intended.  As the resort grows and more courses are added, I hope that Keiser again looks to lesser knowns or younger architects to head the design.  While the big names nowadays are there for a reason, the passion of a project some times comes through when it’s the first, or only opportunity for someone to create their legacy and show what they could do.  Merion, Pine Valley, NGLA; these were all courses where either the architect was out to make a statement, or was their first/only design.  Just as Bandon made a difference for Kidd and Doak, I would love to see it happen for others, as the depth of talent out there of those who simply need a chance to showcase their gift, straying away from some of the set norms, is pretty extensive.  As Kidd had a vision and at times had to fight to keep that vision alive during the building of the course, the end result is a course that remains interesting throughout and does not overly rely on the surroundings for its appeal.  I would love to play it when the wind is up but even when it’s calm, it remains a fascinating play.

Many maintain that Pacific Dunes surpassed Bandon Dunes as the better course once it opened and it is certainly ranked higher currently.  While I loved both courses, I actually liked Bandon a bit better, but that’s only if someone forced me to pick.  They are very different courses, with Bandon being more groomed, more subtle and more strategic while Pacific is more rugged, more wild and its challenge more varied.  Bandon has been characterized as a more Scottish style course while Pacific more Irish.  The compliment each other nicely and one of these days, I would love to play them back to back one day, then reverse the order the next day; two days of all links golf, using every shot I could think of, taking in the scenery and enjoying the experience of pure golf.

UPDATE, JANUARY 2023:  Aye, that did not go as planned.  For the last few months, I had visions of showing this course just how much I had learned and grown as a player.  I saw glorious, booming drives with surgical approaches; ground game galore as I cozied it up to the pin time after time.  It was my destiny to play Bandon Dunes well this time.  I sensed it.  As I stepped to the First tee, it was all confidence.  Swan song time.  The tee shot sailed out yonder, it felt great at impact.  I was just about to smirk and tell my group they were in trouble when the ball sat on top of, then rolled in that center line bunker.  And from that point on, the course made sure to let me know things would be going much different than I had hoped.  I loved every second of it, even if I didn’t know it at the time.

A perfect storm of weather coming in, the last 24 hours of travel demanding attention and dashed dreams conspired to deliver the gut punch of the trip and the highest score at Bandon.  It isn’t as bad as I remembered but it sure as hell wasn’t as good as I thought it would.  My game that is.  The course.  The course could not have been better.  It was the first course we played last time, so coming back to it was the longest wait and there was certainly a time element here but it played entirely different than it did last time, showing off its several layers of personality.   The differences between Bandon and Pacific were also a lot more evident this time, even though my initial review picked up on the main distinction.  Bandon is more akin to links while Pacific leans more towards minimalist.  These are indeed different.  Bandon is generally naturalistic but is not minimalist.  It’s not afraid to show a sense of quirk and creation, reminiscent of an entire era of links and heathland designs.  Yes, these courses took the lead from the land but took liberties for the sake of play.  The Tenth green, with its larges swale at the front creating a completely blind approach, is an example of this.  There’s also an inherent rub of the green that ensures the randomness of the game is well honored here.  Great shots do not mean great results and it was only when I embraced the entire ideology of why I cam here in the first place did I handle things better.  Yes, watching my putt at the Sixteenth continue to careen towards the front of the green, then down the hill into the rough was excruciating, where I needed to go fetch my wedge.  But yes, the chip in from there made it all the more sweet, even though the bite of the putt remained.

The inland holes were better than Pacific as well in my opinion.  They didn’t lose a step with the strong holes but instead maintained the same level of zeal while the fairways showcased lots of variety and strategy.

The way I see it, Pacific is an adventure of setting while Bandon is an adventure of the game.

I will be back and when I am, I’m scheduling two rounds here.  First, I want a couple goes of it with this place to get my best to show up but most importantly, I know each round will be completely different from the other.  Bandon continues its march to timelessness and its anchor in that regard is with this course.

Gripes:  The starters here were a little edgy about pace of play on the First tee.  Little too much of a schoolhouse lecture, even before we teed off.  Our caddies told us to ignore them and enjoy the round, we were never rushed, behind or waited at all, this round, or any other round during our stay.  Nothing like that at any of the other courses.  Update on this 2023:  the starters couldn’t be nicer the entire time.  This gripe is suspended.

Bar/Grill:  Most of the places to eat and drink are here.  There’s the Tufted Puffin, one of my favorites, the Gallery and McKee’s Pub.  Oh, and the Bunker Bar.  And the whiskey box some where on the course (the right side of the Tenth fairway).  Any of them will do but you’ll find me at Puffin near the windows.

Clubhouse/Pro Shop:  One of the bigger ones with a huge selection.

Practice area:  This is as good of a place to put as any, the range is a short shuttle ride away and has everything you need, including free coffee and hot chocolate.

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