Bandon Trails

6,249 yards, 129 slope from the Greens

Course:  Following Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes as the third course at the resort, Coore and Crenshaw built Bandon Trails in 2005.  The course departs from the first two mainly because it’s not a links course and not on the ocean.  Instead, Trails is unique to the resort in that it is set in the forest, meadows and inland dunes, highlighting the vibrant Pacific Northwest rainforest landscape.  Beyond being inland, Bandon Trails is big, consisting of more acreage than Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes combined.  Trails is also on much hillier and varied terrain.  The dunes, meadows and forest are all three very distinct settings, which transition brilliantly from one to the next during the round.

Keiser had wanted to work with Coore and Crenshaw ever since he played Sand Hills.  After going with a couple younger less proven architects, he decided to finally collaborate with C&C here, as their expertise and artistry fit in nicely with making this particular landscape work for a memorable course.  Instead of using the trees to frame each hole and force corridors to the green, Trails goes in the opposite direction and uses width, along with superb bunkering and the hills, to create its challenge.  This is similar to little known course – Pine Valley.  In fact, I remarked to my caddie that I saw a good amount of similarities and he told me that many others have said the same.  Now, don’t get me wrong, Bandon Trails and Pine Valley are quite different, but the concept of how to use wooded hilly terrain with vast bunkering is similar.  At Trails, most of the challenge and strategy lies around the greens, while the tee shots typically give leeway, with one side usually favored over another.  The use of the topography is sublime, and the variety of areas you can use the ground to your advantage, or for different shots and ways to attack the hole, is fascinating.

The other courses are near the ocean and feature jaw dropping views of the coast, so there are those that discount Trails because it’s inland and simply in an area where Keiser happened to have a good amount of land and wanted to add another course.  This perception is a bad one.  In fact, I thought Trails showcased a landscape almost more unique than the coast, as there are few places with such a combination of forests, melding with dunes and open area, various trees, like the madrones with the manzanitas of the dunes; all of these elements co-existing in a flawless theme, transitioning from one to the next, seamlessly.  The bunkers in the style of those found in the Australian Sandbelt helped maintain consistency throughout the course, yet it’s also found in some of the intangibles, such as walking from the Second green to the Third tee, then moving to the Third fairway and realizing you’re moving into the meadows from the dunes.  These transitions throughout the round, from one great hole to the other, was pure artistry.  And staying with comparisons, another course known for such transitions?  Cypress Point.

I was surprised with just how much I liked Bandon Trails.  While C&C are among my favorite architects, I anticipated enjoying the course but thought it would be a nice compliment to the other links courses, a refreshing change before going back to the others, based on everything I read and discussed with others.  Yet after playing it, I would play 36 here in a single day, just to experience the course during different times of day.  The isolation you get between holes, the sounds of the forest as you get further and further away from the clubhouse, the lakes and ponds you come across; it all makes for an enchanted course that resonated with me, deepening my appreciation for the resort and abilities of Coore/Crenshaw.

We played Bandon Trails as the fourth course of our trip, in the afternoon of the second day.  The course is much hillier than the others and the walk is the most challenging, so of course I carried my bag this round, after walking 54 holes in a little over 24 hours.  We were right in the middle of our trip and in some what of a groove in terms of our games and rituals with the caddies.  One of the first things I noticed walking to the First tee was the ground of the trails, which were comprised of cut up pine tree branches and assorted wood chips, the smell of which was invigorating.  As we stood on the First tee overlooking the fairway, we all hit the fairway, grabbed our bags, and continued on our journey.

The First is a 356 yard par 4 (from the Greens).  The round starts on an elevated tee with the horizon beyond, clearly within the dunes whose contours and mounds form the fairway and introduce you to what at least look like natural blown out bunkers.  The fairway is partially blind from the tee off to the left and is much wider than it appears.  The green is uphill from the fairway, sloping away on its sides into short grass collection areas.  The general rule of thumb is to make sure you’re short of the hole, as anything too far  beyond gets caught up in the beach grass.

The First
Approach shot territory
The green

The Second is a 166 yard par 3.  An elevated tee shot with a forced carry over beach grass to the green that rumples and melds with the dunes.  There’s a false front that’s almost indistinguishable from the green as you’re on the tee, which remains true for the surrounding grass areas as well.  The green has a side board on the right and falls off towards the left, so using the slopes to get the ball close to the hole, whether on the ground or air, makes this a fairly versatile par 3.  The trees on the back left side are the first signal of the transition from the dunes to the meadows.

The Second
Short of the green

The Third is a 532 yard par 5.  On the tee, the transition keeps building, as the shot is through a wide corridor set by trees on each side and diagonal bunkers from left to right, deceiving you to aim left, straight at the bunkers on the left side.  Once I walked from the tee and was in the fairway, I knew instantly that this would become one of my favorite courses.  At that point the transition is complete and you are now in the meadows, surrounded by trees but a field of a fairway, with jagged edges and craggy sunken bunkers, ensuring you need to place your shots as you bound down the fairway to stay out of them.  The green is on the slightest of ridges, moving from back to front, much smaller than the fairway yet you hardly notice the narrowing based on the angles of the fairway leading to the green.

This is one of the best holes at the resort.  The subtlety to it, with the transition and strategy, while grand in scale, makes it brilliant and a joy to play.

The Third

The Fourth is a 365 yard par 4.  A ridge line runs diagonally across this hole as its feature characteristic.  Getting over it off the tee gives you a great look at the tee whereas any shot staying on the right will likely turn and fall away from the green and leave you with a blind tee shot.  The fairway flawlessly runs into the green, with a slope off the left side and a few scattered bunkers around it.  A great par 4 dictated by the tee shot.

The Fourth
Moving up the fairway

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Approach shot territory

The Fifth is a 124 yard par 3.  A shorter par 3 that’s a forced carry over a gulley, the green is generous yet it’s necessary to get on it from the tee for a chance at par, as off green is not all that inviting.  The green rises in the back so pin positions in that area mean a ball on the front of the green face a challenging two-putt, and vice versa.  It’s a deceiving par 3, again showing plenty of size yet much narrower in acceptable landing areas.

The Fifth

The Sixth is a 359 yard par 4.  The fairway tilts from right to left, with a center bunker interfering with any thoughts of aiming up the right side and having it fall towards the center.  Instead, you must either commit to either side or to carrying the bunker altogether.  While carrying the bunker rewards you with a shorter approach, any tee shot too long and to the right will end up in a larger waste bunker that runs along the right side of the hole.  The green is relatively flat, but there is a deep wrap around bunker on the back side, blind from the fairway.  So many different lines to the green, so many different ways to play it, another spectacular hole.

The Sixth
Moving up the fairway
Approach shot territory
The waste area off to the right
Looking back from the green

The Seventh is a 406 yard par 4.  Walking from the Sixth to the Seventh, you start to realize the landscape is changing from meadow to forest.  You’re climbing more into the hills and the lake off to the left of the tee starts showcasing the diversity, and beauty of the terrain.  The climbing continues with the tee shot, to a fairway that runs uphill and dog legs left, with bunker waste areas on both sides.  Selecting a line off the tee to maneuver around the bunkers, then taking enough club to reach the green without the ball running back down the front, or back.  A tough hole requiring two long accurate shots and some slick putting.

Round Lake
The Seventh
Approach shot territory
The green
Bunkers off to the right of the green

The Eighth is a 299 yard par 4.  Balancing out the longer uphill Seventh is the shorter downhill Eighth, even reachable for the longer hitters.  The fairway and green are surrounded by bunkers, making you contemplate laying up short in the fairway or shaping the tee shot to run down the fairway, although not all bunkers can be seen from the tee.  Conversely, the bunkers off to the left actually help keep tee shots in play that would otherwise roll into the trees off to the left.  The green is deceiving, as it seems to lull balls to roll off the left side, so trying to figure out whether to aim for the right side and account for movement (which leaves you with a tricky downhill putt) or go for the left side and risk being off the left side (yet leaving you with a better uphill putt).  All of this is rather subtle, and makes for a superb short par 4.

The Eighth
Looking back at the tee
The green, from the right (upper) side

The Ninth is a 522 yard par 5.  Going back uphill, we are met with a wide corridor of fairway amongst the trees, with nicely placed bunkers coming into play on each shot.  There is a lot of width on this hole, along with a lot of forgiveness.  It’s ranked as the number 1 handicapped hole, but I saw it as more of an opportunity to enjoy the surroundings, hitting the shots you’re most comfortable with and doing as you wish once you get closer to the green, where there is nothing 100 yards in stopping you from running it close, trying to flop it close, whatever your pleasure.  It is a longer hole and stretches out even more since it’s uphill.  It’s a nice way to close out the front nine, with the toothier back nine awaiting.

The Ninth
Moving up the fairway
Approach shot territory
A look at the green

The front nine takes you through three distinct settings while maintaining a great balance of challenge, strategy and beauty.  Every hole was strong and distinct, packed with variety at every shot.  I’d rank them 3, 6, 4, 7, 8, 1, 9, 5, 2.

The back nine starts with the 393 yard par 4.  The fairway angles diagonally left from the tee, with large bunkers starting on the left, then switching over to the right, with a large, deep bunker on the right side below the green.  There is a lot of room to play with to the left of the green, but you’ll be above the hole which means delicacy is required so you don’t end up on the greenside bunker on the other side.  At this point, I was hooked on this course.  The inland diversity of it along with the bunkering is all world.

The Tenth
Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory

The Eleventh is a 429 yard par 4.  With the forest in full view, the tee shot is more downhill than it looks in the photos, with the hole turning right and going more downhill to the green.  There are bunkers on the right from the tee to make you think about cutting off the inside of the turn, but even going right center will likely get you a nice roll from the hill towards the green.  A well hit tee shot still leaves you with a healthy approach shot to the green below, with water on the right and bunkers on the left.  The green is the largest on the course so ignore the hazards and get it close to the pin.

The water on the right surprises you.  I had no idea it was there until I was standing over my approach shot and someone in my group pointed it out.  While they considered draining the pond, its incorporation was another subtle similarity for me of Pine Valley, with the water there on the Sixteenth, to the right of the green.  One of my favorite tee, and approach, shots on the course and at the resort.

The Eleventh, one of my favorite tee shots at the resort
The right side of the fairway
Center fairway
Approach shot territory
The green, from the left side
The water, off to the left of the hole

The Twelfth is a 235 yard par 3.  The longest par 3 of the course, especially since it’s uphill, the contours goad you into aiming right, away from the bunkers on the left.  The problem with the right side is that if you end up on the mound above the hole, the second shot is a lot trickier than it looks at first blush.  Center or left center, even flirting with the bunkers and staying short of the hole, is the play I like.  A great par 3 that many harken to what can be found at Royal Melbourne in Australia, in terms of bunkering and options on each side of the green.

The Twelfth

The Thirteenth is a 374 yard par 4.  An S shaped fairway that’s all downhill, starting right, then left, then back to the right and leading up to the green, the tee shot is vital to take advantage of the slopes for more distance and placement for the approach shot, which must be off to the left.  The green runs from the fairway, with a treacherous deep set bunker on the right and a hillside on the left.  With the narrowness of the green that’s deep, it’s a delightfully tough approach shot and even tougher recovery shots if the approach shot goes south.  Using the natural landscape and the green set in a semi amphitheater up against the hillside, yet another terrific hole.  Fahys Lake is off to the left of the hole and while it’d be interesting to see the trees cleared for a view of that lake, I imagine it was not done for a myriad of reasons, one of which was possibly the introduction of too much water would detract from the strategy and uniform natural elements contributing to the round thus far.

The Thirteenth
Approach shot territory
Stay out of the bunker on the right.  I know, from experience

The Fourteenth is a 306 yard par 4.  The tees are the highest point on the course, which you take a shuttle from the Thirteenth green to get up to.  I have heard of the Fourteenth and no photo I have seen does it justice in terms of how high above the fairway you actually are.  The fairway slopes hard to the right and only the most accurate tee shots to the left side will stay up on that side.  Most shots will face a blind approach shot to the green, which is way uphill and likely blind.  It’s also the smallest green on the course, has a ridge running through it and slopes off around the sides, even severely on the right side into a couple bunkers.  It’s the toughest hole on the course, and one of the tougher designed by C&C.  Likened to the Eighth at Pine Valley for the small-sized green and demanding accuracy of approach shot, it’s important to note that just like the Eighth at PV, I parred this hole as well!  It’s the favorite hole of the course for C&C and Keiser.

The Fourteenth

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Approach shot territory
The green

The Fifteenth is a 367 yard par 4.  The transition back into the meadows happens as you start to walk into the fairway of this hole that bends to the right after the tee shot.  At this point, we started to worry we wouldn’t be able to finish the round due to darkness, but we soldiered on since I would have finished in the dark if necessary.  The nature vegetation area off to the right from the tee must be dealt with and there’s no reason not to aim more left, which also opens up the view of the green.  The hillside on the right runs toward the center of the fairway, with large bunkers in the center of the fairway.  I mention the darkness issue because I wish I would have taken photos of this green complex, which was one of the best on the course.  It’s in a natural clearing and surrounded by bunkers, while moving from right to left and back to front.  The closing holes tighten up on challenge, which also ratchets up the decision making.  The themes of the round and how they transition are self evident and I’ve always been a fan of seeing the stiffer challenges towards the end of the round, which also works well in match play.

The Fifteenth
Deer.  They are protected on premises and seem to know it, as you see them every where and they could care less if you’re putting for birdie or triple.

The Sixteenth is a 494 yard par 5.  The course never ceased to amaze me and this uphill par 5 is no exception.  Yet another brilliant hole off the tee, where there are plenty of lines and factors to consider.  The hillside off to the right, the bunker on the left, the contours in the fairway.  Regardless of what you decide, getting in the fairway is paramount to reach the green in regulation.  The bunkers on the right closer to the green come into play for those who opted for teeing off to the left side.  The green is blind to the fairway but there’s more room on the left, but bunkers on both sides for approaches too far offline.

The Sixteenth
Moving up the fairway
Approach shot territory

The Seventeenth is a 159 yard par 3.  The tee shot is raised to the green, which has a false front, then runs towards the back right after reaching the middle of the green.  There’s a collection area off the green on that side as well, all of which are acceptable places to end up, so long as it’s not in the daunting deep bunker off to the right, or even the bunkers off to the left.  Not a whole of latitude in where to hit it, although ending up short, even down the false front, still gives you a chance at par.

The Seventeenth

The Eighteenth is a 363 yard par 4.  At this point, it was fairly dark but still had some light to track our shots.  And back to the dunes for the finishing hole, which features a forces carry from the tee over beach grass to a fairway that climbs, then crests downwards.  With no wind, carrying the crest from the tee results in a nice roll closer to the green.  The left side also funnels towards the center, then the fairway slopes off the right side, all moving uphill to the green that has a false front.  The approach must almost be into the center of the green, as anything too close to the front, or on the false front, will come tumbling down.  Bunkers on the left side of the green come into play if shots are too close to them, as the green moves from right to left as well.  A nice finishing hole, still challenging, yet also seems to complete the full circle of the journey from whence we started.

The Eighteenth
Moving down the fairway
A look at the green
You can barely make it out, but a couple us finishing up our putts on the green, with the fading sunset in the background

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The green, from the clubhouse, taken when we first arrived

The back nine is hillier and a bit more challenging, again with every hole distinct, and varied.  The routing is impeccable throughout as well.  There are no weak holes.  Ranking them for me would be 11, 14, 16, 12, 15, 10, 17, 13, 18.
Generally, Bandon Trails is a work of art that results in brilliant golf.  The use of the varied terrain, and making it all flow into a consistent round of golf, all while assuring each hole had its own separate character and identity, each with its different set of challenges, strategy and intrigue, was impressive.  It’s also just as much of a great driving course as it is ball striking, with my favorite set of green complexes and bunkers at the resort.  I would love to play another round here when the wind is up as well, since you’re much closer to the ocean that it seems and I’m sure it affects how you play several of the holes.  The bunkering is brilliant here and just shows much of an impact bunkers can have on the character and play of course.  Another course where the bunkering is so much a part of the course’s character?  Pine Valley.  
BT makes Bandon Dunes a complete golf experience and its inland features are in some ways more unique and remarkable than the seaside cliffs of the others.  There are no wrong answers here, however.  All of the courses at the resort are all world.  Bandon Trails, however, was captivating for me and made me realize just how much I revere Coore and Crenshaw.
UPDATE, JANUARY 2023:  The apex of the trip was this round.  Remembering just how much I loved the clubhouse, we hoofed over immediately after the morning round for lunch and some time in the pro shop.  The down time was welcome, recharged mainly from the surroundings and the excited anticipation of what lay ahead.  The opening sequence is a gentle submerging.  From the ocean dunes into the rich rainforest, a canvas with shades of green, climbing among its hills with brilliant bunkering all around.
It became my favorite course at the resort, surpassing Old Macdonald just by a smidge.  It kept hitting me over and over throughout the round just how very good the course really is.  The transitions from one natural setting to another, the bunkering, the flow of one hole to another, the variety of each shot; it all slowly settled in my psyche.  After playing hundreds of different courses since my last round here, the appeal of the course was even stronger this time and for me, I am completely comfortable discussing this course as one of the best in our country available to the public.
It is much more of a driving course than I remember.  The ideal lines must be earned, yet there is plenty of room to miss with an appropriate measure of recovery within those areas.  This philosophy carries over to the approaches, where those looking to get close to the pin have plenty of ways to go about it while those out of position or wanting to play it safe may do so at the expense of a more arduous journey at the greens.  There are no weak holes, nor are there similar ones.  The green complexes are likewise vibrant with character and variety.  The golfer cannot help but to succumb to the calm of the setting.  At the same time, the golfer must keep his wits about him and appreciate the broad spectrum of the game this course suggests is utilized from shot to shot.
There are places in this world I think of often.  Several of them are within Bandon Dunes but the one that seems to set me at ease as soon as I go back in my mind is Bandon Trails.  The clubhouse on its inobstrusive perch, the dunes and meadows with their beach grass then the forest and hills, with the occasional lake still as stone.  All of this with the magnificent set of greens and beautiful bunkering, it is a special place and a tremendous accomplishment of artistry.  It will be a while before I return, but am there in spirit quite often.     
Gripes:  Only trivial stuff, like their clubhouse didn’t serve dinner when we were there for some reason, and their sale rack wasn’t as awesome as the others.  
Bar/Grill:  Loved it.  Floor to ceiling windows overlook the Eighteenth and the First at Bandon Preserve, with a great patio area as well.  Just serve dinner and I’m there most of the time I’m not playing.  I think they usually do, but maybe off season is different.  
Clubhouse/Pro Shop:  Well stocked, love the course logo, but get that sales rack in better shape! 2023 Update, this was fixed!