Old Macdonald

6,320 yards, 125 slope from the Greens.

Course:  The most recent course built at the resort is Old Macdonald, which opened for play in 2010. The course was designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina, with contributions from several others who were knowledgeable in the design philosophies of C.B. Macdonald.  The idea was to construct a course that was inspired by Macdonald, meaning if Macdonald actually designed the course, what would it look like.  The result is one of the best links courses open to the public.

Old Mac is unique in many ways.  In the way it was designed and constructed, which was more of a collaborative effort than most courses, as the design team wanted to make sure it was in line with Macdonald’s work.  In addition, the design is bold.  With three widely revered courses under its belt, Old Mac had more of an opportunity to do things a little different to set itself apart.  The Hell bunker on the Long hole, the gigantic dune you tee off over while the ghost tree looms, the sea cliff you literally hit onto straight up vertically, only to reach the green and have the view of the ocean knock you back; it’s all spectacular.  The biggest attribute here in my opinion though, is the variety of play.  More than the other courses, Old Mac doesn’t really suggest a line of play to the hole; it allows you to figure it out yourself.  It’s simply fescue as far as the eye can see, flowing into the greens and hills, inviting any shot or line you’d like to take.  The width here is staggering and the size of the greens immense, so the possibilities are endless.  With the wind up as well and the different directions of the holes, it’s a whole new course every time you play.  Everyone is allowed to play their own game, and as I took note of how myself and the others in my group advanced to each hole, it was ready apparent at just how effective the course was in that respect.

Old Mac isn’t a tribute or replica course, but rather more of a portrayal and showcase of Macdonald’s  design style, in accordance with the terrain.  Urbina had worked on a number of Macdonald courses before this and with Macdonald “experts,” such as George Bahto and Brad Klein, the braintrust dedicate to staying true to those design philosophies within the confines of the gripping natural landscape, it very much has a feel of a Macdonald course.  There are Macdonald’s template holes, like the Sahara, Biarritz and Short, there are also original holes some of which I think are the best on the course.

The character and uniqueness of this course was impressive, along with its scale and beauty.  The freedom to play the course allows you to be as creative as possible, which in turn makes the round all the more fun and challenging.  With the fescue melding into the mounds, hills and greens as well, Old Mac is what I have in mind when I think of an ideal links course.

Our first round here was in the afternoon of the second day.  We had the course to ourselves for some reason and the wind was coming off of the shore only slightly, but enough that it carried the sounds of the crashing waves over the course for the entire round.  There was a fog in the air as well, which gave the round a tinge of eeriness and mystique.  The second round was in the morning of our last day and the wind was really blowing.  Both times, the round was thrilling, enjoyable and engaging, yet completely different.  Each time, however, it was golf as I always think of it in its purest form; thinking your way over the land, only limited by the bounds of your skills and imagination.  Old Mac intrigued me the most and out of the courses, is the one I’d play the most if I lived in the area.  

The First is a 304 yard par 4 (from the Greens).  The width is something to get used to right away, with the bunker complex off to the left, the Principal’s Nose, very much in play on the second shot.  The tee shot is really about figuring out how you want to approach the green.  Flirting with the bunker on the right gives you a shorter second shot while going to the safer left side brings the Principal in play and a different, possibly worse, angle into the green.  The green is huge, and the double plateau makes it devious, with three putting very much a possibility, and pin placement has the capacity to change the entire make up of the hole.  There is also nothing stopping the ball from rolling off the sides of the green and away, making for a difficult recovery on the tight lie fescue.  It’s a great starter; subtle, full of possibilities, yet underneath it all, strokes can pile up easily.  

The First

Approach shot territory

A little closer

The Second is a 162 yard par 3.  The “Eden” hole.  The Eden is a template, typically a raised green that runs from back to front and the bunkering, a deep pot bunker (the “Strath” bunker) on the front right and the “Hill” bunker wrapping around the left of the green, reaching the rear side as well.  This rendition works well because of the movement in the green and its size, which brings those bunkers into play off the tee (especially in the wind), then again on the green, as the speed and distance of some putts run the risk of rolling on in if the pace is off.  Even landing on the green well away from the green makes bogey a real possibility, with the speed and undulations of the green.

The Second

A little closer

The Third is a 345 yard par 4.  This is the “Sahara” hole.  The first time we played the course, we get to the Third tee and I see this tree off to our left.  I half jokingly told our group we had to tee off over the tree and hills, and were about to tee off straightaway to the fairway in view.  Thankfully, our caddie set us right, that in fact we were teeing off over the dunes near the tree and that the fairway we were looking at was the Seventeenth.

The tee shot here is the first time the course shows just how fraught with character and zest it has.  The blind forced carry over the gigantic dunes, as close to the right of the Ghost tree as possible is one thing.  Climbing the dunes and having the course reveal itself with each step over to the other side, with the cloud line seemingly within reach and the topography before you, is quite another.

As for the hole, the large slopes of the dune continue on to the other side, sweeping all movement from left to right down the hillside, while the green is at the bottom, or base of the dune.  The tee shot dictates so much of your play into the green.  A well struck tee shot stays true in the air, over the ridge and on to the other side, its whereabouts unknown.  A tee shot off to the right will likely bound most of if not all the way down the hill, leaving a much longer approach to the green.  A tee shot off to the left might be ok but if it hangs up on the hill, could get tricky fast.  The green is very wide yet shallow, melding from the fairway seamlessly.  The approach shot here could be one of the most volatile of the resort, with so many different possibilities.  A fantastic hole.

The Third

Probably my favorite landmark to photograph on the property; the Ghost tree

Apparently, one day a bunch of crows were all sitting on the tree, all of its branches, every where.  Now that’s spooky

In my opinion, the tree should have been the course logo

The other side of the ridge, the course beyond

You can see the flag here and the sweeping undulations comprising the fairway

Lots of different looks based on the lighting and fog 

A closer look, walking down the hill

The Fourth is a 472 yard par 5.  The “Hog’s Back” hole.  First off, the photos on this and the prior hole aren’t the best.  That’s mainly because our first round here was in the afternoon and those holes played directly at the sun, in conjunction with the mist, it just didn’t do well with my clicking away.  The second round we were facing 40 mph gusts and photo taking became more limited to get around faster.  At any rate, the name of the hole signifies the ridge in the fairway that repels shots away from the center and towards the sides.  Here, that ridge is rather pronounced, which creates an upper (left) and lower (level), which a bunker in the right center of the fairway does well to denote.  In fact, tee shots on the right will be blind to the fairway on the second shot, so left center is a nice play off the tee, as anything too far left will keep going further in that direction.  Moving up to the green, it’s elevated from the fairway, with a hollow just in front, which complicated the approach shot, as shots too shallow into the green will likely end up about 15-20 yards away.  Like most every hole, the green is quite large, and generally runs from left to right.

I don’t know what it is, but I think I’m +3,623 on Hog’s Back holes.  I never seem to appreciate the movement of the fairway and typically end up in trouble off the tee, which then compounds extra shots simply getting to the green.  The wind is usually against you here, which lengthens the hole.  Even though I had perfected a bunt driver shot for months before this trip and hit it perfectly off the tee during our windy second round, it wasn’t enough to reach the left/upper side of the fairway and I think hit a 6i from 100 yards out .  Not as wide as other holes, this one makes you work a bit.

The Fourth

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory

The Fifth is a 134 yard par 3.  The “Short” hole.  There’s a forced carry to the green, which is immensely wide, moving from back to front and left to right.  The front side rolls off to the beach grass below while there’s a rear shelf that can be used as a back board.  The right side is on a higher tier than most of the green, so ending up there, or above on the rear shelf, will be very touchy getting close to the green to save par.

This is a great example of one of the strategic themes of this course.  Getting on the green is not enough; getting to the right area of the green is critical, which follows setting up the correct approach shot and angle.  With as much roll as the course provides, figuring out how to get the ball close to the hole is more than simply trying to stick it at the pin.  It’s about understanding what the contours and winds do, then using those from your skill set accordingly.

Like every great short hole, the adventure gets into full swing after the tee shot.  With the pin position as shown in the photo below, even a close shots on the left will likely fall off to the short left collection area.  Right of the pin is a goof play, but then using the back slope will be necessary for your putt.  During one round, I was a little short of the pin and tried to use the back slope to bring the ball in that way, but put too much on it and it ended up stuck on the top shelf, leaving me with a very difficult two-putt.  A very well done par 3.  Oh yeah, if you end up in the bunker on the short right of the green, just put a 6 down on the scorecard and move on.

The Fifth

The green, from the left side

Looking back at the tee

The Sixth is a 520 yard par 5.  The “Long” hole.  We now start to delve into the meat of the valley in which the course is set, bordering the Fifteenth of Pacific Dunes on the left side.  There’s room off the tee, which should be used to set up how to handle the great hazard of this hole, their version of the Hell bunker, a gargantuan cross bunker with planks of wood shooting upwards, giving the impression of a giant mouthful of teeth, just waiting to wreak havoc.  The fairway narrows at this point, putting the bunker more into play and forcing most shots to carry it.  The green complex is wild, with a devious tiny pot bunker on the far side that the green slopes towards.  The green is actually two separate levels, with juts and undulations in every direction.  Lots of ways to play this hole on with most of the challenge after the tee shot.  A great and diverse par 5.

The Sixth

Second shot territory

The prominent hazard, almost smiling at you

Approach shot territory

A trench bunker on the left side, short of the green

The green

The Seventh is a 345 yard par 4.  The “Ocean” hole.  The tee shot is over a lower ridge that partially obstructs your view of the fairway, but there’s plenty of room straight away.  After your tee shot, you find yourself at a dead end of sorts.  The fairway abruptly ends, but looking up at the top of the hill, you will find the top of the flag stick, just peeking out.  The steepness of the hill makes the shot to the green completely blind and any shot falling short will fall all the way down to the bottom of the hill.  Of course, hitting the approach too far means you’ll likely end up on the bunker on the far side, with a tough shot back uphill to the green.

The green itself yields the best view of the ocean on the property.  It seems like you could jump right in, or at least reach out and touch the ocean and with a birds-eye view of the entire course from the front side of the green, it’s one of the more exhilarating places of the resort.

When the course was being built, Keiser and Doak/Urbina were discussing the placement of the green for this hole, which was originally going to be placed at the bottom of the hill.  Keiser starts asking whether it could be placed on top of the bluff and during the discussion, finally decided on it, exclaiming, “Macdonald would have put the green up here.”  I agree with Keiser and this green placement truly exponentially makes the course better.

It’s also important to note that this hole is not a template, but rather an original design and one of if not the best hole on the course.

The Seventh

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory, at the base of the hill

The green

Looking back from the green, with the sea mist making for one of the cooler rounds I’ve played

The view of the ocean that awaits at the far side of the green.  And yes that bunker is very much in play

Approach shot territory, taken during our second round here, in the morning.  The flag is visible right center

One of the best views 

Looking back, love the cloud line here

The Eighth is a 170 yard par 3.  The “Biarritz” hole.  The tee shot is atop the same bluff as the Seventh green, hitting to the green below, which is on the other side of a ridge line that must be carried over.  The swale in this Biarritz green is healthy and enough to challenge any two putt from one side of the green to the other.  The tee shot, however, is more challenging, as the mid iron forced carry to a green that tightens around the sides means many will be playing their second shot from off green, either taking the Biarritz out of play or having the benefit of chipping through it.  It’s a nice rendition of this template and a great tee shot from one of the higher points on the course.
The Eighth

A little closer look

The green, from the left side
The Ninth is a 352 yard par 4.  The “Cape” hole.  This slight dog leg right features a swath of bunkers, beach grass and assorted vegetation off the right side.  The shortest path to the green is from the tee over this area, so like most Cape holes, one must calculate how much of the right side you want to take off from the tee.  The more you take off, the shorter your approach into the green.  The contours and ridges of this hole made it one of the more complex Cape holes I have played.  Many Capes are straightforward risk/reward holes, with the conservative route clearly mapped out, but here, there was a lot more angles and tee options than I’ve seen previously.  Even falling short into the hazards on the right side did not necessarily mean you were dead, as those recovery shots ranged from manageable to eye-gouging difficult.  The green is one of the more subtle on the course and like most of the holes here, this one never plays the same twice.
Moving up the fairway of the Ninth, with the right fairway bunkers in the foreground

Approach shot territory

Spectators

Random view of the course

The front nine essentially takes you from one valley to another, traversing and playing directly over and on to severe coastal dunes, each hole ensuring drama, creativity and challenge.  Each hole asserts its character nicely and while the diversity of terrain adds to it, the design ensures that the terrain focuses on providing great golf in addition to the scenery.  The boldness of the terrain of the Third, Fourth and Seventh, the greens at the First, Second, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth, and the bunkering on almost all of the holes are some of the great features of the front nine, among many others.  There are no weak holes.  I’d rank them 7, 3, 5, 6, 4, 1, 9, 8, 2.

The back nine starts with the 440 yard par 4 Tenth.  The “Bottle” hole.  While the fairway seems to have miles of width, there are a series of bunkers starting on the left side and ending on the right that narrow the acceptable corridors for the tee shot.  While the two bunkers, one right center and the other left center, attract the most attention, the other two off to either side demand adequate attention as well.  How these bunkers are negotiated off the tee is vital in determining the difficulty of the approach shot, which is to an elevated green sloped on all sides (yet is some what connected to the Fifth green on the far left side).  The green makes for a tricky approach shot, first because it’s one of the smaller greens on the course and the slopes will take a lot of off target shots back towards the fairway.  Hitting a running punch shot from about 120 yards out and watch it bounce and tumble to the pin was one of my favorite shots of the trip, yet those bold enough to try and fly the approach in need to be pretty accurate to pull it off.

The Tenth

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory

A closer look at the green from the front

The Eleventh is a 399 yard par 4.  The “Road” hole.  Mark Twain once wrote a story where at the very end, he apologized to the reader.  He had written the protagonist in such a mess that no matter how long he thought about it, he could not figure out a way to extract the character from it and properly end the story.  So he apologized to the reader, explained the problem and that was it.

That sums up my encounter with a few select golf holes, including this one.  The green, no matter what approach played or strategy used, I’d tangle myself up to the point I should simply pick up my ball and apologize to everyone within sight.  The left side of the bunker on the right is a nice line off the tee and sets up a nice position for the approach shot, allowing for a number of options.  The green runs away from the deep bunker at the front left, and continues to slope substantially all the way off the green on the far right, resembling the road of the Seventeenth at the Old Course.

The green is vexing.  Even a tee shot off to the right that places you away from the bunker and alleviates the need to carry it can come into play if your approach is hit in the wrong place, as there is a good amount of pull towards it.  In the alternative, your shot will veer towards the back right side. Anything on that side risks chips and putts rolling right into the bunker.  I tried laying up short of the bunker with the intent of lobbing over the bunker to the pin and walking out with a par or bogey, but I promptly lobbed right into the bunker.  The challenge is terrific here and while I still haven’t figured out what approach is ideal (other than simply sticking the shot next to the pin), it was a lot of fun trying and the experience was worth more than whatever score I ended up with.

The Eleventh
Moving down the fairway

From the left side

Approach shot territory, with the dreaded front bunker

The Twelfth is a 205 par 3.  The “Redan.”  The green moves from front to back and right to left.  While there are bunkers off the tee that only come into play if you duff your tee shot, green feeds to the deep bunker on the left side of the green.  The remarkable feature of this hole is the front slope of the green, which can be used a variety of ways in conjunction with the movement of the green.  As the tee shot here often faces a strong head wind, playing a bunt driver low and having it run up the front of the green is something to consider.  Or get it in the air and shape it accordingly.

The Twelfth

From the right side, with the mesmerizing ocean fog and links beyond

The green primarily moves from right to left
The Thirteenth is a 319 yard par 4.  The “Leven” hole.  While the shape of the fairway from the tee makes it look like there’s not a whole lot of room to work with, there actually is plenty, so long as you mind the smaller bunker up the right side.  The green sits between a hillock on the right and group of bunkers on the front right, in a little nook of the dunes.  The green is also uphill from the fairway, so most if not all approach shots will be blind.  The fun doesn’t end there, as the green moves significantly from the left to right, with a side bar on the leftmost side and a thumbprint dip on the front right, just after the bunkers.  So much fun and yet another example of fantastic terrain used splendidly.
The Thirteenth
Moving down the fairway

The right side

The green is set to the right of the hill on the left

Approach shot territory

The wild green

The left side of the green

The Fourteenth is a 297 yard par 4.  The “Maiden” hole.  The walk to the tee from the Thirteenth green is the departure of the valley where we have been playing since the Third, moving into the dunes, where we jaunt around in until the Seventeenth.  The hole plays all uphill and turns slightly left to the green.  The bunkers on the left should be avoided, yet the closer to them provides a closer approach shot to the green.  The undulations leading up to the plateau green, as well as the large bunkers set on each side, do not give a whole lot of room to miss on the approach and there is a lot more movement on the green than most plateau greens typically have.  The green is another place to take a moment and admire your surroundings, with the ocean and course below you.

The Fourteenth
Walking up the fairway

The bunker complex on the left

Climbing to the green, off to the right side

Looking back, from the green

The Fifteenth is a 482 yard par 5.  The “Westward Ho” hole.  The hole marches towards the ocean, from one high point on the dunes to another.  The fairway seemingly feeds into the bunkers on the right and it is likely you will be fighting the wind coming from the ocean to get to the green.  After the tee shot, the fairway climbs to the green, which is quite large and plateaus on top of the dune.  The slopes, bunkers and especially wind lengthen and complicate this hole, yet battling the natural challenges of it is invigorating.

The Fifteenth
From the right side

Moving a little closer to the green

Still on the right side, a little closer

Approach shot territory

Looking back at the fairway from the green

The Sixteenth is a 433 yard par 4.  The “Alps” hole.  Tee shot should be as right as possible without going into the bunkers on that side, as that is the only chance of seeing the green on your approach.  All other tee shots in the fairway will be completely blind to the green and a forced carry over the large hill on the left is necessary.  This variation of the Alps provides a way to see the green on the approach, at the risk of ending up in a hazard.  A more conservative tee shot likely results in a tougher approach shot to the green, yet course knowledge counters some of that challenge.  Like the Alps hole at National Golf Links, a bunker comes into play for those shots over the Alps and collects those shots not hit far enough into the green.  There is a lot here to digest and from what I learned, hit a lot more club into the green than you think you need.  The green moves from right to left and is more wide than deep.

The Sixteenth

Approach shot territory, with the Alps in front

A look at the green, from the right of the Alps

The green

The Seventeenth is a 515 yard par 5.  The “Littlewood” hole.  Coming out of the dunes, we are now on the side on which we started and the march to the clubhouse begins.  The tee shot provides a conservative option down the left side while a bolder line is down the right, which must carry the marsh area to get to the fairway.  If successful, there is a chance to reach the green in two shots, as the green reveals itself from that angle.  For those who opted for the left, the choice is to keep left and avoid the bunkers on the right, which will leave you with a blind approach.  You can opt right and if the bunkers are avoided, will have a much better look and angle into the green.  The green itself is great, with a daring bunker jutting up directly in front of the green, and a high mound on the right side, that can be used to get the ball rolling near the pin.

The Seventeenth

Moving down the fairway

A bit further

These bunkers split the fairway, but its preferable to stay on the right

The green is in the background

The railroad ties in the bunker to the right are a great tough here

The Eighteenth is a 426 yard par 4.  The “Punchbowl” hole.  A fantastic way to end the round is by being able to have your approach, chips and putts utilize the contours of the punchbowl to finish things up with a nice score.  The tee shot needs to maneuver between cross bunkers, with left to left center a nice line.  Then figuring out where the pin is and how to use the contours to get close is a great closing task.  Even if your approach is longer from the pin, there is a lot of fun and creativity in figuring out how to close things out, using the punchbowl as a back stop or sidebar.

The Eighteenth

Moving down the fairway

A look at the green, from the right side

The mounds surrounding the green on the right and back side

The back nine is much longer than the front (700 yards), which is also due to only having one par 3 and two par 5’s.  The inspiration found on the back is ample and while I found the back more challenging, the fun and character is just as much as can be found on the front.  The Road, Redan, Leven and Punchbowl holes were excellent and unique renditions, as were Westward Ho and Maidstone with their excellent use of the coastal dunes.  I’d rank them 12, 11, 10, 18, 13, 15, 14, 17, 16.

Generally, Old Mac was my favorite course at Bandon for a number of reasons.  Mainly, its unique character sets it apart from any other course in North America.  Its links allow you so much freedom of thought and play, in and on such distinctly aesthetic surroundings and terrain, that the experience is unlike any other you’ll encounter.  Highly playable, abundant choices of play, a great routing that best uses its environment, all while guided by the design tenets of one of golf’s pioneers.  Its charms are infinite while its complexities reveal themselves slowly, and only after experiencing the pangs of battle from one round to the next, never complete, but rather an endless journey full of wonder.

One of these days I will create a list of courses I could play over and over forever without being bored once.  This course would be near the top of that list and even though I’m thousands of miles away, I’m still there contemplating the possibilities, thinking about my approach at the Road hole, walking next to the Ghost tree hoping that my ball bounded close to the green and atop the green of the Ocean hole, admiring my approach as the waves crash before me.

Gripes:  That I will never be able to play enough rounds here.

Bar/Grill:  A bit more spartan than the other courses, there are a few tables inside the modest clubhouse, or you can sit in the chairs overlooking the practice green.

Clubhouse:  Well stocked, but like I said it is modest.  A shack that does well not to impose itself on the course.

Practice green

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