6,320 yards, 133 slope from the White tees
We left Bandon in the dark, the still of the early morning. Like the drive in, it was dark and the scenery I knew was out there stayed hidden. The GPS took us a different way and we were suddenly climbing and plunging with sheer cliffs beside us. The sun eventually came up, illuminating our surroundings yet the roads remained icy. Rivers and rock formations and hillsides of evergreen passed by us, the beauty of the Pacific Northwest showing its rugged individualism. As most were on their way to work, we finally arrived. A round of golf, then twelve hours of travel ahead of me. Exhausted, sore and that calf injury starting to make noise again, I was trying not to limp as we walked to the pro shop. Yet deep down, my fibers of being were overjoyed and wouldn’t have it any other way.
This was the other main reason I came back to Bandon. I say it often but my short list is different than most. Eugene Country Club has been on it for a couple years, as the work Tim Jackson and David Kahn performed here intrigued me a lot. The course originated in 1923 as a Chandler Egan design. A classic layout among the stoic firs, the rolling moderate hills and occasional pond made for a thriving parkland setting. Robert Trent Jones then came in 1966 and re-routed and re-designed the course in several ways. This included reversing the direction of holes from green to tee, expanding those tee areas and greens, as well as adding waterways and bunkers for a bit more heroic elements. RTJ’s reversal was rare yet his work seemed to be successful in the course gaining popularity, becoming a top 100 U.S. course on the Golf Digest, getting as high as 27th. The course has undergone lengthening over the years, with RTJ and Rulewich returning in 1992 for some refresh work, as well as John Harbottle, III in 2005. The course has enjoyed a substantial championship history, with players such as Tiger, Hogan, Hagen, Palmer, Johnny Miller, Mickey Wright, Annika, and so on, all playing here in the past.
Jackson/Kahn have undergone extensive restorative work that has been the culmination of a six year process, working with the club in how to go about the changes. Jackson/Kahn focused on strengthening the RTJ design components and did not change the greens or routing. The course is in a floodplain and over time, the fairways have developed remarkable bumps, slopes and hollows. RTJ was going to re-shape them but then realized their remarkable naturalness was too good to change. Jackson/Kahn felt the same. Instead, they were able to ramp up variety and character by installing new tee angles, expanding fairways, installing short grass contours around the greens, shifting bunkers and re-working some of the areas short of the greens. While tree removal was utilized to some extent to open up corridors of play and uncork a wealth of strategy, trees are a vital part of the character of the course both aesthetically and functionally. The manner in which Jackson/Kahn worked, the wise restraint and unique approach to bettering the course without intruding on its established traits, was extremely impressive. Sure the goal of enhancing playability for the membership while strengthening the championship pedigree of the course is well sought after nowadays, but the way it has been achieved here is notable. Especially without work to the greens.
The modern tones of heroic elements throughout preserved, a classic routing making the course eminently walkable and now an enhancement of character, variety and strategy mean this course has several dimensions to it that are rarely found together elsewhere. The preservation of RTJ components is likewise harder to find these days, many forgetting or never realizing his strengths in course design led to engaging golf. That certainly is the case here. The course flows gently, with the opening hole showcasing those magnificent firs near the green. I was trying to find the right words to describe it, but RTJ found the remark I was looking for long ago. It was like entering a, “cathedral of trees.” Very apt. A charm takes over once the golfer is about the trees at the First green and to the Second, and on and on. There’s all kinds and they felt like Sequoias in how they towered high above, with others arching over in one direction or another. Many of the greens are pushed up, which makes the new short grass areas meld into them a variety of ways, which of course gives the golfer a lot to think about in trying to get on them. Water comes into play occasionally in heroic tones, which RTJ initiated when he reversed the holes way back when. Jackson/Kahn carried this concept over as well, yet reconfigured some of the areas before the green to add options for those looking for other ways other than over. It exuded a rich Pacific Northwest character to me. My only basis for comparison would be Bandon Trails but it is gentler and more subdued here.
I had been wanting to see the course and the recent work for some time. So when I was asked about another Bandon trip, one of the first things I did was check the project progress. So yes. Yes, the body ached, was screaming for home, rest and bed, but you must. Pain is temporary while memories of the round here will be around a lot longer. There’s always enough for one more round. Especially when now is the only time for it.
The First is a 360 yard par 4 (from the White tees). The tee shot is wide open into a sea of green, all different shades of it. The towering trees are closer to the green, very much giving the feeling of indeed, entering a cathedral. The right fairway bunker has been re-positioned and is now menacing. Stay short of it for a longer approach in, try to draw around it or carry it altogether. The green is off to the left a little, the alcove of the altar if you will. Pushed up and now a wealth of short grass short and to the right, the slopes have an elegant simplicity to their shape. An absence of quirk or aggressive boldness. Instead, there’s a variety of roundness and lines that settle into the arbor landscape gently.
The Second is a 200 yard par 3. Once again the trees part just so to reveal the green yet enough room to play it a number of ways. Smart bunker placement once again with a very short grass surrounding it before the green. It may be green but seemed just a touch different. The left bunker is more merciful than anything else, saving shots from wandering off in the trees on that side. The rounded edges of the green once again make an impression and flood in tentativeness to the putter.
The Third is a 375 yard par 4. Some of the corridors are deceptive visually with trees on both sides but I found ample room with the fairways throughout. It is imperative to favor the right side from the tee to make sure you have a clear approach line to the green, however. The green is set to the left and the tree line on that side encroaches. The bunkering a bit more elaborate around the green, yet the entry point is inviting, ramping up to the green. Many of the bunkers had a scalloped twist to them, leaving some concave steepness to contend with about the edges. Some of those are evident here.
The Fourth is a 390 yard par 4. Trees then water on the right while the storied tree line stands stoic on the left. Heading back in the direction of the Third, a new fairway bunker on the left does wonders in terms of where the golfer decides on his tee shot line. There are some cool mowing lines here as well seen below, adding to the options as one head towards the green. This is another green complex where the bunkers seem to intertwine with the green, moving around and between each other. Using the entry apron for the ground game is an option but most will opt for trying to carry the bunker yet one must mind the slope of the green and how the ball will roll once it lands.
The Fifth is a 119 yard par 3. The elevated tee looks down on to the green with water in front and bunkers front and back. The green is wide and shallow and the hill behind rises up suddenly. It reminded me of Golden Bell at Augusta, which I have only seen on my television. There are a good amount of similarities in geography, hazard placement and green dimensions but the tee angle is significantly different. It’s a forced carry shot and one that must be precise based on the shallowness of the green. It’s an all or nothing hole, meaning the golfer is likely either walking away with par or better or double or worse, but rarely anything in between.
The Sixth is a 521 yard par 5. One of the hillier holes of the course, we go up and around to the right, swooping down to the water and green beyond. The bunkers on the right off the tee may push the golfer’s intended line more to the left towards the trees but I’m not that smart. I was going to go right over them and of course was 2 inches short, the sand seemingly clawing the ball back into the depths of the bunker. The fairway turns right around those bunkers, then heads downhill. Water is between the fairway and green, so those who want to go for it in two must pull off a fairly surgical shot. The green is deeper than it looks but does its job in mandating accuracy or else.
The Seventh is a 140 yard par 3. Another forced carry over water yet the green has more depth and flange out in different areas. Bunkers are in the rear. The flanges and a bunker at the rear are among the changes.
The Eighth is a 471 yard par 5. We now start heading back in the direction of the clubhouse. The water from the hole prior is just off the tee to the right while trees are at an angle to the tee, giving the golfer pause as to the preferred line to the fairway. A new bunker on the left almost feels like it’s at the center of the hole while a crook at the middle of the hole breaks up the play a little, which the golf must consider as he plots his shots. The entry point now reveals itself on the right side, which incentivizes golfers to move to that side on their second for a better approach in. A wealth of strategy and options at each shot.
The Ninth is a 401 yard par 4. The ebb and flow of the fairway gives this hole a bit more character, as the golfer now is presented with various circumstances depending on where his tee shot ends up. There is more width, yet more constriction in other places, making it more manageable to miss in some places than others. The offset entry point to the green once again incentivizes approach angles while the rolling pushed up green emphasizes the importance of coming in from the right line.
The front nine starts off into the magnificent trees before climbing the higher points of the property and coming down again in the trees to the clubhouse. The varied routing is lively while each hole has unique strategic challenges at each shot. My ranking of them would be 8, 4, 3, 1, 2, 5, 9, 6, 7.
The back nine starts with the 383 yard par 4 Tenth. Heading back out from the clubhouse, the back nine loops about the east side of the property. The tree line on the right hugs tight against the fairway while the left trees are more spread out and allow a little more space. This is good since the green is set off to the right, so clear approaches will need to find the left side from the tee. The green is a bit above the fairway, bunkers on the left, knowing most approaches will be coming from that direction.
The Eleventh is a 371 yard par 4. Still heading to the rear of the property, this slight dog leg right narrows as one gets closer to the green. The green likely doesn’t come into full view even on the approach. The green tantalizes. I found myself in the trees to the right yet saw the green and what looked like a clear shot if I punched it through but I opted for sideways to the fairway instead. I suspected there was some kind of trouble in front of the green and enough experience told me to resist temptation. Sure enough, there is water in front of the green, which doesn’t come into view until very close to it. The green is wide yet a little shallow with a bunker at the rear, once again tempering those who get over aggressive on the forced carry.
The Twelfth is a 168 yard par 3. Water comes in on the right enough to characterize this as a forced carry and the bunker flashes to the tee as it wraps around the right side of the green, which is new. The flanges front and left rear have been extended and the short grass on that side expanded. A great example of how the recent work now emphasizes strategy while fortifying the existing heroic components. Now, those who want to take on the green and pin positions on the center and right (like the one in the photo below), will need to carry the water and the bunker complex without straying to the right. Those who want an easier tee shot and rely in their short game more can opt for the left side, yet the bunker on the right still comes into play on that second shot to the green. All of this was enhanced with new positioning on the right. A great par 3, my favorite of the course and just so happens to be the last one we encounter for the round.
The Thirteenth is a 518 yard par 5. A bit of focus is in order now as the trees decide to hone in a bit. The trees just off the tee set that tone while the arching trees and a swale on the right present some challenge for those ending up on that side. The fairway narrows even more leading up to the green and the green is one of the smaller the golfer encounters, which is surrounded by bunkers. There’s an entry point on the left, however, so those want to avoid an aerial approach need to get their shot way over on that side.
The Fourteenth is a 356 yard par 4. The fairway bends to the right, but comes back to the left a bit towards the center and again near the green. This has more to do with the mowing lines but for those trying to figure out their line off the tee, the new fairway bunkers present a lot of questions and almost need to be confronted in some manner. The greenside bunkering is impressive in how they play against the contours of the green, all of it melding into an intricate complex with a bounty of shots available.
The Fifteenth is a 372 yard par 4. A great closing sequence begins here. The tee shot is as if you are hitting blindly into a forest, yet there’s a lot of room between the trees of course. More than that, there’s a lovely swale, hidden from the tee, like a wave rolling across the fairway. The green finally reveals itself, way off to the left and even more remarkable fairway contours run up to it. The green complex is itself impressive and yet another strategic stronghold. There are two entry points into the green interspersed with two bunkers while the fairway runs across it, so there are a wealth of options with respect to the angle coming into the green, whether the bunkers should be carried or whether one of the entry points should be used for the good old ground game. Pin position complicates these decisions as well. One of my favorite green complexes on the course.
The Sixteenth is a 475 yard par 5. The wonderful fairway contours continue as we move through the trees. These play off each other and comprise a lot of the interest on the first two shots. The green feeds from the fairway on the left while water is on the right and right rear. Bunkers surround the green about the left side (and front right).
The Seventeenth is a 299 yard par 4. A short par 4 where many will be tempted to drive for the green at the tee. The prominent hazard even noticeable off the tee is the bunker complex off the right side of the green. The tee shots meant for the green will need to decide to end up short of the bunker or taking it on directly. The green climbs at the front, then moves a little down and towards the rear at the ridge point, so approaches from the left a lot of times will be favorable. It’s a great short par 4, where even though who opt for a safer tee shot will be left with a challenging pitch where the terrain movement should be a primary consideration.
The Eighteenth is a 401 yard par 4. Part of what the new mowing lines accomplish is adding texture and context to straightaway holes. The golfer now needs to understand the grassing patterns instead of simply knowing the locations of trees, bunkers and fairway. Likewise, the new fairway bunkers add more decisions to each shot, while shaping shots becomes more imperative. Here is no different, as the fairway bunkers and mowing lines give the golfer a lot to ponder at the last. The green is guarded by bunkers on the left while the right has a lot of room to use if one wants to steer away from the sand. As we’ve seen, however, the sand simply comes into play on the next shot is too aggressive.
And just like that, my tour of the Northwest came to an end. Birds happily chirped in the array of trees while a conversation or two among golfers could be heard at this green or that as we walked off the course. A leisurely stroll through a peaceful park cathedral full of interest, I felt invigorated even though my scorecard looked like the Pythagoras’ Theorem, mainly from the interaction with the landscape that struck a nice balance of liveliness and calm. One last acknowledgement of that as I walked past the clubhouse, then things moved quickly until I found myself on the plane, where I was sound asleep before we took off. Dreams of punch shots checking up at the Fifteenth pin took hold as we flew overhead and eventually away, the journey home at hand.
The back nine is on flatter terrain than the front but makes up for it with its fairway contours and green complexes. There is a sole par 3 on this set, but the 4’s and 5’s ensure variety mainly through angles, width and hazard placement. I would rank them 12, 15, 17, 11, 13, 16, 10, 18, 14.
Generally, Eugene Country Club is a unique course from a design perspective, representing a blend of heroic, strategic (and a bit of penal) styles within a memorable setting. It’s a rich classic parkland with a history of championship pedigree, yet allows the rest of us to engage with it in endless interest. The elegant slopes of the greens, the strategic tees and bunker placement, the mischievous yet appealing fairway contours and yes, the romanticism of the storied trees, brings a wonderful wealth of character together. The course exudes classic charm and does so in part by incorporating design tenets that have not been used recently most other places. RTJ’s character has been preserved and enhanced in several instances and the dominant reliance on trees for strategy (not simply narrowing corridors of play) is something Golden Age architects like Flynn and Tillinghast included within the structure of play in various ways. It worked well. ECC utilizes its unique setting and natural elements by embracing them, which translates to a course identity worth seeking out.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: A low profile yet spread out structure fits in well to the setting and the pro shop is steps away from the First tee. I really like the course insignia of the tree while my friend liked the classic lettering logo more. There was a lot of Nike apparel, with good reason.
Practice Area: A range, putting green and short game area are all available.