Sunday, July 30, 2006

Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes

Bandon Dunes 6th hole

Bandon Dunes (ranked #74 in the world) and Pacific Dunes (ranked #19 in the world), located in southern Oregon, five hours from Portland, represent the best that golf has to offer. The golf resort, developed by entrepreneur Mike Keiser, was done with a philosophy that I find refreshing in this age of rampant commercialism.

The Bandon Dunes Resort (as the entire complex encompassing Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes and Bandon Trails is known) was developed under the philosophy "Golf as it was meant to be". The courses are walking only and were developed in the traditional style you find in the British Isles. Links golf, no cement, no formalities and an abundance of caddies. In this regard (the overall philosophy), Bandon Dunes is superior to Whistling Straits, which was built with the intention of hosting large crowds and major championships. And also to Sand Hills, which may be the best course in the United States, but is a private club. Bandon Dunes is closest to golf's founding philosophy - it is open to the public and was designed to put great golf above all else. Keiser also went with (at the time), relatively unknown architects - the Scotsman David McLay Kidd for Bandon Dunes and Tom Doak for Pacific Dunes, which turned out to be a brilliant move. Rather than imposing pre-conceived notions on this special stretch of sand dunes, each developed the courses in a minimalist philosophy and achieved great results.

I recently saw Mike Keiser interviewed on The Golf Channel and they asked him what he was most proud of. His answer was that the courses were packed in the winter, often times while raining, and that group after group continued to tee off. It is a testament to how good it is. You have to like his philosophy. Playing at the resort reminds me of playing in Scotland, Ireland and England. His vision is that the Bandon Dunes Resort becomes a great venue for amateur golf. He was at Bandon Dunes for the playing of the 2006 Curtis Cup. His vision is that the courses would host U.S.G.A. amateur, not professional, events. His basic feeling was that he runs the resort to at least break even, not to gouge golfers. I personally find this philosophy a breath of fresh air in a golf world increasingly obsessed with housing developments and courses built to host major championships such as Trump National and Liberty National, with off-the-wall initiation fees.

The Bandon Dunes Resort allegedly has the largest caddy program in the United States. I don't know if this is true; it probably is. This is just one more reason to like the place, keeping this sadly increasingly lost profession alive.

I also recently completed reading the book The Making of Bandon Dunes by Steve Goodwin. The title of the book refers to the entire resort and not just the Bandon Dunes course. I highly recommend the book, which is partly a biography of Mike Keiser, the founder of the resort. His philosophy is just so good and his iconoclastic style so unique that the more I learn about him the more I really like him. A couple of quotes from the book, this one from Keiser regarding why most new courses aren't as good as those he had built here: "Most golfers are average golfers, but the new courses are being designed for pros, or for the 1 percent of the golfing population that can hit a drive three hundred yards. For the rest of us, these courses are just too hard. There's nothing fun about being asked hole after hole to do things that you can't do." From the author - "...he had perfectly expressed the feeling that he had about what a round of golf ought to be, the feeling of expectation and adventure. They'd captured the flow and rhythm of the game, presenting a sequence of surprising holes, stirring holes, each one different from its predecessors but all of them forming a single, harmonious whole."

This captures the essence of the Bandon Dunes resort. It's a subtle thing, but it's really important. The philosophy and approach taken here form the best golfing complex in the world. I nominate Keiser to be the next president of the U.S.G.A. his approach is so good. The game needs a little less commercial emphasis and a little more of the approach Keiser advocates.

One of the inevitable consequences of playing the world's best courses is the debates about which courses you like better, particularly those located next to each other. Do you prefer Shinnecock or The National Golf Links? Wentworth of Sunningdale? Well, in my case, I liked Bandon Dunes more than I liked Pacific Dunes. I thought Bandon had better vistas, great golf holes and an imaginative routing. Pacific Dunes is a world class golf course, but I think their relative ranking should be closer. I would personally put Bandon Dunes much higher in the world rankings and Pacific Dunes slightly lower down from its current ranking. My personal preference is also to go to the Bandon Dunes resort ahead of Pebble Beach. Pebble is either a six-hour round or a four-hour round with a marshall at every hole pushing you along. It has lost what Bandon now has, the true spirit of golf.

Bandon Dunes

David McLay Kidd is on record as saying he never put anything down on paper while building Bandon Dunes. He just built it. The man is a clear genius being able to do this.

I liked the 14th hole, a 359 yard par four, an inland hole that has a true feel of links golf. The green is set amongst large gorse bushes. You really have the feel when you walk up to the green that you are at place like Cruden Bay or Royal Dornoch.

The 16th is my favorite hole on the course and is pictured below. It is a 363 yard par four with multiple risk/reward options. It plays right along the Pacific Ocean.

The 17th hole has one of the best views in golf from the tee box. The view of of large dunes below you with the massive gorse bushes set between the Pacific Ocean and course. The hole plays away from the ocean, but also has very good risk/reward options and plays to an elevated green.

The finishing hole at Bandon is a weak par five, but otherwise the course is brilliant.

Pacific Dunes

Designed by the now famous architect Tom Doak, Pacific Dunes is a worthy companion to Bandon Dunes. One of the signatures of Pacific Dunes are the rippling fairways, which Doak says are the original contours of the land. A strong decision on his part to leave them the way they are. Another features of Pacific Dunes is that a lot of the approach shots in play to elevated greens.

The par four 4th hole is a spectacular hole that plays along the Pacific Ocean. If you find yourself at Pacific Dunes with a high slice, you will lose your ball, probably more than once since the Ocean hugs the hole the entire way to the green.

Pacific Dunes 5th hole

The par three 17th hole is a heroic hole. It is a 208 yard hole, and when I played the course the wind was blowing from left to right. I don't know if this can be characterized as a Redan Hole, but if it is, it is the most difficult rendition of this style hole I have ever played. The tee shot is quite intimidating with massive bunkers catching any shot that is short left and a big sloping green. A very difficult hole.

As links courses do, one of the things that makes the overall resort so interesting is the varying wind conditions. The courses play substantially different depending upon how the wind is blowing. The prevailing wind in the summer is different that the prevailing wind in the winter. If you've never been on a golf trip to Bandon Dunes, you should go as soon as you can. The overall resort is world class - the cabins and lodges are very nice with a fireplace in each one, the food is very good (I recommend Grandma's meatloaf) and the bar area with pool tables, etc. in the clubhouse makes for one of the best trips you could have.

I look forward to going back at some point in the future to also play Bandon Trails.


Anonymous said...

Just visited your site to see what you had to share about Bandon Dunes. I'm making my 1st trip there next week! I enjoyed learning that we both posted the same quote from "Dream Golf" about "what a round of golf ought to be.". I posted info about my upcoming trip at ;) Can't wait!

Fritz Ewert said...

Could not agree more with your assessment of Bandon Dunes. I had the pleasure of playing there in mid-October 2007 with +50 MPH winds blowing at the clubhouse, but my entire foursome felt privileged - not gipped - afterwards that we had the opportunity to have a go at this wonderful course with all its defenses in full force. I realize your focus is on the course itself, but I'd mention too that the resort itself was one of the nicest in all the amenities without being too fawning. Great blog; enjoy reading tremendously.

Anonymous said...

Just got back from a trip to Bandon Dunes and I couldn't agree with you more.... it was truly one of the greatest golf experiences I have ever had. While I was actually looking forward to the challenge of the anticipated weather (last weekend in April) we ended up playing in mid 60 degree weather with sunshine and just the faintest wind coming in off the Pacific. Conditions could not have been any better, and it fact may never have been according to our caddie who said that it was the best weather he had seen in 10 years of working there.

I too preferred Bandon Dunes to Pacific Dunes. I have tried to pinpoint over the last week why I feel this way. While Pacific is without question a phenomenal course, and actually much more dramatic than Bandon, there was a certain charm (for lack of a better word) that I haven't been able to get out of my mind since we played it. Including the round at Bandon Trail (completely different than the other two, but an absolutely great course in its own right) I thinks this was about as good a golf trip as I could imagine. I highly recommend it to anybody who has not gone!!

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine who worked in the golf industry in Oregon and had the opportunity to play all three courses at Bandon Resort many times summarized the courses this way. He did not feel one course was better than the others but feels it depends on what the weather is like. On a nice, slightly breezy day he prefers Pacific Dunes, it can be close to unplayable in high winds. On a windy but dry day he prefers Bandon Dunes, it will still be difficult but more playable. And when the wind blows and the rain falls he prefers Bandon Trails, it is more protected and the trees give definition to the shots when it is misty.

Me, I prefer to just play any of the courses whenever I can.

mike said...

Yeah, I read the book too.

Love the rest of your reviews, though. Wish I had your networking skills. Best of luck on completing the journey.

Matthew Manning said...

I might run out of room talking about Bandon Dunes. Most importantly, for anyone contemplating a journey to Bandon: DON'T EVEN DEBATE...JUST GO!!!

If you blindfolded me and dropped me on Bandon Dunes, I would swear I was at Ballybunion or Royal County Down...and I've been to both. That is the biggest compliment I can pay any golf course.

I thought Bandon Dunes was a better golf course than Pacific Dunes (I loved Pacific Dunes though). The views may have been better on Pacific. I would skip Bandon Trails. It was fun. It just has some holes that are not so good.

We were fortunate enough to play Mike Keiser's next gem - Old McDonald. He may have outdone himself. Guys walked off the course completely mystified.

Mike Keiser is my hero!

ben k said...

i have an opportunity to play all of the bandon courses in the late spring of 2012. what airport and airline would you recommend to get me out there?

MRP said...

Ben K...

There is no good way to get there, but it is worth the effort.

Anonymous said...

Right you are in saying no easy way of getting there. From the east coast - flying through San Fran then catching a puddle jumper to Bent on United is probably one of the quickest way. You can also fly into Eugene and drive a few hours.

That all said, I met a gentlemen at a party recently that told me the only way to travel to Bent is to fly privite on a G5. Good Luck with that

Anonymous said...

Its hard to take this guy seriously when he says Bandon Dunes is better than Pebble beach. Maybe when he played it many years ago it was great but just being back from Bandon 3 weeks ago the conditions on Bandon and Pacific are horrendous. And yes, I know its links golf and no I am not looking for highly manicured greens and fairways. Lets just say the pictures all over the internet related to bandon must be circa 2006. And good luck getting a putt to roll true on Bandon or Pacific these days. One thing he is correct about is that Bandon is a much better course than Pacific - however it was hard to stay objective given how poor the conditions are

Unknown said...

I love Pacific Dunes, too - I had so many expectations going in to my Bandon Dunes trip this summer and have to say that the golf and resort absolutely exceeded them all.

Bandon Dunes is like Disney World for guys: World-class golf, good food, comfortable but not over-the-top accommodations, great whiskey/wine/beer selections, and a feel of general camaraderie around the resort that promotes hard core golf enthusiasts interacting. It is an incredible place!

My own write-ups, if you are interested in comparing notes, can be found here:

Great work on your site - I always enjoy visiting it!

Quick question for you: What course(s) do you feel should be in the top 100 and are not?

Top 100 Golfer said...

Thanks Paul. Should be in the top 100 and are not: Yale, Whippoorwill and Myopia Hunt Club