Monday, December 3, 2012

Bandon Dunes: Golfer's Heaven

                I’m certainly not the first person to review Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and I most certainly won’t be the last, but after my fourth visit to the famed golf destination I feel the need to share my experiences.  My brother and I have made the journey from San Francisco to Oregon four times in the last 5 years and we will absolutely be there again.  Now with the new Bandon Preserve, a 12 hole par three challenge with stunning views and playability for all levels, the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort is a must see, must do, “Bucket List” kind of place for anyone who has ever considered themselves a golfer.

The Golf

                I could easily give you a hole-by-hole analysis of all five courses, but I’ll spare you my words and give brief overviews of your options.


                The first thing about Bandon Dunes is that it is a walking-only facility.  You can get a cart with the proper documentation, but unless you need it, get the caddie.  In four trips my brother and I have experienced 5 caddies of our own as well as the caddies of our fellow-competitors and we have yet to encounter a bad one.  If it’s your first trip, take a caddie for every round, its expensive (about $100 a bag is fair if you like them), but worth it.  Not only will you be able to enjoy the views and walk without lugging your bag, their plays and yardages are dead on.  More interesting than their usefulness to your game are some of the stories you can get.  That’s how I learned about the Sheep Ranch (look it up, you’ll be glad you did).

                If you’re a veteran to the facility feel free to use on of the pull carts or carry.  Once you’ve learned the hills and valleys you can do without the caddie, just make sure to bring a range finder.  Exact yardages come in handy out there.

Bandon Dunes

                The resort’s namesake course is a great way to start any trip.  It can be a beast if you play the back tees, but even just a move to the green tees will give you the feel of the full golf course and playability you want.  When you can play the golf course in its prime condition (meaning firm and fast), Bandon Dunes plays like a true links course and can be played by all levels of golfers.  After a fairly lackluster (albeit interesting) opening 3 holes the course takes a literal turn toward the ocean with the dogleg 4th hole.  The approach is straight downhill toward the Pacific Ocean and is followed by a fantastic par-4/par-3 duo in the 5th and 6th holes.

                One nice thing about Bandon Dunes is that it returns to the clubhouse at the turn, making for quick exits when nasty weather crops up or quick nines late in the afternoon.  The back nine meanders through the gorse (which is much less abundant than it once was) with a pair of difficult but exciting par-3’s at 12 and 15 and is capped by a wonderful finish with the 16th along the ocean and the 17th and 18th alongside a ravine reminiscent of the 17th at Kapalua’s Plantation course.  Even better is the very short walk from the 18th green to the Tufted Puffin Lounge.

Pacific Dunes

                My praise for this golf course cannot possibly match the quality of the experience in provides.  I’ve played golf at many famous courses across the world including St. Andrews, Pinehurst, Kapalua, Pebble Beach and Cypress Point.  Amongst those greats, Pacific Dunes (known as “Pac” to the experienced Bandon traveler) is my favorite golf course in the world.  After heavy rains Pac didn’t quite play to its normal speed during my last visit and yet it was still far and away my favorite golf course.  Barely over 6500 yards from the back tees, its yardage does not make it less challenging but more interesting and fun.  It’s more rugged than Bandon, giving it more of an Irish links feel, but it simply is wonderful for every level of golfer.  Like Bandon the first two holes don’t quite reveal the splendor that will follow, but then you reach the par-5 third hole.  It can be a beast into the wind, or a driver, 7-iron to a foot – as I did on my third visit to the resort – when downwind.  A wonderfully designed hole, this is where the course turns special.

                Tracing the Cliffside over the Pacific the 4th hole helps define Pac as the spectacular challenge that it is.  An extremely difficult hole with any wind that isn’t helping, the 4th hole is a tease of what is yet to come.

   The par-4 Fourth hole at Pacific Dunes

After a series of well-designed holes, Pac winds inland and back up toward the cliffs as you make the turn.

                The tenth hole is a tricky downhill par-3 (from the upper tee) overlooking the Pacific Ocean and you start thinking how amazing the course is, but the true gem is to follow. 

 The par-3 11th Hole at Pacific Dunes

I’ve played the 15th and 16th at Cypress Point.  I’ve played the 7th at Pebble Beach. And I’ve played the 11th at Pac.  This hole deserves to be in that same conversation.  A beautiful postage stamp, 145 yards from the back tees, you may need any club from sand wedge to 3-wood to play this hole.  I would come to the resort just to play this hole over and over.  After this hole, the par-5 12th is almost a let-down, but it’s followed by a signature par-4 with a giant sand dune.

 The par-4 13th at Pacific Dunes

After the 13th hole you leave the ocean, but the design is no less intriguing with the sometimes drivable 16th and Redan 17th the finish does not let you down.  If you only get to play one course at Bandon, Pac is the one.

Bandon Trails

                The third addition to the resort visits the forest inland from Pacific bluffs and away from the thorny gorse.  Trails is my least favorite of the courses at Bandon, but still a wonderful layout.  The greens are traditionally the fastest at this course and it plays quite a bit differently.  There is a strange links feel, but it’s really a target golf course at its heart.  Although it is away from the ocean it is not without its aesthetic qualities.  The downhill 14th is one of the most devilish and spectacular holes on the whole resort, a great view after the climb (via shuttle) up “Cardiac Hill.” 

 The par-4 14th at Bandon Trails

When I first played Trails it was home to the worst finishing hole in golf.  The 18th, however, is undergoing a remodel and I look forward to seeing the change.  Even a bad finish never kept me from wanting to test my skills against Trails.

Old MacDonald

                The newest 18-hole addition to the resort has already made headlines and already hosted a USGA championship (2011 US Amateur Public Links and Women’s Amateur Public Links).  I first enjoyed the Preview Loop the resort offered in 2010 and was extremely excited on my most recent visit to see the finished product.  It did not disappoint.  It very much has a Scottish links feel, settled in the valley below Pacific Dunes and has a few holes that add wonderful character. I’ve run out of words to describe the various courses at Bandon, but Old MacDonald falls under the “majestic” category.  It plays as though it’s larger than life.

                Highlights include a “Road Hole” complete with a nasty little greenside pot bunker, a “Sahara” hole that skirts a giant sand dune, a Redan par-3 that isn’t quite as nice as its older brother on Pac and tremendously large greens guaranteed to improve your GIR stats.  It also boasts some ridiculously awesome bunkering and the best snack shack location ever.

 Bunker on the par-5 15th at Old MacDonald.  See the caddies to the right for scale!

Bandon Preserve

                The newest addition to the resort is the 13-hole par-3 course.  You can play it in an hour and a half, you don’t run into other groups easily and it’s a lot of fun.  The downhill holes are spectacular and the setting in general is beautiful and fun.  If there’s one complaint I have is that there are too many blind shots.  Part of the fun of a par-3 course is watching your hole-in-one attempts zip by the hole, and I felt only a few of the holes really offered that opportunity.  With that aside, the course is well thought out and a delight to play.  It’s a great addition to a day where you don’t want to play 36 holes, but you’re not ok with just 18.  The Silvery Phacelia is abundant on the course and all net proceeds benefit the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance, so give this course your love and attention.  For those of you travelling in large golf groups, I’m told they don’t limit your group size so it’s the perfect site for a “horse race” or other group golf activity.

 The 10th hole at Bandon Preserve


                After four visits I’ve stayed at the Lily Pond rooms, the Chrome Lake rooms and the Inn.  I could not signal one over the other because you don’t really spend much time in the room.  They are all nice rooms, top notch and better than the hotels I stay in for work throughout the year (which are not shabby by any means).  If you like to relax and read at your room at night I recommend the Lily Pond.  The Lily Pond rooms feature small decks overlooking a quaint quiet point that was a great setting for my brother and I’s opening night cigar smoke this year.

 View of the Lily Pond from this year’s room

                If you plan to go back and forth to the main resort a lot, then I recommend the Inn.  The rooms are a short walk from the main lodge and sit bordering the 18th hole of Bandon Dunes.  Really, whichever rooms you choose, you can’t go wrong.


The Tufted Puffin Louge

                This is the place to be after your round.  It has plenty of TV’s, good service and a tasty little menu for heavy or light meals.  They offer a decent selection of beers, a cozy fireplace and a great view of the 18th green so you can watch your buddies (or random strangers) finish up.  I recommend the duck pot stickers or the Cajun chicken sandwich.  For dessert, the ricotta cheese donuts are an absolute must.  Actually, they’re good for any time...

                If you’re looking to sit outside they serve out on the wooden chair outside the bar.  If there is one change I would recommend to the resort: even though it’s not in the South, you need to put rocking chairs out there.

The Gallery Restaurant

                If you want more of a sit down, wine with your meal type place then you need to go to the Gallery Restaurant.  It offers a slightly fancier menu with a quieter, fine dining atmosphere.  We skipped it at our last visit, preferring the less formal meals, but in our previous visits the food was always tasty.

McKee’s Pub

                You’ve come to a links resort and it comes complete with its own British Pub.  It offers a different menu than the Gallery or Tufted Puffin and for good reason.  Pub style food accompanies the pub atmosphere.  You can get away from the resort feel by mixing in a meal or two here.  Definitely try Grandma’s Meatloaf, even if you’re not a fan of meatloaf, and their homemade potato chips are to die for.  We watched the Alabama vs. LSU game (2012 version) there comfortably.

The Bunker Bar

                You don’t actually go to the Bunker Bar for food, you go for beer and cigars.  If you like beer or cigars, then the Bunker Bar is the place to be.  It stays open later than anywhere else on the resort, has plenty of poker chips, TV’s and a pool table.  They could rename the Bunker Bar the “Man-Cave” and it would do just fine.  We watched the election results roll in and ended up enjoying a good few games of poker.  I lost.

Other Amenities

                If there’s one area Bandon Dunes falls short of perfect it’s in the lack of other amenities.  If you go to Bandon, you’re going for golf.  There’s nothing wrong with that but here’s a couple spots where the resort could step up.

The Fitness Room:  I’m not a gym rat, but the fitness center at Bandon could use a little lift.  A couple of benches, one multi-lift machine or a couple of barbells would go a long way.  Truthfully, though, I doubt the room gets much use.

Massage Center:  Bandon has actually stepped this up quite a bit.  Their former administrative offices have been turned into a massage center for the aching back.  My brother took advantage of this newer amenity with great success.  It isn’t the spa your wife will spend all week in, but it doesn’t hurt – unless you want it to.


                There’s a lot more I could cover about this amazing place, including the Practice Center and “Shorty’s” the lesser-known par-3 course by the driving range, but I think the point is clear.  Bandon Dunes is a place you must go, a golfing Mecca.  It will be difficult to grow the Resort into a family destination and it doesn’t have the variety of outside activities that locations like Kapalua and Pebble Beach have, but if you’re a golfer you have to make the trip.  I promise it will be well worth it.

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