BANDON, OR. — Editor’s note: This is the first of two-part review of a West Coast golf trip primarily designed to check out the Bandon Dunes resort in Oregon. Part two will be published in next week’s Golf Plus.
BANDON, OR. — It’s become an annual can-we-top-this challenge of sorts with Ron Ashworth, my long-time friend, Medinah Country Club member and best golf buddy since our formative years in Centralia, Mo. We plot a golf trip that is expected to produce fond memories, exciting experiences and new entries for the best and highest-ranked courses we’ve ever played.
Over the years, those trips have included visits to breathtaking layouts in Scotland, Ireland and Barbados, playing the consensus top three courses in the world — Pine Valley, Cypress Point and Royal County Down — and stops at other eye-opening, talked-about layouts like Whistling Straits, the Kiawah Island Ocean Course, Pebble Beach and Olympic Club.
Never, though, have we crammed so many special and spectacular courses into a short period of time as during a six-day stretch in July that saw us tackle four of Golf magazine’s top 13 ranked public-access courses in the United States. Plus, No. 2 in the world Cypress Point, where access is extremely difficult. Plus, what has to be one of the niftiest, most gorgeous par 3 courses anywhere — Bandon Preserve.
So much glamor golf in such a short time was possible for one primary reason. The hub of our trip was the amazing Bandon Dunes resort located hard by the Pacific Ocean in Southern Oregon. Any golfer who can go to Bandon Dunes and not get blown away by the caliber of its four courses, the overall experience of “golf as it was meant to be” and the depth of a man named Mike Keiser’s genius, should find another game.
Keiser’s genius, in fact, is such a compelling story it’s been told in a hardback book titled "Dream Golf: The Making of Bandon Dunes." Once I started reading it, I literally couldn’t put it down. It’s an amazing tale of a guy who made millions in a Chicago company called Recycled Paper Greetings, got hooked on the way golf was played and designed in Scotland and Ireland, went totally against the grain of conventional wisdom and wound up with the hottest golf property in the industry.
Keiser, who got his feet wet in the golf business with a 9-hole course in Michigan called The Dunes Club, spent years traveling the United States looking for just the right land to build the kind of golf he’d already designed in his mind. Then he eschewed big-name architects like Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye for up-and-comers who bought into his vision and would allow him to be hands-on involved.
Here’s how the Wall Street Journal summarized Keiser’s venture on the inside cover of Dream Golf.
“The story behind Bandon Dunes sounds a little too perfect, as if it were scripted as a marketing ploy. In fact, it was the opposite, just a guy building the kind of golf course he himself would want to play — and tapping into something smart.”
To put it all in perspective, as recently as 1998 there was not a single golf hole at Bandon Dunes. Now there are 85 and all four 18-hole layouts — Bandon Dunes (1999), Pacific Dunes (2001), Bandon Trails (2005) and Old Macdonald (2009) are ranked in Golf magazine’s top 15 U.S. public courses. If there were a ranking for par 3 courses, I’m confident Bandon Preserve would be No. 1.
Not only that, but Pacific Dunes, without the exposure of nationally televised PGA Tour events, has consistently been No. 1 in the rankings above heavily publicized and vastly overpriced Pebble Beach. While I’d rather play Pacific Dunes than Pebble Beach on any day of the week ending in y, I don’t totally agree with the ratings. In my book, Bandon Dunes should be No. 1 and Pacific Dunes No. 2.
Chalk the disagreement up to beauty and golf-course preferences being in the eye of the beholder. Keep in mind that everywhere you go at Bandon Dunes the beauty and the wow factor are non-stop.
Before delving deeper into what makes Bandon Dunes so over-the-top special, it’s necessary to weave in the other elements of what was the all-time buddy golf trip. Hooking up with Ron and I once we got to California were Jeff Johnston, president of Mercy Hospital in St. Louis, and Todd Moore, a general surgeon from Kansas City.
Jeff and Todd, both low handicappers, had gone out a day ahead of us to play at Pebble Beach, then drove up the coast to meet us for round one of a series of seriously contested best-ball matches at Pasatiempo in Santa Cruz. Pasatiempo, which is No. 13 on the Golf magazine list, is a 1929 Alister MacKenzie gem that on almost any other trip would be the course you couldn’t stop talking about.
Ron and I played there last year, and were pretty much overwhelmed by the majestic views, the rolling terrain and the quality and variety of holes. After that first exposure, we vowed to get back at the first opportunity, and that’s what we did. Anybody planning a trip to Pebble Beach should work in a round at Pasatiempo, either going or coming. It’s right on the way.
So how good is Pasatiempo, really? Well, MacKenzie, who would go on to design Cypress Point and Augusta National, frequently declared it to be his best. Bobby Jones, who played there the day the course opened in 1929, was so taken with MacKenzie’s work at both Pasatiempo and Cypress Point that he recruited the Scottish architect to create Augusta National.
From Pasatiempo, our journey took us to Pebble Beach, dinner at the Lodge at Pebble Beach hosted by Houston Astro owner Jim Crane’s CEO — that’s chief entertainment officer — and on to Crane’s mind-boggling mansion overlooking Pebble Beach to spend the night. Yeah, Delbert, as an incorrigible name dropper I had to work that part in. How it all evolved is a long story but it basically traces to one of the members of our foursome — Todd Moore.
Day two was spent at my favorite place in the golf universe — Cypress Point. My dear friend, the late Judge James Farris, opened that door many years ago through a retired California congressman named Don Edwards. Congressman Edwards, a former Stanford golfer now in his 90s, has been gracious enough over the years to allow me to come out with three guests on a semi-regular basis.
You can always tell the guy who’s never played there before by the glazed look in his eyes as the glorious majesty of Cypress Point unfolds hole by hole. This year’s Cypress rookie was Moore, and he went through all the stages of wonder that captivates everybody on their first exposure. Making the experience all the more memorable for him was the fact he was able to clear the ocean on Cypress Point’s famed 16th hole.
On this day, No. 16 was playing 222 yards into a wind of more than 20 miles per hour. Todd and Jeff, who is extremely long, both got their drives on the green. Ron and I laid up, although Ron hit a second ball that made it after landing atop the concrete wall next to the ocean. That should tell you all you need to know about what underdogs Ron and I were in the daily matches.
Okay, the stage is now set for Bandon Dunes. Well, almost. The only double bogey on Bandon is getting there. Because of the remote location, it’s necessary to catch a puddle jumper for a near two-hour flight out of San Francisco or Portland. And to our dismay that can be extremely dicey.
Fog in either San Francisco or North Bend, Ore., or a flight that doesn’t have enough passengers on it, can get you grounded. So can a whopper of a fish tale, like the one that left us scrambling for hotel rooms in San Francisco after our flight was aborted because President Obama’s plane supposedly was in San Francisco air space.
We didn’t get out until the next morning and lost a round of golf because of the delay. But once we finally got checked in and on the first tee, it was just so much spilled milk. By the time we reached the crest of the hill on the third hole at Old Macdonald’s, and collectively gasped at the stunning grandeur ahead, the price to get there was worth it.
You will see why in part 2 next week.
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org