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Golf

October 9, 2012

WEST GOLF COLUMN: Wow factor is nonstop at Bandon Dunes

BANDON, OR. — Wow factor is non-stop at Bandon Dunes

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two part review of a West Coast golf trip primarily designed to check out the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon. If you missed the first part, it can be found at www.panews.com under the golf icon.

BANDON, OR. — It’s been labeled “Dream Golf” and no two words could more accurately convey the experience awaiting visitors to the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort on the Southern Oregon coast.

Certainly no one in our foursome that included Mercy Hospital Chairman of the Board Ron Ashworth, Mercy Hospital St. Louis president Jeff Johnston, Kansas City general surgeon Todd Moore and the author of this piece would disagree. Like most anybody who has spent  any amount of time drinking in all that Bandon Dunes encompasses , we left groping for superlatives.

In the span of four days in July, in 60-degree weather, we’d  played 90 holes on Golf Magazine’s No. 1 (Pacific Dunes), No. 8 (Bandon Dunes and No. 9 (Old Macdonald) ranked public-access courses in the United States. We’d also made two trips around a delightful, 13-hole, par 3 course (Bandon Preserve). Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to squeeze in a round at No. 15 ranked Bandon Trails.

Yes, indeed, it was Dream Golf. If there’s anything comparable on one piece of property anywhere in America, you’d have a near impossible time convincing anyone in our foursome.  Especially where the concept of true links golf, the kind of golf you encounter in Scotland and Ireland, is concerned. Or, as they like to say at Bandon, “golf the way it was meant to be.”

That starts with walking, not riding. There are no carts at Bandon Dunes. But there are plenty of caddies, with some 350 loopers employed at various times during the year. Taking a caddy is not mandatory. You can carry your own clubs or rent a pull cart. However, for what they contribute in local knowledge, finding balls in the gorse and reading greens, a Bandon caddy is a wise investment.

Mike Keiser, the genius behind Bandon Dunes, spent years looking for the absolute perfect piece of property conducive to designing Irish and Scottish links-style golf. How well he succeeded was announced by Brian McAllen in a 1999 article for Golf Magazine.

“No finer piece of land has been made available for a golf course in America since Alister MacKenzie was shown the site for the Cypress Point Club on the Monterery Peninsula,” wrote McAllen, after his first look. MacKenzie, of course, turned Cypress Point into one of the two or three best layouts in the world.

Keiser’s vision for what he wanted led him to  reject golf’s biggest name architects for an unknown Scot named David Kidd (Bandon Dunes) and an almost as unknown American named Tom Doak (Pacific Dunes). He opted for the well-pedigreed team of Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw on Bandon Trails, then went back to Doak and Jim Urbina for Old Macdonald. Incredibly, he hit four home runs.

Basically, what they delivered at Bandon Dunes is Disneyland for golfers — a series of wild rides full of impressive hole variety and shot options that leave you wanting more and absolutely hating it when you have to leave. Or perhaps wanting to put a twist on a line from the movie Field of Dreams, and asking if this heaven. No, it’s Oregon. But golf in heaven must be something like this.

To put it in a visual perspective, Bandon Dunes is located on high bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It features massive sand dunes, dense gorse, lots of fescue grass, the kind of bunkers you seldom see in America and an overall rugged look. The exception is Bandon Trails, which was not part of the master plan but developed its own identity thanks to the nifty work of Coor and Crenshaw on land that meanders through meadows and forests.

Originally, Keiser had planned for two courses — what would become Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes. They were such a smashing success, however, he added Bandon Trails. Still on a roll when it was complete, and despite an economic downturn, the piece de resistance was Old Macdonald, a stunning tribute to the fertile mind of turn-of-the-20th century American architect Charles Blair MacDonald.

Macdonald couldn’t help but be humored by the triple-wide fairways, creative bunkering and greens that are so huge they are four putts waiting to happen. The size of the 5th green, for instance, is 20,000 square feet. That’s right 20,000. And one hole, the par 5, 6th, features a diabolical hazard called Hell Bunker that’s a namesake for a similar pit of torture at St. Andrews.

To go with the golf at Bandon Dunes, there is ample housing in the form of a lodge, an inn and two, three and four-bedroom cottages scattered about the resort. There’s also three excellent on-property dining options, right down to a Scottish pub.

Enhancing the on-course experience is a sprawling central driving range that faces in two different directions, a putting green roughly the size of Idaho, a 9-hole course called “Shorty’s” that sits adjacent to the driving range and last year’s finishing touch — the spectacular 13-hole, par 3 course called Bandon Preserve.

The latest jewel in the collection is probably in the most pristine condition of any of the Bandon Dunes courses. Crenshaw and Coore, on a plot of land with terrific views of the Pacific, designed 13 well-trapped holes ranging from 63 to 150-yards. There are no tee markers, only teeing areas. Golfers are given the option of making their own call on how long to play each hole.

Tying it all together is an extremely efficient shuttle system that produces transportation anywhere on the resort within minutes.

Keiser, way back in the beginning, had made it clear that he wouldn’t accept anything but exceptional course design. Kidd’s marching orders for the first course were as follows: “I want 18 great holes, not nine great holes and nine that are only OK. Nobody is going to come here for average golf.”

Kidd delivered exactly what the boss wanted and then some with Bandon Dunes. So did Doak, on both Pacific Dunes and later with Urbina on Old Macdonald. Bandon Trials, which we didn’t have the opportunity to play, must also be pretty special, seeing how it’s ranked No. 15.

From the standpoint of golf writers and golf publications, meanwhile, Keiser’s baby generated unprecedented advance publicity and soaring praise.

Golf Magazine, before Kidd’s Bandon Dunes layout even opened, ranked it No. 10 among modern U.S. courses (built after 1960). George Peper, in Links Magazine, took the hype factor even farther, shortly after Pacific Dunes opened.

Peper put Pacific Dunes against hallowed Pebble Beach in a hole-by-hole match play format. Pacific Dunes won, precisely because Keiser had made it clear he wouldn’t stand for average holes. It has been consistently ranked above the high-profile California track ever since.

Pebble offers seven, maybe eight exceptional  holes and a bunch of  average ones. Play Pacific Dunes once and you can remember every hole and the challenge it presented.

One thing I quickly figured out upon getting back to Texas was that my caddie, Erik Nelson, was right on target in an assessment of Bandon Dunes that I asked him to send me via e-mail.

“Coming to Bandon Dunes is a golf trip like no other you can make,” he noted.  “If your happiness is governed by the beauty about you, few golf experiences are as unique as Bandon. You can bring a camera and take pictures but they will never capture the combination of sights, smells and touch that you will experience.”

Taking that a step farther, words can hardly communicate the wow factor of so many of the holes on each course.

Just to cherry pick a few, there’s No. 4 at Bandon Dunes, where you turn the corner of a dogleg right and your jaw drops at the sight of a green perched on the edge of a cliff, and the vastness of the ocean in the background. There’s the back-to-back par 3s — No. 10 and No. 11 at Pacific Dunes —  with one playing downhill to the ocean and the other uphill to a green that looks like a postage stamp nestled among dunes and bunkers.

Perhaps the most overwhelming wow factor, though, comes on No. 3 at Old Macdonald. It’s a blind tee shot over a hill, with an aiming point at what is called the ghost tree. Upon reaching the crest of hill, you are greeted by the panoramic view of numerous holes dotted with what look like moon craters. Nestled next to and behind them is the peaceful Pacific.

From there, as was the case all the way around Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes, it’s non-stop eye candy. And it’s truly Dream Golf.

Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at rdwest@usa.net  

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