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Bandon Dunes: Golf’s Greatest Resort?

Writer’s Note: I have nothing but fond memories of Bandon Dunes. It was almost five years ago when I last visited the resort before the Bandon Trails course was completed and a course called Old Macdonald, which will open next year, had even been considered. I loved everything about the resort — its golf-oriented focus, the understated nature of the setup, the fact it was walking only and had a great range. It didn’t hurt that I played my best game of golf on a calm Pacific Dunes course on a Saturday afternoon, shooting 68. Haven’t seen a number like that in a long time. Talk about lightning in a bottle.

Since my visit, I’ve had two kids and my golf game came back to reality.  But my memories of Bandon are drawn on regularly. It seemed to me to be the perfect blend of North America meets UK golf. I’m heading back in April to see the two original courses, play Bandon Trails and play 10 holes of the new Old Macdonald course while hopefully taking a tour with Jim Urbina, the designer working on the project with Tom Doak. To say I’m anxious to return is an understatement.

The story below initially appeared in 2004.

Bandon Dunes Resort in Coastal Oregon: Is there a better golf resort in the world?

Bandon Dunes Resort in Coastal Oregon: Is there a better golf resort in the world?

NORTH BEND, OREGON – Ten hours by car from Vancouver, set along the Pacific Coast, sits Bandon Dunes, the world’s hottest — and perhaps best — golf resort.

It would have been impossible to foresee all the accolades which would be gushed upon this remarkable spot in the five years it has been open, especially given its remote location, which requires either a lengthy drive from Portland to the Pacific coast or a 45-minute flight.

In only a half decade, the resort has come to rival such world-famous golf retreats as Turnberry in Scotland and Pinehurst in North Carolina.

But don’t expect the decadence and golf carts you’d see at Pebble Beach or other palatial resorts that dot the U.S. West Coast. Rather, Bandon Dunes is a pure golf experience.

Never in his wildest dreams did Mike Keiser, the greeting card mogul who created Bandon Dunes, expect the success he’s having with the two courses.

The first, which shares its name with the resort, was designed by the young Scottish architect David McLay Kidd. When it opened no one thought more than a few thousand people would venture to this out-of-the-way spot to play golf. They were wrong.

The courses are always full, and finding a room for consecutive nights at the resort has been next to impossible for several months now. With a third course, built by the famed team of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, expected to open early next year, the hype around the resort will likely continue to grow.

While accommodation at the resort is tip top, the real draw is the golf. The two current courses — Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes — rank among Golf Magazine’s Top 100 golf courses in the world.

Pacific Dunes, designed by golf’s renaissance man, Michigan architect Tom Doak, currently rests in the top 20 courses on the list — a remarkable achievement for two courses that have been around for less than five years.

The slogan of the resort is “golf as it should be.” That means you won’t find golf carts littering the fairways of either course. Instead, the resort expects players to carry their own bags or employ a local caddie to loop them around. It also means your golf bag will be waiting for you on the practice range at your specified time. Shuttles constantly rush around the site moving golfers from one spot to another.

Bandon Dunes, the first of the two courses to open, set the tone. Mr. Kidd, largely untested as a golf architect, crafted a course that wouldn’t be out of place in his home of Scotland. The course starts off benignly enough, but on the fourth hole it turns to the sea, offering players one of the most breathtaking views in golf.

By the time players reach Bandon’s finishing holes — especially the dramatic 16th that plays alongside 30-metre cliffs overlooking the ocean — it is clear Mr. Kidd has created a course filled with strategy, style and excitement. Too bad the 17th and 18th holes leave this remarkable setting and march back inland to the clubhouse.

Mr. Doak’s Pacific Dunes has no such problem, being situated a kilometre and a half from the clubhouse. Like Bandon, it starts out easily enough, with a short par four, before heading toward the ocean and the cliffs on the third hole, a relatively short par five with an interesting green site perched above a sandy outcropping.

The brilliance of the course comes through Mr. Doak’s decision to ignore convention and build a track most suited for the land. That means quirks abound — not unlike what you’d find at the Old Course at St. Andrews or the northern Scottish hideway that is Royal Dornoch.

You’ll get a hole with two greens (the ninth), followed by two of the best par threes in the world, before Mr. Doak hits back with longer seaside holes. Like Bandon, Pacific is rustic golf, with wild blowout bunkers and lots of gorse, a spiky plant not usually seen in North America. Pacific Dunes provides a rollercoaster ride of excitement, guaranteeing players will want to grab their clubs and hit the first tee again right after the monster 591-yard finisher.

Neither course is long by modern standards (both play around 6,700 yards), but with wind capable of kicking up along the coast, both tracks can turn into monsters quickly. Thankfully, both Mr. Kidd and Mr. Doak designed wide fairways, although that may not be enough to protect balls from skidding into oblivion.

The resort also offers a British-style pub that serves standard bar fare while guests sip scotch. There is also the upscale Gallery Restaurant located in the clubhouse. Golfers can stay at one of the rooms in the clubhouse if they book far enough in advance.

Next year the third course at Bandon Dunes will open, but there is already talk that Mr. Keiser isn’t finished and will attempt to build at least one more great golf facility.

Even if he doesn’t, Bandon Dunes will continue to attract golfers nostalgic for the game’s golden era.

IF YOU GO:

– Bandon Dunes Resort: Reservations , www.Bandondunesresort.com.

– Room rates are between US$160 and US$900

– Greens fees range from US$160 to US$200 in peak season for both courses. Caddies, which are not mandatory, cost US$50.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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