In celebration of Old Macdonald’s opening at Bandon Dunes in a couple of weeks, I’m running a story I wrote on the course that appeared in last year’s National Post Think Golf magazine. Interesting to note that co-designer Jim Urbina has recently parted ways with Tom Doak:
Sitting in McKee’s Pub just steps from the main lodge at Bandon Dunes Resort, burly golf designer Jim Urbina sips on a glass of water, relaxing after a hard day of pushing earth around a sandy dunescape on a stretch of Oregon coastline. Urbina and golf architect Tom Doak have spent the last 18 months working on the fourth course at Bandon Dunes, regarded by many as the finest group of golf courses under one owner in the world. Already two of its layouts, Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes, are ranked among the Top 100 courses in the world according to Golf Magazine. And every time a new course opens at the resort – as happened in 2006 with Bandon Trails – the entire golf world scrutinizes it.
But Urbina understands the latest addition at Bandon Dunes, a destination almost single-handedly built out of the vision of Chicago greeting card baron Mike Keiser, may be misunderstood by many. Assuming you’re already sold on the resort’s rustic links golf and its remote location (it’s a five-hour drive from Portland, or a short flight to nearby North Bend from San Francisco and Portland), the new course, Old MacDonald, requires a little imagination and an appreciation of golf history.
No, there’s not a farm on the course, nor pigs nor cows. The name is a reference to C.B. MacDonald, a legendary American golf designer who created what are generally regarded as the first great golf courses in the United States in the opening decades of the 20th century. MacDonald believed there were a certain number of great golf holes that were found on links courses in Scotland and set about recreating his own versions of them at places like National Golf Links near the Hamptons in New York, or at Chicago Golf Club. The new course at Bandon is an homage to MacDonald’s work.
“Don’t call this a replica course or a Tour 18,” says Urbina, referencing a golf course that attempted to recreate exact copies of famed golf holes from the PGA Tour. “What we’ve been doing here is using the same notes and looking at the diagrams in the same way that MacDonald would have. We’re assuming he would have seen the same things and placed holes in the same places.”
Old MacDonald is part history lesson, and Urbina understands that. The course he and his team have built contains their own versions of holes like “Eden” from the Old Course at St. Andrews, or “Alps” from Prestwick. There’s also a “Biarritz” hole, which initially existed on a course in France. Old MacDonald’s version is 181 yards with a green that is more than 80 yards long, and features a huge ditch-like ravine running through the middle.
Urbina understands some golfers might find the course, which opened 10 holes to preview play at the start of April, to be a bit quirky and whimsical. But he adds that many golfers already take trips to Scotland to play the initial incarnations of the holes devised at Old MacDonald. And if they aren’t interested in the history, the course will still be fun to play and includes spectacular vistas of the Pacific Ocean.
“For the first-time visitor, a lot of them will look at you blankly when you tell them they are playing an Alps hole,” he explains. “But the caddies will help explain the history. Mike [Keiser’s] vision for the place is to give golfers just enough of the history to let them digest the course for themselves.”
If You Go
Bandon Dunes Resort
The courses: Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails, Old Macdonald (opening June 2010)
Green fees on all courses from US$75 to US$220 depending on the time of year.