Sunday, July 30, 2006

Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes

Bandon Dunes 6th hole

Bandon Dunes (ranked #74 in the world) and Pacific Dunes (ranked #19 in the world), located in southern Oregon, five hours from Portland, represent the best that golf has to offer. The golf resort, developed by entrepreneur Mike Keiser, was done with a philosophy that I find refreshing in this age of rampant commercialism.

The Bandon Dunes Resort (as the entire complex encompassing Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes and Bandon Trails is known) was developed under the philosophy "Golf as it was meant to be". The courses are walking only and were developed in the traditional style you find in the British Isles. Links golf, no cement, no formalities and an abundance of caddies. In this regard (the overall philosophy), Bandon Dunes is superior to Whistling Straits, which was built with the intention of hosting large crowds and major championships. And also to Sand Hills, which may be the best course in the United States, but is a private club. Bandon Dunes is closest to golf's founding philosophy - it is open to the public and was designed to put great golf above all else. Keiser also went with (at the time), relatively unknown architects - the Scotsman David McLay Kidd for Bandon Dunes and Tom Doak for Pacific Dunes, which turned out to be a brilliant move. Rather than imposing pre-conceived notions on this special stretch of sand dunes, each developed the courses in a minimalist philosophy and achieved great results.

I recently saw Mike Keiser interviewed on The Golf Channel and they asked him what he was most proud of. His answer was that the courses were packed in the winter, often times while raining, and that group after group continued to tee off. It is a testament to how good it is. You have to like his philosophy. Playing at the resort reminds me of playing in Scotland, Ireland and England. His vision is that the Bandon Dunes Resort becomes a great venue for amateur golf. He was at Bandon Dunes for the playing of the 2006 Curtis Cup. His vision is that the courses would host U.S.G.A. amateur, not professional, events. His basic feeling was that he runs the resort to at least break even, not to gouge golfers. I personally find this philosophy a breath of fresh air in a golf world increasingly obsessed with housing developments and courses built to host major championships such as Trump National and Liberty National, with off-the-wall initiation fees.

The Bandon Dunes Resort allegedly has the largest caddy program in the United States. I don't know if this is true; it probably is. This is just one more reason to like the place, keeping this sadly increasingly lost profession alive.

I also recently completed reading the book The Making of Bandon Dunes by Steve Goodwin. The title of the book refers to the entire resort and not just the Bandon Dunes course. I highly recommend the book, which is partly a biography of Mike Keiser, the founder of the resort. His philosophy is just so good and his iconoclastic style so unique that the more I learn about him the more I really like him. A couple of quotes from the book, this one from Keiser regarding why most new courses aren't as good as those he had built here: "Most golfers are average golfers, but the new courses are being designed for pros, or for the 1 percent of the golfing population that can hit a drive three hundred yards. For the rest of us, these courses are just too hard. There's nothing fun about being asked hole after hole to do things that you can't do." From the author - "...he had perfectly expressed the feeling that he had about what a round of golf ought to be, the feeling of expectation and adventure. They'd captured the flow and rhythm of the game, presenting a sequence of surprising holes, stirring holes, each one different from its predecessors but all of them forming a single, harmonious whole."

This captures the essence of the Bandon Dunes resort. It's a subtle thing, but it's really important. The philosophy and approach taken here form the best golfing complex in the world. I nominate Keiser to be the next president of the U.S.G.A. his approach is so good. The game needs a little less commercial emphasis and a little more of the approach Keiser advocates.

One of the inevitable consequences of playing the world's best courses is the debates about which courses you like better, particularly those located next to each other. Do you prefer Shinnecock or The National Golf Links? Wentworth of Sunningdale? Well, in my case, I liked Bandon Dunes more than I liked Pacific Dunes. I thought Bandon had better vistas, great golf holes and an imaginative routing. Pacific Dunes is a world class golf course, but I think their relative ranking should be closer. I would personally put Bandon Dunes much higher in the world rankings and Pacific Dunes slightly lower down from its current ranking. My personal preference is also to go to the Bandon Dunes resort ahead of Pebble Beach. Pebble is either a six-hour round or a four-hour round with a marshall at every hole pushing you along. It has lost what Bandon now has, the true spirit of golf.

Bandon Dunes

David McLay Kidd is on record as saying he never put anything down on paper while building Bandon Dunes. He just built it. The man is a clear genius being able to do this.

I liked the 14th hole, a 359 yard par four, an inland hole that has a true feel of links golf. The green is set amongst large gorse bushes. You really have the feel when you walk up to the green that you are at place like Cruden Bay or Royal Dornoch.

The 16th is my favorite hole on the course and is pictured below. It is a 363 yard par four with multiple risk/reward options. It plays right along the Pacific Ocean.

The 17th hole has one of the best views in golf from the tee box. The view of of large dunes below you with the massive gorse bushes set between the Pacific Ocean and course. The hole plays away from the ocean, but also has very good risk/reward options and plays to an elevated green.

The finishing hole at Bandon is a weak par five, but otherwise the course is brilliant.

Pacific Dunes

Designed by the now famous architect Tom Doak, Pacific Dunes is a worthy companion to Bandon Dunes. One of the signatures of Pacific Dunes are the rippling fairways, which Doak says are the original contours of the land. A strong decision on his part to leave them the way they are. Another features of Pacific Dunes is that a lot of the approach shots in play to elevated greens.

The par four 4th hole is a spectacular hole that plays along the Pacific Ocean. If you find yourself at Pacific Dunes with a high slice, you will lose your ball, probably more than once since the Ocean hugs the hole the entire way to the green.

Pacific Dunes 5th hole

The par three 17th hole is a heroic hole. It is a 208 yard hole, and when I played the course the wind was blowing from left to right. I don't know if this can be characterized as a Redan Hole, but if it is, it is the most difficult rendition of this style hole I have ever played. The tee shot is quite intimidating with massive bunkers catching any shot that is short left and a big sloping green. A very difficult hole.

As links courses do, one of the things that makes the overall resort so interesting is the varying wind conditions. The courses play substantially different depending upon how the wind is blowing. The prevailing wind in the summer is different that the prevailing wind in the winter. If you've never been on a golf trip to Bandon Dunes, you should go as soon as you can. The overall resort is world class - the cabins and lodges are very nice with a fireplace in each one, the food is very good (I recommend Grandma's meatloaf) and the bar area with pool tables, etc. in the clubhouse makes for one of the best trips you could have.

I look forward to going back at some point in the future to also play Bandon Trails.

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