Golf In Bandon, Oregon
The Middle of Somewhere
By Bruce Leonard
I had driven from Los Angeles to a remote stretch of the southern Oregon coast to a resort that many golf aficionados consider America's most impressive golf destination, Bandon Dunes. On various tee boxes I had heard strangers suggest that I should get myself to Bandon, unless I wanted to concede that my life was a meaningless conglomeration of random acts. Or at least that's what I heard. I had read in numerous golf publications about the stunning ocean views that the first two courses, Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes, commanded, and I had dreamed of someday playing three public courses (the third being Bandon Trails) that the golf magazines consistently ranked in the top 15 in the country. But all I did was add a trip to Bandon to my Someday List, ranked between Run with the Bulls in Pamplona and Date Heather Graham.
However, a golf writer I know who has played a high percentage of the planet's best courses, including the Pinehurst, North Carolina, courses and the Scottish courses of St. Andrews, told me, "Bandon is the best golf destination in the world." When I learned that a fourth course, Old Macdonald, was about to open and that an excellent campground existed only about a mile south of the entrance to Bandon Dunes, I stocked my Class B motorhome, made sure I included my raingear, then headed north.
After the long drive, I wanted to check out the resort before settling into my campsite in Bullards Beach State Park, so I made the left turn off Highway 101 into the understated entrance to Bandon Dunes. I soon got my first glimpse of a golf hole-the afternoon light slanting through the trees to cast a glow over what looked like a landscape-painting in waiting. Two deer nibbling fodder off the edge of the fairway looked up at me. Welcome to Bandon Dunes.
Yet the short practice course (the public can play it all day long and tinker on the driving range and the one-acre practice green for $10) soon had me wondering whether I'd made a mistake, whether a game used to parklands courses and target-golf courses could handle the true Scottish-style links of Bandon. (Anyone who has played Bandon is likely shouting, "When is this clown going to mention the wind?")
Yes, the wind. Breezes are extremely rare at Bandon. Powerful hat-losing, body-tilting, tear-inducing gusts are closer to the norm. This is, however, not a criticism. Playing the Bandon courses without wind would be like taking an escalator to the top of Mount Everest, or arm wrestling the Venus de Milo. Wind is integral to the Bandon experience and defends these courses more than the hidden bunkers and sheer sea cliffs do. So the wind and the hard-and-fast course conditions had me talking to myself on the short practice course. What would I do the next day on Bandon Dunes?
I inhaled deeply, stuck my wedge deep in my bag and resigned myself to the idea that if ever I was going to learn how to bump-and-run I would learn it at Bandon. I then watched my punched eight-iron shot carom like a pinball from hillock to mound to ridge to crest, then stop six feet from the pin. In the pro shop, one of the friendly employees had given me a piece of advice: Use your putter whenever possible. So I did, and I watched my doubles and bogeys become pars. My game thus modified, I was ready.
In the campground that night, I studied the scorecards of the four courses. When I arrived the next morning on the first tee at Bandon Dunes, after parking my rig between a Lance camper and a gorgeous Class A in the RV parking lot, I was told that I was about to play the easiest of the courses. This perplexed me, since the scorecard indicated that it was the most difficult. And apparently it used to be, but much of the gorse was removed so golfers could complete their rounds with egos intact. I opened with a par, fell in love with the course on the fourth hole, which grants the first view of the ocean, and wished I could play the incomparable 16th hole-a split fairway, a chasm crossing, views galore-18 times, then call it a round.
Bandon Trails was next, and, despite the course not interacting with the ocean, I think it is a superior course to Bandon, and golfers willing to move up one tee box so as not to get bruised will likely find this course as wonderful as I did. Yes, 16 is an uphill brute, but remember: Everest doesn't have an escalator.
Pacific Dunes dances nimbly along the bluffs, tempts and taunts, promises then reneges. The ocean astonishes yet may elicit curses. I played Pacific Dunes in torrential rains and gale-force winds that chased everyone but my group off the course. It was the most memorable round of golf I've ever played, and when I returned to play Pacific in the sunshine and blustering wind, it was likely my favorite round. The course dazzles.
Old Macdonald, also a gem, serves up what I consider the best first hole on the property. The greens throughout are enormous, stretching to depths of nearly 80 yards, and I found them very difficult to read, three-putting accordingly. The course's signature hole is the seventh, the only ocean-view hole, yet to designate a signature hole is to unfairly devalue the others.
Many places I visit over-promise and under-deliver. Not so Bandon Dunes. After having played its four courses, I cannot dispute the claim by the aforementioned golf writer that "Bandon is the best golf destination in the world." And while golfers are in the area, they should definitely not skip Bandon Crossings, a very solid course that features excellent par-3 holes and costs far less than Bandon Dunes' four courses.
Article Tags: Bandon Oregon Golf
Revised: 11/08/2011 - Article Viewed 21,469 Times - View Golf Course Profile
About: Bruce Leonard
Bruce Leonard has been a freelance writer/photographer specializing in adventure travel for two decades,
his work having been published in dozens of publications, including the Robb Report, Playboy, Travel+Leisure Golf,
National Parks and the L.A. Weekly. His first solo art show recently closed, and his writing,
photos and paintings can be found at freelanced.com/bruceleonard.