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An Oregon Odyssey and Bandon Dunes

By John Ehle

Bandon Dunes, Oregon Golf

In 1999 Bandon Dunes Golf Resort opened along on the Oregon coast in south-central Oregon. It has grown from 18 to 54 holes and the newest course there, Bandon Trails, has been named Golfweek's "Best New Course of 2007". This article, will offer some insights into why it has become such a desirable golf destination and why the area has so much more to offer.

The Oregon coastline stretches more than 400 miles from its northern boundary near the Lewis and Clark Center at Illwaco,WA to the southern terminus near Brookings, where the stands of redwoods begin. In between lies the most beautiful, rugged and diverse array of landscapes, seascapes, geologic formations, water bodies and climates in the continental U.S. and much of this beauty is accessible to the Bandon-bound traveler who is willing to jump on Hwy. 101 west of Portland and head south.

Ballybunion is considered to be the finest links golf course in Ireland and some golfers, if asked "what is the difference between Bandon Dunes and Ballybunion?", respond by saying "It's easier to get to Ballybunion!" Perhaps.

Geologists tell us that the building of the Coast and Cascade Mountain Ranges began about 55 million years ago. Following the mountains' formation, glaciers, rivers, rainfall and wind began to work their magic and the eroded mountains found their way to the ocean as sand. While the headlands are made primarily of basalt and so hard that they resist even the constant, powerful pounding of the waves, the sand originates in the sedimentary rock of the mountain ranges and it gives way to the erosive forces of wind and water, ultimately finding its way to the shore; only to be rebuffed and tossed back landward by wind and waves. The constant give and take of wind, waves and ocean currents ultimately have their way with the sand and in a stand-off of Herculean proportion, dunes are piled up which reach heights of nearly 200' or nearly 500' above sea level. Closer to the beach, the wind drops the sand into the European beachgrass, forming low-lying foredunes and beyond them the wind picks up speed and creates a deflation plain which the wind can scour all the way down to the water table. This is where quicksand can be created giving the term "hazard" great import.

Beyond the deflation plain the wind once more loses velocity and this is where the large, oblique dunes are created. Since this land is a literal "link" to the ocean it has become known as "linksland", the source of what we know as links golf. The bunkers we know as golfers are not naturally occurring events like the oblique dunes. True bunkers, as seen on the Old Course at St. Andrews, were originally formed by the sheep which were allowed to graze on the public land. In their need to seek shelter from the coastal winds, they dug out depressions (bunkers) and hunkered down. Where the term "traps" originated, I haven't a clue.

The land at Bandon Dunes lies in what might be called a transitional area as it is not officially part of what the Forest Service calls the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. It is, however, very similar to the Dunes in that it has the dramatic rise and fall associated with true dunesland. While Oregon has some of the most stringent land-use legislation in the country, they have made provisions for the use of ATVs and dune buggies and beach/boat launch access to the estuaries and the ocean. Provisions for camping, hiking and other non-motorized beach and trail use is very explicit and Oregonians, while they tend to mispronounce "Organ", do a great service to those of us who are drawn to the shore.

Given the exacting land use provisions which Oregonians had crafted in the 60's (the result of occasionally acrimonious debates between environmentalists and developers) the purchase of the original 1200 acres which would become Bandon Dunes left much work to do regarding the licensing required to develop the land. Enter Mike Keiser.

Mike Keiser is a Chicago businessman who may be most identifiable as the co-founder of RPG (Recycled Paper Greetingcards). The cartoonist "Boynton" has created many of the successful cards and this "green" company has been wildly successful; enough for Mike Keiser to branch out into the golf resort business which he eventually named Bandon Dunes.

Mike Keiser was a serious enough golfer but what he really wanted to do was to build a golf course. His success in the greeting card business had been huge and his financial situation would allow it. The short version is that he purchased some property on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan in an area called the Michigan Dunes. It was there that he built his first golf course; a 9 hole beauty called the Dunes Club which was a throwback design that immediately joined the top 100 courses in the country; as a 9 hole track! Ron Whitten, the golf architecture editor for Golf Digest, anointed it in Golf World and from then on, the word was out. (Whitten co-designed Erin Hills with Dana Fry and Mike Hurdzan) Comparisons with Pine Valley, Merion and other classic design creations followed, evoking names such as Ross, Tillinghast, Crump and MacKenzie. Keiser became a classic design, minimalist convert and the search was on for a piece of property which would lend itself to that design philosophy. Find the golf course in a piece of land and let it emerge. Don't succumb to what minimalist aficionados refer to as "yellow fever"; the gross over-use of the Caterpillar D7.

Article Tags: Bandon Dunes, Oregon Golf

Revised: 11/08/2010 - Article Viewed 23,825 Times

About: John Ehle

John Ehle John Ehle writes for, GolfTrips,com and other golf-related sites in the US. He has attended 6 Open Championships in the British Isles and many men's and women's US Opens and PGA Championships as well as Ryder Cups and President's Cups.

His primary international writing is golf course reviews and travel articles. He also writes about golf equipment and other golf-related products. Most recently he traveled to Cuba and will be in SE Asia for 6 weeks in February and March, 2012.

He writes a weekly column for a metropolitan newspaper in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area. He is a 10 handicap golfer and has competed in many Wisconsin State Golf Association events.

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