By Jason Bruno
Those two words bring instant smiles to golfers around the globe. If you’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced this links paradise along the shores of the south Oregon coast, then you know the euphoria. The resort and it’s six courses (the new Sheep Ranch opened on June 1st) is the only authentic links destination in the United States. Just last month the world watched the incredible drama from the U.S Amateur at David McLay Kidd’s original – the 18 hole layout that bears the same name as Mike Keiser’s minimalist golf mecca. If you’ve never been, put it at the top of the MUST do list.
We began the visit with a mid-morning tee time on Bandon Dunes. Day two was a 36 hole dose of Sheep with veteran Bandon caddie Jerry Lou on the bag – the anticipation was off the charts.
This view from our room at the Inn overlooks the 18th green on B.D and the Lodge. For our visit, the week before the U.S Amateur, the weather was ideal, low 50’s in the mornings and mid 60’s in the afternoons (with typical summer winds out of the north 15-25 mph). Ken Nice and his Agronomy Team had all of the courses in spectacular shape.
The newest member of the links rota at Bandon is the Sheep Ranch, a Coore/Crenshaw design (that was previously an informal links created by Doak/Urbina) that utilizes a small footprint perhaps better than any American routing (with the possible exception of Merion), providing the feel of a century old classic Scottish links (to learn more about the Sheep Ranch, check out our feature: https://linksnation.com/sheep-ranch/
Often overlooked by first timers visiting Bandon is the 13 holes of par 3 splendor – Bandon Preserve. Whether you start your day of golf here or spend the evening chasing the sun, you’ll enjoy some of the most breathtaking views and most unique short holes imaginable. It may be the finest short course on the planet, and certainly is a safe bet to be the most fun.
On this visit to the resort, we made it a point to see and experience ALL of what Bandon has to offer, make some time to stroll around the nature trail at Chrome Lake and visit the Labyrinth. The ideal meditation spot in a very tranquil setting. The Labyrinth is dedicated to Bandon visionary Howard McKee, for without him, Bandon as we know it, likely would not exist.
You can’t go wrong with any of the various lodging options at the resort, but our personal favorite (where we’ve stayed several times, including part of this visit) is the Chrome Lake villas. Not all lodging options have both shower and bath tub (Chrome Lake does), if recovery is important to you after those long 36 hole days on the links, soaking in a hot tub can be invaluable. This is the ideal set-up for those who prefer a secluded cabin type of vibe.
Shorty’s is the informal 9-hole par 3 practice course, ideally located a few paces from the one acre “Big Putt” practice green alongside the Bandon Dunes Driving Range. An eclectic short course that caters to playing to different targets from varying spots (as long as you don’t endanger others), the scorecard is thought of as a suggestion rather than a mandated routing. It’s free to resort guests, but an honor box beside the 1st tee welcomes donations that benefits Bandon Junior Golf and the Evans Scholarship Caddie Program.
Planning Your Trip to Bandon Dunes Resort –
There are a few schools of thought on how to plan a trip and itinerary at Bandon. The two best routes to get to the Bandon area via air travel is either thru Eugene or North Bend. North Bend is much closer (just 30 minutes away from the resort) but is generally more expensive and is limited to connections (or direct flights) from Denver or San Francisco. Hertz and Enterprise do have car rentals onsite. The route from Eugene offers more choices in terms of connections and deals. It’s about a 2.5 hour drive to the resort, so plan accordingly. For our latest visit, we flew into Eugene and spent the afternoon playing golf in the area (Eugene CC). We drove to Bandon early the next morning in time for our 9:40 am tee time.
When to play each course at the resort can be an essential element of every visit and needs to be planned accordingly. Savvy links enthusiasts who frequent the resort – also known as “Bandonistas”, have a definite method of how they plan out their stay. Here is the short version of how to plan your Bandon Dunes Golf itinerary:
1 – Use evenings, mornings and travel days to get the group together for the pure fun of the Punch Bowl putting course, Bandon Preserve or Shorty’s. Each can be experienced in a 90 minutes or less.
2 -Place the more challenging venues and those with the most wind exposure in the a.m slot whenever possible. Of the courses, Bandon Trails is the obvious choice for afternoon play because most of the holes are played in relative seclusion through the forest and away from the strong ocean gusts. Sheep Ranch is the wild card venue that can be slotted anywhere in the schedule. It is exposed to the fiercest winds at the resort, but it’s the shortest layout with the most generous fairways (and no sand bunkers), so Sheep is usually more playable than say Pacific Dunes or Old Mac in the afternoons when the winds kick up. Also the tee boxes are in very close proximity, it’s by far the easiest walk.
Bandon Trails is a magnificent walk through the woods with some of the resort’s finest architecture and is the ideal respite from the late afternoon coastal winds. There is an element of Trails that reminds me of the great dunes holes at Cypress Point. It doesn’t have the spiritual ocean vistas coming in like 16 at Bandon, but don’t pass on one of Coore & Crenshaw’s finest works.
3 – Here’s an example of our itinerary from earlier this summer with a few dinner suggestions:
Day One – Leave Eugene at 6 am, arrive at Bandon Resort 8:30am.
9:40 am tee time – Bandon Dunes
3:10 pm tee time – Bandon Trails
8pm: Punch Bowl
Dinner: Pacific Grill (Tandoori Chicken)
Day Two –
8am – Practice area / Shorty’s
9:10 am tee time – Sheep Ranch
3:20 pm tee time – Sheep Ranch
Dinner: McKee’s Pub (Beer Battered Fish n Chips)
Day Three –
10:40 am: Pacific Dunes
6 pm: Bandon Preserve
Dinner: Gallery (Fish Tacos)
Day Four –
8:10 am tee time – Old Mac
Check Out – Fly out of OTH (North Bend)
4 – There will be days on the Southern Oregon Coast where mother nature won’t cooperate with your plans. Roll with the punches, our morning round at Old MacDonald featured some serious marine layer (fog) for most of the front 9, but the iconic “Ghost Tree” (above) still stood tall. In cases where visibility is very limited and scoring is not likely to meet expectations, don’t let the conditions ruin the experience. Keep the enthusiasm alive by engaging in match play.
5 – It’s easy to consider Bandon Preserve an appetizer and just pass on playing it. DON’T make that fatal mistake, it may be the most fun you have the entire trip, and as we mentioned earlier, it might be the finest par 3 course on earth.
6 – Be sure to be prepared for any type of weather. Speak with other respected players that have visited the resort, wet weather gear is a must. Our first trip out there 9 years ago, I didn’t bring any quality rain gear and got blitzed by an early a.m 40 degree rain on the first hole of the trip (and a day later a hail storm nailed Ken Nice and I at Preserve). Every visit since, I’ve brought the gear (and of course haven’t needed it). Layering is another important component – compression under garments, sweaters, 1/4 zip pullovers are standard apparel to keep your core warm during high winds. Several pairs of your most comfortable golf shoes are perhaps the most important equipment needed. You’re walking some gnarly terrain, often in tough conditions – dry and happy feet (and legs) are often the difference in how well you hold up on those 36+ hole days.
7 – Finally, and perhaps the best advice I can provide is to take a Bandon caddie whenever possible. They are so knowledgeable about the courses and will save your body from the rigors of carrying or pulling your bag up and down the gnarly links terrain. Jerry Lou was my guy for this trip and will be for my remaining visits out to the resort. An outstanding vet at the resort that not only became a teammate out there, but the conversation was just what I needed to make the walk even that much more enjoyable. Remember, you’re saving your body, a few strokes and you’re helping support some great hard working people. Tip well and keep the bag light . . .
There are so many worthy hole designs created by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina on Pacific Dunes, bring your “A” game for this gem. The par 3 seventeenth is among our favorite one shotters anywhere.
Our second spin around Sheep Ranch brought a bit of history, a hole out eagle 2 on the 443 yard par 4 fourth. As legend has it, the eagle was the first of its kind on the 4th, and when we arrived at the clubhouse after the round, a staff member obliged with a cool memento (above).
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort has introduced the links golf experience to so many who’s only previous perspective came from watching The Open Championship on television each summer. Now, in a relatively short span of time (20 years), over a million links enthusiasts have flocked to the south coast of Oregon to enjoy the firm & fast “feed the ball” origins of how the game was intended to be played by the Scots several hundred years ago.
Keiser’s vision has become the finest golf destination in North America (perhaps the world), and somehow they have expanded the product without losing sight of its original minimalist links ethos. After each of our visits, it’s been tough to imagine that it could get any better, and yet it has. The recent opening of Sheep Ranch really has added another dimension to the resort experience. The only thing we can think of that would improve Bandon Dunes moving forward would be to have a world without a pandemic, so all of the social aspects of the resort can resume.
For more info on Bandon Dunes, visit: https://www.bandondunesgolf.com/