Located on Five Mile Point just north of the Bandon’s Old MacDonald course, the new Sheep Ranch course officially opened on June 1st at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. The original Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch was a mysterious hideaway created by Tom Doak & Jim Urbina nearly 20 years ago (for Phil Friedman, the Amherst College roommate of Mike Keiser). It was about as easy to find and access as the lair under Wayne manor, but if you could get a hold of the caretaker and pay the $100 fare, you and your crew could have the links playground all to yourself.
The original Sheep enjoyed a legendary cult following, but when Keiser’s plan for a muni Bandon course fell through it aligned perfectly with Friedman’s decision to finally share his hidden gem with links enthusiasts. Friedman’s bakers dozen was simply an eclectic freestyle of tees and greens that could be played in any configuration. It wasn’t a formal layout of any kind and it wasn’t thought to be a big enough property for 18 holes…
Once all was agreed upon to commence on the new Sheep Ranch project (to become the resort’s fifth 18 hole layout), the next order of business was to find the design firm that best fit with the vision and could solve the routing puzzle on such a petite parcel. It was long thought that Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner would finally get their shot with Keiser, but when the dust cleared, MK chose his reliable “go-to” – Bill Coore (and Ben Crensahw) who unlocked the routing that is now open for play.
Coore and Crenshaw’s iteration features one mile of Pacific Ocean frontage, including nine green sites situated along the western edge of North America. It’s important to note, that the bones of what Doak and Urbina had produced two decades ago, served as a portal to what stands today.
The par 5 first plays 517 yards from the green set of tees and gently bends left on the approach, featuring an infinity green that bleeds off into the Pacific. The approach leads you towards the ocean, it’s Keiser’s favorite opener at the resort and ours as well.
The 303 yard second sharply bends right from the tee, cut the corner and an aggressive drive of about 260-270 yards can reach the front of this slightly elevated green. Notice what Bill Coore describes as a “turf pit” left of the green, when he was nearly blown off the cliff behind fifth green during construction, the decision was made – there would be no formal sand bunkers on the course.
The par 3 third is framed by dunes on each side and shares real estate with the another worthy par 3 (more on that later on). This hole is by far the shortest on the property at 113 yards, on this day it played just 105 yards.
The green site on the 443 yard fourth, use the side boards to feed the ball to this back hole location.
Another play towards the Pacific here on the second of three one- shotters on the front side. Check the wind here on the 166 yard fifth.
The 460 yard par 4 sixth features the most dramatic views and the most daring of tee shots on the course.
Nothing ordinary about the scenery surrounding the sixth green, but take note of the 360 degree fall off that repels anything less than a finely executed approach.
This image of the par 3 seventh with the marine layer and the ocean just beyond, might be our favorite photo from the day. It played 145 yards to this back corner hole location, anything long will gather into the native vegetation along the cliff’s edge.
The 529 yard par 5 eleventh dips and rolls before taking you upstairs between a bisected dune that Bill Coore refers to as “Volcano”. This stunner returns you to the modest clubhouse (where you’ll find some of the best made to order sandwiches at the resort).
The clubhouse view from behind the 11th green. This is an ideal space to hang post round for a meal and to watch players navigate one of the more unique green complexes on the course.
The magnificent 131 yard sixteenth that many consider the signature hole, shares the same real estate on Five-Mile Point as the third green. The genius in this design is that the surface of its sibling sits on a slightly higher profile, providing an infinity view from the tee, all while the entire 100+ ft width of the sixteenth green (shown here) sits just beyond along the western edge of North America. While the third green is relatively calm in undulation, its next-door neighbor is a constant wave of rippling Fine Fescue.
The 314 yard seventeenth provides a great opportunity to right the score, and is your last glimpse of the Pacific before turning for home.
Five separate snags or “ghost trees” surround the surface here on 17 that tilts away from the ocean and plays into the north summer winds. The 18th isn’t a dramatic finisher, but it provides a worthy opportunity to walk off with a smile. Playing more like a traditional par 4, it reads as a 5 on the card. At only 436 yards from the green tees (464 from the tips), perhaps the thought was to give back that bad bounce or the sudden wind gust that you incurred earlier in the journey. A golden ticketif you will, imagine that – the golf gods (or in this case Coore & Keiser) paying one forward to links enthusiasts. Traditionalists may not be in favor of it, but I say cheers to that…
Summary: In the weeks since we’ve returned from Bandon, our thoughts and impressions regarding the Sheep Ranch have not faded or diminished, they’ve actually solidified. It was quite simply the most enjoyable golf experience of 2020. It’s a different flavor at the resort, an entirely new spin – not as demanding as Pacific, not as puzzling as Old Mac, not as tough a walk as Trails and not with the sand hazards of BD. Sheep’s challenges come in the form of exposure to sharp coastal winds. It’s links in its truest form, if it’s calm go low, if it howls, hang on and grind. Sheep Ranch allows the greatest use of angles and ground game options at the resort. Simply, a superb addition to “Golf as it was meant to be”.