The Local Knowlege

Courses & Travel

My Buddies Trip to Bandon Dunes

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My annual buddies trip consists of a small-town pro-am at Baywood Golf & Country Club in Arcata, Calif. I’ve written about it before: close friends and family, one of the toughest 6,200-yard courses in the world (pictured); there’s a lot of catching up, camaraderie and cards. But this summer I turned 40, so I decided to extend the Baywood trip, up the coast for three hours, and add a few days at Bandon Dunes. Such a milestone birthday was good cover and justification for the men on the trip to explain to their bosses and the ladies in their lives (their Bosses) that they needed some extra days and extra dollars. 
 
Bandon_Crew.jpgThe group consisted of some of my closest golf buddies and a few uncles who I’ve been losing to since my favorite club in my bag had a wooden head with a whippy shaft. Some guys on this trip came in early, left early. Some guys came in late, stayed until the end. The group size was anywhere from four to 11. There was no formal tournament; we organized teams on the first tee of every round, played $10 skins every round, lots of individual side bets ($5 nassaus), and occasionally the groups played against each other ($10 per man, two low-nets of the foursome).
 
Before the trip I tweeted the weather forecast: nothing but sun and temperatures in the mid-60s. And that was accurate. But wind was a factor, mostly in the afternoon. The first day was the worst -- winds gusting at 50 miles per hour when we played Old Mac (I shot 95); the last day was the best -- barely a breeze playing Bandon Trails (I shot 74).
 
Our Itinerary 
 
Tuesday evening: Arrival dinner at Tufted Puffin Lounge, which is at the main lodge and looks out to the 18th green of Bandon Dunes. Post-dinner drinks at McKee’s Pub.
Wednesday: Breakfast buffet. Morning round at Bandon Trails. Lunch at Tufted Puffin (best burger on property). Afternoon round at Old Mac. Drinks at McKee’s Pub. Dinner at Tufted Puffin.
Thursday: Breakfast buffet. Morning round at Bandon Dunes. Lunch at Tufted Puffin. Afternoon round at Pacific Dunes. Dinner and birthday at Bandon Trails.
Friday: Breakfast buffet. Morning round at Pacific Dunes. Lunch at Pacific Dunes. Afternoon round at Bandon Trails. Private tour of Bandon Preserve (more in a separate blog post). Dinner at Tufted Puffin. Drinks at McKee’s Pub.
Saturday: Breakfast buffet. Morning round at Pacific Dunes. Lunch at Tufted Puffin. Afternoon round at Bandon Dunes. Dinner at Tufted Puffin. Drinks at McKee’s Pub.
Sunday: Breakfast buffet. Morning round at Bandon Trails. A walk to the labyrinth to get spiritual. Shuttle to Coos Bay/North Bend Airport (via Aviation Transportation).
 
There were three of us who played all four rounds at Baywood and all nine rounds at Bandon Dunes, for a total of 13 rounds in nine days. The Bandon breakdown: We played Pacific three times, Trails three times, Bandon twice and Old Mac once. (That’s just the way it worked with available tee times.) If I had my perfect breakdown for playing 10 rounds at the resort it would be four on Pacific, three on Bandon, two on Trails and one on Old Mac.
 
After eight visits to Bandon Dunes, playing all four courses several times each, I’m finally ready to say, without question, Pacific is the best course at Bandon Dunes. “Duh,” you say? I realize it’s the No. 2 public course in the country (behind Pebble Beach), but lots of people who’ve played all four will say Bandon Dunes is their favorite, some are now saying Old Mac, and some even say Trails. For me, Bandon is second, then Trails and then Old Mac.
 
I’m down on Old Mac for a few reasons: I’ve now played it three times and in nothing less than a three-club wind. On this trip, and with such extreme conditions, swings were silly and scores were a joke. The ball never stopped rolling on the greens, which are massive and undulating and it all started feeling like the biggest putt-putt course in the world. I get it: They needed a completely different look after the first three courses at the resort, but it doesn’t mean I have to love it. And I get that it’s a nice option for an afternoon of fun golf, but I like the other three so much, and something has to be fourth on my list, so Old Mac takes the toilet seat. Tom Doak once told me that he was concerned that the masses might declare Old Mac, an homage to C.B. Macdonald, his best effort. I don’t think he’s worrying anymore. It’s not even the best at Bandon. 
 
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It all became clear to me -- that Pacific is my favorite -- once I started thinking about which architect made the best use of their canvas. Pacific has the two most spectacular holes on property, and in the world for that matter. From tee to green, holes four and 13 (pictured) are along dramatic chunks of the coast. (Click here for an extensive slide show of my trip.) Both David McLay Kidd, who designed Bandon Dunes, and Doak, who designed Pacific Dunes, had coast to work with, and Doak just used it better than Kidd. As much as I love Bandon’s fifth and 16th holes, standing on both tee boxes, it’s hard to see where you’re supposed to hit your drives. The holes themselves don’t look inviting or even playable from the tees, but I love the approach shot to Bandon’s fifth, and I love the view of the coast from Bandon’s 16th green. Trails, if it were anywhere else in the country other than right next door to Pacific and Bandon, would get a lot more play and a lot more attention. The reality is, it’s underrated, and has a lot of good holes, but people don’t travel to Bandon Dunes to play golf in the trees, they come for the views of the ocean.
 
A few of us took the time to list our favorite 18 holes, but we broke it down by best first hole, best second hole, etc.
 
Our Ranking
 
Hole No. 1: Bandon Dunes. There isn’t a great starting hole to any of the courses, so this is the best of the worst.
No. 2: Trails. One of my favorite par 3s on property, it’s an early indication that Trails is a challenge.
No. 3: Pacific. A hulking par 5 that usually plays into the wind and ends with a green that offers Pacific’s first close-up view of the Pacific Ocean.
No. 4: Pacific. One of the best par 4s in the world. If it plays downwind, you have to pinch your drive between a bunker and the edge of the earth, and then you have to negotiate a well-protected green.

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No. 5: Bandon (pictured). Another one of the best par 4s in the world (it’s a long list), it’s more about the approach than it is the tee shot.
No. 6: Bandon. A par 3 along the water, but this isn’t a runaway. I voted for Pacific’s 316-yard par 4, others voted for Old Mac’s 555-yard par 5, which is where you’ll find Hell Bunker.
No. 7: Pacific. The best hole at Pacific that’s not on the water is also the No. 1 handicap. Great hole requires a big tee shot and an accurate approach.
No. 8: Trails. One of the shortest par 4s at the resort -- 321 yards -- is also one of my favorites. I’ve often been tempted to pull driver, but I never do.
No. 9: Pacific. We voted based on playing to the lower green. When you play the upper green, the hole is pretty generic.
No. 10: Pacific. Great par 3, back into the wind and out to the water.
No. 11: Pacific. Another short and scruffy par 3 on the water.
No. 12: Bandon. The first hole built on property is a par 3 back into the wind and out to the water.
No. 13: Pacific. This is a double-diamond test of your swing and skills. It’s an uphill 444-yard par 4, into the wind and ultimately offers a satisfying view of the coast and your accomplishments from the back of the green, assuming you get there and can salvage an official score.
No. 14: Old Mac. A 370-yard par 4, uphill and from the green, offers a great view of the rest of the course.
No. 15: Old Mac. My vote here was for Pacific’s 15th, but again, I got outvoted.

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No. 16: Bandon (pictured). Like I said above, it’s a great hole once you get to the green and take in the view.
No. 17: Old Mac. Once you get back behind the dune at Old Mac, the course has an appealing finish. Downwind, the 546-yard par 5 is reachable in two.
No. 18: Old Mac. Love the punch-bowl green at the 469-yard par 4, and don’t love any of the other three finishing holes, although the 18th at Pacific is growing on me.
 
Final Tally: Pacific (7), Bandon (5), Old Mac (4), Trails (2).

The Ultimate 18: Par would be 70 (35/35), with three par 5s, five par 3s and 10 par 4s. The yardage would be 6,622 yards from the black tees; 6,012 yards from the green tees.

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Here’s a link to a slide show of images from my trip. I’ll also be blogging a tour of Bandon Preserve and a separate post with a quick Q&A with my caddie at Bandon, Jaira Chaffee (pictured), which will run on Friday.
 
Next year (yes, we’re planning on making this an annual event) we’re going to make a few tweaks to the itinerary. Most notably, we’re going to try for the first tee times in the morning rounds, the last tee times in the afternoon rounds. This gives us a few hours in the middle of the day for a nap, cards, etc. And we miss the worst of the wind in the middle of the afternoon. And there’s nothing like being the first out, last in. The sunrises and sunsets can be phenomenal.
 
In terms of food, we obviously loved Tufted Puffin, which has the best burgers and high ceilings, flatscreens and the view looking out to Bandon’s 18th green. We never had a bad bite anywhere we ate, the wine list is as good as it should be, and we liked getting our drink on at the bar at McKee’s Pub, but sitting down to eat there can feel cramped, and when it’s busy, which it is in August, it’s loud. Phone calls to home or the office are best made at the outdoor fire pit at McKee’s Pub, and before you order your second drink of the evening.

Cheers. 
 
--Matty G.

(Follow me on Twitter @Matt_Ginella and on Instagram @Matt_Ginella.)