I spent my holiday week reading Walter Isaacson’s sometimes repetitious biography on Steve Jobs, and what impressed me most about the highly flawed character of Jobs, the driving force behind Macintosh computers, the iPod, iPhone and iPad, was his insistence that his company create Great Products and not settle (as rival Microsoft usually did) for stuff that was Merely Adequate.
That got me thinking about my own role as a longtime golf course critic. I guess my goal has always been to identify the truly Great Products of golf course design, those that deliver the total golf experience. So as a New Year’s resolution, I’ve decided to embrace the Steve Jobs Quest for Perfection, and thus forego any sugarcoating.
Thus, for the first time, I’m publicly disagreeing with my friends and magazine colleagues that Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon is the Greatest Golf Resort in the World. I don’t see it that way.
Even the most ardent fans of Coore and Crenshaw will admit that the 14th hole on their Bandon Trails course is, at best, an awkward par 4 (pictured above). And I think Doak and Urbina missed a super opportunity by not creating a par 3 over a cliff-edge cove at Old Macdonald.
What’s more, the closing holes on three of the four courses are anticlimactic, offering no parting shot of the grand Pacific coastline. The 18th on the Trails, which does play toward the ocean, is marred by having a clunky clubhouse just a half dozen steps off the edge of the green.
I’ve never been impressed with the accommodations at Bandon Dunes. None of the bathroom sinks has a stopper, so I can’t fill the basin with water. But I hate to let the faucet run continuously while I shave, wasting precious water down the drain. So I have to turn it on and off, on and off. Minor inconvenience? When seeking perfection, little details are big.
The food service at Bandon Dunes will never win any awards, and I’ve been frustrated more than once at the slow wait staff, particularly at breakfasts with a tee time looming.
But worst of all are the caddies at Bandon Dunes. They don’t work for the guys who pay them (with tip); they work for the resort, and their priority is not to give good yardages or properly read greens, it’s to make sure that play keeps moving. They fuss, cajole and push golfers along, checking with timekeepers placed periodically throughout each course. Bandon’s caddies are really marshals in coveralls.
So that’s my verdict. As much as I admire the four (soon to be five) courses at Bandon Dunes Resort, I don’t consider it to be a Great Golf Experience. I find it, thus far, to be Merely Adequate.
In fairness to Kemper Sports, which manages the resort, I should point out that Isaacson made clear in his book that Merely Adequate often makes the best business sense in terms of dollars and cents. Bill Gates’s Microsoft clearly made a lot more money than Steve Jobs’s Apple, and I’m sure embedding pace-maintaining rangers in every foursome guarantees that Kemper can cram in another group or two on every course each busy afternoon.
My judgment may be considered unduly harsh by many golfers. But had Steve Jobs played golf, and was looking for the perfect golf experience, I think he would have appreciated my honest evaluation.
My take: This is why I love Ron Whitten. The man has walked more courses than Gary Player. I can't tell you how much I appreciate and respect his opinion. Oh sure, we disagree. I happen to love course photographs that are shot from behind the green, looking back to the tee box. That angle makes Whitten want to revisit a career as a lawyer.
As far as Bandon goes, I would agree on the following points: anticlimactic finishing holes on three of the four courses. (The only 18th hole I love is at Old Mac.) Coore and Crenshaw deserve a mulligan on the 14th at Trails, but I'm guessing that will never happen. I've heard Crenshaw says it's his favorite hole on the course. Other than that, I appreciate Bandon's pace of play, have had good experiences with the caddies, don't mind the spartan accommodations and happen to like the service. I find the breakfast buffet is the easy solution to making an early tee time. And at the end of a long summer day, I can't say I've been to a resort anywhere in the world that serves the avid golfer better than Bandon Dunes.
I'd also have two follow-up questions for Whitten:
1. If Bandon doesn't cut it, then what IS your favorite U.S.-based resort?
2. If Jobs played golf, where would he have taken an annual buddies trip?
*Whitten filed a reply to my questions . . .
OK, Matt. Here are my answers:
1. As you know, I don't play favorites, so I don't have a favorite resort. But if I did, that wouldn't make it the Greatest Golf Resort in the World. I love some aspects of Bandon Dunes, just as I love parts of Pinehurst, Kohler, Pebble Beach Companies and others, but don't find any of them to be Perfect. The point of my column is that the book on Steve Jobs urged me to think like Jobs, a perfectionist. The perfectionist in me finds flaws in a lot of operations. (And in my own work, by the way.)
2. Had Steve Jobs played golf, he had enough money to build his own golf retreat just for himself and his buddies. In would probably have been in Hawaii (where he seemed to like to vacation) or in Northern California. And he would have driven the architect, superintendent and staff nuts with his demands. He's the guy who wanted the circuit boards in his computers to be "beautiful," even though no consumer would ever see them. He would have wanted beautiful drainage systems, spotless maintenance facilities, no power lines or buildings or traffic visible from his golf course. Or, probably, other golfers.
(Follow Ron on Twitter @RonWhittenGD; follow me @Matt_Ginella.)