When word gets out that any member of the staff is going to Bandon Dunes, the rest of us scurry for any available space in their travel bags. No one ever fits, so we all walk to the big windows, push our faces to the glass and give them a watery wave goodbye. We drip with tears and envy.
Geoff Russell, editor of Golf World, just came back from Bandon Dunes. It was Russell's first look at Old Mac and I asked him if he would write a trip report.
I just got back from a buddies trip to Bandon Dunes. Me and three old college golf teammates (we're almost 50 now), four days, eight rounds, each course twice. It was our fourth trip there together. We also went in 2000, 2002 and 2005. I wanted to share a few thoughts...
1) For my time and money, Bandon Dunes is the greatest pure golf experience in the world. Period. Four outstanding golf courses (probably all U.S. top-20 caliber) in excellent shape (Bandon Trails seemed a little ragged in spots, but Old Mac, the newest course and the one we would have expected to be spotty, was outstanding, including the greens). Walking only. Knowledgeable caddies who direct traffic well. Four-hour pace of play (our starting times were 7:40 and 1 p.m. each day, and we were in the bar adding up our scorecards by 5:15 every evening). Great accommodations (we stayed in the lodge, the original structure, which I love because you can walk downstairs to breakfast each morning). Excellent food (we ate in the pub and the main lodge once each for dinner, two nights in the new restaurant at Pacific Dunes, which was tremendous, and lunch one day at Bandon Trails, my favorite of the restaurants, because of the sliders, fish tacos and crispy shoestring french fries). Solid service: from the golf pros, to the wait staff, to the shuttle bus drivers, to the front desk, everyone was friendly, helpful, cheerful and knew their jobs. (The airlines broke my driver, which I didn't discover until I was unpacking my clubs in the Bandon Trails parking lot 15 minutes before our first starting time. When I went into the shop to buy a new one -- what was that going to cost me? I wondered frightfully -- the pro said, "We don't really sell drivers. But we have lots of demos. What do you need?" __
I gave him the manufacturer, shaft and loft, and he had a replacement sent up from the Bandon Dunes shop on the next shuttle. I had it in six minutes. "Use it all week, and return it when you are done," he told me. "And if you don't like it and want to try something else, come back and we'll switch it out." Wow).
3.__ That said, if my group had a big enlightenment at the end of the trip, it was this: Bandon Dunes, the original course at Bandon Dunes, is outstanding -- and, dare I say it, a bit under-appreciated. Here is what I mean: when it first opened, Bandon Dunes was one of the most talked about golf courses in the golf world, and rightfully so. But with each new course at Bandon Dunes, the resort -- Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails and now Old Macdonald -- you heard less and less chatter about Bandon Dunes, the course. I would talk with people I knew who were going to Bandon Dunes, or who had just come back from a trip there, and it just seemed to me like none of them ever really talked about Bandon Dunes. They focused mostly on whatever the newest course happened to be, and also on Pacific Dunes, which (in my experience) is the flashiest, most interesting (starting with its back nine of four par 3s and three par 5s, and just two par 4s) and most impressive of the four courses at the resort. My interpretation, right or wrong, was that the David McKlay Kidd-designed Bandon Dunes course had become overshadowed by the others, and that most people considered it the fourth best. I had my eyes opened last week.
Bandon Dunes might be my favorite course at the resort -- at the worst, it is tied with Pacific Dunes for No. 1 -- and it has some of the best holes on the property. In particular, the par-4 4th, 5th and 16th are just outstanding, as good (and as unique) a trio of holes as I've found anywhere, much less on the same course.
Eventually, we had the same discussion we always have when we go to Bandon Dunes, which is the same discussion every group has when they go to Bandon Dunes: what is your favorite course and what is your personal ranking? It's a hard discussion because all of the courses are so outstanding. But we finally settled the matter this way: if we happened to live in North Bend (or somewhere close by) and had unlimited access to the resort, we decided that for every 10 rounds there, we would play Pacific Dunes and Bandon Dunes three times apiece, and Bandon Trails and Old Macdonald two times apiece. And we'd call ourselves the luckiest golfers in the world.
4. One last comment, and it has to do with the most controversial hole at the resort, the 14th at Bandon Trails, a downhill, drivable par 4 with a tiny green that almost can't be held, no matter what direction you happen to be approaching from. I have a buddy named Mark, a retired guy who plays more golf at more great places than just about anyone I know, and whenever I get back from Bandon, or whenever he gets back from Bandon, he calls me and asks, "When are they going to blow up the 14th hole at Bandon Trails?" And I suspect there are a lot of people out there who feel the same way. But I don't mind the 14th hole at Trails. For one thing, everyone talks about it, and I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.
The hole at Trails I don't like -- the only hole at the entire resort that I think is bad and needs to be fixed -- is the 18th. If you haven't played it, it's a par 4 with a semi-blind tee shot over a hill into a valley, and a second shot to an elevated green. My buddies and I didn't play the back tees last week, but one set in from the back, so Trails 18th was about a 360-yard hole. In our first round there I hit a solid 3-wood down the center of the fairway; my ball ended up in a left-hand bunker (the fairway tilts in that direction) under a lip, leaving me no shot other than a sideways blast back to the fairway. So in our second round at Trails, I hit a 3-hybrid off the tee, also solid, down the right center of the fairway. This time my ball ended up in a bunker right of the fairway, under a lip, leaving me no shot other than a sideways blast back to the fairway. And it occurred to me that every time I have played Trails, my tee shot on the 18th hole has ended up in a bunker. At this point, with four or five rounds there under my belt, my opinion is that a tee shot on that hole can't possibly end up anywhere BUT a fairway bunker.
So that's the hole at Bandon Dunes I would fix. But it's the only one.
There's not a lot in this report that I disagree with, Russell and I see the world of golf though a similar set of spoiled eyes and both of our calendars are always full of ridiculous itineraries. Of the four finishing holes at Bandon Dunes, I'd agree, the 18th at Trails is the one that needs fixing.
If I lived locally, for every 10 rounds I played at Bandon Dunes, I would play four at Pacific, three at Bandon, two at Trails, and I'd throw in one fun round at Old Mac.
If you lived locally, what would you do?