I’ve recently returned from two weeks in the USA and hosting our Las Vegas Tour for 2023 which was fantastic and a lot of fun as you can imagine. The first week was spent in a little town called Bandon in Oregon where I ticked off another one of my bucket list destinations, Bandon Dunes.
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, if you aren’t familiar, was developed by Mike Keiser, who is one of, if not, the most renowned golf course owner and developer in the world, and is currently home to 6 courses (yes, 6!) with another to open in 2024.
All of the five main courses (the sixth is a 13 hole short course) rank inside the top 16 of Golf Digest’s Top 100 Public Courses in America. They are:
- Pacific Dunes – 2nd
- Bandon Dunes – 8th
- Bandon Trails – 11th
- Old MacDonald – 13th
- Sheep Ranch – 16th
Remarkably, three of the courses also rank in GOLF’s World Top 100 Courses, with Pacific Dunes coming in at 32nd, Bandon Trails at 90th, and Bandon Dunes at 94th. Obviously these rankings are subjective, but it’s pretty easy to decipher that these courses are special.
I started the week with Bandon Trails, the only main course on the property that doesn’t sit beside the Pacific Ocean. It was a cracking course that starts and finishes in the dunes, with the rest of the course flowing through the rainforest with each hole framed by towering pines. Very generous off the tee, with some holes 80+ metres wide, but you need to position yourself in the correct side of the fairway to allow yourself an easier approach, otherwise you’re in for a difficult time trying to make par due to how each green sits and your target becoming smaller and harder to access due to being on the wrong angle.
My next round of the week was at Old MacDonald. Designed by Tom Doak (famous in Australia for Barnbougle Dunes with Mike Clayton, and St Andrews Beach) in honour of CB MacDonald, who had a list of 20 template holes that he believed he could fit into any piece of land. This course was constructed using these templates in homage to CB.
The course was fantastic, again with some very wide fairways but much more dramatic in nature than Bandon Trails. There are some huge elevation changes from one side of the fairway to the other, really putting an emphasis on shotmaking. If you were on the wrong side of the fairway, not only did you have a harder approach shot but more often than not you were also facing a blind shot.
The course starts out with some a short par four and short par three, and once you head over the peak of the third hole (home to the famous Ghost Tree) you are welcomed to a view of the resort of the course. Even better, once you reach the high point of the course at the 7th green, you’re treated to the first views of the Pacific Ocean, and WOW!
I also ventured out and played The Preserve in the afternoon, which is the par 3 course. Fairly similar to Bougle Run at Barnbougle, but with more elevation changes and not so much amongst the dunes. It was a lot of fun and a great way to finish a day.
Next up was Sheep Ranch. Great name, great course! The easiest course on the property slope rating wise, but it was so much fun! Starting with a nice par 5 with a drive over the crest of a hill, once you reach the top of the hill the course reveals itself. From there the course meanders through the middle of the layout until you reach the 7th tee. And BANG, the views hit! The 7th is a mid length dogleg par 4 with a tee shot needing to start out over the cliffs to find the best part of the fairway for your approach shot. Unfortunately it was pretty misty from the spray off the ocean and the photos don’t do it justice. The cliffside holes are designed really well and bring in the wow factor. We have some great oceanside courses in Australia, but nothing that compares to this level.
The holes away from the cliffs were a lot of fun and generously designed. Again, some pretty wide fairways but generally not as much emphasis on finding the correct side to help your approach. Although not the most highly rated of the courses here, it was a favourite of mine not only because of the incredible views but because the course flowed really nicely, there was a good variety of holes, some short holes you could have a crack at but some testing holes as well.
Next was Pacific Dunes’ turn, and what a brute of a course. The highest ranked course and the hardest rated to boot. Designed by Tom Doak, the course is very natural and was more found than developed. The rolling fairways that make you feel as though you’re in Scotland or Ireland, the giant untouched sand dunes, sliver of greens tucked into the sides of the cliffs and dunes, it’s not hard to see why this is the highest rated course on the property.
Unfortunately, we had a heavy fog for the first 5 holes and couldn’t really see how those holes looked, but holes 9-16 were where I personally thought the course showed how good it is, as well as how unique it is. The ninth hole has two green complexes that sit roughly 80 metres away from each other which they can alternate daily. Both greens change the outlook of the holes completely, we played the upper green and it was a strong test.
Holes 10 and 11 are back to back par 3’s, which again is quite unique. There are very few world renowned courses that have back to back par 3’s. They are both cracking holes, especially 11 which only played 128 metres, but was a brute. A tiny green slotted between the cliffside and a sand dune with a strong wind into and from the left. Again uniquely, the back nine consists of four par 3’s, three par 5’s and two par 4’s.
The whole course flows really nicely and again, everything looks as though it is natural and wasn’t created. The fairways remain largely untouched from how they were found when they cleared the land, as do most of the huge sand dunes littered around the course.
Last to play, but not least, it was the first course built on the property, Bandon Dunes. A pure links course that could have been lifted straight out of Scotland and dropped into place, it was a delight from start to finish.
Unlike Old Mac, Pacific Dunes and Sheep Ranch, I feel like the standout feature of Bandon Dunes was the golf course and not the Pacific Ocean and cliff tops. The ocean comes into view several times but not as dramatic as the other courses, where this course played to an occasional green on the cliffs edge and then back away again. Each hole is distinctly different from the last and there are a couple of quirky/unique holes that you won’t find anywhere else. Similar to the other courses, you really need to put your ball into the correct spots to make the most of your scoring opportunities otherwise you’re in for a tough time.
Some highlights from the week:
- Favourite course – Bandon Dunes
- Most enjoyable course – Sheep Ranch
- Favourite holes;
- Bandon Trails – 14th
- Old MacDonald – 3rd
- Sheep Ranch – 6th & 17th
- Pacific Dunes – 11th
- Bandon Dunes – 16th
Favourite hole on the property – 16th at Bandon Dunes
Favourite clubhouse – Pacific Dunes
It was sad to leave but will definitely be back again. The best way to describe Bandon Dunes is Disneyland for golfers. I never saw one person who looked like they weren’t having the time of their life, everyone was laughing and having a great time, the staff were fantastic, the food excellent, there is no opulence anywhere, everything just fits perfectly.
Until next time!
Words by Michael Hansen.