Tucked away on the southern coast of Oregon is one of the world’s best golf resorts. It had been 15 years since we were at Bandon Dunes, so we were obviously due back. This was the place where we played 16 holes at Pacific Dunes in driving rain and 25 mile per hour wind, yet the photos at the end of the round show a soaked foursome with the biggest smiles you have ever seen. Such is the spell Bandon has over those who visit.
One of the main reasons for this most recent visit was to show how travel can be conducted safely and responsibly during the uncertain times of Covid-19. Guest and employee safety was evident throughout the entire property. Bandon Dunes is following all State mandated health regulations and face coverings for employees and guests, and social distancing was always evident where required. We felt completely safe during our stay.
Our schedule was tight as we were driving up the Oregon coast from Carmel, California with a deadline in Seattle that was not flexible. This meant we packed a lot of golf into a short period of time. The only course we were not able to play was Bandon Trails. (Fortunately, we had played Trails 15 years ago, so we did not feel too bad).
We arrived late Tuesday night with just enough time to hit a few putts at the Punch Bowl and play Bandon Preserve. Preserve is a fun but testing 13 hole, par three course where the Pacific Ocean is visible from every hole. We saw fathers with their young sons and daughters enjoying the course and it was nice to see this new element added to the resort. Do not let the fact you leave your driver and fairway woods in the room deceive you. Preserve is challenging and presents you with many shots that you will not experience elsewhere on the property. Definitely allow time to play Preserve, especially if the kids are with you. All net proceeds go directly to the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance, an organization that supports conservation, community, and economy on the southern Oregon Coast.
The morning of day two arrived and we prepared for our tee times at Old Macdonald and Pacific Dunes with a full hour at the practice facility. Old Macdonald would be a new experience and we felt a caddie was essential to guide us around. Marcus met us at the starters hut and took premium care of us for the next four plus hours. Old Macdonald takes inspiration from the innovative golf course design theory pioneered by Charles Blair Macdonald. Expansive fairways with crafterly placed bunkers and gigantic wildly undulating greens greeted us. We immediately recognized how different Old Macdonald is from the other courses we had experienced at Bandon. We especially enjoyed the ghost tree hole, number three on the score card, where your tee shot glides past the iconic ghost tree towards the blind fairway landing area. Once we climbed the hill to our second shots we were greeted with splendid views of the surrounding holes. Number seven, a short par 4, was memorable for an approach into a steeply sloped green sitting on the cliffs edge that also had the added protection of 20 mph winds. Truly spectacular. The entire course is nothing but spectacular, and as we closed our round on the 18th green we understood why Old Macdonald has taken its place towards the top of the list of the best courses in the US.
In the afternoon we teed off on Pacific. We had vivid memories of what lay ahead. The ruggedness and jaw dropping beauty. The intimidating dunes requiring every ounce of golfing skill we possessed. The afternoon wind that required maximum concentration. Everything was just as we remembered. It is difficult to say anything that has not already been said about a course that is regularly rated in the top five public courses in the country. Pacific Dunes is flat out a special place. It can be tough and uncompromising. It will test you physically and mentally, but you will still want to come back for more.
Memorable holes for us included the par four seventh where the green is protected by natural bunkering and heavy contouring towards the front. Unless you hit two lifetime shots, you will likely be on the green in three hoping to one putt for par. Bogey is always respectable here. The back nine starts with a stunning par three. To the left of the green you will find thick rough and mounding that are to be avoided. At the back of the green is the Pacific Ocean. Regardless of where your tee shot lands, the walk to the green is magical.
The morning of day two saw us on Sheep Ranch for the first time. At least that is, Sheep Ranch in its present layout. Back in 2005 after our rainy day on Pacific, the clouds parted, and the sun broke through and we played an earlier incarnation of Sheep Ranch. We played as a twelvesome with a lone caddy who made up the course as we went along. Selecting whatever tees and greens looked the most inviting, it was the experience of a lifetime. It was fifteen years ago, so our memories may be slightly off, but it seems that most of the greens we played then, are still played today. Apart from the views, just about everything else has changed.
Sheep Ranch has been the most talked about new golf course for months. Now we would get to find out why. Compared to the other courses at Bandon Dunes, it feels more like the links land of Scotland where the first golf courses were dreamed up. This was especially noticeable later in the round between fourteen green and fifteen tee where we suddenly saw groups on another half a dozen tees and greens. The view of the ocean, the wind, the light, the colors of nature and golfers themselves, had a very Scottish feel to it.
Marcus would be our group caddie again on Sheep Ranch. The morning was a little damp with mist coming in off the ocean. We would have been lost were it not for Marcus’ knowledge as he guided us around. A couple of times during the first half dozen holes we would tee off in mist and putt out in sun, or vis versa. Teeing off on the par four sixth while still in the morning mist was an experience we will not forget. A dog leg right requiring a tee shot over cliffs with the ocean on the right continuing all the way to the green, it is a magnificent hole. Number eleven, an uphill par five which is both brutish and beautiful – take your par and keep going. Number sixteen is a breathtaking par three on the cliffs edge. The massive green seems to hang on the cliff edge, with much of it still hidden from view by sand dunes on the right. Putting skills are at a premium on this green.
After finishing the very reachable par five eighteenth, we reflected on our round and knew exactly why so much has already been written about Sheep Ranch. Almost certainly Sheep Ranch will be recognized as the best new course of 2020 and soon after it will take its place alongside the other courses at Bandon Dunes as one of the top twenty public courses you can play in the US.
By the time we teed off in the afternoon the sun was shining and the wind was blowing a steady 15 – 20 miles per hour. About what you would expect for mid-July. Back in 2003 Bandon was the first course we played at the resort and because of that, it will always be a special place for us. We love the par four fourth, where approach shots are hit directly into a green perched on the cliffs above the Pacific. The fifth is the toughest hole on the front nine. A par four that runs along the ocean, one of the most beautiful holes at the resort. On the back nine we love the challenge that awaits a daring tee shot at the sixteenth, the only downside to this hole is knowing that there are only two holes remaining. Walking down eighteen towards the main lodge, clubhouse and practice green is a fantastic way to end a round. We can’t wait to come back!!
One final note, starting September 10th and running for seven days, the US Amateur will be hosted by Bandon Dunes. The tournament will be played on the Bandon Trails and Bandon Dunes courses and we can’t wait to watch coverage.
Written by: Gary Southon, Senior Sports Correspondent
Photos by: Jim Jergens, Patricia Stone & our caddie Marcus
Good to Note: During Covid-19, Bandon Dunes has implemented social distancing regulations which can change on a regular basis. Please visit their site for the latest updates – see below for their website notice.
“The well-being of our guests, staff, caddies, and local communities continue to be our highest priority. Bandon Dunes is open to the public and practicing the most up-to-date safety measures, including requiring masks indoors and outside when physical distancing requirements aren’t possible. For the latest updates and to learn more about our operational safety measures, please visit our COVID-19 page.”
Acknowledgements: Thank you to Bandon Dunes for hosting our golf during our stay.