Game changer. Those two words sum up the impact Bandon Dunes created when the first course opened on May 19, 1999 — nearly 20 years ago. That desire pushed beyond the limited boundaries others self-imposed upon themselves and is now adding another forthcoming chapter. A fifth 18-hole course is planned to open in 2020 called Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch.
More than 15 years in the making, the design team of Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw have been hired to work on the par-71, 7,000 yard 18-hole layout. Co-founded by Phil Friedmann and Mike Keiser, the Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch was for many years a mysterious golf landscape just north of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. With one mile of ocean frontage, nine green sites right along the edge of the stunning Pacific Ocean with views on every hole, Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch will continue the legacy of “Golf As It Was Meant to Be” on the Pacific Coast. Keiser, the founder of Bandon Dunes, will be in partnership with long time friend and business associate Friedman. For Coore & Crenshaw — this will be their 3rd course involvement having designed Bandon Trails and the 13-hole par-3 layout called Bandon Preserve.
The property in question is roughly 300 acres and has been used as a golf course — albeit in a far different form than what Bandon’s other layouts provide. The Sheep Ranch was created by architect Tom Doak and his then associate Jim Urbina when the resort’s 2nd layout — Pacific Dunes — was being created in 2001. The collection of 13 greens was made to provide golfers with a variety of situations to enjoy via a play-as-you-like formula.
Amazingly, the rapid ascension of Bandon Dunes in such a short time illustrates the profound impact the facility has clearly demonstrated. Such a story did not happen at the outset — with many doubters scratching their head in what Keiser originally sought to accomplish. When Bandon Dunes was first conceived it was Keiser’s desire to engage a no name architect from Scotland for a once-in-a-lifetime coastal location in southwest coastal Oregon. The questions emerged quickly — why entrust such an unknown person with such a grand site?
The number of incredulous stares was only exceeded by the number of people scratching their head in bewilderment. Fast forward nearly 20 years later — the bewilderment has long since stopped. Bandon Dunes is clearly established as golf’s most sought global destination for core golfers.
A visit to Bandon goes beyond a need and has been cited as a mystical bond with the game. Bandon, with no disrespect to St. Andrews as the hole of golf in Scotland, is golf’s equivalent to Mecca. What precipitated that genesis? The embodiment starts with visionary owner – Mike Keiser.
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During the rapid build out of courses throughout America in the 1990’s a vast number of course designs were geared towards providing overly watered and generally cookie-cutter designs. Build more did not translate out to build better. Such courses were often devoid of meaningful stimulation — a paint-by-the-numbers formulaic approach took hold where one round played was more than sufficient. Think fast food and you have comparability with such vapid creations.
Keiser eschewed this approach and went completely in another direction. In hiring Scotsman David McLay Kidd. Keiser’s dictate was simple — return architecture to enduring classical themes. Wide fairways allowing for preferred angled approaches into large greens with complex internal movements was the game plan. The mandate for players? Being able to mix and match varying strategic options with the ever present and varying wind velocities. Playing along the mercurial Oregon coast means the challenge would always be evolving. At the heart of it all — a legitimate ground game connection so players could adapt as circumstances warranted.
The philosophy was to move completely away from torture chamber courses that simply frustrated players and inevitably brought the pace of the game to a near standstill. Keiser also saw the need to get walking back into the game. Come to Bandon and you won’t see power carts overwhelming the landscape — save for those with a legitimate medical reason. While much of America embraces the role of power carts — it is at Bandon Dunes where the game is played by players on foot. Core golfers were astounded by such a commitment. During the season — the total number of available caddies can exceed 350. Keiser also engaged the services of the local population — some as caddie and others employed in various resort positions at the facility.
Keiser smartly tapped into a market of core golfers – those aspiring for a meaningful connection where authenticity of the game itself is the driving force. In the highly popular movie, “Field of Dreams,” which incidentally is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the lynchpin of the movie is the phrase, “If you build it they will come.”
No question, Keiser took a substantial financial risk at the outset. Few believed his approach would work. But his desire to reconnect golfers to the game was remarkably prescient. Keiser emphasized a “less is more” mantra. The architecture at Bandon emphasized a deep seated harmony with the terrain — intersecting air and ground game usages when called upon. That approach resonated with passionate golfers weary and dissatisfied with a game that had become overproduced, overly manufactured and failing to elicit fun when playing. At Bandon it’s the golf — pure and simple — always front and center.
Bandon changed the conversation of golf course design — bringing back to life classical architecture in America which came to the forefront in the 1920’s and 1930’s through the likes of such gifted giants as A.W. Tillinghast, George Thomas, Donald Ross, William Flynn and Alister Mackenzie, to name just a few.
While the first course Bandon Dunes received favorable attention – it was the sequel two years later — Pacific Dunes — that stamped southwest Oregon as a “must visit” destination. Tom Doak’s brilliant design underscored a fun dimension where the intersection of air and ground games are elements inexorably entwined. To paraphrase a Scottish saying, “The game only really starts when the ball hits the ground,” became the mantra for Bandon Dunes. The tightly woven fescue surfaces allow for an array of shotmaking options — often a Texas wedge is the preferred option — even when 40-50 yards in front of any green.
Before the opening of Bandon the home for core golfers on the west coast was the Monterey Peninsula and accessible courses such as Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and the Links at Spanish Bay occupying that grand location in California. For those lucky enough to gain an invite there was also the allure of the iconic Cypress Point. Over the course of time the grind of six hour golf at Pebble Beach and the sticker shock fees caused many players to seek other options. Keiser’s ascension has just as much to do with timing as much as the circumstances merging all at once.
On June 1, 2005, the third course opened — Bandon Trails. Unlike the first two courses, Bandon Trails works away from the Pacific Ocean and is almost entirely inland. Former PGA Tour star Ben Crenshaw and his highly talented partner Bill Coore provided a scintillating counterpoint with their engaging design. The duo made their mark 11 years earlier with their surreal creation of Sand Hills in western Nebraska. The Trails provides a wondrous array of holes — the most noted being the short par-4 14th with its devilish greens beckoning players to attempt a Herculean play from the tee when prudence is the better option. The Trails truly showed a design addition that added to the depth of the golf provided.
Interestingly, while the pace of golf course construction was nearing exhaustion in America, Bandon pushed the pedal further down opening its fourth course in June 2010 — Olde Macdonald. Doak returned again joined by one his associates Jim Urbina and receiving contributions with architectural pundits Brad Klein, George Bahto, Karl Olsen and even Keiser all lending their talents. The course is a homage to the enduring impact of Charles Blair Macdonald — the father of American golf during its embryonic stage and the man who brought to bear the likes of The National Golf Links of America and the Chicago Golf Club. The course is devoid of trees and the windswept canvas demands total control of one’s ball. The greens are massive in size – in excess of 10,000 square feet is commonplace. Being able to pinpoint one’s approaches is crucial or you’ll likely have a steady diet of three or even four putts. Stand on the green of the standout par-4 7th and gaze in wonder — the Pacific Ocean on one side — the remainder of the course beckoning you onward.
In May of 2012 the tandem of Crenshaw and Coore returned — creating a fascinating short course on 22 acres. 18 holes could not fit for the land provided so a 13-hole layout called Bandon Preserve was born. The holes provide an alternative to those who want to play more than 18-holes but not the full rigors in doing 36-holes. All net proceeds go directly to the Wild River Coast Alliance — an organization that supports conservation, community, and economy on the southern Oregon Coast.
Two years later another inventive golf option was brought forward. A 100,000 square foot putting course was created by Doak and Urbina. Located near the 1st tee at Pacific Dunes the 18-hole course provides a range of putts — both long and short and keeping players off balance with vexing twists and turns. The usage of the putting course is complimentary to resort guests. One must also mention the humongous practice facility – roughly 50 acres. You can hit balls to every wind pattern and the short game area is one no visitor should miss. A day pass for $10 is available just to use the practice area for resort guests.
What’s important to always remember is each of the 18-hole layouts is rated among the best 100 courses in America. That is unprecedented. Interestingly, when coming to Bandon you can play a repeat round for half the original green fee. Should you wish to go for a third round in a single day the price is zero. A visit to Bandon is indeed a rebirth – a renewal on what golf is truly about.
Bandon provides a tough love equation. The vagaries of Oregon coastal weather can be especially taxing. Fierce winds and sideways rain can happen at times — sometimes to maximum impact. Make no mistake about it — Bandon is not Scottsdale or Palm Springs. However, when the sun shines and the breeze abates the bounty received is without peer. The word “great” is bandied about to the point in having little meaning but at Bandon its application is embedded with resolute certainty.
With the facility’s 20th anniversary beckoning in May credit Mike Keiser with a visionary belief few, if any, thought remotely possible. Now, with a 5th course on the immediate horizon, the anticipation will only build till the newest addition opens next year. Golf, as a game, is facing many growth challenges in the 21st century. At its heart rests the twin pillars of authenticity and credibility. Those two embodiments have been nurtured with great care here.
That journey is one core golfers relish making — securing the ultimate connection to the game they love so dearly.
At Bandon that bond is forever emblazoned.
For more info go to: www.bandondunesgolf.com
All photos courtesy of © Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.