50 Words or Less
Bandon Dunes, the original course at the resort of the same name, is an incredible education in true links golf. Magnificent ocean views. Huge playability.
Over twenty years ago, David McLay-Kidd and Mike Keiser looked at a remote stretch of land on the coast of Oregon and envisioned a golf course. Today, we recognize that course as one that changed the trajectory of golf in America.
Bandon Dunes is now a pilgrimage that every serious golfer wants to make. In this review, we examine why.
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort is home to a fantastic practice facility. There are two ranges, each one large enough to accommodate many golfers and with dozens of targets. Additionally, there’s a massive putting green – an essential element given the huge greens and the tight fescue fairways. There are also two short game areas for bunker shots, chips, and pitches. On top of all that, there’s Shorty’s – a nine-hole short course.
The Practice Center is shared by all four courses at Bandon Dunes. Shuttles run constantly to bring golfers from their room to the range to the first tee. A stop at the Practice Center is an essential part of the trip, if only to receive a high-five from Melanie, the Practice Center’s ambassador.
At Bandon Dunes, there’s an enormous putting green behind the lodge, adjacent to the first tee. Once again, for the first timers: practice some long putts.
Customer Service & Amenities
The customer service throughout Bandon Dunes deserves an entire feature to itself. Whether it’s the result of intensive training or the natural way of Oregonians, the staff has mastered the balance of friendliness and meeting every need without going over the top. In five days, I did not interact with one person who wasn’t smiling and eager to discuss the resort, your trip, or golf in general.
Bandon Dunes knows exactly where to draw the line between “essential” and “extra” when it comes to service and amenities. Your room will be stocked with everything you need, including plenty of golf-related reading. At the same time, the unnecessary extras are stripped away because, well, they’re unnecessary. Importantly, their logistics in handling baggage and shuttles is Disney-esque (which I mean as the highest possible compliment).
Speaking to the Bandon Dunes course specifically, it’s the only one that returns to the clubhouse after 9 holes. Inside the lodge you’ll find a turn stand with plenty of choices for fuel. The main pro shop is also located at Bandon Dunes, and a great selection of shirts, hats, bags, headcovers, and more can make it a very dangerous place for your credit card.
Beauty & Scenery
I am certainly not the first person to describe Bandon Dunes as “ruggedly beautiful,” but I can think of no more appropriate pair of words. The landscape is breathtaking and appears as if it had never known the presence of a bulldozer.
It’s difficult to argue that the oceanfront holes are not the highlights of the round. When the Pacific Ocean is revealed behind #4 green, it’s very hard to keep smile from your face. That said, the inland holes are so engaging that I never found myself wondering when we’d return to the coast. The routing creates a wonderful rhythm to the round that allows you to appreciate every aspect of your surroundings.
Before getting into each aspect of the course, it’s important to understand its overall vibe. David McLay-Kidd has said that he only defended the “Tiger lines” and left everything else open. Our caddie, Dane, described Bandon Dunes as the most forgiving of the four courses. This is a course with massive playability, yet one that does not easily yield low scores.
Another thing you must know is you cannot come here and play robotic golf. Your yardage book is a great souvenir, but it can’t convey the scale and three-dimensionality of the place. Your rangefinder is useless because it won’t tell you anything about the wind. If you plan to come here to play your stock shots to your typical yardages, you will be ejected. Listen to your caddie, open your mind, embrace creativity.
Finally, this is a course that changes with the elements. I was lucky enough to play Bandon Dunes in almost windless conditions and with winds that surpassed 30 MPH. It was enjoyable and challenging both times, and it felt like two completely different courses. I’m looking forward to going back and seeing yet another version when the wind comes from the south.
One of the first things you’ll notice is that there are very few places to lose a golf ball at Bandon Dunes. The fairways are wide, and the rough is virtually non-existent. Neither of those things means that driving is easy or unimportant.
First, being accurate can provide you with huge advantages. On almost every hole, there are certain sides of the fairway that give you an easier play or more visibility. In some cases, being on the wrong side means a totally blind shot.
Second, the wind will cause you to use every bit of real estate on the course. Unless you play regularly in 20 or 30 MPH winds, you will have no idea how much room you need allow when it’s blowing right-to-left or left-to-right. When you hit a pure shot into a howling crosswind, you’ll be thankful for 50-yard wide fairways.
Finally, consider the wind when you pick your club. The first hole, for example, has a bunker around 230 yards. In the calm, we hit smooth hybrids to stay short of it. When the wind was up, Dane taunted us, “I’ll loop for free if you can get to it.” He did not go home empty handed.
Shots to the green are where Bandon Dunes is most different from traditional American golf. A 150-yard approach can be anything from a pitching wedge to a 4-iron, aimed anywhere from ten yards right of the green to ten yards off the left. As I said before, if you plan to come here and play your stock shots, you need to rethink your plan.
The greens are large, and there are myriad good places to miss. If you make smart decisions, it’s fairly easy to get around without finding yourself in a bunker. The problem is that following your caddie’s instructions and hitting quality shots in high winds is easier said than done.
Greens & Surrounds
The greens at Bandon Dunes are large. Most are around 40 yards long, and #17, though narrow, is 60 yards long. This is a gift and a curse: you may hit a lot of greens, but you may also rack up three-putts.
What’s equally large is the variety of greens at Bandon. Some are decisively segmented, others are largely flat. Some breaks are obvious, others show themselves only after they’ve caused your putt to wiggle away from the cup.
If you do miss the green, it’s likely your ball will land on something that resembles the putting surface anyway. All the surrounds and fairways are cut tight, so putting is an option from as far away as you dare. You don’t have to embrace the 50-yard putt, but I recommend it.
#16 – Par 4
I’m aware this isn’t an original pick, but who can resist a driveable par 4 on the ocean? What elevates this hole beyond other short 4s is the fact that it’s full of choices and difficulty even if you lay up. There are two fairways, and while there’s a lot of room left, there’s also some trouble to find.
#1 – Par 4
No hole varied as much with and without wind as the opener. In either condition, this hole is a great tone setter for the round. You have miles of fairway, a green set atop a huge mound, and some nasty bunkers.
#14 – Par 4
This isn’t about the hole – though it’s a strong par 4 in its own right – but about my experience on it. My approach shot was an object lesson in why you can’t play robot golf at Bandon Dunes. It’s one of my most distinct memories of the trip, and one I won’t forget any time soon.
Bandon Dunes is everything you could ask for: beautiful, fun, challenging, and constantly changing with the weather. I was fortunate enough to play the course twice during my trip. Writing this review has reminded me that it wasn’t nearly enough.