50 Words or Less
The Sheep Ranch Golf Course is a brilliant addition to Bandon Dunes. Beautiful ocean views on every hole. Feels unlike any other course at the resort. Course can yield good scores but is very tough in the wind.
With a full mile of ocean frontage and nine greens directly on the coast, the Sheep Ranch has some of the most enviable real estate in the golfing world. Having been designed by Coore & Crenshaw, a team with countless great tracks on their resume, is another plus. But being the fifth full length course at Bandon Dunes means clearing an unimaginably high bar. Does the Sheep Ranch stand shoulder to shoulder with Old MacDonald, Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails, and Bandon Dunes? The answer is unequivocally, “Yes.”
One thing that makes the Sheep Ranch unique among the courses at Bandon Dunes is that it has its own driving range. Due to its location – the furthest from the main lodge – the resort decided it made sense for guests to be able to warm up within earshot of the first tee.
In addition to the range, Sheep Ranch has two large putting greens. One is directly outside the clubhouse and has some of the most sensational views you’ll find on the property. The other putting green is adjacent to the first tee.
Customer Service & Amenities
As I’ve written many times before [specifically HERE], the people elevate Bandon Dunes to such a high level. Everyone on property is genuinely happy to be there, happy to meet you, and dedicated to you having a great time. I’d like to give special acclaim to our caddie, Jared, who found countless tee shots that didn’t deserve to be found and did it with relentless good cheer.
Another person who embodies enthusiasm for Bandon Dunes is Eric, the assistant pro at the Sheep Ranch. Dylan, Mike, and I got on the flight from Denver to North Bend in full golf nerd mode, chattering away. Eric was seated next to me, and, rather than putting on his headphones and feigning sleep, he jumped in, told us where he worked, and spent the flight talking to us about Sheep Ranch.
In terms of amenities, Sheep Ranch is dialed in to perfection. The pro shop has every piece of logo gear you could want and a food counter with a well curated menu of options. For breakfast or lunch, you can get something beyond typical turn stand fare. There’s also talk that Sheep Ranch will be home to a full service restaurant in the future.
Beauty & Scenery
Despite being the fourth ocean front golf course at Bandon Dunes, Sheep Ranch looks nothing like any other course on the property. There are a number of reasons for its unique aesthetics, but first among them is the way that the course never truly leaves the ocean. The first hole plays straight to the Pacific, and you never lose sight of it except for the second shot on #11.
Another reason for Sheep Ranch’s distinctive look is the way that the holes bleed together. Fairways run into surrounds meld into greens which turn into tee boxes. The look of Sheep Ranch reminds us of its original form as a home for cross country golf where players would drop a ball, point to a green, and play.
Finally, and most famously, Sheep Ranch is devoid of sand traps. There are grass bunkers on numerous holes, but they’re not visually disruptive the way sand traps are. The absence of sand boosts the free-flowing aesthetic and makes Sheep Ranch unlike any course I’ve seen before.
I usually put this section after the component parts to give a little summary or cover spots I missed. With Sheep Ranch, it needs to come first because this course can’t be understood by breaking down its tee shots and greens. To say that something is more than the sum of its parts is cliche, but in this case it’s also true.
The vibe of Sheep Ranch is different than any other course at Bandon Dunes. It doesn’t have the scale of Old Mac or the formality of Pacific Dunes. The course is self assured without being snobby. You can see everything from the clubhouse which gives it an intimate, home course feel.
Every hole, while more than capable of destroying your scorecard, also gives you ample chance to make a birdie. And no course I know of has par 5s with more eagle potential.
With its minute green to tee walks and fairways that bounce off each other, this is a course that begs for cross country, freestyle play. Those short walks also promote a brisk pace.
Bottom line: Sheep Ranch is the most fun full-length course at Bandon Dunes, and I don’t think it’s particularly close.
At “only” 6,636 yards from the back tees, you might think that the Sheep Ranch doesn’t demand much off the tee. You’d be wrong for two reasons. First: wind. As the course with the most ocean frontage and the least elevation, it is the most affected by the wind. Our caddie told us that he’d seen scratch players shoot in the mid 80s when the wind is up. The other reason that you can’t judge the course by the total yardage is that the par 3s and 5s are reasonably short – the longest par 5 is 549 yards and only one par 3 is over 155 yards. If the wind is down, a strong golfer can play the tips and score well. When the wind blows, the green tees at 6,245 yards will be all that most golfers can handle.
Additionally, while your first glance tells you that the entire course is one big fairway, a closer look reveals plenty of trouble. The fairways are wide, but you can easily lose strokes off the tee. In some cases, the danger is obvious, such as the Pacific Ocean on #6 and #17. Other times, like on #2, the hazard sits quietly to the side waiting to pounce on sliced tee shots.
A few things make the approaches at Sheep Ranch unlike those at the other Bandon Dunes courses. First, the movement in the fairways is more subtle. At Bandon, Pacific, and Old Mac, you get huge mounds and swells in the fairways. Sheep Ranch’s fairways aren’t bowling alleys, but they move more gently.
Similarly, the elevation into the greens at Sheep Ranch is not as dramatic as at the other courses. Again, the holes aren’t flat, but, with the exception of #11, you’re not taking an extra club or more to compensate for the elevation.
Finally, the turf at Sheep Ranch is different than at the other Bandon Dunes courses. Sheep Ranch is built on clay, not sand, so the ground is much firmer. You can hear the difference when the ball lands. The result is that you need to be even more strategic in approaching the greens: either come in very high with spin or run the ball up.
Green & Surrounds
The greens at Sheep Ranch have the overall flavor of Bandon Dunes – large, firm, and full of character – but are substantially toned down compared to Pacific Dunes or Old Mac. You can find some rollercoaster breaks, but they’re outnumbered by more subtle swings.
Around the greens, that same combination of subtle ridges and bumps with the occasional dramatic feature makes the surrounds look friendlier than they are. Because the surrounds are tightly mowed, you have nearly unlimited options with every shot. This can work to your detriment if you aren’t both decisive and skilled at pitching off tight lies. The putter is never a bad choice at Sheep Ranch.
Sheep Ranch’s signature grass bunkers drew an array of opinions from our group. Everyone liked the aesthetic and the variety they brought to Bandon Dunes. We differed in whether we thought the grass bunkers were more challenging than traditional sand traps. Whatever your preference, what is undeniable is that the grass bunkers bring more unpredictability into play. The difference between a good and bad lie can be enormous.
I’m not sure I’ve reviewed a course where picking favorite holes was more difficult. I could have easily written at length about at least seven, but I forced myself to keep it to four.
#11 – Par 5- 506 Yards
Hats off to Coore & Crenshaw for turning the most inland hole into the high point (literally and figuratively) of the round. This hole starts with one of the most demanding drives on the course – trees left and the edge of the course on the right.
From there you turn your attention to “The Volcano” (you can get a sense of its scale in the photo above) and decide if you’re going to go for the elevated green in two or lay up to the bottom of the hill. If you do go for it, you need to be accurate because the fairway bottlenecks significantly. The green is set back much further than you realize
#1 – Par 5 – 517 Yards
This hole needs to make the list because it’s the best opening hole on the property. Coore & Crenshaw waste no time in getting you to the Pacific: you see the ocean shortly after hitting your tee shot. Due to the modest yardage, firm turf, and the hole playing down hill, you can easily reach the green in two with a good drive. The shelf left of the green is one of the most amusing and devious hazards I’ve seen.
#6 – Par 4 – 431 Yards
On a course with limitless beautiful views, this tee shot stands apart. The hole is fairly long, so you’ll want to choose a bold line, but shots that are too aggressive end up on the beach. Your second shot is no picnic either: the green is elevated, there’s a big grass bunker left, you need to keep your ball out of the ocean on the right, and going long of the green puts you on #7 tee. But somehow it’s still really fun.
#3 – Par 3 – 113 Yards
I could make the case for any of the par 3s – and I think a lot of people will pick #16 – but #3 is my favorite. It’s the shortest hole on the course, but it plays mental tricks with you. The green looks narrower than it is from the tee, and you can see acres of green beyond the flag (#3 shares a green with #16) which makes you nervous about going long. In theory, this is an easy hole. Reality is a different story.
If you needed any more motivation to get, or get back, to Bandon Dunes, Sheep Ranch is it. This course is a joy to play, and it’s my new answer to the eternal question, “What’s your favorite course at Bandon?”
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