Super secrets: The unsung heroes at Bandon Dunes? The dogs

Beau, one of the dogs of Bandon Dunes.

Dogs have a history in golf just about as ancient as the game itself. They’ve been involved at Bandon Dunes since the resort was born.

Courtesy Bandon Dunes

Welcome to Super Secrets, a series in which we pick the brains of the game’s leading superintendents. By illuminating how course maintenance crews ply their trades, we’re hopeful we can not only give you a deeper appreciation for the important, innovative work they do but also provide you with maintenance tips that you can apply to your own little patch of paradise. Happy gardening!

Wander around the grounds this week at Bandon Dunes, where the U.S. Junior Amateur is taking place, and you’ll notice that the maintenance crew is hard at work.

Except for a few slackers. Like, for instance, Rio. Rio appears easily distracted. That is, when he isn’t napping. He also must have the cushiest gig in golf. No mowing. No spraying. No picking. No raking.

All that’s asked of Rio is that he be a pleasant citizen of Bandon and a good companion to the resort’s director of agronomy, Ken Nice. Rio’s job description is to be himself.

Bandon Dunes director of agronomy Ken Nice with Beau (left) and Billie.
Bandon Dunes director of agronomy Ken Nice with Beau (left) and Billie. Courtesy of Bandon Dunes

Dogs, of course, have a history in golf that is just about as ancient as the game itself. They’ve been involved at Bandon since the resort was born. The first dog to stride the fairways here was a Lab-Blue Heeler mix that answered to Raider. Everyone loved Raider, including Nice, who started at Bandon around the same time, roughly 23 years ago.

About a decade back, Nice got his own dog, a stray that he’d found roaming along the far side of Highway 101. He named her Mia. Mia was a Papillon, a breed that looks more like a wind-up toy than your traditional working dog. And yet Mia did her job at Bandon happily and dutifully, uninterrupted, until last spring, when her dog years ran out. Her job, like Rio’s, was also to be herself.

At a lot of golf courses, dogs are tasked with grunt work like chasing geese and hounding gophers. At Bandon, there aren’t a lot of those things to chase and hound. Dogs at Bandon are tasked with being sociable sidekicks, which, though not as arduous, is equally important. It’s good for morale.

Raider was the first working dog at Bandon Dunes.
Raider was the first working dog at Bandon Dunes. Courtesy of Bandon Dunes

“When you’re maintaining a golf course, you’re often working a lot of solitary hours,” Nice says. “Dogs are great companions. They create a relaxing vibe. They take the edge off things. Our guests like seeing them, too.”

Them, as in plural. Just as Bandon has more than one golf course, it also has more than one dog. It has eight, each belong to a different member of the Bandon maintenance and operations crew. The most famous of them is probably Billy, who got his 15 minutes in 2017, when he was selected as “Mr. March” in the annual Dogs of Golf calendar published by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. An honor like that could make a dog cocky, but Billy’s owner, Old MacDonald superintendent Marcus Lakey, would never let the plaudits get to Billy’s boxer/Staffordshire terrier head.

Assistant super Jarrett Lower with Chase.
Assistant super Jarrett Lower with Chase. Courtesy of Bandon Dunes

The other dogs at Bandon are Panzer, Chloe, Ringo, Chase, Beau, Charlie and, most recently, Rio, Nice’s new dog.

Like a lot of turf grasses, Rio is a hybrid, with 18 canine breeds mingling in her bloodlines. Nice knows this because soil tests aren’t the only tests he does; he had Rio’s DNA analyzed at a lab. Rio is a just a year old and still learning his way around the property.

“He is great off-leash on a trail,” Nice says. “But I’m not sure he’s ready to be out there on the course with me during something like the Junior Amateur.”

For every-day operations, though, Rio is pretty much good and ready. He makes his job look easy.

Josh Sens Contributor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.