For two decades, Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, tucked tight along the Oregon coast, has delivered (and then some) on its alluring and enduring promise: “Golf as it was meant to be.”
At a place where no one speaks of “signature” holes, the par-4 16th on the resort’s first (and namesake) course stands out as vividly as any. Its dramatic green site was originally considered as a location for the clubhouse. But by the time the David McLay Kidd–designed track opened, in 1999, it had long been decided that the best land at Bandon should always be set aside for golf.
“One course is a curiosity,” Bandon developer Mike Keiser likes to say. “Two is a destination.” With the 2001 opening of Pacific Dunes, a Tom Doak design that critics immediately rated even higher than Bandon Dunes, Keiser began transforming his remote resort into a 36-hole mecca, with both layouts catapulting onto GOLF’s list of the Top 100 Courses in the World.
The Bandon experience is an accumulation of distinctive moments that adds up to something greater than the sum of its parts. It includes feeling the land beneath your feet, bunking down in rustic-chic lodging, shuttling from course to course, and bantering with the likes of greeter Bob “Shoe” Gaspar, a local who has been with the resort since opening day. No visit is complete, of course, without grill-room debate over which layout ranks as the best on property. Though it’s the only 18-hole course not on the ocean, Bandon Trails, a 2005 Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw design, often gets the nod.
Bandon’s fourth course, Old Macdonald, takes its name from the famed American architect C.B. Macdonald, but credit for the 2010 design goes to Jim Urbina and Tom Doak. A layout that looks relatively flat from afar reveals itself up close to be a wonderland of intriguing folds and hollows, with wild, expansive greens that grow all the more befuddling when the wind picks up. In a nod to its throwback inspiration, the course is also notable for a string of template features, including a Redan hole, a Biarritz hole and a par 4 patterned on the Road Hole at St. Andrews.
The more things change at Bandon, the more they stay the same. In 2012, the resort cut the ribbon on the Preserve, a par-3 short course by Coore and Crenshaw. But even as the landscape shifted yet again, the spirit of the grounds remained the same. Guests could still count on such fixtures as the comfort food at McKee’s Pub, named in honor of the late Bandon co-founder, Howard McKee; the ubiquitous gorse; and the reliable reads of veteran caddies like Tyrone Vassion, one of dozens of loopers who vow to be Bandon lifers.
Designed by Urbina and Doak, this 18-hole, 100,000-squarefoot putting course (2014) bucks and rolls in a pine-fringed hollow alongside the first tee of Pacific Dunes. It’s a sweet place to practice or play friendly money games. Even if you have to pay off your buddies, you don’t have to pay the resort. The Punchbowl is available to all for free.
There was a time when the Sheep Ranch was a mystery wrapped in an enigma, guarded by a low-key and forbidding entrance. You paid cash to a local caretaker in exchange for access to a layout that had no numbers on its holes, no prescribed routing and received no more than a handful of rounds a day. For years, the course lingered in suspended animation, loosely affiliated with but not operated by the resort. Now work is underway that will transform it into Bandon’s fifth 18-hole course, a Coore-Crenshaw design without a single bunker.
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