When golf courses as good as Oregon’s Bandon Dunes come along — as they do every century or so — it’s difficult to describe them because writers have already exhausted all the superlatives in characterizing other, far lesser golf courses. A layout such as Bandon Dunes calls for an entirely new vocabulary. It is that rare locale which induces a sweet and delicious nostalgia and somehow returns us to ourselves. Just looking upon this collaboration of nature and design makes you want to wave your arms and run wildly down the fairways yodeling nonsense syllables into the sea air.
With six sets of tees, the course plays from 5,072 to 6,732 yards over 250 acres of the most gruffly enchanting and achingly graceful golf terrain this side of Dornoch. Seven holes caper along cliffs overlooking the ocean, but every single hole offers an aspect of crashing surf. The fairways heave and roll like grassed ocean swells, and they’re adorned with bunkering so sublime you could weep just looking at their deep shapes and rich, dark colors. The rough, which has been cut low, contains just enough gorse and scotch broom to confuse your geography. The greens are huge (No. 17 runs to 17,000 square feet) and curvaceous as a belly dancer, firm yet eminently fair, and designed to 1880s specifications. Simple boardwalks wind through waste areas and around some of the tees, lending a natural, beachy feel — like the Hamptons or Provincetown.
Most golfers I know try to squeeze in 36 holes every day they’re here. When shadows fall across the linksland you’d mortgage your heart for that fleeting pleasure to last. Walking the course isn’t just encouraged, but required; only medically disabled golfers are allowed to take carts. Every time I visit — and I’ve been here upwards of 30 or 40 times — I find myself grinning and shaking my head all day like a guy who’s just discovered a gym bag full of magic lamps washed up on the empty beach. Like old songs, certain holes set loose warm, goosey memories from my youth, not to mention associations with holes at such places as Turnberry, Ballybunion, Royal Porthcawl and the Old and New Courses at St. Andrews.
(352 yards, par 4)
The course begins boldly and never shrinks back into complacency. Whack your drive into a receptive tureen of fairway but prepare for a possible blind uphill approach shot that’s equal parts faith and hopefulness, over a sandy wasteland and giant bunkers edged in beach grass that camouflages the huge, sloping green. Facing this shot is like quaffing a triple espresso.
(155 yards, par 3)
The first par 3 on the course plays uphill over a chasm filled with sand and waving fescue to a green protected in front by a slope so mirthless that anything coming up short may roll back 40 yards in fear and disappointment. But behind the green a similar slope can be used as a backstop — shots hit long are likely to back onto the putting surface, which slopes away both to the right and left.
(489 yards, par 5)
The third hole calls for a muscular 185-yard carry off the tee over or past bunkers far below. In the distance, waves crash against the western edge of the continent and the rest of the layout spreads like a green silk flag rippling in a salt breeze. Hit your second shot straight, though not necessarily long — unless you’re going for the green, which is protected by a malevolent bunker to the front left and slopes from back to front.
(400 yards, par 4)
No. 5 presents the most memorable hole on the front side; it spills across 400 yards of clifftop overlooking the beach. Your drive must avoid clumps of beach grass dividing the fairway into two slots — one portly and welcoming, the other narrow and bitter, perched upon the rim of the abyss but offering a shorter route to the hole. Your second shot must follow a tight gizzard of fairway or carry dunes and tangles of gorse. Some players will be wise to lay up even though it’s a par 4. Bogey is a fine score here.
(342 yards, par 4)
Steeply faced bunkers form a barrier 200 yards from the tee; they’re not too difficult to carry but may prove malignant if you go in. A back left pin placement will require a blind shot hit with a draw over a yawning bunker.
(339 yards, par 4)
The back side begins with a risk/reward option: Play left for a longer shot to a visible pin or hit right over steep bunkers for a shorter but blind approach. Windblown pines frame the ocean view beyond the green.
(537 yards, par 5)
Looking inland toward Oregon’s coastal mountains, Hole 13 presents a fairway that undulates like an abstract expressionist painting of green form. The humps and bumps could evince seasickness and are responsible for occasionally humorous caroms. The hole doglegs slightly left around wetlands that could be full of fauna snickering quietly in your backswing.
(345 yards, par 4)
Many players will call this the most dramatic hole on the course, a seaside holiday of 345 yards with a ravine slashing up into the fairway from the beach. Red rock cliffs drop off toward the surf, just as the green does in back. Hidden pot bunkers may swallow what you think is the best drive you’ve ever hit. This may well provide the most dramatic view of any golf hole in North America.
(375 yards, par 4)
No. 17 runs beside a steep ravine which you must avoid on your drive while also avoiding a pod of bunkers opposite. Many shots at the pin will have to cross the part of the ravine that intrudes across the fairway, making the putting surface almost an island. The green is long enough for a weekend holiday.
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort
57744 Round Lake Drive
Bandon, OR 97411
tel 888 345 6008
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