Top 15 Coolest Things About a Bandon Dunes Golf Trip

Will Leivenberg@@will_leivenbergFeatured ColumnistNovember 14, 2013

Top 15 Coolest Things About a Bandon Dunes Golf Trip

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    Photo Courtesy of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and Wood Sabold

    The entirety of the Bandon Dunes experience—from taking a tiny prop plane into North Bend, Ore. to traversing the seaside links on the Pacific Coast—will blow you away.

    What may be my greatest takeaway from my trip—a 105-hole marathon in three days—was that there’s nothing subtle or bland about Bandon.

    The greens are so huge—some 60 or more yards long—that they deserve their own zipcode.

    Many pot bunkers literally have stairs to enter and exit because they're that steep.

    You're living in a postcard anytime you reach one of Bandon's dramatic coastal holes.

    And when you're off the course, well, the food is rich, the drinks are strong and the town of Bandon is a charming getaway.

    From the first tee shot to the final putt, the golf in this part of the world is more than just another round of 18 holes; it's an experience that connects you with the roots of authentic links golf. Limiting the coolest things about Bandon to just 15 was about as easy as hitting the ball under the wind at Pacific Dunes or finding a way to two-putt on Old Mac’s gargantuan greens.

    But take a look at the list and prepare for an exhilarating adventure into links golf!

    Also, take a look at the rest of the series about Bandon Dunes:

    Bandon Dunes: Golf's Coastal Wonder with Links to the Past

    Bandon Dunes: Ranking the Best Courses

    Top 10 Essentials for a Bandon Dunes Trip

The Pacific Coast Backdrop

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    Triple bogeys. Four-putts. Errant drives and lost balls. On any other golf course, you can lose your cool because of these mishaps and mistakes, but at Bandon, it all feels trivial with the magnificent Pacific Coast as your backdrop.

    Oregon's coastline is as striking as it is serene.

    Bandon's architectural vision was to give golfers an experience unlike any other, or "dream golf," as the founder, Mike Keiser, calls it in Stephen Goodwin's book, Dream Golf: The Making of Bandon Dunes. That vision shines through most on the coastal holes, which have a rugged, untouched quality.

    The 16th hole at Bandon Dunes is especially postcard-worthy: a tight par four that hugs the coastline, bringing water into play on every swing. The view from the tee box is nearly unmatched among the other three courses, but it's even better from the green, which sits on the edge of the bluff, the edge of the continent.

Old MacDonald's Putting Greens Are the Largest in North America

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    Photo Courtesy of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and Wood Sabold

    Is it a good sign when you can’t tell where the fairway ends and green begins? Well, that’s simply a reality when you play Old MacDonald, the 18-hole track at Bandon Dunes completed in 2010 as an ode to renowned course designer Charles MacDonald.

    Nicknamed “Old Mac,” the course illuminates true links style and even boasts the largest greens in North America. That's not a typo. Greens that span 60 yards in length are the norm, placing a heavy emphasis on both distance control with approach shots and touch with lag putts.

    The greens pose a deceptive test for 18 straight holes, and creativity is the only way through them.

    Sometimes that means putting with a fairway wood or using an 8-iron to punch the ball into a false front. Putting, though, is often the safest best, even from 40 or more yards out, which most American golfers are nowhere near accustomed to.

    But that's the fun and challenge of these gargantuan greens. 

    What made these greens even more menacing were the plethora of tiers, which make for double- and often triple-breaking putts. Add in the non-stop winds that pour over Old Mac and they are among the fastest and firmest of all the courses at Bandon.

    The best advice I got from one of Bandon’s caddies was when facing a lag putt, try and imagine a three-foot circle around the hole. It helps you hone in on green speed and break, rather than just trying to dunk it every time. This strategy may take a few holes before you get used to it, but learn to embrace the lag and you’ll hopefully see the difference on your scorecard.

    If you play Old Mac—and you absolutely should prioritize it among the other three courses—remember that the wind picks up with a vengeance in the afternoon. Old Mac's greens play wildly different in the calmer morning conditions, a fact across the four courses.

No Carts, Cart Paths or Real Estate; Just Golf

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    Photo Courtesy of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and Wood Sabold

    Bandon Dunes is tucked away beyond the pines, nestled in a rugged stretch of land along the Pacific that’s unlike just about anything on this continent. Mike Keiser, the visionary behind Bandon’s creation, recognized his luck with this land and committed to preserving it purely for golf.

    That means no carts, cart paths and not a single piece of real estate in sight.

    Have you ever played a course without defined paths? Have you ever stood on a tee box and looked in every possible direction without seeing any sign of civilization?

    That's the refreshing reality of Bandon. It's a golf experience that's also an escape from your daily routine.

    Even the snack bars are hidden behind brush and hills to keep from interrupting your experience when playing.

The Ritz-Carlton of Practice Facilities

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    Photo Courtesy of Nick Martin

    Not even courses used for major championships get this kind of extensive treatment.

    Two full practice ranges, a one-acre practice putting green (for reference, that’s nearly the size of a football field), two versatile short-game practice areas for everything from chips to sand shots, as well as its own nine-hole par-three practice course.

    The practice center alone is a gem; a paradise for students of the game.

    Conditions at the practice area mirror those of the courses, which makes the practice shots you hit into the wind, or the extremely long lag putts on the putting green, hugely beneficial to prepare you for what lies ahead.

Pacific Dunes: The Best Course You May Ever Play

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    Photo Courtesy of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and Wood Sabold

    Pacific Dunes blends aesthetics with an authentic links design.

    There are no easy holes, hardly any flat lies and rarely a moment when you're not strategizing your next shot. From the first tee box, Pacific Dunes is a thinking player’s golf course. The risk-reward scenario is prevalent on every hole, if not every swing.

    Strategy is helpful, but what you really need at Pac Dunes are nervesthe ability to overcome an array of intimidating tee shots along the water’s edge or elevated greens protected by gorse and cavernous bunkers, some so deep you’ll need to take a staircase to enter and exit.

    After 18 holes at Pacific Dunes, you're somewhere between exhausted (the course is no stroll across the fairway) and invigorated because, well, the place is a golfer's paradise. The terrain is ruggedly beautifulyou'll encounter vast rolling hills of finely trimmed fairway, sandy dunes and sod-faced bunkers, all along with the soundtrack of waves breaking nearby.

    Pacific Dunes is a golf treasure and shines brightly, if not more, than Bandon’s other courses.

Coastal Winds

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    You may be used to some gusts at your local muni, but the swirling winds at Bandon, especially in the afternoons at Pacific Dunes and Old Mac, will completely alter the way you’ll play and perceive links golf.

    Since you’re right up against the Pacific Coast, the wind is constant. Even the first tee time in the early morning can't escape the wind, which only gets stronger as the day goes on; 25-30 mph winds are common in the afternoons.

    The best advice in the wind is to embrace it. Don't attempt to overpower it.

    Oh, and if you can hit a stinger (Tiger Woods' patented shot), or some kind of low, piercing shot that can stay under the wind, I'd advise learning how to control it before the first tee. Otherwise, you'll launch a ball into the howling winds and watch it get smothered into a maniacally deep greenside pot bunker or heap of prickly gorse.

    The wind forces you to think, evaluate and be strategic about executing the best shot possible. Measuring risk and reward is taken to a new level in these conditions because the of the wind's penalizing nature.

Bandon Trails: A Breath of Fresh Air from Seaside Links

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    Photo Courtesy of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and Wood Sabold

    As the name implies, Bandon Trails feels more like a nature hike at times than a golf course.

    Cedars, pines and spruce trees line fairways and form an amphitheater around greens, much like the 14th hole in the photo above. From a pure design standpoint, Trails has a one-of-a-kind feel.

    Tee shots can be viciously narrow, causing a different kind of intimidation than the coastal shots you face on the other three courses. Add into the equation the plethora of fairway bunkers and precision becomes all the more important. Architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw paid special attention to approach shots, designing greens so that pin position drastically affects how aggressive you can be into greens.

    Misjudging distance or a lapse in precision means dealing with slippery false fronts, deep bunkers and collection areas that feed into thick bushes.

    And the greens, well, good luck. Speedy is an understatement, and the sheer size of the greens will leave you with lag putts anywhere from 20 to 40 yards.

    Rob Rigg, of the Walking Golfer, described Trails as "exceptional," adding:

    Not only in the routing, but the strategy, minimalist design, thoughtful inclusion of hazards, and impeccable conditioning.

    If you play Trails after Bandon's seaside links courses, then you'll realize just how enchanting and diverse this part of the world is and, more importantly, that you'll need to book your return ASAP.

Caddies Know More Than You Can Imagine

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    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Bandon Dunes' caddies’ range of knowledge is unfathomable.

    The caddies I interacted with were not just professionals who knew the ins and outs of the four courses, but they were also Bandon historians. One moment I was receiving help with a yardage that had a two-club wind in my face, the next minute I was listening to an insightful lecture about the changes Mr. Keiser made to the 16th hole at Bandon Dunes so the green sat on the bluff overlooking the ocean. 

    There was a meticulous nature to the caddies in both the guidance they provided as well as the stories they weaved together.

    This was just the second time in my life I'd ever played golf with a caddie, and I was glad to find that the caddies are not there to alter your style of play or force you to do anything you wouldn't do normally. Rather, they track your ball and inform you of strategy, and it's up to you to execute.

    It took me a few holes to truly trust my caddie, and that stubbornness didn't help my scorecard. On one of my first holes of my first rounds, I'd come up short of the green on the par-three fifth hole at Pacific Dunes. The pin was in the back and I had at least 40 yards to the cup. I instinctively grabbed a sand wedge out of my bag to hit a shot that I would not only hit on any other course, but a shot I feel I can knock close nine times out of 10.

    Just before I hit it, my caddie remarked, "The grass is a bit thin there and green's are pretty quick today." He then walked off and let me hit my shot, although I knew he was insinuating something about my club choice. In my practice chips, I could tell the grass was in fact extremely firm, so I'd have to pick the ball perfectly to get it close.

    Naturally, I bladed the ball well over the green, leading to a big ol' double-bogey.

    From that point, I discussed short shots like that with my caddie and assessed the benefits and downfalls of the chip shot (be it with a wedge, 8-iron or hybrid) versus that of putting, which is the true links style even when you're out of "normal" putting range.

    Part of the fun at Bandon, as I learned quickly from my caddie, is embracing the links style of golf, and once I did, I never looked back. 

The Legend of Mike Keiser

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    Photo Courtesy of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and Wood Sabold

    After the first 24 hours at Bandon, I didn't meet a Bandon staff member or fellow golfer who didn't make reference to Mr. Keiser, the revered mastermind behind Bandon Dunes.

    There was a Jay Gatsby feel to it all; we were the party-goers who’d made the voyage to experience and revel in the legend that he'd created. And yet, who was he?

    Between conversations with Bandon staff and caddies and my reading of Dream Golf: The Making of Bandon Dunes, I learned that while Keiser's first passion had long been golf, his roots lie in the greeting-card industry, specifically with his Chicago-based company Recycled Paper Greetings Inc. The fortune he made within that industry propelled his desire to pursue a different dream—building golf courses that would stand out from the rest. The kind that were truly remarkable.

    Bandon would be his crown jewel.

    When people spoke about Mr. Keiser, I noticed a nearly identical, almost childish, smile. Whether they were caddies, visiting golfers or staff, without really knowing him, they made it clear Keiser has given them a gift beyond comparison.

    Keiser is revered for his vision, and even more so for his continued persistence in making that vision a reality. He remains a presence at Bandon, meticulously improving elements of the various courses. But beyond being Bandon's founder, he's known for his humility as just a "normal guy."

    Today, Keiser is an international celebrity within the golf world.

Sprawling Links of Old MacDonald

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    Photo Courtesy of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and Wood Sabold

    Unless you’ve made the pilgrimage to Scotland, Old Mac’s likely different from any golf course you’ve ever played.  

    The land is sprawling and there may not be a single stretch that is flat, as the photo above reveals. Rolling hills—and the slight, dark shadows they create in the afternoon—cover this course from start to finish, which is a trait prevalent throughout Bandon’s courses, but none more so than Old Mac.

    Golf balls are taken on a roller-coaster between the howling winds blowing off the Pacific and the rugged, rippled fairways.

    More difficult than Bandon Dunes but less scenic than Pacific Dunes, Old Mac will challenge your ability to avoid fairway bunkers off the tee; hit low, piercing shots into massive, multi-tiered greens; and, most importantly, attempt to escape the largest greens in North America without a three-putt.

    Each of Old Mac's 18 holes has a name, many of which represent the Scottish roots that inspired the course design. The names range from "Leven," the 13th hole named for the famed Scottish links course, to the more aptly named sixth hole, "Long," because it's 555 yards and simply the longest hole on the course, playing directly into the wind and slightly uphill.

There's a Bar, Restaurant and Pro Shop on 3 of the 4 Courses

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    Photo Courtesy of Tim Scahill

    Mr. Keiser and his team of designers were incredibly meticulous about the details of every tee box, fairway, bunker and green, and that same attentiveness is palpable in making your experience off the golf course as luxurious, entertaining and downright delicious as possible.

    Three of the four courses at Bandon are equipped with individual restaurants, bars and pro shops. Tap in your final putt on the 18th at Pacific Dunes and moments later take a seat at Pacific Grill, which offers a seafood-oriented menu. As you finish your round at Bandon Trails, you're just steps away Trails End, where you can unwind in a bar decked out with TVs and chow down while taking in the gorgeous view of the 18th green and dunes that roll to the sea. The Lodge is the center of the resort, borders Bandon Dunes and offers its own eclectic menu and bar.

    But the go-to sports bar that's also part Scottish pub is McKee's, which is just north of the Lodge. You can get your fill of wings, deviled eggs and juicy hamburgers, but the truth is, it’s all about Grandma's meatloaf.

Shuttles Take You Everywhere

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    Photo Courtesy of Tim Scahill

    As if the courses weren't close enough together, there are shuttles that take you just about everywhere on the property. From your room to the course, and from your course to any of the three restaurants and back home again—convenience and accessibility are paramount at Bandon.

    The truth is, the shuttles are genius.

    They're not essential for every golfer at Bandon Dunes (I didn't step on one in my time there), but there's a culture at Bandon around the "buddies trip," and realistically with that kind of trip often comes a fair amount of partying after rounds. The shuttles are an investment in people's safety and comfort; just another testament to the distinct experience that Mr. Keiser and his team have built at Bandon.

Cottages on the Bandon Property

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    Photo Courtesy of Tim Scahill

    Staying on the Bandon Dunes property feels like renting a cabin in Lake Tahoe or in the secluded hills of Vermont. The cottages are a breath of fresh air, nestled among the towering pines leading up to Bandon. You're just a short shuttle ride or drive from the Lodge, courses and practice facility.

    The cottages are comfortable and spacious, but purposefully understated.

    The emphasis from the beginning of your trip to the the final putt is to spend as much time as possible playing golf. Mr. Keiser and his team want you on the links from the moment the sun rises to the moment it's so dark that you can no longer see where your ball is flying.

    From there, you're just steps away from eating a delicious meal at one of the restaurants right alongside three of the four courses so that by the time you get back to your room, it's purely where you sleep and refuel before the next round.

The Town of Bandon Is a Charming Getaway

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    Foley's is a down-to-earth Irish pub less than 20 minutes from Bandon Dunes.
    Foley's is a down-to-earth Irish pub less than 20 minutes from Bandon Dunes.Photo Courtesy of

    The town of Bandon is charming, right on the water and where the majority of the Bandon Dunes staff and caddies call home.

    Despite it’s small-town feel, it’s loads of fun.

    Foley’s Irish Pub is the new sports bar in town, offering some tasty snacks, an array of local beers, and a plethora of flat screens to get your sports fill. If you’re looking for a more intimate restaurant, give Alloro a shot. Not far from Foley's, Alloro provides a generous wine list and an eclectic menu of pastas and fresh seafood.

    If you're from a metropolitan city, Bandon is an eye-opener. With just over 3,000 inhabitants, it emanates a refreshing sense of community. When I was at Foley's, a man walked in the bar and about 90 percent of the folks waved and said "hello." There's a tight-knit vibe in Bandon and it's worth checking out during your trip.

The Deal: Play 36 and Your Second Round Is Half-Price!

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    Photo Courtesy of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and Wood Sabold

    Playing 36 holes requires serious endurance at Bandon, where there are no golf carts and you must carry your own bag, use a push cart or have a caddie. 

    But that second round of 18 the same day is worthwhile not only because the golf on Oregon's coast is remarkably fun, but also because of Bandon's deal that offers the second round at half price!

    You can research the specific rates per round, which vary based on the time of year, but the second round at half price is a deal that's hard to turn down.