In less than a decade, Bandon Dunes Golf Resort's three golf courses, Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes and Bandon Trails, are already gaining legend status, thanks to the resort's no-frills homage to traditional links golf.
BANDON, Ore. - My playing partner and I are walking off the seventh green of Bandon Dunes, our 25th hole of the day, when the course ranger greets us.
He looks a little concerned.
"I think we lost a single," he mutters, scanning the horizon for a stray soul. "Have you seen him?"
It turns out, a left turn off the seventh green takes you to neighboring Pacific Dunes' eighth tee, while steering right over a beaten down path of grass leads you properly to Bandon's next tee.
The poor sap probably won't notice his wayward turn until he realizes the flags have shifted color from Bandon "red" to Pacific "yellow."
A minor inconvenience, it seems, if this player in fact stumbled onto the wrong golf course. But, in fact, this is what founder Mike Keiser was after all along.
The coddled resort golfer is gone. Adventure golf is back at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.
It was Keiser's vision to create a golf retreat without compromise to the expectations of the spoon-fed, modern-day resort golfer, accustomed to mandatory golf carts, manicured conditioning and over-the-top service.
It's a grand mission statement few other resorts can offer. And the fact the three courses are set on some of North America's most striking coastal property is icing on the cake.
Between holes, golfers trudge over uneven, beach-like wooden planks set over sand. Fences around tees are loosely pieced together with native, dead tree branches. There is practically no signage or other artificial distractions - like a beer cart lady weaving her way through the course - and bag drop boys aren't stalking your car for that horribly unnecessary six-foot journey from trunk to bag drop.
It all seems so seamless, so natural here, one wonders what took North America so long to create a pure links retreat like this.
Despite Pacific Dunes' undeniable seat among America's one-of-a-kind courses, you'd hardly know it based on its modest facilities. The current clubhouse here, as well as Bandon Trails, is probably smaller than your local muni's, with a basic pro shop and grill serving up a handful of breakfast and lunch dishes. Nothing about the facilities here are showy - that is until you stumble upon the expansive 30-acre practice center.
Once you're on either of the three golf courses, time and place is anyone's guess.
"If you flew me in without telling me where I was, I'd think I was over there (in the British Isles)," remarked Bobby Simpson, a traditional links enthusiast after his second round on Pacific Dunes. "The terrain, the vegetation and gorse, and the grass are all similar."
The word has certainly gotten out, and the resort is growing. A fourth golf course, Old MacDonald, is coming in 2010, and a 39-room inn is currently under construction to the right of Bandon's 18th green. Spend happy hour in Bandon's Lodge overlooking the 18th of Bandon Dunes, and you'll see a steady stream of golfers coming in until dark - sometimes later. Few rain checks seem to be used around here, either. In fact, many golfers look forward to bearing the elements.
"I can't think of any holes I don't like," admits Grant Rogers, director of instruction at the resort since 2000. "But I like them more when its raining and windy.
"The winter is my favorite time to play."
Like the British Isles, Bandon's soil is sandy enough to allow year-round play, and the winter months can make for some harsh days on the links.
But to say the courses are simply akin to traditional Scottish links would sell its golf horribly short. Bandon holds its own in a tale of the tape: overpowering gorse in spots that would make Royal Dornoch feel inadequate, towering dunes rugged enough to make Royal County Down seem gentle and coastal breezes that would chill even an Royal Aberdeen Golf Club native's cheeks.
It seems all Bandon lacks at present is the black-and-white photos of Old Tom Morris or James Braid swinging hickory around its barren dunes. Its relatively infant restaurants and lounges could use some rusty trophies in display cases from century-old matches held here. And to top it off, perhaps some grizzled local members relaxing in the lounge, passing on tall tales of triumphs and follies.
Just wait a century or two, and Bandon Dunes' own history will surely be grand.
Currently, Bandon Dunes Golf Resort is seeding its fourth course, Old MacDonald, which plays alongside Pacific Dunes. It's a collaborative effort led by architect Tom Doak and design associate Jim Urbina, who will build a course suited to the design styles of legendary architect C.B. MacDonald (architect of New York's famed National Golf Links, among others). It will play to the north and east of Doak's Pacific Dunes, with several ocean view vantage points and with the rest playing along lower, tumbling linksland beneath Pacific.
Old MacDonald is scheduled to open in 2010.
There are numerous accommodation options at the resort, from the main lodge to two-story cabins on Chrome Lake. While they're all modern and comfortable, they aren't over-the-top luxury either.
Rest assured, no matter where you're staying on the property, the water pressure in the showers is strong, and your bed will be of utmost comfort - sheer necessities after walking 36 holes. Resort guests also pay $210 peak season for 18 holes compared to $265 for non-guests.
There is no five-star spa on site, and the word "pamper" won't be found in any resort literature. However, we could all use a little back rub after walking 36 holes, which is why massages can be arranged either to your room or in one of the main lodge's treatment rooms.
There is a small fitness center in the main lodge as well, though given the resort's walking only policy, it sees its share of lonely days.
Since golf groups can also be known to tie one on, it's a wonderfully practical touch that the resort offers round-the-clock shuttle services at the touch of a button or the wag of a finger and will get you to your tee time at any course - or to a late-night card game in the Bunker Bar or one of the resort's other restaurants or lounges.
June 23, 2008