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Bandon Dunes Golf Resort: Links golf for the ages

By Andrew Penner, Contributor

BANDON, Ore. - Pressed hard on the rugged shores of the Pacific Ocean in southern Oregon - threaded through gorse and dunes, and yielding an authentic links experience that's leaving the purists of the game rejoicing long after their wind-battered scores have been tallied - is a golfing kingdom called Bandon Dunes. With two epic courses that toss and turn through enchanting seaside land, Bandon Dunes is, especially by those who have a palate for the taste, often considered the best tandem links offering in the world.

The traditional response when asked where one might experience great links golf is quite predictable: you jump the pond to Scotland, naturally, to St. Andrews, Turnberry, and Troon. Or you set sail to the "Emerald Isle" and test the famous links at Ballybunion , Lahinch, and Royal Portrush. North America has simply not been considered when the topic of great links golf is bantered about. That is, until the last couple of years. Thanks to owner Mike Keiser and architects David McKlay Kidd and Tom Doak, North America, or more specifically the Oregon coast, is printed boldly on the map when great links golf is considered worldwide.

Kidd is a relatively unknown Scotsman who routed the original course at Bandon. Doak is a self-proclaimed minimalist and sometimes disliked architect who crafted the second unbelievable course called Pacific Dunes. Together, they have created a golfing utopia that will last through the ages. Both courses, in fact, are comfortably positioned in the world's top 75 with Pacific ranked 26th and Bandon ranked 70th in Golf Magazine's world rankings.

Opened in the spring of 1999, the resort at Bandon Dunes has done things differently from the get go when compared to its more illustrious west coast counterparts (you know the ones - the Pebble Beaches, the La Costas, and the like - where the opulence all but excludes those not in the "self-insured" category and where the Rolls Royce powercarts have just as much authority on the roads as the Jags and the Lincolns).

In direct contrast, Bandon Dunes is a pure, unspoiled golf resort. It is a place where everything righteous about the game prevails. It's a place where the moist trade winds can gently caress the back of your neck or lash you off your feet. It's a place where the lovers of the game take refuge and immerse themselves into the heart and soul of the game.

There are no powercarts available at Bandon Dunes. Golfers walk. Well, actually, they ramble among massive dunes that were sculpted by a million storms. They drift high along bluffs clothed with beachgrass and heather, and they wander through shore pines that have been battered by the elements for centuries. And then, of course, there's the sea: deep rolling blue that heaves into the rugged shorelines, then recedes, and melts into the horizon. Yes, indeed, there is plenty to savor at Bandon.

Sole owner Mike Keiser, who, believe it or not, made his fortune in the recycled greeting card business, is the man behind the approach at Bandon. Wanting a golf resort that transcended the typical North American "let' s-take-'em-for-all-they're-worth" approach, Keiser did many things, including foregoing millions in buggy revenue, that would be considered going "against the grain."

For instance, he didn't - and for the most part, still doesn't - advertise in glossy magazines, issue press releases for a grand opening, and he hired two virtually unknown architects (at the time) to build his masterpieces. The end result: Bandon Dunes is taking its rightful place in the most mystical, sublime, and enchanting golfing annals from around the world.

Both courses feature stirring holes that slide along the seashore (in total, there are 12 holes that hug the shore). They are an exclamation to what would already be a prized locale for golf. Golfers playing Kidd's course, for example, get their first blast of sea mist on the fourth. Here the green clings to a rugged patch of land that, from the area of approach, appears suspended on the waves. Then comes the fifth - a monumental 460-yard, par-4 that features a split fairway and, hard on the left, the foaming sea. The long-iron approach must be threaded to a green that's pinched between a couple of dunes. The epitome of "beauty and beast" for sure.

Pacific Dunes, shorter (6,557 yards, par 71) than Bandon Dunes (6,732 yards, par 72) is decidedly different in character. Green complexes are smaller with more undulation. More of an emphasis is placed on creative play around the greens and short iron approaches are hit to tighter areas. And then there are the high bluffs and massive blow-out dunes that creep and cower about on the Pacific Dunes layout. From a standpoint of visuals, this one will knock your socks off. It's America's closest counter to Ballybunion.

And the third course at Bandon, you ask? "Don't worry," says Pacific's Head Professional Jim Wakeman, "it's coming. It's been confirmed. It will be a wooded inland course. We'll be announcing the architect shortly." For the love of all things decent, please hurry.

When asked to defend his position on his two "no-name" architects Keiser's response is simple and to the point. "I admire most name architects, but they often superimpose their design style on your site. If you have a great site, why diminish it with a pre-formed sculpture? Finding holes as if they were blown in by the wind is a far more poetic use of a great site."

Keiser believed his chosen architects - Kidd and Doak - would find the wherewithal to allow the gales from centuries past to sketch their plans. He was right. To play Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes is to sail along with nature, to experience timeless forces - intrinsic and extrinsic - and, ultimately, to play our great game on one of the greatest canvasses in the world.

Bandon Dunes Golf Resort

5744 Round Lake Drive Bandon,
Ore 97411

Other Courses Nearby

If you can pry yourself away from this utopia (few people can), then two good courses can be found in nearby Florence. Both Sandpines and Ocean Dunes, both an hour and a half north of Bandon on Highway 101, are enjoyable courses to play. Ocean Dunes, a unique Bill Robinson design, also offers a links-like experience. Sandpines is a challenging Rees Jones layout that has a four-star rating from Golf Digest.

Where To Stay

Far and away, the best place to stay is right at the Bandon Dunes Resort. The new Chrome Lakes Suites as well as the Lilly Pond Cottages offer a peaceful respite after the drama of the day.

Other Attractions

Non-golfers might enjoy the comprehensive trail system at the resort or walks along the shorelines. For fishermen, there is world-class salmon and steelhead fishing found nearby in the Elk and Sixes Rivers. The small town of Bandon also offers some unique gift shops and antique galleries as well as a working ocean port.

Andrew PennerAndrew Penner, Contributor

Andrew Penner is a freelance writer and photographer based in Calgary, Alberta. His work has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout North America and Europe. You can see more of his work at www.andrewpenner.com.

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Sunriver Golf Packages
Dates: April 6, 2018 - October 28, 2018
Sunriver Resort's $79 Unlimited Crosswater Golf Package includes unlimited play on Meadows, Woodlands or Caldera Links, along with one round at the famed Crosswater Club per day during your stay.
Price range: $79