When I planned out the vacation I took a couple of weeks ago I made it part of the itinerary to stay in Bandon for a few days. The reason is obvious so there’s no explanation needed. I did however find out there’s more to Bandon than I originally thought. It’s not just a name associated with one of the greatest golf destinations in America. It’s a great little community that was a pleasure to visit.
If I’m being honest, Bandon was only about the golf for me. The old downtown area was quite unique and enjoyable to walk around, the food was outstanding and the hotel we stayed at on the edge of the cliff side was visually spectacular. Even with those fantastic elements to the City of Bandon I would have been just fine with a cardboard box down by the docks as long as I made my Pacific Dunes tee time.
The Monday I was scheduled to play was going to be unlike any August round of golf I have ever played. The high for the day was 59°. That’s not a typo! I’m used to wheeling around a course in 115° this time of year so needless to say it was a little refreshing to not sweat my ass off.
We stopped off in town and had breakfast before I was dropped off at the course. I felt like I was in a time-warp where we skipped fall and jumped right into winter. When I left the hotel is was 48° outside and the humidity was only at 100%. There was a thick fog (I had to Google it to find out what that stuff was) blanketing the entire town and a stiff 20mph breeze (apparently it wasn’t wind but just a breeze) in the air. At this point I was thrilled I had packed some of my warmer clothes. I knew I was going to walking the course in much cooler temps so I wanted to make sure I had on some decent layering action going on just in case it did warm up some.
The short drive up the 101 took no time from downtown Bandon and when we made the turn onto Round Lake Drive it was a quick transformation from small town America to You are NOT in Kansas anymore. The drive along Round Lake Dr. is a short winding road that is very scenic; it’s a perfect prequel to what lies ahead. You see glimpses of Bandon Preserve as you get closer to your courses clubhouse. The lodging on the property looks amazing and I’m sure staying on site and having access to or the ability to play all the courses during your stay is what puts Bandon over the top as far as a destination golf resorts.
From the time when I was dropped off at the Pacific Dunes clubhouse until the time I left the staff and personnel at the resort were phenomenal when it came to their customer service. You’d expect this when your pay close to $300 for a round of golf but I never got the sense that anyone was “acting”. The conversations I had with all the staff was pleasant and they did a fantastic job of making me feel welcomed.
After loading up on a few goodies in the Pro Shop, had to get a yardage book and of course a poker chip, I head out to the shuttle so I could catch a ride to the practice facility. Heaven is more fitting name if you ask me. The place is HUGE. Two very large areas for hitting, a colossal putting green that blew my mind, several bunkers to hit out of, chipping areas I stood there in amazement feeling like I had just walked out of the corn fields into the practice field of dreams.
The shuttle bus driver was kind enough to point out where the bunkers were. During our conversation on the way over to the practice facility we chatted a bit and when she heard I was from Vegas she was eager to point them out because “The sand here is unlike anything you have probably ever played in.” She couldn’t have been more correct, the bunkers at Bandon are intense! There was a thank you thrown her way later in the round.
After my warm up I headed back over to the clubhouse, picked up my push cart and made my way to the first tee.
The starter was as classy as they come, a true gentleman and a joy to talk with. He let me know about the Punchbowl and what it was all about gave me a few tips on making my way around the course and even gave me kudos for picking up the Yardage book.
The wind on the number one tee box was dead in my face. Being at sea level hitting into the cold, wet and windy Oregon air I had better chances of moonlighting as a Victory Secrets runway model than striping a drive down the middle.
Shaking off fears of plowing one right into the untamed dunes I reared back and managed to do exactly what I was hoping for; I cranked it right down the middle! Not a bad way to start.
The moment when I put my diver away and started walking down the fairway immediately brought back memories of playing Streamsong Blue earlier this year which is another Tom Doak course. Those 18 holes in Florida were pure enlightenment in regards to my life with the game. Walking the fairway towards my ball reminiscing about Florida I couldn’t help but grin as I thought “I’m freaking playing Pacific Dunes right now!”
My joy quickly faded as I topped my next shot and then hit my (2nd) approach shot into a greenside bunker. This is where those bunker shots at the practice facility were a blessing. I blasted my way out and left a close enough putt that I should have been able leave with a Bogey but I pushed the putt on the high side of the hole and had to settle for a double.
As I started making my way through the course you really start taking it all in. The elevation changes may not be as dramatic as Kapalua in Hawaii or Rio Secco here in Henderson but boy are they fun to walk through. The ground changes beneath you all the time from grass, to sand to rocks that run along pathways cut through the long grass of the hillsides between holes. It’s a journey.
I made a silly yardage error on the second hole but with some short game mastery from a tough spot (left and behind the second green) my ball, from the results of pretty outstanding pitch/chip shot, found its way to the flag. Had it dropped my wife would have heard my scream all the way back in town. The speed of the ball was a tad too much though and it deflected about 5 feet away from the cup. I did make the par though so I was pretty happy backing up a bad double start with a nice scrambling par.
From that moment on I took every moment like it was never going to happen again. Pacific Dunes is a magical place and it’s easy to understand why Golf.com just labeled it the #1 course you can play in America. Hard to argue with their assessment, it’s heaven on Earth in my opinion but that didn’t mean I wasn’t waiting for Kevin Costner to pop out from behind a sand dune and say “No, it’s Oregon.” At any time.
Even though I drove the ball better than I ever have in my life my putting is what held me back. I did make some decent putts, I even managed a few birdies but the greens had me scratching my head more than I was pumping my fists.
I learned the expression “You’ve been Doak’d” when we played Streamsong and Mr. Doak had done it to me once again only this time on the west coast. I did my best but Mr. Doak was the clear winner.
The greens are living works of art made from the Earth that are truly museum worthy. It’s almost a crime to walk on them let alone pummel them with golf balls. If I had more time I would have seriously putted from every spot on each green just to be able to say “Yuup, I’ve hit that putt.”
The mystic of the course and where you are can be overwhelming but nothing can prepared you for the tee shot on the 4th hole at Pacific Dunes. The 449 yard par 4 hole is laid out on the edge of a cliff and runs north to south. The view is indescribable; I can’t even begin to explain what it was like standing on that tee box and swinging away.
Even with the dense fog in the air and limited visibility of the ocean waves crashing into the beach below me I was still overcome with how amazing of a view I was witnessing. I must have stood there staring into the misty air for a good ten minutes before I finally was ready to tee up my ball.
With the wind now at my back I again piped another drive down the middle of the fairway leaving me about 195 to the center of the green. It’s a frightening approach shot. You miss right and you ball is hanging out with driftwood, miss left and you’ll never see it again. My approach shot came up short and right. I avoided a dangerous bunker but still had a tough chip shot in front of me. I ended up three putting and scoring a double but it was entirely my fault. The chip shot was poorly executed and made any chance of a decent score disappear immediately.
Through nine holes I was thoroughly enjoying this amazing golf course but I wasn’t playing my best golf. Shooting 47 stung a lot but I knew that it wasn’t unrecoverable. I was driving the ball great and my approach shots were just ok, if was going to turn it around my putting and my wedges had to get hot.
The back nine was a different story. Maybe it was the beer kicking in but I was more relaxed and started playing much better from 140 yards and in. After another silly double to start the back I played even over the next five holes starting with the breathtaking 12th. Par on that hole and another outstanding sandy par from the right side of the iconic 13th green got me into a groove. I pared the 14th and birdied the 15th with a terrific putt that was the highlight of the round.
The finishing hole at Pacific Dunes is a masterpiece; it’s a long 575 yard par 5 that when I finished I immediately wanted to go back to the tee and play it again. I crushed my drive and still had 300+ yards to the green. The rolling hills on the 18th make it exceedingly difficult for a first time player who was relying solely on my eye balls and yardage book. I figured you can’t go wrong with the middle and zipped a 4iron leaving me about 110 to the flag.
Feeling the nerves in my gut come out when I thought about concluding the round with a birdie or at worst a par had me a little to jacked up and I over swung my PW and left the ball on the hillside to the left of the green. Not in serious trouble but by no means safe I had a very fast downhill green to hit onto with a bunker to carry. There was little room for error and no chance to keep it close. I did my best and two putted for a bogey.
I was sitting pretty good at 110 yards to the flag and a great approach shot would have set me up to break 40 for nine hole (had I made the birdie putt) for the first time. Shooting 41 though made me feel much better consider the front and how I played it.
Regardless of my score I had just played on one of the best golf courses in the county. The atmosphere surround the resort is awe inspiring and it was a pure joy to play my second Tom Doak course this year.
There’s no way I’d ever pass up an opportunity to play at Bandon Dunes Resort. If Bandon is on your list of places to play move it to the top and get it done. You will not regret it.
I wish I would have had more time to play the other tracks but it just wasn’t going to happen. As much as a travesty it was to only play one layout (at least that’s what I’ve been told) there’s no way I regret my day at Pacific Dunes. It was a memory of a lifetime and I look forward to the day I return to Bandon.
Don’t think I forgot about The Punchbowl. It’s so awesome I’m going to save that for a post of its own!
Be sure to check out the gallery of photos from Pacific Dunes over on the Course Photo’s Page.