I doubt just about everything I read these days, but course reviews and rankings, in particular, should be at the top of everyone’s skepticism meter. Well, perhaps behind equipment reviews.
Regardless, it was with some trepidation that I shelled out the four figures necessary for a trip to Bandon Dunes despite the near universal glowing accounts of the place. As it is, most of the course reviewers/travel gurus in the industry come across as shills, at best, and even the good ones almost certainly are handcuffed to some extent by their corporate masters. Compounding the matter, growing up in Bethpage has made me a natural skeptic when judging other courses. I have a friend of sound mind who would genuinely choose the Yellow’s back nine to play his final holes on the planet. I might even have agreed, at least before the deforestation, courtesy of the USGA, took away much of the State Park’s charm, but we’ll leave that for another post.
But now, after four days at the resort, I can definitively report that the Bandon compound meets expectations, at least from the scenic perspective. The courses are stunning – I cannot imagine a more perfect setting – and you must trust that the many pictures online do little to reveal their grandeur.
Here then, in no particular order, are things you should know as you plan your trip:
Know who you are: Golf Digest, in a rare observation of merit, accompanying a typical unreadable article last month, outlined three types of golfers: those that play for the competition; those that play as a solitary pursuit, a test of their abilities; and those that view a round of golf as an opportunity to spend time with friends outside.
The courses at Bandon are made for those looking for bonhomie, and work for those of the competitive bent. I can’t think of a more painful experience though than Bandon if you see golf as a challenge to get better, unless, that is, your handicap hovers in the (very) low single digits.
Leave the umbrella at home: If it’s raining, there also are likely to be 20 plus mph winds, so the umbrella will do you no good.
Along with the ProV1s: You’re not stopping anything on these greens, so you might as well play a cheaper ball, that’ll perform just as well.
But bring the spikes: Spikeless shoes are all the rage, and maybe they even are more comfortable, but it’s likely to rain at least a bit during your time in Bandon, and the fescue gets awfully slippery. Spinning out on tee boxes is not much fun.
Ignore the weather apps: We may as well have been checking the weather in Peoria, given how dissimilar the forecasts were to the actual conditions.
Leave the caddies in the shack: Get in shape before you go and get a trolley. They weren’t all that tough to pull around these courses, and all I did was walk the stairs at work every day for a few months to prepare. Better yet, take a few irons out of your bag and carry yourself.
This isn’t to disparage the caddies; I’m sure the vast majority of the (300 plus) on the property are professional and capable. But for me, they slowed things down – carrying two bags, reading every putt, tending every pin; they viewed it as unprofessional not to do these things, even if not asked – and didn’t provide all that much help other than showing lines off the tee (that I was unable to hit anyway.)
Much more importantly, a fifth or sixth person in your group changes the dynamic, regardless of how great they are as a caddy or a person. So unless you’re in that “challenge thyself” group above, I’d recommend saving some money and going out with your friends as a true foursome. Particularly if you belong to the “miss ‘em quick” school.
Don’t sleep on Old Mac. I liked it the best of the bunch; the sight of the entire course laid out before you, in the grey of morning, was mystical. If Shivas Irons ever visited Bandon, this is the course he’d play.
Don’t overrate Pacific. Sure, its got the ocean views, but so does Bandon, and it’s unclear to me why the architectural highbrows genuflect toward it over the others. In fact, it is virtually unplayable in the heavy winds, unless you like hitting drivers on 150 yard par 3s with no bailout areas (or, at least, no bailout areas that require anything less than a perfect chip to save bogey.)
Bandon is just as breathtaking, with a more interesting (and beautiful) opening, and with seaside holes (4/5, 15/16) as stunning as anything on Pacific.
Trails is a walk through the woods unlike any I’ve experienced, but it’d still be number 4 on my list – perhaps if only because it’s less unique than what the typical parkland golfer is used to than the others.
The Preserve has beautiful vistas, and certainly was a fun experience. I was very happy we were able to fit it in. But, go in knowing that it is significantly overpriced ($75 for an hour of golf?) and frankly resembles less a par 3 course than mini golf on steroids (see comment on greens, below.)
Practice hitting long irons off tight lies: You’re going to be hitting a bunch of them if there’s wind (which there will be.)
Up the bounce on your wedges: The sand is extremely soft, and it took me a full day to get accustomed. Not until I started borrowing my friend’s wedge with 12 degrees bounce (I usually play 8) was I able to blast out.
The ground game’s not a panacea: At least not on and around these greens. I felt like I was playing the bump and run pretty well all week, but hit it a little long or short and you’re rolling off into a bunker or swell, or winding up 50 feet away. Sure it’s easier to make solid contact bunting an 8 iron, but unless you gauge it exactly right you’re going to wind up in just as bad a spot as if you missed a wedge.
Seriously, what were Doak and Coore thinking with some of these green complexes? Who enjoys struggling to avoid 4-putts at least two or three times a round? If making a few double bogeys puts you in a bad mood, you’re going to hate yourself pretty quickly out there.
Which leaves us all with an important lesson, one that the golfer in this country needs constant reminding, courtesy of the poison the PGA tour puts out week in and week out. And that is this: stroke play is for suckers.
Keep the scorecard in your pocket, play a match, and focus on enjoying the walk and the time with people you care about. Do that, and you’ll be mentally planning your next trip to Oregon before you even finish your first round.