Bandon Dunes Resort long ago earned its bona fides as a golf destination, and a trip to that seaside retreat in south Oregon has become as much a bucket-list expedition for recreational golfers as one to, say, Pebble Beach or St. Andrews. The courses are the biggest draw, and Bandon boasts five 18-hole gems that are routed across windswept bluffs and in and around forests, meadows and dunes.
David McLay Kidd crafted the original Bandon Dunes layout, which opened in 1999, and in later years Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Doak and Jim Urbina fashioned four others – Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails, Old Macdonald and the newly opened Sheep Ranch. Collectively, their designs make excellent use of rugged, well-contoured land, with holes running long and short and doglegging left and right.
Equally enticing are the sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, the near-constant wind, the roar of the waves breaking on the beaches, the swathes of gorse that bloom brilliant yellow in spring and the way those links-style layouts compel golfers to play a traditional ground game. Bump-and-run is the call at Bandon, not bomb-and-gouge, and its Old World ethos is only enhanced by the presence of a robust caddie program and an insistence that golfers walk unless they have medical concerns.
What has also become clear over the years is that Bandon Dunes is an excellent tournament venue. That point was most recently underscored when the resort served as the site of the 2020 U.S. Amateur, with the original Bandon Dunes as well as Coore and Crenshaw’s Bandon Trails used for the competition. It marked the seventh time the remote outpost has hosted a USGA championship, and once again contestants heartily sang its praises. So did association leaders, and the likelihood of Bandon hosting more of their tournaments is a gimme, especially given the enthusiasm that Mike Keiser, the greeting card magnate who created the resort, has for the USGA and elite amateur golf.
“I have now played in three tournaments at Bandon, and I like the courses more and more each time,” said 58-year-old Gene Elliott, an amateur from Iowa who has competed in 34 USGA championships. “It’s as close to Scotland as you get in the U.S., and very well-suited for both stroke and match play. I also like the different weather elements you get on given days, the wind and fog and maybe a bit of rain, and the firmness of the fairways and greens, and how you have to be creative with every shot.”
Added Stewart Hagestad, a two-time Walker Cupper and winner of the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur: “Bandon really is an awesome place and a fantastic venue for a U.S. Amateur.”
While Bandon Dunes was always designed to cater primarily to recreational golfers, Keiser and Kidd both started thinking before the course even opened about one day staging tournaments there. “I was just a kid when I designed Bandon, in my late 20s,” said Kidd. “So, of course, I was dreaming big.”
He also recalls accounting for just such occurrences during the actual construction of the original course. “Running parallel to the ninth fairway, for example, is an open area that can be used as a warm-up range during tournaments so contestants can hit balls before teeing off without having to go to the actual range, which is a cart ride away.”
Kidd also had visions of USGA championships dancing in his head when he designed the closing holes. “I wanted Bandon Dunes to have a strong finish, especially in match-play events,” he said. “And I believe it does. The visuals on Nos. 15, 16 and 17 are spectacular because they are all on a bluff overlooking the water, and they each require different strategies, with 15 being a par-3, 16 a short-4 and 17 a longer 4-par.
“Honestly, it was made to host a U.S. Amateur.”
Keiser’s goal with Bandon Dunes was to create a sort of North American version of Royal Dornoch in terms of visual beauty and style of play, he and then-Bandon Dunes general manager Josh Lesnik induced Mike Davis of the USGA to visit the resort prior to its opening. At the time, Davis was in charge of course selection and setup for the association, and Keiser says he was smitten with what he saw and believed that Bandon could indeed host a USGA championship. Some seven years later, in the summer of 2006, it was the site of the 34th Curtis Cup matches. And the following fall, Bandon welcomed the U.S. Mid-Amateur. Those events went so well that the USGA returned in 2011 for the men’s and women’s Public Links, in 2015 for the U.S. Women’s Four-Ball Championship and then last year for the Men’s Four-Ball.
As it turns out, the things that made Bandon such a wonderful retreat for recreational golfers have a lot to do with why the resort works so well for elite amateur competitions.
“Start it being a place for links golf,” explained Elliott. “Here in America, we do not get to play those types of courses very often, and I think they are a lot of fun, no matter your skill level. The wind blows a lot, which always makes things interesting, and the way they set up the course day-to-day makes it play differently each time. Invariably, you use every club in your bag.”
Hagestad concurred. “Courses at Bandon make you think,” he said. “You have to have a plan for each hole, and different golfers will have different plans. And they are perfect for match play, which is what most people play anyway.”
The people who played Bandon Dunes in this year’s U.S. Amateur are among the very best golfers in the world, and Keiser says he was delighted with how well the courses held up and how beautifully they presented themselves – in person and on television -– in the variable summer weather.
“The wind blew the first two days of stroke play, and that kept people from going too low,” he said. “So did the unfamiliarity many of them had with links golf, and I watched more than a few golfers try unsuccessfully to chip with sand wedges. Then, the wind all but disappeared for match play, which was fine because it didn’t matter how much under par anyone goes. At that point, it was all about the head-to-head competition, and there were some terrific matches.”
True to form, Bandon Dunes stood out.
Top: No. 11 on Pacific Dunes. Photo: David Cannon, Getty Images
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