BANDON, OREGON | We all have favorites – a food or restaurant or friend you can count on to provide comfort when you need it. Like a cherished beach that stands above a sea of beautiful beaches you’ve encountered in a lifetime of summer vacations and holds a special place in your heart – a spot where every visit is a sublime renewal of falling in love with a place and a feeling that sustains us until we can return again.
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort is the golf version of that favorite beach for me. In an expanding world of bucket-list golf travel destinations, Bandon is that place that beckons and delivers every time.
For the third time in 10 years, our buddy group binged on all the extraordinary golf Bandon has to offer – all 112 holes in four filled days that included Bandon’s five 18-hole courses, the par-3 Preserve and the free nine-hole short course at the practice range. By next year, in time for the resort’s 25th anniversary, 19 more short holes will be on tap at the new Shorty’s course being grassed among the dunes adjacent Bandon Trails.
Bandon is heaven on earth for golf junkies, and it keeps getting better.
After every trip to Bandon, it’s common for each member of our traveling party to rank our favorites. And our lists consistently don’t replicate the rankings you find in the golf publications. Pacific Dunes has consistently rated the best of Bandon’s courses in the top-100 lists, but that rating seems based on something different – architectural merit, championship strength, strategic values – than what average golfers take away from the experience of playing it.
The 5- to 18-handicap golfers in our party unanimously ranked Pacific at the bottom of the five primary courses. Nobody ever questions the Tom Doak gem’s highly regarded chops and we typically rave about many of its dramatic holes, but everyone generally seems to walk off Pacific feeling beaten by the challenge and ready to retreat to the Punchbowl with a couple of cocktails in hand.
The original Bandon Dunes, however, routinely draws the top marks, with the David McLay Kidd design blending the perfect balance of strategy, drama and playability in a routing that continually brings you to the brink of the Pacific Ocean and back again. The view from the signature 16th tee in both directions up and down the Oregon coast never disappoints and reminds you why you came.
The other three courses are all bundled closely in between. The newest addition, Sheep Ranch, drew the second-highest consensus ranking from our sevensome, including two first-place votes. The views are hard to top. Old Macdonald was a close third, with Doak’s collection of C.B. Macdonald tribute holes engaging everyone’s imaginations – especially on a pristine morning when we cruised around in a little over three hours with barely a hint of wind.
Bandon Trails generally gets short shrift because the Coore-Crenshaw course unfairly suffers from proximity to its oceanside brethren. The routing only starts and finishes in the dunes while the rest of the course meanders through trees and ponds you don’t find elsewhere on the property. But the choice collection of par-3s and the alternative sheltered experience it presents keeps getting more and more deserved appreciation with every visit.
Other than the predictable hijinks at the Punchbowl and Preserve as well as the Charlotte’s barbeque truck at the range (which even impressed the five Kansas City residents in our group), the Sheep Ranch proved the biggest hit.
Having experienced the Sheep Ranch in its previous make-up-your-own-course incarnation in 2015, I was eager to see what the Coore-Crenshaw team did with the dramatic seaside property. On the first visit, eight of us rented the course to ourselves and played a two-team scramble to deal with winds so excessive we got down on hands and knees on what is now the peninsula 16th green for fear a gust would blow us over the cliff. It still remains one of the most fun golf experiences we continue to talk (and argue) about.
Nowhere else can you find such an abundant variety of great courses strung together in one place without ever having to leave the property. Throw in the delightful 13-hole Preserve par-3 course, the Punchbowl putting course and the free nine-hole par-3 at the practice range and it’s a full-blown golf-a-palooza to satisfy any taste.
While the new access, pro shop and amenities at the Sheep Ranch are impressive compared to the nothing that was there before, the bones of the property are immediately recognizable to anyone who’d seen it before when you step off the shuttle and look out toward Fivemile Point. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw used the existing mile of coastal frontage to their full advantage while carving out additional holes through the gorse along Whisky Run to build a full 18 holes that retains the same fun vibe that the original 13-green Doak design offered those who trekked over there.
Much like Bandon Dunes and Old Mac, there is room to breathe on the Sheep Ranch and recover from wherever the consistent winds across that exposed bluff might take an errant shot. The nine cliff-side greens are all memorable, with the massive double green that accommodates the par-3 third and 16th holes the standout. Sheep Ranch also has two visually arresting holes that stand up architecturally against anything else at the resort – the par-4 sixth tempting you to bite off as much as you dare over a cliff of gorse and the par-5 11th that funnels uphill through a bottleneck sandstone canyon.
Also, its fire-pit patio is the best spot to catch a sunset sinking into the Pacific Ocean.
That’s the beauty of Bandon. Nowhere else can you find such an abundant variety of great courses strung together in one place without ever having to leave the property. Throw in the delightful 13-hole Preserve par-3 course, the Punchbowl putting course and the free nine-hole par-3 at the practice range and it’s a full-blown golf-a-palooza to satisfy any taste.
As for tastes, the newest resort restaurant is built behind the 18th green at Old Mac and will soon house the steakhouse menu that’s currently offered in the main Lodge at The Forge. Once the Ghost Tree Grill at Old Mac comes online, the Lodge dining area will get a facelift and a fresh menu of Italian-inspired fare to provide another option for guests in addition to the pub grub at McKee’s Pub and the surf-and-turf items at Pacific Grill.
We stayed in the newest accommodations on site – the Round Lake Lodge just south of the Lily Pond Cottages in the forest where Trails is set. Round Lake’s 24 rooms are the largest on property, with a modern vibe providing a comfortable retreat to recover from a 30,000-step day on the golf courses. One member of our party needed to visit the full-service massage center on site to get his back in tune for more golf, while another required a long walk on the beach trail down to the ocean to recover from a little over-indulgence during our putting contests at the Punchbowl.
In a world with more and more desirable golf travel options, the remote “destination” resort that inspired the modern trend remains hard to beat. And with the new 19-hole Shorty’s short course on tap for 2024, Bandon ensures that its loyal visitors will have something else to look forward to when they return.
We can’t wait to get back.
Top: An aerial view of the Sheep Ranch offers a rugged look at what makes Bandon Dunes sing. Photo: Bill Horstein, USGA
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