(Photos courtesy of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort)
I love Bandon Dunes. She only loves me when she wants to. I think about her a lot, but often my outreach goes unreturned. I see that she’s read my text, but she hasn’t responded. When she does reply, my heart flutters, I get too excited, and it shines through in my response. And she pushes me back away.
In 2013, my dad dangled the ultimate temptation in front of me. Almost a half decade had passed since my first attempt to pass the CPA Exam, and it was extremely apparent that standard measures were not going to be successful. Needing to pass the exam to get promoted to manager, the bribe that was proposed was that if I managed to pass all four parts, we would go on a father/son trip to Bandon Dunes. I wasn’t sure if he was serious about the offer, but it was that carrot at the end of the rope that motivated me to start taking the exam more seriously. Is there any wonder now as to how I made golf my career instead of accounting?
I kept a browser window open on the Bandon website as I studied. When tempted to start perusing the internet, I would see those pictures and remember that there was a prize at the end of the tunnel, and that I needed to keep that nose buried. When I finally did pass, the old man pulled through with the most simple of texts. “When are we going?”
The trip was off to a poor start, as our clubs did not make our connection to Eugene. The staff at the resort was more than helpful getting us sorted in a rental set, but I regrettably chose irons with regular flex shafts. After an embarrassing 93 strokes around Pacific Dunes (things were moving VERY quickly), we woke up the next morning to see that our clubs had been delivered. Compared to the previous day, my comfort level had increased dramatically, and I got the sense that the actual trip was now just beginning.
My play was infrequent during this phase of my life, but I could still take it low from time to time. The winds were up, but I felt up to the challenge with the proper arrows in my quiver. I try as best I can when evaluating a golf course to separate out how well I played and the weather conditions. But that first walk around Bandon spoke to me in a more visceral way than I had experienced on a golf course. It was my first real links golf experience, and the shots just seemed to fit my eye. Perhaps it was the hours spent perusing the photos on the website before boarding the plane, but most likely it was because I had found a course that I connected with. If only she connected with me.
From the fourth tee, you can see the ocean, but I wouldn’t call it a view. It gives you a glimpse into what you’re about to see, but it doesn’t properly prepare you for the unveiling once you (hopefully) reach your ball down the fourth fairway between two sizeable dunes. The hole bends to the right, directly at the Pacific Ocean. I’ve played seaside holes before, but had never seen anything that looked like the fourth green. Set like an infinity pool against the horizon, it looked like it was about to fall off into the ocean behind it. It wasn’t until I got greenside that I realized just how high up above the ocean these cliffs sat, and how special this property was.
Playing the back tees in a stiff breeze, I was quite pleased to sign for a 77. We were set to get another round in at Pacific Dunes that afternoon. But when presented with the option of almost immediately replaying Bandon, both pops and I were keen to go right back around.
I golfed my ball miraculously around this golf course. Flighting the ball under the wind, getting up and down from everywhere, and making birds on the holes that I should. As the sun began its dip on the horizon, I stood on the 16th green 15 feet away from moving to 2 under.
“For good golfers, Bandon seems like the most ‘gettable.’ And that leads to overly aggressive play. At least, that’s my read.”
I can’t get this recent message that I got from David McClay Kidd out of my head. I gassed the birdie putt by, missed the comebacker. I was in shock. After a par on the 17th, I stood 230 out on the par-5 18th. I blew my 4-iron way right into the hazard, made bogey, and was ready to vomit. As soon as I tried to put the gas pedal down, Bandon Dunes slapped me in the face.
I’ve thought about that round way too often over the last few years. On this return trip, I was chomping at the bit to get deep in Bandon’s ass.
I shot 87 and got Punched. In. The. Face.
I stepped next door to Pacific Dunes. 73. Across the property to Bandon Trails. 74. Old MacDonald. 73. Back to Pacific. 73. Bandon Trails. 72. The only way to end this trip was to finally conquer the elusive Bandon Dunes.
Admittedly, I was too gassed up. The winds were down and the course might actually have been too gettable. I missed in places you can’t miss, fiddled away easy birdie opportunities, and made sloppy bogies. Worst of all, I kept insisting to my partner, Big Randy, that the tides were turning. So we kept pressing. And pressing. And pressing.
We ended up losing ten ways. I walked off the property more confused than ever by the first course built at Bandon, and it’s still the one I’m thinking about. Often I’m a victim of tying my best rounds to my enjoyment of the course. In the case of Bandon Dunes, it’s the opposite. By far my two highest rounds of the trip were at Bandon, and the old girl is still my favorite. I’m still checking my phone to see if she texted back.
• • •
THIS COURSE IN ONE WORD: Majestic.
WEIRD COURSE TRIVIA: McClay Kidd made three changes to the course recently. The changes were to encourage more aggressive and free swinging play.
“Nothing got easier, at least in terms of making par for birdie.”
Bunkers were removed from the left side of 11, mounding adjusted to the left of the par-3 15th, and bunkers removed from the left side of the 17th fairway.
WHAT SHOULD I DO BEFORE PLAYING THIS COURSE?: Gonna go full Reed here. Listen to the David McClay Kidd Podcast.
CLUBHOUSE/FOOD: The clubhouse at Bandon is the hub for the golf operation at the resort and is also the main lodge. Something for everyone – the Gallery serves up quality golf club fare and looks out at the expanse of the golf course and the ocean beyond. The Bunker Bar is (predictably) downstairs and the perfect spot to tie one on. Also, adjacent to the main clubhouse is McKee’s Pub, which offered up the best food we had all trip. We ate their almost every night. Chicken Pot Pie, Shepherd’s Pie, nightly specials, all of it was spectacular.