It Was All a Dream- 5 Days at Bandon Dunes
The Bandon Dunes Experience
What can you say about this place that hasn’t already been said? Bandon Dunes Golf Resort is the original property in the Dream Golf portfolio, which now also boasts Cabot Links in Nova Scotia and Sand Valley in rural Wisconsin. This is my attempt to do this place justice by sharing personal perspective and musings on this remarkable destination, following a trip I took with 11 of my buddies in early October of 2021.
I actually remember the first time I heard the word, “Bandon,” odd as that sounds. I was looping for one of the most sought after bags at Kinloch Golf Club around 2009 or so. If you caddied or played at The Loch in the mid 2000’s, just think Balvenie scotch slushies, fat cigars and even fatter tips. He casually mentioned that he was, “going back to Bandon this summer.” I shamelessly piped up and asked, “What’s Bandon?” Ohh 23 year old Rosey, you still have so much to learn about golf travel. And, well, life for that matter.
The Mike Keiser Experience
The moniker of “Visionary” probably gets thrown around a bit too often. BDGR founder Mike Keiser deserves that title more than any golf developer in modern history for everything that Bandon isn’t, rather than for what it is. It’s not flashy or five star. In fact Keiser calls it, “deliberately three star.” There is no gaudy sign out front, no fountain, no gold plated anything anywhere on property. Upon arrival, as we passed the wooden entrance sign more fit for your local $60 a day public track than one of the greatest golf destinations on the planet, you could almost feel an anticlimactic sigh reverberate through our van. Whereas most high-end resorts more closely resemble private clubs, Bandon is proudly public. From the aforementioned subtle entranceway, to the rustic main lodge which deliberately sits away from the ocean. Both are a signal that the golf itself is the most important thing here. When you look at any the latest rankings of public courses in America, you’ll find all five of Bandon’s in the top 15 in America. Yet our greens fees averaged out to around $200 a round and $200 a night for lodging. Compare that to Pebble Beach or Pinehurst Resort and you’ll find prices that at least double if not triple that. I’m not saying it’s a cheap endeavor to make the trip and do it right. The point is they could charge a lot more if they really wanted to and people would still show up in droves. The aspect of BDGR that has had the most influence on golf facilities of all kinds is what I like to call, “bonus golf.” In the past, par 3 courses and putting courses were generally built as an afterthought on throwaway pieces of land. They were anything but inspiring. At Bandon’s Coore & Crenshaw designed Preserve, the goal was for each individual hole to be of a high enough quality to fit right in on any of the five championship courses. Mission accomplished. Over at the Tom Doak designed Punchbowl putting course, wildly imaginative holes up down and around massive slopes are second only to the incredibly relaxed vibe. Look around the country in the last 5-10 years, public and private clubs alike are using any extra land and money they have to build fun and casual short courses. If done right, they can harmoniously serve a wide array of purposes. A short course can provide a space for post round gambling and shenanigans for a weekend foursome, while simultaneously offering a golf experience that can be had in under an hour for those short on time. Most importantly for the future of the game, they are an approachable form of golf for juniors and beginners alike. The reinvigoration of nontraditional golf experiences is perhaps Keiser’s greatest contribution to the game.
Speaking of the future of the game and the sustainability of the sport… I can only hope the Dream Golf tenants of minimalist design and prioritization of playing conditions over lushness increasingly resonate with developers and golfers alike. Aside from occasional exceptions, gone should be the days of Pete Dye’s design then build philosophy. Rather, for new course design and restoration work, I hope we look more closely at the likes of Dream Golf regulars Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, and David McKlay Kidd. The attitude they share is more or less to find the golf course that the land has given you, and artfully bring it to the surface. The responsible reduction of need for over watering and excessive bunker maintenance wherever possible is so important if we are going to continue enjoying this game throughout the 21st century.
The Communal Experience
By now you know that BDGR more closely represents a public playground for the golf obsessed than a stuffy private club. An element of the shared experience I came to appreciate in my time there is the shuttle rides. The 12 passenger busses zip around the property before sun up and after sun down like a well-oiled machine. Jovial drivers transport the Bandon faithful from their cabin, to the lodge, to the practice the facility, to the courses, and back and forth and back and forth. Have you ever been skiing? Then you know what this feels like. The shuttle stops and a few newbies climb aboard lugging golf bags instead of skis or snowboards. Conversations ensue about where you are visiting from, have you been here before and is this your first time? On to which course you just played and which one you’ve got coming up next, which one is your favorite so far, etc. Very similar to what you hear about different slopes as you traverse around a mountain in Colorado or West Virginia. First name introductions are optional. The conversations are quick, lighthearted, and end with well wishes for the continuation of a great day. It is no secret that one downside of planning a trip to Bandon is that it's quite a difficult place to get to. However, it was in these conversations that I discovered something special. The arduous journey required to get there actually builds a sense of camaraderie. We all knew it was going to be a pain in the ass to get here, but we signed up for it anyway. The pilgrimage to the southern coast of Oregon is an important part of the shared experience. Another unanticipated discovery was the signs of good will scattered throughout the property. Most significant among these is learning that the net proceeds from the par 3 course go directly to the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance. An organization that supports conservation, community, and economy on the southern Oregon Coast. Hence the name, The Preserve. There is also a 6 hole (more pitch and putt style) par 3 course called Shorty’s, located at the practice facility. It is free to play, however there is an honor box where you are able to make a donation if you’re so inclined. Monies collected from Shorty’s go towards the Bandon Dunes Junior Golf Program as well as the Evan’s Caddies Scholarship Program for aspiring college students. And it is fitting that BDGR is one of the only golf facilities I’ve ever seen to have recycling disposal on the golf course. After all, Mike Keiser made his money in the recycled greeting card business. The receptacles thoughtfully blend into the aesthetic of the property, a minor detail that makes a major impact.
It’s hard to put into words what a special time it was at Bandon Dunes. We were blessed with perfect weather in the mid 60’s, awesome caddies, and great competition amongst friends. This trip was actually the eighth edition of a buddies trip I organize each year affectionately known as, The Open Beer Open. In 2014 I got the itch to start an annual reunion golf trip with my fellow Longwood University Golf Team alumni. Though I’ve never been exclusive to former Longwood golfers, it is still at the core of this gathering. And as the name of the event suggests, it started out with more of a focus on partying in Myrtle Beach or the Outer Banks. As the years pass, naturally the trip is much more about the quality of the golf than the late night debauchery. Some of the dads in the group are particularly more excited at the prospect of getting a full night’s sleep than the idea of waking up with a debilitating hangover and fumbling around in a fog for their golf clothes at 7 in the morning. All seemed to agree our itinerary was pretty damn perfect. We arrived on a Thursday, and even with the long travel day, we had time to tee off on The Preserve at 5:00 PM for an early evening stroll. As long as I live, I’ll never forget watching the Oregon sunset paint that masterpiece over the Pacific. We celebrated our first night by treating ourselves to some mouthwatering steaks at The Forge, the most upscale dining available on property. Our first full day started with a crisp sun-drenched morning on the O.G., Bandon Dunes. We followed that up with a pleasant afternoon loop around Bandon Trails, which provided welcomed shelter from the afternoon winds. Dinner was simple and hearty for this night and the following at McKee’s Pub, where “Grandma’s Meatloaf,” personal pizzas and elk burgers were the fan favorites. Saturday began with a peaceful stroll around the surprisingly unique and expansive Old Macdonald. A generous break in the action provided time for a relaxing sit down lunch at the scenic Pacific Grill. Quick stretch and a cocktail later, we were teeing off on what would become our group’s nearly unanimous vote (including mine) for best overall course on property, Pacific Dunes. Sunday morning we played the newest and most picturesque course at BDGR, the Sheep Ranch. Simply referred to as, “Sheep” by our caddies, it is Coore and Crenshaw’s third track on property after Trails and Preserve. Nine green sites on the ocean, an absolute stunner of a golf course. We had some free time after lunch, giving everyone a chance to choose how they wanted to spend their last afternoon at Bandon. A couple of brave souls who weren’t golfed out just yet were able to get a walk up tee time on The Preserve, while others headed indoors for the comforts of smooth whiskey and NFL Sunday at McKee’s. Yours truly and a few other merch-thirsty friends hopped on the shuttle merry go round and hit the separate golf shops to collect our favorite pieces from each course, which all have their own distinct logo. Most notably, the Ghost Tree shirts and hats went flying off the shelves when our group made a final stop at Old Mac that day. All twelve reconvened for a skins game at the Punchbowl; The 36 hole putting course where tee shirts, flips flops, portable speakers, and coolers are encouraged if not required. Upon recommendation of my good friend and Director of Communications at BDGR (Richmond, VA native & JMU Golf Alum) Michael Chupka, we headed into town for our last supper. The seafood, scenery, and service at Edgewaters was absolutely fantastic. Afterwards, dive bar enthusiasts like myself took a five-minute walk to the Arcade Tavern for the final nightcap. The only flight out of the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport the next day wasn’t until 3:00 PM, so why not finish it off with some more golf on Monday morning? Chupka joined us for a three-club challenge on The Preserve, which turned out to be a perfect ending to a perfect trip. Three flights later, including a red eye from San Fran to Chicago, I was home. It was worth every penny and every second of the demanding travel. I cannot wait until the day I make it back my new favorite place on earth, Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.