There’s a saying at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort that it’s like Scotland, only tougher to reach.
It’s true, on both counts.
But like Scotland or Ireland or any place else where golf lives, it’s not the journey that matters. It’s the experience.
Bandon Dunes is one of the great golf experiences anywhere.
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Tucked into sand dunes and perched on a spectacular Oregon cliffside that falls away to the Pacific Ocean, Bandon Dunes is beautiful in its isolation and its identity. It’s not like anywhere else, certainly not in the United States, and it’s impossible not to feel as if you’re someplace special when you’re there.
Maybe it’s when you make the turn around the big dune on the right side of the fourth hole on the original Bandon Dunes course and find yourself looking at a green framed in the back by the Pacific stretching to the horizon.
Maybe it’s finishing the third hole at Pacific Dunes and seeing par-4s going in opposite directions, both running atop the cliff with the ocean framing one on the right, the other on the left and knowing you get to play both, one downwind, one into it.
Maybe it’s the brilliance of the 13-hole short course, Bandon Preserve, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw with its ragged bunkers and wedge shots to hidden pins, a place where eightsomes are welcome, rounds take 90 minutes and all the proceeds are donated to environmental causes.
Or maybe it’s any of a million other things, big and small, that make Bandon Dunes unique. They encourage you to pull your cart across the putting surface. They don’t crowd tee times. At full occupancy, the resort holds fewer than 350 guests.
Before going there last week with three friends, an acquaintance told me it’s the best golf resort in the world.
That’s like picking a favorite food but Bandon Dunes is on the menu.
It doesn’t have the quaint village feel of Pinehurst or the iconic holes at Pebble Beach but Bandon Dunes has five extraordinary golf courses and a vibe that floats on the ever-present breeze. It’s located approximately 250 miles south of Portland, which means you have to want to go but once you get there, it’s hard to leave.
Even the drive is a revelation once you exit the interstate and wind through mountains and woods and rivers. Elk graze in meadows and homemade pies are on the menu at family-owned restaurants. There are worse things than a late-morning breakfast of a western omelet and hash browns followed by a fat slice of homemade banana cream pie.
At the resort, there’s Bandon Dunes (designed by David McLay Kidd); Pacific Dunes (Tom Doak); Bandon Trails (Coore-Crenshaw); Old Macdonald (Doak/Jim Urbina); and Bandon Preserve (Coore-Crenshaw).
When Golf Digest magazine unveiled its top 50 most fun courses you can play in the United States, Bandon Dunes occupied four of the top six spots.
The magazine ranked Pebble Beach No. 1 followed by Old Macdonald, Bandon Preserve, Pacific Dunes and, No. 6, Bandon Dunes.
Pity poor Bandon Trails which ranked No. 27 among all the open to the public courses in this country.
Of the four of us that spent most of last week there, we each may have a different favorite. That’s how good it is.
I have a friend from Charlotte who was so smitten by the place that he made three trips there in 13 months while threatening to move there to caddie full time. And he’s in his 60s.
Bandon Dunes was built by golfers for golfers. It’s expensive but a round of golf on any of the courses is approximately half of what it costs to play Pebble Beach.
If you’re looking to stay in a Ritz, go to Half Moon Bay south of San Francisco. At Bandon Dunes, the accommodations are very nice but not plush. They’re where you go to sleep after walking 36 holes (because there is no riding at Bandon Dunes).
The food is what golfers want after a windblown day. At McKee’s Pub one night last week, when a chilly wind was blowing outside, groups of golfers gathered inside where meatloaf and mashed potatoes was the most popular item on the menu.
Of all the things that have been done right at Bandon Dunes, perhaps the most important is the creation of the Preserve, its short course. On a piece of Oregon coastline where it would have been easy to build condominiums or a high-end hotel, they instead touched the things that make golf great.
It’s fun. It’s beautiful. It doesn’t take all day to play.
The proceeds from the Preserve will benefit the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance, which protects the environment along Oregon’s southern coast, while producing local jobs.
It’s not something every place can do but it’s something more places should consider. It’s another way Bandon Dunes has created its own mark on the game.
It would be easy, given all the praise and the glamour shots of its oceanside holes, for Bandon Dunes to disappoint. But like Paris and Cypress Point and Bruce Springsteen, Bandon Dunes delivers.
And when you leave, a bit of it stays with you, calling you back.