Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Golfing at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Oregon

I have just returned from our third annual golfing extravaganza. This year, at Bob's suggestion, Ralph arranged for us to visit the spectacularly beautiful Oregon coast. Not far from Bandon and North Bend, Oregon, there is a relatively new resort featuring a group of four golf courses. Three are now fully open: Bandon Dunes (1999), Pacific Dunes, and Bandon Trails. The first two together have 12 holes running along the edges of the 100' cliffs along the Pacific Ocean, while Bandon Trails is a bit more inland, tucked into the west coast forests and dunes. A fourth called "Old Macdonald" will open fully in June of 2010, but this summer a few golfers are allowed to play its first 10 holes each day as a sort of preview.

Bandon Dunes was designed by a Scotsman in the links style, taking full advantage of natural Pacific sand dunes. Although "links" is a term used loosely these days, I understand there are only about 120 true links courses in the world.

The evening we arrived, we took a short twilight walk on the courses to imagine how the greens might putt and what special challenges the terrains would be offering our five games in next hectic 2.5 days.
Breakfasts were fortunately hearty affairs which can sustain golfers through their initial game of the day. (This picture only proves that we quaffed our initial coffees before the plates of food arrived.)

Power carts are not allowed on any of the four courses. This is golf in its pure state, as it was intended to be played at its inception in Scotland. Everybody walks the entire course. Pull carts are available, and caddies can be hired to carry clubs and offer advice. I felt sorry for the caddies (dressed in professional white coveralls) who were required to lug not one but two heavy golf bags as lazy tightwad amateur golfers shared their services, errant balls seldom heading for the same rough. Pulling carts was no problem, and we could study the booklets at each hole telling how far we had to hit the ball to clear each hazard, and how best to approach each green.

Our first game was Saturday morning at Pacific Dunes (Golf Digest ranked this as the 22nd best course in 2005). The weather was perfect, with a steady breeze keeping the ocean mists and fog away.
Pacific Dunes introduced us to par threes which hugged the cliffs. Shots to the left were goners, and the chasm had to be crossed with one swing, or else. It was amusing to see players consulting/commiserating before deciding how to attempt reaching the green with one assured swing. All sorts of things were taken into consideration--the wind, the choice of club, the distance, whether you had gone to church recently . . . .

I was also amused by the stakes declaring the 100' cliffs to be out-of-bounds. Fortunately, they were all red stakes, which means you just drop another ball at that point (assuming you haven't run out yet), put your ego in your pocket, and soldier on. These are among the most difficult courses I have ever played, and yet I cannot recall enjoying a course more. From pictures, it is difficult to tell that these cliffs soar 100 feet above the Pacific.
The scenery is the west coast at its best. At least when we were headed in this direction along the cliffs, the westerly winds encouraged balls to veer away from certain disaster. However, since golfers have swings which can overpower even the most persistent west-coast winds, I usually assumed I might be seeing each ball for the last time. Strangely, I lost very few. Fear can apparently induce concentration.

After a nice lunch (the resort's restaurant is excellent) and being fully warmed up, we strode out to face Bandon Dunes, our second 18 holes of the day. Bandon Dunes has been ranked No. 31 in America's top 100 golf courses. We would be playing it three times in two days.

In addition to cliffs, there were two other types of rough, the somewhat gentle grass which thrives in the sand and helps to hold it in place, and the very tough low-lying gorse, small shrubs which survive in these difficult conditions. I could find my balls and hit them out of the grass, but the gorse was absolutely punishing.

We saw members of a family of deer graze without worry on the various golf courses.

We saw some para-surfers performing with the considerable assistance of their kites pulled by the steady ocean wind. You have to look carefully to see the kite, even after clicking on the picture to enlarge it.

The next picture shows my favourite par 4 at Bandon Dunes. Your first shot has to cross the ravine, and should ideally clear the exposed sand dunes above the first strip of grass and come to rest on the grassy land just above the dunes. The distances are awesome, but the stiff back winds donated crucial additional yards to our efforts. One long hitter's drive reached the green while we were putting, or rather, his ball flew over it, past the next tee box and rested on the very edge of the cliff. He was most apologetic afterward. Here are two views of this hole, one in sunshine and the other in the sort of fog that went right through my shirt, two sweaters and windbreaker.

By mid afternoon, the weather began to change. The wind increased, the bright sunshine of the afternoon gave way to the famous coastal Oregon fog. As the warmer inland air continued to rise (as it was heated by the sun), the cooler ocean air was sucked towards land. I understood this better when I observed it from the airplane as we left North Bend, Oregon. Incidentally, until 2008 (when United started offering two daily non-stop flights to North Bend from San Francisco), you either arrived by car, private plane or chartered plane. As someone quipped, the difference between the link courses here and in Scotland is that it is easier to get to Scotland.
It was too foggy, windy and cold to appreciate fully the course's most famous Par 4. Instead of waves on the horizon, we had fog.

Our final game was at Bandon Trails Monday morning before returning home. This is more of a treed course, going through impressive dunes, across meadows, into the forest and then back to the coast. The fairways appeared to be more generous, yet some had slopes and hills which punished shots going to the wrong side. Rides were provided to one tee box which was too elevated to be reached in a timely fashion when carrying your clubs. We were the first group to start, which meant we could play the entire course at our own pace.