Bandon Dunes Golf Resort along the southern coast of Oregon is far from a hidden gem these days. It is becoming one of the most sought after golfing destinations in North America — and for good reason.
Recently, I made my first trip to the property with my wife, Beth. We stayed at the resort and played each course once. Although I had heard a lot about Bandon, the anticipation of seeing it for myself had me squirming in my seat as we drove up into Oregon on the heels of our trip up the west coast. Our standards were running high having recently played the likes of Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, and Torrey Pines (just to name a few).
For those who aren’t intimately familiar with Bandon, they have four 18-hole links-style golf courses (Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails, and Old MacDonald), a 13-hole par-3 course (The Preserve), a putting course (The Punchbowl – located next to the Pacific Dunes clubhouse), and a world-class practice facility which features a 1-acre putting green and a 9-hole par-3 practice loop (Shorty’s), which is free. The golf courses are walking only, and have caddies available for an average of $100 per bag, if you wish to book one. Pull carts are also available for $5.
The resort started with the opening of Bandon Dunes in 1999, followed by Pacific Dunes in 2001, Bandon Trails in 2005, and Old MacDonald in 2010.
The golf courses are young, but they feel like they’ve been there forever. The property was tailor-made for a links golf course and finally got, well, four of them. The golf itself is challenging, breathtaking, inspiring, rugged, elegant, and imaginative all at the same time. Hitting off tight sandy lies, utilizing the contours, the perfect brown tinge to the grass, the ocean breeze (OK, wind), the rugged bunkers, and the sound of waves rolling in off the Pacific make it something special.
The big debate, and the question I’ve heard a lot since my visit is, “which course is the best?”. The mainstream rankings consistently put Pacific Dunes on a pedestal above the rest, with Bandon Dunes coming next — the only two to have found themselves on any “World Top 100” rankings. Many suggesting that a resort such as Bandon would not thrive without a flagship course such as Pacific Dunes. I disagree.
The “problem” with Bandon is that all of the courses are extremely good, but they are good for different reasons. The fact of the matter is that everybody has different preferences. The golf purist may focus on the architecture and shot value, while others may be drawn in by the views and aesthetics to determine their own personal favourite. Many consider a combination of both, or others may simply have more fun on one particular course and not even be able to explain why. That’s fine too.
One thing I keep in mind is that a great view doesn’t automatically produce a great golf hole. It will usually produce a great experience, because lets face it, you could fly a kite on the property and it would be a great experience just because of the alluring setting. Being able to play golf on it is a nice perk. Having said that, here are my rankings:
1. Bandon Trails (click for full review)
Possibly the most underrated course I have ever played. If it was a stand-alone course I feel it would be treated much differently. It’s the most inland course at an ocean-side resort, so it has a tendency to get overlooked. Suffers a similar fate as the likes of Spyglass Hill sitting next to Pebble Beach. Arguably a better golf course hole for hole, but many can’t resist the experience of golfing with a view.
2. Bandon Dunes (click for full review)
The original that started it all. A good mix of pure links golf with some modern golf features that boasts beautiful views of the Pacific. A popular re-round course in the afternoon as it is known to have some of the best views for sunset coming down the stretch of the back nine. It is also the easiest to walk, making it a good choice for your second round of the day.
3. Old MacDonald (click for full review)
Maybe the most architecturally intriguing course on the property. This course made me feel like I was in Scotland. Rugged links golf with some modern-like elevation changes with more views of the Pacific on display. It inspired me to think outside of the box more often than any course. It’s a course I imagine would grow on you more and more as you play it and figure out its many nuances.
4. Pacific Dunes (click for full review)
I did not slot Pacific Dunes in fourth because I didn’t like it. I had a blast. It’s more reflective of how much the other courses are underrated. Known to have some of the most dramatic views of the Pacific and unique over-the-top bunkering, it’s not surprising that it’s first for many. It’s truly a unique and photogenic golfing experience with the most modern feel. From a pure links golf standpoint, I found it less intriguing than the other courses. Having said that, I would never pass up a round at Pacific Dunes when visiting Bandon because lets face it, they are all fantastic experiences!
As the trips to Bandon (hopefully) pile up in my lifetime, these rankings may evolve. Each course has its own character and style and the way one views them would surely evolve with each round as you learn their individual nuances and see them under varying conditions.
The most irresponsible thing you could do on your first trip to Bandon is not play all of the courses at least once. Ignore the mainstream rankings (and mine), and go in with a clean slate and an open mind and find out which course tops your list.
The resort is a unique setup designed to efficiently allow the golfer to squeeze the most out of the Bandon experience. You have an array of lodging options from single rooms at The Lodge (overlooking Bandon Dunes), to more luxurious rooms at The Inn nearby, to more secluded cabins that accommodate larger groups. Regardless of which lodging option you choose, they make it easy and seamless for you to get around with their 24-hour shuttle service. Simply pick up a phone or ask one of the readily available staff members for a shuttle and within minutes one will appear and whisk you off to your desired location. There is never a need to use your car once you arrive at the resort, unless of course you wish to leave the resort — buy why would you?
To make things even easier, you can visit the guest services building located next to The Lodge and the Bandon Dunes pro shop and they will store your clubs for you, free of charge. If you wish, they will have your clubs waiting for you at the course you’re playing that day (or at the practice facility) ahead of your tee time. This is also where you can get your worn golf spikes swapped out for a nominal fee of $5.
There are also an array of dining options throughout the resort. From the Tufted Puffin (casual lounge atmosphere) and The Gallery (more formal) at The Lodge, to McKee’s Pub next door. Bandon Trails and Pacific Dunes also have restaurants (Trails End and the Pacific Grill) in their clubhouses, providing more than enough variety to keep you fed. Each course has a snack-shack to keep you energized for your big day on the links. Bandon Dunes is the only course which returns back to the clubhouse after 9, where you can pop into The Lodge and grab a bite on the fly from their snack window.
If you’re a post-round hot wing fanatic like myself, you’ll want to hit up Trails End for the best chicken wings on the property. McKee’s Pub receives an honourable mention, while the Tufted Puffin may result in disappointment on a ravenous chicken wing endeavour, but otherwise has a great menu.
The daily breakfast buffet in The Lodge (started at 6am in March) is a great way to get a hearty breakfast each morning and eliminate the worry of how long breakfast will take to arrive when you have that early tee time. You can order off the menu as well, but the daily buffet is a nice touch to keep things simple at a busy golf resort. We even made a habit of pocketing an apple and a banana from the buffet as we headed out for our round, which I’m sure is encouraged.
The majority of visitors to Bandon wake up, eat, golf as many holes as they can in daylight hours, eat again, have some drinks and then crash. Then can’t wait to do it all over again the next day. If you’re not the type to play more than 18 holes in a day, that’s fine too. There are also walking trails, a massage centre, and a hot tub and sauna (basement of The Lodge) to keep you occupied and get you recharged. Each evening before dinner we utilized the hot tub and sauna to soothe our golfing muscles, and in total we saw a mere three other people utilizing those facilities.
Although I have yet to visit it, rumour has it “The Bunker Bar” located in the basement of The Lodge often turns into the late night gathering with people sipping scotch, smoking cigars, shooting pool and even playing poker.
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort was created just for you, the golfer. It’s all about the golf at Bandon, with the golf courses speaking for themselves. Being able to stay in a cozy room, find great food and receive great customer service along the way is simply a bonus.