Back in 1999, Bandon Dunes opened with these words:
“…we believe that, with time and the opening of two projected sister courses, it will rival Pebble Beach as a pilgrimage destination. As a true links, it has no peer in North America. Standing in magnificent isolation amid the windswept Pacific dunes…Bandon Dunes offers a pure golf experience.”
I remember Magellan marveling over this new links course at the southern edge of the Oregon coast. Over and over, he raved about it. I looked into a trip there for him and his Saturday-morning golf buddies. I doubt he even spoke to them about this impossible dream. They all had demanding jobs that required weeks of travelling throughout the year, much of it on short notice.
Then came retirement. And as you might guess, one of the first things Magellan wanted to do was golf at Bandon Dunes. With me.
To one like me who is part Scottish, photographs of Bandon Dunes designed by the Scotsman, David McLay Kidd, did stir up an ancient longing for barren, windy moors. It also stirred up other thoughts. Too challenging for a non-handicapper. Rain-drenched. Wind destroying your drives. Expensive. Sexist—designed for men.
Magellan booked us in for one night toward the end of March before Bandon Dunes’ seasonal rates go up and, for my sake, after we’d have a few scorecards from our month-long stay in Palm Springs to celebrate his retirement. However, retirement took a rain check. So did his golfing. He only completed three of the nine golf games he started in Palm Springs; the rest were interrupted by corporate bogeys, doubles and triples.
From the moment we saw the unobtrusive road sign pointing the way to Bandon Dunes, we started to relax. There’s no pretentious shuffling of luggage from one porter to another, just a trolley powered by you the guest, if you need it. Expecting the place to be overly masculine in design, I was pleasantly surprised by our room, one of the 39 in the Inn, and how it emulated the natural surroundings. Carpet the forest green of local cedar, bed linens the shade of sand and wood-crafted furniture the colour of grassy dunes in autumn. True, there was no tub and the shower nozzle was fixed at a height for Ernie Els (and the shower itself almost big enough for him to practice his swing), but who could complain about that?
The next surprise was dinner at the Pacific Grill—and at every one of the Bandon Dunes restaurants we ate at. Intentionally, they don’t gouge you on meal prices—nor wine markups—and while it’s not likely to become an epicurean destination, the food is tasty. Menus are varied: fish, pizza, beef and yes, there are salads, even kale. I do have a confession, though. The decadent man-pleasing entrée of roasted half chicken served with macaroni filled me with complete satisfaction.
“In the unlikely event that you arrive at the resort with enough time to play only one course, Pacific Dunes (Rating: A+) would be the one to choose.” (Golf Digest 2015 Ratings: #2 America’s Best Public Courses; #39 World’s Best Courses.) Lucky us. By the second tee, you’re oceanside; and on the world-famous fourth hole, you’re alongside the waves for all 460 yards. In perfect weather—sunny and no wind—we played with two guys, friends who were living in Vancouver, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, and who have been meeting here every March for a weekend of golf ever since Bandon Dunes opened. Always worried that people we’re paired with will be put off by my high-scoring game, these two quickly dispelled that feeling. They were there for the course, the game, to be with each other and to have a good time. (I noticed that with the guys we saw at Bandon Dunes. They so enjoyed being there, in each other’s company, some playing 36 holes a day, eating, laughing, joking, betting on putts at the Punchbowl, calling for more drinks, calling home…. I looked around for women golfers and asked several employees about their presence. The unequivocal answer? “Increasing every year.”)
True to its tagline, Bandon Dunes is “Golf As It Was Meant To Be.” No carts allowed. Therefore, no ugly asphalt paths marring the scenery (not visible anyway, although they do exist back-of-beyond for medical reasons.) No condos fronting the fairways. No gimmicky holes. Walking to your drive, you savour the pureness of the surroundings, plan your next shot and revel in the joy of the game.
I have no memory of my exact score, nor of Magellan’s, at Pacific Dunes. What lingers is the fun we had, the flow of the course from one hole to the next, the long runs my ball had when it hit the firm fairways, the views of gorse and green, the sandy-white bunkers and bright-yellow blooms of broom beside the mighty Pacific.
While Magellan participated in yet another hours-long conference call that afternoon, I took a long walk over the dunes to the ocean, another pleasant surprise. And returned to another: we were staying a second night to ensure wi-fi for tomorrow’s early conference call. And a third surprise: we had a tee-time for Bandon Trails.
Three years later, we returned to Bandon Dunes. The day we arrived, February 27, was the busiest day in the history of the place. “People are starting to realize this is often the best time of the year here. It’s not that cold and there’s far less rain than in July and August. And not as much wind,” one of the staff told us. “And better prices.”
You know how returning to a place the second time is often not as pleasurable as your first experience? I never dreamed I’d say this, but I think we need a third visit—we haven’t yet played the eponymous Bandon Dunes course.
For a realistic view of the majesty of Bandon Dunes go to their website, where you can play WGT on nine of its holes.
Goodwin, Stephen. Dream Golf. North Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2010.
Sabold, Wood. Golf As It Was Meant To Be, San Diego: Skybox Press, 2015. Wood, a photographer who lives in Bandon, has created an art book of every hole on all five courses, pictures of paradise that became Magellan’s Christmas present this year.