Old Macdonald
Oregon, United States of America

Eleventh hole, Road, 445/315 yards; Played back into the wind; this Road hole presents the likely need to hit a similarly lengthy approach as to the famous one at St. Andrews. All the playing angles are beautifully replicated and the player needs to flirt with the bunkers down the right off the tee to have any sort of decent angle into the narrow, angled Road green. Macdonald sniffed that the Road hole at St. Andrews was ‘easy to duplicate’ when he built National Golf Links of America but his own Road green lacks the subtle playing terrors that this one possesses in spades. Some critics are already deeming it to be the best Road green complex built since the original.

The classic conundrum: The player’s approach has come up short into the wind and the Road bunker is now between his ball and the hole. Modern wedges with more loft and minimal bounce give the golfer another shot to consider that didn’t exist in Old Tom Morris’s day. Still, all the player can do is offer a rueful laugh.

The ground around the Road bunker was carefully massaged and its gravitational pull is large. Balls feed into it, even from on the green!

Anything long at the Road green takes this slope and is feed well away from the putting surface.

Twelfth hole, Redan, 235/90 yards; Though more like a Biarritz in length, this Redan plays truer to the length of the original one at North Berwick as it plays downwind during the busy summer months. Hence, this lengthy version puts more focus on the ground in front of the putting surface than any other version with the possible exception of the Redan at the Country Club of Fairfield.

How to use the slope that feeds up onto the green as a brake for a drawn shot downwind will prove to be endlessly fascinating.

Bahto marvels at how readily Doak identified this landform for the Redan on one of his walks around the 300 plus acres. Enjoying the characteristic front right to back left slope, this green is one of the more difficult ones to hit and hold on the course.

Thirteenth hole, Leven, 345/220 yard; As at Pacific Dunes, the golf is so compelling that the golfer barely notices the unconventional nature of where the pars fall. At Old Macdonald the second nine is over eight hundred yards longer from the back markers though the par is 37 compared to a par of 34 for the first nine. This came to pass after Doak’s third routing in which the push was made to create the saddle green at the seventh which in turn lead to creation of the Biarritz (i.e. a third one shotter on the front offset by only one three shotter). Regardless of where the pars fall, one theme is constant throughout and that is when there is a penal hazard, the golfer is given a corresponding amount of room to work around it. Also, let’s not take for granted just how good the ground is for golf in this section of the property. Yes, we are away from the ocean and it is hidden from view but as co-designer Jim Urbina noted in his March 2010 Feature Interview on this site: Contrary to Pacific Dunes, Old Macdonald had some of the choppiest land out in the flats. When you look at the land from afar it looks very soft but when people walk out and see each hole you will see nice little rolls and features that you won’t see on most links land. Hole 13 at Old Mac is a good example. I would take 200 acres of this kind of land it would be really fun to create 18 holes out of this type of dune formation. Looks flat compared to the surrounding dunes but far from it. I have always talked about the grand scale of Old Macdonald and most people will see why but in contrast it’s the small contours that I appreciate the most.

This photograph of three bunkers clawing into the thirteenth green only tells half the story. To the left is a large hillock and the green swoops down dramatically from left to right off it. Approach shots can be feed to all corners on the green by using the ground contours.

Fourteenth hole, Maiden, 370/230 yards; Macdonald liked naming holes and by doing so he helped well traveled people better understand what they were seeing and playing when golf was still in its early days in the United States. Conversely, Raynor left others to name his holes and the name Maiden was bequeathed to his holes that feature high left and right plateaus with a gulley between them (his Maiden holes have nothing to do with the blind par three Maiden hole that once existed at Royal St. George’s). Such is the case with the fourteenth green at Old Macdonald with an added benefit that the dune behind the left plateau acts as a backstop and helps bold approach shots roll back onto the left plateau.

Given that it's a windy site, how the hole corridors tack and bend are important so that there is never a stretch of holes that feel like a slog into the teeth of the wind. Here the fourteenth bends left around an impressive bunker set before rising to a green with high plateau left and right.

Fifteenth hole, Westward Ho!, 535/340 yards; As with most links found in the United Kingdom, the preponderance of holes at Old Macdonald don’t afford views of the ocean because of the imposing dune line that runs down the coast. Similar to what the golfer finds at Seminole, the best vantage points are on the greens and tees located on the coastal dune line or by the holes located on the inland dune line that runs parallel.  Though it is seven hundred yards from the coastline, the fifteenth tee perched high on the inland row of dunes presents one of the most magical spots of any of the four courses at Bandon. Thirteen flags on Old Macdonald can be made out in the valley between the two dune lines and the golfer soaks up the purity of the landscape, unmarred by man.

In keeping with the vast scale of their surrounds, the bunkers down the right of the fifteenth are among the largest hazards on the course. Small or chopped up hazards dotting the landscape would have looked woefully out of place/proportion.

Sixteenth hole, Alps, 455/270 yards; One of the fascinating aspects of National Golf Links of America is how Macdonald interpreted certain features from classic United Kingdom holes and incorporated them into his holes in the United States. For instance, with the Leven, he turned one of the landforms perpendicular to how it was at Leven Links in Scotland and walled off the seventeenth green at National Golf Links of America. In regards to the Alps, the one at Prestwick became famous in part because of its uncompromising nature. Not only does the golfer have to carry a tall hill with his approach shot but there is a hidden deep bunker that walls off the front of the green as well. Doak and Urbina’s interpretation of the this superb hole is more strategic and in keeping with the one at National Golf Links in that the golfer talented enough to hit a drive long down the right can often times get a good look at the day’s hole location.

Coming in from the left, note how the Alps hill doesn't extend across the entire fairway. That means ...

...that approach shots played from the far right of the fairway can actually enjoy good looks at many of the hole locations.

Even to this day, some critics are reticent to express admiration for National Golf Links of America in part because it is so different from all other courses. For instance, yikes, it has several blind shots! For people who prefer their golf more straightforward, the same may hold true of Old Macdonald. However, like National Golf Links, there is no escaping the fact that it possesses holes of a very high standard and some like the all world Alps here at the sixteenth, are as good as can be found anywhere.

Seventeenth hole, Littlestone, 545/345 yards; The only water hazard on the course is found here and is only in play for those seeking to reach this green in two by taking the short way home. In conjunction with the small wetland area right off the tee, the intimidating sleepered bunker that walls off the left of the green creates multiple playing angles on this reachable par five. Though the small ‘puffs’ in the deep green lend the hole true character,  it is the use of railway ties for the second time on the course that captures the eye. Indeed, looking back, the course has an astonishing array of bunkers, ranging from some pots to the sand pit off the third tee to blowouts down the fifteenth to three sleepered bunkers as well. Leave the final word on that to Macdonald himself who wrote In Scotland’s Gift in 1928 that, To my mind, an ideal course should have at least six bold bunkers like the Alps at Prestwick, the Ninth at Brancaster, Sahara or Maiden (I only approve of the Maiden as to bunkering, not a hole) at Sandwich, and the Sixteenth at Littleton (sic). Such bold bunkers should be at the end of a two-shot hole or a very long carry from the tee.

By the time that play officially commenced, Old Macdonald already enjoyed a timeless quality to it. The sleepered bunker and angled green creates the axis from which the rest of the hole revolves around.

Eighteenth hole, Punchbowl, 470/310 yards; At this stage, the golfer has likely determined that he has never played a course remotely like it, certainly not in the United States. What feature could provide a fitting conclusion for such a unique course? The answer is a Punchbowl green of which there are so few. This bold type green caps off the best hole at two of Raynor’s courses (Chicago Golf Club and The Creek Club) and so the bar was raised high when the crew at Renaissance Design decided to tackle a Punchbowl green of their own. Just like the rest of the course, this one is so audacious in scale and so fun to play that the golfer has no desire to leave it even once he has holed out. At over eighteen thousand square feet, it is large enough to be a practice green with eighteen hole locations and if it was, it would be as fun as any practice green in the world. Hitting putts around this green and seeing how to use the banks and walls and ridges to get balls to stay in various portions of the green is as enjoyable as it gets.

No better way for the course to end than with this monster Punchbowl green as it sweeps from high left to lower right.

Not unlike Sand Hills in Nebraska, Old Macdonald is so different from anything else that it will be interesting to see what – if any – influence it will have on the direction of golf course architecture. The strength and flexibility of its golf holes insures that it will continue to garner glowing critical reviews while also putting smiles on the faces of many recreational golfers. And that’s a winning combination for both the owner and the player, something that the game hasn’t seen a lot of lately.

It also begs the question as to what pressure Old Macdonald will put on other household name resorts who are now far behind Bandon’s pace of possessing four world class golf courses. Most high end resorts only have one, if that. Just as Macdonald learned from touring the great courses in the United Kingdom, when will other resort owners start borrowing a page out of Keiser’s book for building successful, thriving golf courses?

There are certainly lessons to be learned from Keiser’s approach at Bandon. He bought great property and unreservedly set aside the best parts for golf while focusing on the recreational golfer to have fun and enjoy himself. (the caddy program, which is the healthiest in the country, helps to that end). The beauty of each of the courses is self evident but Old Macdonald would have really been marred visually if cart paths existed or if town homes had been constructed along one of its tall dune lines. Mercifully, Keiser opts instead to put the golfer out in nature alone to do battle with the elements and manmade structures do not hamper or intrude on one’s game. Keiser continues to bet on golf as a sport (not as a real estate development) and has been handsomely rewarded for doing so. The fact that he continues to be such a responsible land steward while at the same time guiding a profitable business enterprise highlights that the two events are not mutually exclusive.

Another lesson that other people who build golf courses could learn is how Keiser uses several different architects. Yes, he hired Renaissance Design to build two of the four courses but they are one of the few firms talented enough to build two courses side by side and yet the golfer has no idea that the same firm built both. The scale of Pacific Dunes and Old Macdonald is different and reflects their respective sites, the bunker style is different, and the green complexes are wildly different. No one could fathom that the group that built such vicious green complexes that play small such as the sixth, fourteenth, and sixteenth holes at Pacific Dunes would also be responsible for the mammoth greens at Old Macdonald. The distinct aesthetic and playing differences between the four courses act as an allure as there is something to suit a wide range of tastes.

The only pity about Old Macdonald? That its three sister courses are world class and rare will be the golfer who books a five day trip to the Bandon Resort only to play and study Old Macdonald. With its fairway width, bunkers in the line of play, and the scale of its greens, this course possesses variety unlike any other in the United States as its engaging challenges change daily based on the wind and the day’s hole locations. As with The Old Course at St. Andrews, just one or two rounds do not begin to suffice for learning the course’s charms. The golfer will delight in playing the course again and again – and again! At the end of the day, is there any higher compliment?

The End