Green Keeper: Jeff Sutherland
Please note: The Bandon Resortis a year around golf destination. The photographs below in color were largely taken during the summer months while the photographs in black& white were taken in winter. Remarkably, the courses play equally well at the various times andduring the different prevailing winds.
For well over a century, golf has taken people to some of the prettiest remote spots on earth. Such romantic locales put everyone in a great frame of mind and can even blind the golfer as to the actual design merits of the course. Indeed, most ocean side designssadly do not live up to their potential. Take the east coast of Australia, just south of Sydney. The Coast, St. Michaels and New South Wales GC are contiguous and enjoy approximately the same glorious cliff top setting above the Pacific Ocean. However, the quality of the three courses could not be more apart, ranging from the rudimentary design of The Coast to the all-world New South Wales GC, which has been favorably comparedto Cypress Point. The difference between the three courses is the hand of man, and New South Wales owes much of its greatness to Dr. MacKenzie and Eric Apperly, who may be the two finest designers that Australia has ever seen. Mike Keiser understands that a great location is paramount to building a great course. Though he livesnear Chicago, he scoured the United States to find such a place and in 1993, the area near Bandon, Oregon was brought to his attention. Not long thereafter, he purchased 2,000 acres and hired David Kidd from Scotland to build him a links course replete with pot bunkers acrossthis new foundwindswept terrain. With six greens located along the stunning cliff line, Bandon Dunes was an immediate success. Spurred on, Keiser was ready to build a second course. For this project, he selected Tom Doak as his architect. Having spent time together in the United Kingdom, Keiser andDoak shared many thoughts on why such courses as Royal Portrush and Royal County Down were so great. Simply put, the hand of man -and lack there of – isoften times the determining factor. For instance, as magical a place as Portrush is, Colt’s handiwork is what transforms it into a world beater.
The question was: could Doak and his team at Renaissance Design deliver a design as good as the unfettered dunesland setting (no homes, no cart paths, etc.) that they were given?
There is only one way to answer that question and that is study the merit of the individual holes. If a course doesn’t standup tosuch scrutiny, then an opportunity was lost. Courses like Cypress Point thrive on any such analysis while a Turnberry seems to fade a bit- how about Pacific Dunes? Are there compelling strategic features in each hole? Do the holes play equally well in the summer wind, which is out of the northwest as they do in the winter when the wind is from the southwest? Is there variety within the holes themselves and do they cumulatively hold the attention of the golfer as he is asked to hit (and invent) a wide range of shots? And equally important, is the damn thing fun to play?
Hole by Hole 1st hole, 305 yards; The view from the 1st tee is surprisingly intimidating, specially as the hole plays into the prevailing wind from the north. Fortunately, though, there is more fairway than meets the eye. Though its width encourages everyone to get away with a smooth tee shot, the resultingpitch from a fiddly lie to a crowned green will yield far fewer birdie putts than the golfer may think. The fairway contours are the key, and many a Green Keeper would have insisted that the humps and hollows be reduced: not Troy Russell, who was the Head Green Keeper for the Bandon Resort and Ken Nice who was the first Green Keeper for Pacific Dunes when it opened. Working hand in hand with Renaissance Design, they continually said ‘We’ll find a way’ when asked if this or that natural feature was too difficult to maintain. The result is a course replete with as many natural features as possible.
2nd hole, 370 yards; The blown-out sand area to the right of the tee further sets the tone that this is a unique course. The 75 yard wide fairway is broken by a bunker in the left middle of the fairway at the 230 yard mark, exactly by the spot where you would like to drive to gain access into the left to right punchbowl green. Named the Shoe bunker, it is an example of a central hazard that is missing at Lost Dunes and it is also an example of how one of the locals pitched in to actually build the bunker. The ridge that fronts the green and helps create a punchbowl effect was always there.
3rd hole, 500 yards; A superb green complex for several reasons apart from the glorious views of the coastline that it affords. Its left to right orientation can dictate the playing strategy as far back as the tee. A forbidding right hand bunker guards half of this shelf green, which drops away on all sides. There are several back right hole locations that only a brave man (translation: fool) would chase. On one of the rare calm days, the use of such a hole location will give this hole plenty of teeth. The shared playing area with the 12th hole is something that even the mighty Sand Hills GC doesn’t enjoy.
4th hole, 465 yards; Cliff top holes rarely produce drama equal to their spectacular location, unless some form of an angle is created as at 16 at Cypress Point or 8 at Pebble Beach or if the land has contour as at 11 at Ballybunion Old or 9 at Pebble Beach. In this case, the cliff top fairway is similarly flatto 7 at Ballybunion butDoakwas able to create an angle for the tee shot by perching the teeout ona finger of land and in so doing actually helped the player as it is now easier for him to play away from the cliff. The real work and art to the hole though lies around the green complex, which is ‘protected’ on the right by the 105 foot sheer drop to the beach below and a dune on the left. During the summer months when the hole plays downwind, the golfer who bails left with his tee ball will have an awkwardangle into the green. His approach must first carry the bunker15 yards short of the green but even then, the green enjoys a pronounced slope from left to rightto shrug off such approach shots. The golfer who stays closer to the cliffs off the tee will have an uninterrupted shot that he can land short and let chase on to the green. As a compliment to the field work that the Renaissance team did, few if any golfers will realize that the dune to the left was cut into so that the green could go where it presently sits: at fairway level with a glorious view down the coast line to the rocks near the Bandon harbour.
5th hole, 200 yards; This was the first hole built at Pacific Dunes and coupled with the 7th green, has the most interior contour. In terms of who built the course that oneactually plays, Doak’s long serving Design Associate Jim Urbina deserves the most credit and was on site for 165 (!)days. Combined with Renaissance’s Brian Slawnik, Bruce Hepner, Don Placek, Tom Mead,and Tony Russell as well asDave Wilber on turf, this talented crew jumpedon the project appreciating that it may be a once in a life time opportunity. One result is that the finishing work across the course is first rate.
6th hole, 320 yards; A unique holein worldgolf, thissleeper can dismantle the unthinking golfer. An innocuous 80 yard wide flat fairway greets the golfer and many a golferwill be delighted to seehis tee ball bounding along the fairway. At first that is, untilhe comes to his approach and finds that any tee ball to the left of center has to flirt with an 18 foot deep bunker that protects the elevated green. So what, you may say? You still have your trusty wedge in hand and can just drop the ball down on the green. In theory, perhaps, but the long green narrows to a mere 34 feet wide and a shaved bank runs down its entire right side. Thus, any approach from the left is frighteningly exact and with a little wind about, the golfer more than has his hands full. Conversely, if the golfer carries his drive 220 yards past the right hand fairway bunker, he is afforded a relatively straightforward pitch to one of the flatter greens on the course.
7th hole, 465 yards; A perfect compliment to the short 6th with its flat green, this hole heads in the opposite direction and ends with one of the most contoured greens on the course. Though pine trees had to be cleared across the entire fairway, all the land forms around the greencomplex were there and Doak recognized early on the site’s potential. Such a stake helped with the rest of the course’s routing. Ala Royal Melbourne, the edges of the bunkers are tight to the putting surface.