Green Keeper: Ken Nice
If you were Mike Keiser what would you do? You have overseen the unprecedented development of two world class courses in a short period of time. Considering that you own nearly 2,500 acres, you still have plenty more propertyfor additional golf. What would make for the ideal third golf course? Certainly, you want it to complement the other two as opposed to compete against them. Building a third course along the cliff top is out of the question as you don’t own the property to do so. Your property includes some tumbling dunes south of the first two courses in which as many as five or so holes could be found but that’s it. Rather than stay by the coast, what if you turn inland and build a course that offers shelter from the winds that sweep across the other two courses? Golfers would likely appreciate the break in the elements as well as a change in scenery on a four day trip.
With those well thought-out ideas in mind, Mike Keiser contacted the firm of Coore & Crenshaw to determine their interest in building such a course. Just as Mike Keiser was a long time fan of their work at Sand Hills Golf Club, Bill Coore had been impressed by the astonishing success of the Bandon Resort and was delighted to come inspect what land might be available.
Initially, Howard McKee, the highly respected planner and architect for the resort, and Bill Coore went to the area near today’s 9th green/10th tee. There was already road access to the general area, which was relatively level. A clubhouse and parking could have been easily and efficiently built. Bill Coore started walking the property and the mature fir, spruce and cedar trees were the features that first caught his eye. The land east (i.e. where no holes ended up being built) of the 9th tee had a few rolls – no great landforms but pleasant nonetheless.
Bill Coore walked the property for several days, venturing farther and farther west from the potential clubhouse site. He came to Round Lake (near today’s 7th tee) and keep walking east until he came into a meadow (where today’s 16th hole resides). Captivated by the beauty of this portion of the property, he continued poking about and found what would eventually become two of the one shot holes, the 5th and 17th. Howard McKee later told Bill Coore that this little meadow area was one of his very favorite spots on the resort’s vast property. With evening setting in and standing on what became the 17th green, Bill Coore needed to return to the main lodge. There was a 500 yard strecth of dunes nearby that headed in the right general direction, so off Bill Coore went. With each subsequent inspection of the property that week, Bill Coore found himself repeating this same walk – the land and its features pulled him this way. By doing so, he was stepping outside the loose boundaries that had been established for the third course, which is to say one that was inland and that provided respite from the wind. Bill Coore spoke with Mike Keiser , who not surprisingly was open to the free exchange of ideas.
With Bill Coore now in the dunes, Mike Keiser urged him to find more holes there. Try as he might, the property to the right of what became the 1st fairway was triangular in nature. Potentially, there were three holes there, two of which would have been one shot holes. In the end, it felt like they were forcing the issue but today’s 1st hole was easy for Bill Coore to spot as was the downhill 2nd. However, from the spot of the 2nd green, Bill Coore was stuck. Across the entrance road was a thick forest and Mike Keiser had grave concerns: How could Coore & Crenshaw make the golfer want to keep playing golf? What would it take for the golfer to remain happy in leaving the thrilling dunes country after just two holes??
Like all golf architecture students, Mike Keiser admires Cypress Point and how Alister MacKenzie moved the golfer in and out of different landscapes. Thus Mike Keiser knew conceptually it could be done but under no circumstances did he want the golfer to suffer a let down ala the walk from the 5th green at Spyglass to the 6th tee, where the golfer knows that he is leaving the inspired coastal portion of the property never to return. The fact that the 18th hole paralleled the 1st hole and ran through the same magnificent dunes country helped Bill Coore convince Mike Keiser that no such let down would occur. Still, Coore & Crenshaw had to make something of the 3rd hole – this would be the key moment in the evolutionary process of Bandon Trails‘ routing.
The other playing corridors were taking shape nicely, including the site of the 14th tee and finding the amphitheater for the 15th green. Mike Keiser was familiar with Coore & Crenshaw‘s work at Friar’s Head where they so successfully transitioned in and out of disparate landscapes by the use of long three shot holes. Betting that Coore & Crenshaw would find a way to do it again, Mike Keiser signed off on the general configuration of holes that became the final routing. As we see below, the final result is that the golfer is transported seamlessly over 300 plus sprawling acres from dunes into an expanded meadow then through a forest and back to the meadow and to one final dune hole. Only Cape Breton Highlands Links in Nova Scotia, which is also routed over a similarly vast amount of land, can compete with Bandon Trails for variety of landscapes. Apart from the tee to green walks on both courses, they also represent two of the great walks from green to tee in the game. Given how Bill Coore relied on the deer, logging and hiking trails to maneuver around the property in the early days, and given its diverse walk through nature, Bandon Trails is aptly named.
Holes to Note
First hole, 390 yards; The first and Home holes enjoy a pure dunesland setting with their respective fairways providing the most random bounces on the course. As with every hole at Bandon Trails, and virtually every hole that Coore & Crenshaw design, there is plenty of fairway width, though that may not be readily apparent from the tee. Like the grand master architects that preceded them during the Golden Age of golf architecture, Coore & Crenshaw give the golfer every opportunity to enjoy a bold, positive day driving the ball. The requirements asked of the golfer become more exacting the closer one gets to the green. In the case of the first, a spine divides the green into a lower and upper halfwith thegreen deeper than it appears from down in the fairway.
Second hole, 215 yards; From a tee high on a dune, the golfer has a clear view of the green nestled among dunes thirty feet below. The green is on a diagonal to the golfer and the immediate problem is how to control the ball from such an exposed tee location, given the windy nature of the Oregon coastline. The green and its grass surrounds offer beautiful contrast to the dunes and theevergreen trees. The land contours are such that the wise play is often to aim left of the green and let the ball feed toward the putting surface. However, there is a rub in adopting this playing tact: the golfer can’t readily discern where the fairway ends and the putting surface starts! This superb bit of green keeping by Ken Nice is altogether unique in American golf and it is impossible to overstate Bill Coore‘s enthusiasm for seeing his design presented in this manner. With the firm, tight fairways running at nearly the same speed as the greens, every imaginable recovery shot is available to the golfer, both here at the 2nd as well as throughout the course. Some might elect to play a pitch and check shot with their Titliest Pro V1swhile the traditionalists will delight in playing bump and run shots and watching the ball react to the subtle ground contours that were captured during construction.
Third hole, 550 yards; As previously discussed, transitioningfrom themassive sand dunes of the first two holes to this portion of the property wasthe crucial moment. As seen at Friar’s Head, and again here, nobody is better at moving in and out of diverse landscapes than Bill Coore and as at Friar’s Head, Bill Coore uses a long three shotter to handle the transition seamlessly, right down to exposing thesand dune that was sixty yards past the 3rd green. Mike Keiser was rightly worried throughout construction as to how well this transition would be accomplished. Almost shockingly, this hole became one of the finest on the course and the end result clearly demonstrates that Mike Keiser hired the right team.
Forth hole, 410 yards; Coore & Crenshaw‘s routing of the course brilliantly captures a ridge within the 4th fairway, and the strategy of the hole spins off that landform. Carryit and the golfer has a good view of the green. If the golfer’s drive slides to the right and fails to clear the twelve foot ridge, the approach is blind. The fairway ridge was one of the most pleasant surprises of the course’s construction. Initially this area was so thick with trees and underbrush that Bill Coore could not literally move through it. The treetops made it appear flat on the topography map. Only once a centerline cutseveral feet wide had been made, did this natural ridge start to make itself known. James Duncan excitedly called Bill Coore over to the 4thfairway once the ridge’s discoverywas made: they knew immediately it meant the hole would have its own special playing characteristics. Indeed, Duncan’s clearing of the course deserves special recognition. Take here at the 3rd and 4th holes with their connected fairways. As noted, it wasoriginally forested but Duncan cleared it in such a natural manner,leavingno uniform or linear tree lines anywhere. In addition, he was able to pick out the trees in certain areas while not disturbingthe low lying vegetation underneath. Finally, as seen in the photograph below,Duncan’s leaving theclump of trees on the right of the 4th fairway combined with Jeff Bradley’s bunker work underneath adds immeasurably to the hole’s visual appeal.
Fifth hole, 135 yards; As first appreciated in 1990 with Coore & Crenshaw‘s design at Kapalua Plantation, the two architects will do all they can to avoid forced carries to greens or at the very least provide alternative routes. If Coore & Crenshaw expire all options and there is no alternative but to create a forced carry to a green, they will likely ala the 8th at Kapalua opt for a one shot hole. By doing so, they guarantee the golfer a level stance and perfect lie to bestprepare him totackle the forced carry. In the case here at the 5th, the natural feature of the gully was an obvious attraction to Bill Coore as he walked the property in search of the ideal routing. He opted to keep this one shotter modest in length and the three bunkers carved out of the gully’s far bank highlight and enhance the terrain’sbrawny nature. However, the hole’sprimary defense is its putting green. Along with the monstrous 11th green, this one at 48 yards long is the biggest on the course and features the boldest interior contours. Highly unusual to find a short hole with such a big green,it nonetheless places great emphasis on accuracy as the tee ball must find itself relatively near the hole, be the day’s hole location up front where the green is narrow, or left on top of a ridge or well back right. Otherwise, a three putt (or worse!) is almost the assured outcome. So good is the green and its playing qualities that the author places this hole with any of the world’s finest holes of similar length, including the 9th at Myopia Hunt Club (a particular favorite of Mike Keiser‘s) and the 15th at Cypress Point. In its own way, the bold contours within the large green place similar demands on the golfer’s short iron tee ball as the 6th at National Golf Links of America, a particular favorite of Ben Crenshaw‘s.
Sixth hole, 395 yards; Giving wide fairways playing interest is best accomplished in three ways: 1) central hazards, 2) interesting land forms, or 3) the green complex. At the 6th, Coore uses all three methods toprovide this straight hole its playing merit. 240 yards from the back markers is a solitary fairway bunker that creates all sorts of concern, especially when playing into the prevailing summer wind. Just past that bunker is a created shelf that gives the golfer the absolute ideal angle and stance from which to play his approach. Just past that shelf the fairway gives way down and to the left where another fairway bunker lurks. This second central fairway bunker is hidden from the tee and at 295 yards from the back markers, creates worries for the golfer when the hole plays downwind in the winter months. On the heels of the wildly undulating 5th green, the 6th putting surface is the most level on the course.
Seventh hole, 440 yards; Perhaps the hardest two shotter on the course, a big drive is a must just to bring the uphill green in reach on one’s second. The generous width of the fairway conceded by the architect is quickly forgotten as one studies the demands of the second shot: any shot short of the green may rolltwenty yards back down the fairway given the uniformly firm playing conditions presented by Ken Nice and his crew. Unfortunately, there is no help above the day’s hole location either as the steep back to front pitch of the green leaves the golfer an unwanted downhill shot of some sort. A bunker at the left rear of the green makes for a nightmarish recovery shot to the front left hole locations – if faced with that shot, the golfer should consider playing sideways from the hole unless he relishes the sight of his ball running past the hole and off the green.
Eighth hole, 320 yards; A superlative short two shotter as its downhill nature combined with the uninterrupted flow of the fairway feeding onto the putting surface goads the golfer into a false sense of security. Any score from a two toa wretchingly much higher one becomes a possibility if the golfer decides to have a go at the green from the tee. The bunkers down the left are actually mercy ones as they contain a tee ball missed left from takinga pronounced right to left slope and running away into the wilderness. The bunkering scheme employed here provides hope and confidence which is important: the best attribute of a drivable two shotter is to entice the golfer into poor decisions (i.e. having a go) and the view from the 8th tee accomplishes that exceptionally well. The hole’s ultimate defense is its elusive putting surface, which Coore calls ‘one of the best we’ve ever done.’ Its crowned nature shrugs balls off and to the left, thanks to the masterfulwork of Jimbo Wright.
Ninth hole, 565 yards; A golf course is a string of golf holes. Especially if it happens to be an eighteen hole course, how the holes relate to one another is important. As the golfer is out there for several hours, it is nonsensical for each hole to continual out duel its predecessor as eventually the golfer’s senses become overloaded or worse, dulled. As Coore writes in the introduction to the yardage book, ‘As its name implies, Bandon Trails will take you on walk if you will, through windswept dunes, meadows of vegetation framed by indigenous shrubbery, and through woodlands of towering fir and spruce trees. Sometimes the journey and the golf will be wild and tumultuous, sometimes serene.’ This 9th green complex and the ninety yards prior are one of the ‘serene’ moments to which Coore refers. Despite the media scrutiny that would accompany the opening of this course and the clamoring for eye-popping features to compete/compare against the other two courses, Coore & Crenshaw’s show of restrain here at the 9th hole makes the experience of playing Bandon Trails all the better.
Tenth hole, 420 yards; In less than a decade, the name Bandon has become synonymous with the glories of links golf. People from around the world come to Bandon to experience golf of that type. For the Americans who come, such golf is a rare treat. The golfer cherishes the long views across Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes that culminate with the Pacific Ocean. As noted by Stephen Goodwin, this is ‘dream golf’. However, though all three courses make for a wonderful walk through nature, golf is the thing. Though Bandon Trails doesn’t afford the same amount of ocean views as the other two courses, its own unique setting appeals and inspires the golfer. Several holes, especially here and the 15th, remind the golfer of the sandbelt courses around Melbourne, Australia. Indeed, for some traditionalists, there is no more inspired setting for golf than the West Course at Royal Melbourne. For such golfers, Bandon Trails might even become their favorite course at the Bandon resort, an unheard notion prior to the course’s construction.
Eleventh hole, 445 yards; The scale of the green makes the hole. At 48 yards deep and over 11,000 square feet in size, it’s the biggest green on the course. However, given its entire right side is guarded by water, the right third is never an aiming point. Given the rugged nature of the property combined with Coore & Crenshaw’s reluctance to place water hazards close to greens, the golfer is initially surprised to see this placid water feature suddenly incorporated into the design. However, after a few rounds, the golfer comes to relish the approach shot from well back in the fairway to the green below handsomely framed by the tall spruce, fir and cedar trees and the lake. Coore & Crenshaw added a new tee in the winter of 2007 to insure tee balls stay back up the hill, even when it plays downwind during the summer months. Otherwise, a short iron approach into this green undermines the hole’s playing intent, as well as depriving the golfer of one of the more thrilling shots on the course. Give Keiser credit for this hole too: when Axland and Coore were debating on how or whether to drain the area right of the green, Keiser’s expressed his fondnessfor the playing characteristics of the 16th at Pine Valley Golf Club. From that moment on, the notion of the pond and a large rolling green became a reality.
Twelfth hole, 240 yards; Greens where the penalty is severe on all sides leave the golfer with a lack of choice: it is high demand architecture and the golfer must produce the required shot. Several of the world’s finest courses do this to great effect, highlighted by Oakmont Country Club and Pine Valley Golf Club. However, the notion of having one side tightly defended by obvious trouble (e.g. a deep, menacing bunker) while leaving the other sides apparently trouble free (e.g. tightly mown grass) held greater intrigue for many master architects, especially Dr. Alister MacKenzie. His 17th green complex at The West Course at Royal Melbourne is the all-time case in point. At the 12th at Bandon Trails, a tightly mown five foot knob right of the front edge of the green may not appear as devilish as the scrub and bunkers left but it has the same ability to make a mess of one’s score. Though visually the first timer won’t believe it, the place to miss the tee ball is on line with the green and short.
13th hole, 400 yards; A well conceived driving hole with a forest to the right and two large bunkers left pinching in the landing area 150 yards from the green. The green complex is the most built-up on the course yet because of the skill in its construction (i.e. how natural it looks), the approach shot is one of the course’s most engaging ones. As Seth Raynor demonstrated eighty-five years ago, where there is a built-up green, there is a deep bunker(s), and such is the case here.
14th hole, 325 yards; Perhaps the most merciless hole that Coore & Crenshaw have ever designed, the student of architecture (more so than the golfer!) delights in seeing them push the design envelope with this sliver of a green complex. Especially on a public access course, one might have thought that they could have tempered its severity one way or another. Perhaps the green could have been bigger than its 4,000 square feet, much of which does not readily afford usable hole locations. Perhaps the bunkers right didn’t need to be so deep or the fall-off over so abrupt. Maybe the chipping area left could have been made more conducive to getting the ball up and down. The fact that they stayed the course speaks well as to how Keiser and Coore & Crenshaw interacted. Like the 8th at Pine Valley Golf Club, there is simply no way to insure one gets a par, no matter how defensively or ‘smart’ one plays the hole. The golfer simply must execute a very crisp wedge shot or the resulting score could be anything. Indeed, it would be interesting to compare the scoring average of the 14th here and the 8th at PVGC during a four day stroke event: No telling which would be higher. Thanks to its unique green complex seemingly clinging to the side of the hill, both Ben Crenshaw and Mike Keiser volunteer this as their favorite hole on the course; few golfers who triple it tend to agree!
15th hole, 405 yards; The merit of the final stretch run of holes is unquestionable as all are very good holes and two of them (here and 17th) are routinely sited among the finest on the course. What varies greatly is just how hard they play. As they head in a general northerly direction, the march home into the summer’s southerly prevailing wind can be a tough one. The highlight of the 15th is the superb natural green location that Coore discovered. Tucked in an amphitheater of dunes left, right and behind, there was little that Coore & Crenshaw did to give this green complex its excellent golfing qualities.
16th hole, 530 yards; Think about the thrill and the variety of the challenges posed by the tee balls at Bandon Trails: down into the dunes at the 1st, avoiding the numerous bunkers off the 3rd, the ridge at the 4th, the solitary bunker at the 6th, the drivable 8th, etc. Always with plenty of room off the tee to encourage a free swing, the golfer nonetheless enjoys the chess match with the different features in seeking the optimum advantage off the tee. Often, like here at the 16th, the golfer will aim at spot X in order for his drive to finish at spot Y. Perhaps only the 7th rewards big hitting without a corresponding amount of thought. All told, the author places Bandon Trails among the half dozen finest driving courses he has seen.
17th hole, 180 yards; The 17th became an immediate favorite of painters, photographers, as well as golfers the day it opened in June, 2005 thanks to the rich texture and contrast provided by the hole’s setting. The false front leads to a tabletop green with a tightly mown fall-off back right. The team of Coore & Crenshaw are justly proud of the deep right front bunker they created. Though the green is open in front, the downhill tee to green nature of the hole combined with the aforementioned green complex make it difficult to run a shot on. The green lends itself to an aerial approach and controlling one’s flight and distance through the wind is the challenge.
18th hole, 400 yards; Into the summer wind, the golfer is content to reach the crest of the far dune with his drive. In the winter or on calm days, the golfer entertains hopes of seeing his tee ball carry the crest of the said dune and run to the bottom, leaving but a short iron approach. The green is located on top of another dune. As at the 7th, the onus is on the golfer to insure his approach carries well onto the putting surface; otherwise, the false front sends the ball back down the fairway. Given the inspired natural landforms from tee to green, it wasn’t necessary to create features to make this hole a strategic marvel; the sense of man vs. nature as the golfer plays through the sand dunes makes for a scintillating finish.
Having just played Bandon Trails, it is impossible that any golfer would lament the lack of cliff top holes. Though different, the property at Bandon Trails proved to be in no way inferior to the property of the other two courses. Indeed, Coore says that ‘its initial biggest drawback of not having the cliff top holes proved to be its biggest asset as it led the course to have so much variety.’ Bandon Trails shares two key elements with Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes: sand and excellent turf. Beyond that though, it stands alone from the others yet acts as a perfect complement, something that pleases Mike Keiser and Coore & Crenshaw a great deal.