Here's my Bandon Dunes trip report
Cliffs: That place is amazing. If you golf you should go!
I first started hearing about Bandon Dunes a few years ago when I really started getting into golf. It’s “The American Golf Mecca” or “Scotland without having to go to Scotland (and eat their food)” I was told.
The walking only resort on the Southern Oregon coast boasts 4 championship links style courses, all ranked in the top-20 of public courses in the United States, a 13-hole par-3 track (Bandon Preserve – net proceeds go to environmental conservation), a gigantic practice center and a 2+ acre putting green/course (the Punch Bowl) providing enough golfing options to fill every minute of daylight available.
As I became more enamored with golf and heard, watched & read more and more about Bandon, the blip on my radar grew larger and larger. I knew I had to go and check this Disneyland for golfers out for myself. As my 30th birthday neared, I decided to make the pilgrimage my gift to myself. I was unable to get any golfing buddies to commit to a trip so my girlfriend offered to tag along. While there isn’t much to do at Bandon besides golf I knew she would entertain herself with the spa, hiking trails and spending time at the beach. She also plays enough golf that she would join me for afternoon rounds at the Preserve.
The cost at peak season (July to September) is relatively high ($270 per round for resort guests, $310 if you’re staying off property) and as I had never played links golf and had no idea if I’d even like playing at sea-level with wind and rain I opted to aim for an off-season trip.
Greens fees for 2016: http://bandondunes.com/green-fees2016
Lodging info and rates for 2016: http://bandondunes.com/lodging/rates2016
Browse their website if you're at all interested in a trip - if you click on each golf course under the "golf" tab there is a ~90 second video for each course - it'll help make up your mind.
Same photo below but it's my favorite and one
I read almost every available article on the resort as well as a plethora of blogs and forum posts detailing people’s trips. I surmised that Bandon’s well-kept secret is November. The rates drop November 1st and again after the 3rd week of the month – the weather is unpredictable – but based on what I read there are a lot of postcard type days – and the winds which whip in the afternoon during peak season die down as October digs toward winter.
I targeted the days after Thanksgiving for my trip: November 27th (Black Friday this year) to December 2nd with the bookend days slated for travel. I booked the trip in August and had no trouble getting morning tee times at each of the four courses and a time at the par-3 course for every afternoon. At this time of the year, the days are short to the point that unless you’re in the first 2 or maybe 3 groups in the morning (7:30 was the first on the tee sheet) there was no guarantee of getting in a second 18-hole round. My golfing itinerary:
Day 1 – Bandon Dunes (#7 on Golf Digest’s public courses in the U.S. list)
Day 2 – Bandon Trails (#15)
Day 3 – Old Macdonald (#12)
Day 4 – Pacific Dunes (#2)
My first choice of accommodations (a room in the lodge) was unavailable and the only lodging available for my entire stay was a Lily Pond room. When I talked to the booking agent in August (3 months in advance) they said that rooms for off-peak fill up around that far in advance and the peak season should be booked about a year in advance – August and September of 2016 was filling quickly as I booked my trip in August of 2015.
Day 1 - Friday (Travel)
While I live in the mountains of Colorado I was in Denver at my parents for Thanksgiving – so my trip started with a flight from Denver to Portland. Luckily all bags and golf clubs arrived safely and after a quick stop at the rental car counter we were off to Bandon by the Sea. The weather was fantastic and looked like it would remain that way for most of our trip. I had been glued to weather.com since the 10-day forecast included any portion of our trip and the hope of good weather was coming to fruition.
A quick note on getting to Bandon – it really is in the middle of nowhere. It’s a 4.5-hour drive from Portland. 5+hours if you want to drive down the coast. Flying into Eugene saves 2+ hours on the drive but it’s hard to get a flight into Ducks-Ville. The North Bend airport is only 30 minutes from BD but again it’s harder and more expensive to fly into – the best routes go through SFO – I may give that a shot next time. There are then shuttles and cabs that can take you to the resort. But for my first trip – having never been to the Oregon Coast I was excited to take the drive.
We arrived at the resort just after sunset so I wasn’t able to really see what lay ahead for the coming days but my excitement was through the roof. Every aspect of the resort is well thought out and executed – so check in was a breeze. The room was plenty nice. I came for the golf and didn’t expect a four seasons – and certainly didn’t get it – but the rooms are well suited for a golf trip. There was plenty of shelving and closet space as well as benches and areas to hang/lay clothes to dry and air out. The room also included a shoe drier for if you and your kicks got caught in a downpour. The Lily Pond room had two queen beds, a sitting area with fireplace and a patio out back overlooking the lily pond.
We ate on our way down from Portland – so after unpacking it was time to get some rest, as the days ahead would involve a lot of walking.
Day 2 – Saturday (Bandon Dunes)
My tee time for Bandon Dunes, the original course at the resort, was 9:20 so I woke up around 6:15 like a kid on Christmas Morning. The weather still looked great but not wanting to be caught off guard I dress for slightly worse conditions while following the age-old adage of layering to adapt to whatever Mother Nature dished out.
Once we got to the resort we didn’t move our rental car for the duration of our trip as the resort offers 24-hour shuttle service to take you to and from all of the courses, restaurants, and facilities. On our shuttle ride to the lodge for breakfast we learned that there was a 30-minute frost delay due to unusually cold overnight temperatures. Clear skies make for great golf weather during the days but don’t provide the insulation at night to keep the temperatures from dropping. Armed with extra time – we enjoyed breakfast and watched as the sunrise revealed the Pacific Ocean and 18th hole at Bandon Dunes.
After loading up on food I headed to the Practice Center to warm up and hit some links shots. The sand-based turf really is different than anything I’ve played before – 99% of the golf in my life has been in Colorado and the rest has been desert golf in Vegas or playing on Bermuda in Florida. I also made sure to spend some time on the large practice green hitting longer putts (as the courses are known for large and undulating greens) and putting from off the green – as a links course often requires.
Practice Center Clock
Warmed up and ready to go I headed back to Bandon to meet my caddie and get the meat of the trip started. As the resort is walking only and I wanted to get the full experience I chose to take a caddie for my four rounds. Bandon has a practice where they keep you with the same caddie for the entirety of the trip unless the player or the caddie asks for a switch. I was assigned Brad, a semi-retired entrepreneur who had businesses in the real estate industry in Reno and Seattle areas during his career. He has been a caddie at Bandon since 2011 on and off and loves to do it for the extra money, exercise and being around golf. Caddies are independent contractors at Bandon Dunes – so payments are made directly to the caddies and not to the course but it’s great that the resort arranges for the caddies so the player doesn’t have to and also offers “caddie cash” in the pro shop when checking in by charging whatever you will give to the caddie against your resort charge – removes the need to carry around a ton of cash.
I had never played golf with a caddie before this trip – so with nothing to compare it to all I can say that it’s AWESOME and that Brad was an excellent caddie. I loved the feeling of just focusing the golf and my surroundings. I didn’t have to rake bunkers or clean my clubs – just got to act like a pro and spray #TourSauce all over the Oregon Coast. And while I did buy the yardage books for all four courses as a souvenir – it was even better to have someone to tell you which way, which club and what to try when hitting shots on unfamiliar courses. Between local knowledge and learning my game/yardages/tendencies I’d say that Brad saved me a few shots every day.
Now that I’ve mostly spewed for 1500 words it’s time for the actual golf and since pictures are worth thousands of words I’ll allow the golf to be mostly addressed in visual form.
The frost delay was shorted to only 15 minutes as they split the tees – we were heading off of #10. The first tee is always a little nerve wracking – then you throw in a starter, caddies, peoples you’ve never played with and the next group starting to converge and you’ve got the possibility of a nasty shot. I left my lob wedge at home as I read that you don’t have much use for it on the links land and replaced it in my bag with a driving iron – so I went with that as my choice for the first shot. And it was bad – but thanks to a forgiving design it found the fairway – the round was off and running.
Bandon Dunes is an amazing course – the inland sections of the course are fantastic and memorable but the seaside holes steal the show. On a bluebird day like I had you don’t even need to worry about your score or anything – you just walk along and play some golf and soak it all in.
The 16th tee and the Pacific as seen from #15
16th at Bandon Dunes
Yours truly before slicing one over the cliff - should have kept the driving iron out and left the driver stashed
I shot 43-43 86 which included 2 birdies (#13 and #9 (my finishing hole and I had my only eagle putt of the trip)), 6 pars, 7 bogies, two doubles and a quintuple (a 9 on the par-4 4th). Hit only 6 fairways, 7 greens and took 36 putts (3 3-putts). Not my best round but I fell in love with the course and the links golf. I like the wide mostly wide-open layout and enjoyed that if you played away from the trouble the course was very score-able. The picturesque and signature 16th hole was definitely my favorite although I didn’t play it all that well as my tee ball went over the cliff and I made a forgettable bogie after a lateral drop. My other favorite hole was #2 and #14 through #17 in a great stretch of fun holes with a lot of amazing ocean front views.
My girlfriend spent the morning walking the trails and beach and met me at the clubhouse at Bandon Dunes as I finished. The slight frost delay pushed us right up against our Preserve tee time so we grabbed hotdogs from the grill and jumped on a shuttle to the par-3. The Preserve starter showed us the back room where they will store your long irons, hybrids and woods that won’t be required for the course. The course has three sets of tees and it was explained to us that the longest shot from the back tees would be 170 yards slightly downhill and 120 yards or so from the front tees. With our quivers lightened we headed off – I yanked my first shot onto a mound left of the pin, but was able to get up and down for par. 4 bogies and a birdie lead to a 42 that was plenty satisfying to end a long day of golf. Brittany fired a 55 but finished strong with a par and 4 bogies in the last 5 holes – which is awesome for someone who plays mostly double-bogie type golf.
#5 at Bandon Preserve
We showered and made our way to Pacific Grill for dinner. While the restaurants all recommend reservations, we had no trouble that this time of the year getting a table at any of the 5 on property eateries. Pacific Grill focuses on seafood and locally sourced ingredients. I started with the clam chowder while Brittany had a beet-&-mozzarella salad before having the stuffed rockfish entrée special. I had the cider glazed double cut pork chop with grilled sweet potatoes and it was incredible.
Having walked almost 12 miles for the day I was ready to crash and do it all over again the next day.
Day 3 – Sunday (Bandon Trails)
Bandon Trails was slated for Sunday morning. The third course built at Bandon Dunes – this courses starts on the edge of the dunes and works back through the forest before reemerging for a finish among the dunes. Another frost delay due to the clear skies pushed a 9:20 tee time to 11:10, which would virtually wipe out the opportunity to play the preserve in the afternoon. But again the delay was cut in more than half as it warmed up and the tees were split. We started on 1 and my second round started better as I managed to hit the first fairway and green and only had a tap-in for par.
#7 at Bandon Trails
#8 at Bandon Trails
#14 at Bandon Trails
Shot 42-41 83 for a really pretty solid round on a new-to-me course. It consisted of 1 birdie, 6 pars, 9 bogies and 2 doubles. Improvement off the tee lead to hitting 11 of 14 fairways, 9 greens but took 37 putts – I finished with 3 3-putt bogies on 16-18 L
Bandon Trails is more inland than the other courses at Bandon with no ocean front holes – while the ocean wow factor isn’t there the course is spectacular. I can see why some people think it’s the best of the four. I read an online review that said that if Bandon Trails had a fence around it, a $500k initiation fee and wasn’t next to BD and PD it would be on the same level as Pine Valley for ANGC – I haven’t played either of those but I agree with that sentiment that Trails get’s unfairly treated because it’s next to Bandon and Pacific Dunes.
Favorite holes were #7 where I hit a big-for-me driver and my 4-iron came up short up the hill. I like long and hard par-4s and while I didn’t save par I found this hole mesmerizing. Other favorites were 11 through 13 that are quite reminiscent of Augusta’s amen corner. #11 at Trails is a lot like 11 at ANGC but with the water on the right. #12 is also a par-3 but instead of being short and treacherous it’s long and uphill – 235 from the green tees I hit a pretty solid 3-wood and got it pin high and burned the edge for birdie. #13 is a par-4 compared to Amen Corner’s par-5 but it meanders around similarly. Fun stretch of golf.
My lone birdie did come at #14, which is a drivable downhill par-4 that anything not hit onto the runway to the green falls off to collection areas way down to the right. A solid drive got me about 50 yards short and right and a solid pitch shot settled ~5’ from the hole.
While on the hiking trails above/through Trails my gf was able to see our group and take this video of my tee shot on #4; kinda cool though best viewed on ipad and portrait:
The afternoon round at the preserve was perfect. The course was less crowded as Sunday afternoon is when I think a lot of Thanksgiving week visitors were heading out. With another perfect day of weather and the course almost to ourselves we got around the 13-hole layout in just over an hour and Brittany and I both played solidly. I managed to miss every birdie putt but only made two bogies and carded a 41. Favorite holes are #5 a downhill shot that looks straight out to the Pacific and #10 which is slightly uphill and almost completely blind as a large dune and bunker guard the green on this relatively short shot.
Tee shot on #5 at the preserve:
Sunday night was spent at McKee’s pub next to the lodge. Our Broncos were slated to play the Patriots – so we showed up right before kickoff and they were opening the upstairs dining room – a great place to watch games, as there are a lot of TVs including a large projection screen. The food was excellent and there were a few Broncos fans in the building. We ate crab dip, flatbread pizza and burgers. Good hearty bar food. We watched the second half comeback and overtime in our room – beating the Patriots is a great way to end an amazing golf day.
Day 4 – Monday (Old Macdonald)
Clouds had come in Sunday night and kept the temps up enough to avoid any frost delays Monday morning. My tee time was slated for 7:50 so we got up early and were among the first in line for the breakfast buffet at 6:30. A quick breakfast, solid warm-up and an extra long putting session (as OM has ridiculously large greens) took me right up to our tee time. While my first two rounds were with touristy older folks, my group at Old Mac was with some younger and very serious/good golfers. They played the back tees; they all shot sub-77 and had some serious game. It was fun to watch them play.
Old Macdonald is the newest course at Bandon and it’s polarizing from what I read and hear. Some love the extra wide-open layout where from the hill on #3 you can see the next 12 or so holes in the valley below. Other’s (Matt Ginella included) think it’s too in front of you and describes it as “tee-box ADD”. I like the course – I found some of the holes; #3, #7 and #16 specifically to be among the best holes on the entire property.
Flag Pole at Old Mac
The cliff and beach as seen from #7 green on Old Mac
#18 at Old Mac
The routing is also very unique; the front nine is a par 34 with 3 par-3s and 1 par-5 and the back is par 37 with 2 par-5s and one par-3. I fired a 42-40 82 and played the last 5 holes -1. This round had 3 birdies (#s 7, 14, 16), 5 pars, 5 bogies and 4 doubles. I hit 11 fairways (all 8 on the back), 8 greens and took 37 putts (4 3-putts on the front nine as those greens are huge and I wasn’t hitting it close even after missing the green).
Skipped out on the afternoon round at the Preserve as I was starting to feel tired. Brittany and I had lunch at the Gallery and then went to the Punch Bowl to have a putting contest followed by a walk on the beach trail and beach. The Punch Bowl is super fun – it’s a putting course on a mogul ski run basically – great humps and swales to putt up, down and around. In addition to following the 18-hole layout you can also just putt to random holes and make it up as you go; there was only one other group on the green while we were out there. Wait staff frequently come out of the Pacific Grill to take drink orders. The beach trail is great – about .8M down through the dunes surrounding Bandon Trails and the Preserve and out to the beach where you can look up at #s 16 and 17 on Bandon Dunes.
Coldest it got all trip was on the Punchbowl - almost rained on us even
Bandon Dunes as seen from the beach
Dinner Monday night was at Trails End at Bandon Trails that has an Asian influenced menu. We had some pork dumplings, and duck lettuce wraps to start (they were out of the tuna poke) and shared a General Tso’s sweet bread entrée. Finished off the meal with a banana split and the meal was a success.
We went to the Bunker Bar in the basement of the lodge to check out the scene. I had heard that there are often (almost nightly) poker games going and despite being a Monday we walked in to see the Browns collapse (?) against the Ravens and a 5 handed 1-1 NL game running. I probably should have sacked up and played but I had been getting so tired by 8:30 every night that I instead headed back to the room and crashed hard.
Day 5 – Tuesday (Pacific Dunes)
When I set the itinerary I decided to leave Pacific for last. If it was as good as I had been lead to believe I didn’t want it ruining my rounds at the other courses. It delivered. The course starts with two fun dunes land par-4s and then heads directly toward the ocean. The 4th hole plays parallel to the Pacific and the remainder of the course winds through dunes and along the ocean. The 13th hole also runs along the cliff above the beach and the secret for most who will play the back or one-up tee is to play the two-up tee which is a tee box off to the left and hangs over the Pacific. Our caddies declared that it’s the best tee shot on property and I agree; it’s a great hole and it starts with a fun tee shot!
Beautiful sunrise to get our final day started
#4 at Pacific Dunes (this picture doesn't do it justice)
Tee shot on the 11th:
#13 tee box - aim to the left side of the sandy area way out there and rip
Caddie Brad and I
Didn’t play my best: 44-45 89. Ended this round with one birdie, 4 pars, 9 bogies, 3 doubles and a quad. Hit 7 fairways, 6 greens and took 35 putts. I can see why the course is so highly rated – memorable holes, amazing views, tough and fair test of golf. Certainly worthy of its ranking.
Favorite holes were definitely #4 and #13 along the ocean. I also liked #9 featuring a blind tee shot, split fairway and two greens (upper and lower – designated on the tee box which way to play) – we played the lower green.
We ended our trip with a drive up the coast to Newport. Stayed at the Hallmark Resort - an ocean side hotel about 2.5 hours north of Bandon. That cut the drive in half to Portland Wednesday morning. Another uneventful flight home and my maiden voyage to Bandon Dunes was in the books.
The weather was beautiful and the courses and the entire resort were even better than I had imagined. One of the most common things I read when I was planning my trip is that people on their inaugural Bandon visits are often planning their second trip by the time they leave the resort. While I don’t have dates yet I too am looking forward to getting back as soon as I can.
Wanted to quickly touch on the cost as a few people have asked:
$300 rental car including fuel
$850 for hotels 4 nights at the resort and one night in Newport
$400 for golf (4 rounds at $75 and 2 rounds on the Preserve for $50 each)
$550 for the caddie ($100/round is kind of the base then I did $150 extra after the 4th round for a job well done)
$350 or $400 or so for food for 5 full days - was cheaper than I thought it would be
So about $2800 plus little stuff and souvenirs and gifts for friends/family; splitting the hotel and car amongst people or flying into North Bend can affect the cost etc. It's pricey but considering you'd spend that for two days at Pebble/Spyglass it's pretty awesome to play so much golf for a reasonable amount. And I could certainly go again without taking a caddie and carry my bag or roll a trolley.
Hope this is informative and entertaining - I can def answer questions about anything I didn't address as I feel like a bit of an expert and an ambassador at this point.