The key is that not one of these movements is remotely predictable when you're playing any given hole. Bandon Trails unfolds naturally—which is another way of saying, seemingly at random. "In exploring the property," Coore explains, "a lot of the course came to be routed along deer trails, paths the animals took naturally."
What appears to the untrained eye to be a wild, chaotic landscape, of course, is the by-product of countless logical processes over time. Whether it's the movement of water to low ground or the animal trails, nature takes the path of least resistance. Respect for the designs of nature is at the heart of the Coore and Crenshaw design philosophy, and it's not just lip service—it constantly influences the team's decision-making process. For example, on the tenth fairway, bunker expert Jeff Bradley, who has lent his distinctive wild style to nearly a decade's worth of Coore-Crenshaw courses, points to a distant bunker and says, "I would have loved a flashed face there, but it wouldn't make sense. The wind would never blow sand there."
Bradley was picturing what might have happened had he never set foot on the site. It's a unique way of thinking, and it often inspires features that look as if they have been on the ground forever.
On occasion, though, one also has to strike a compromise with the natural environment. When I came back several days later to play a few holes, I was particularly excited to try my hand at number five, a gem of a par three with one of the most undulating greens in golf. It was such a natural site that it was one of the first holes the architects "found" on the property. The green is framed on each side by trees, almost like a proscenium stage, and the closest one on the left is known as "Mike's Tree"—named for Keiser, who's had it in for the fir since day one. The architects didn't want to remove it, but Keiser had a basic strategic qualm, in that it blocked access to left-side hole locations. The solution: Superintendent Ken Nice climbed up with a handsaw and lopped off the treetop, allowing for a good wedge shot to clear safely. Mine didn't—I caught the ball thin, and it caromed off the upper branches of Mike's Tree to points unknown.
Bandon Trails also stands apart for the sheer scale of the project. This may seem hard to believe, but Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes combined do not equal the expanse of the Trails, which sprawls over eight hundred acres. Keiser compared the feeling of splendid isolation to that of Pine Valley: "One thing I love about Pine Valley is that it took thirty rounds for me to figure out where I actually was on the course. I was disoriented, in a good way. Each hole is its own world, and that's what we have here." That definitely stands in contrast to Bandon Dunes, where at certain points you can see the flags of as many as five different holes, all in a line.
Given the size of the canvas, one would expect a team of the caliber of Coore and Crenshaw to find some great golf holes. And find them they did. But the process involved some diplomacy with Keiser, who had originally designated about half as much land for the new course. "During the selection process," Keiser recalls, "Bill and Ben basically ignored my boundary lines. They were the only ones to do that, but I was impressed. If Bill hadn't been the brilliant land planner that he is, he wouldn't have thought outside the box. . . ."
"That's because," Coore interjects with a laugh, "I knew you owned the box outside of the box!"
This strategy proved wise. Coore and Crenshaw also knew that David McLay Kidd and Tom Doak had set an extremely high bar for golf at Bandon; indeed, some even questioned what the team had to gain by taking on the project. How would they clear thick forest without making it look strictly like monotonous corridor golf?How would they incorporate the dunes, some of which were so high as to be practically unworkable?The answer was to take elements of each type of land and create a course that, by seamlessly moving from one environment to the next, is greater than the sum of its parts. There's a feeling of unity to the course because on many holes the dominant feature (dunes, meadow or forest) often contains echoes of the other two, whether it's the beautiful, mossy old spruce behind the second green that ushers the player away from the dunes or the vast, natural sandy washes in the forest to remind the golfer that the turf beneath his feet is the same throughout.
After touring the Trails, I arrived at a few conclusions. For one, it might well prove to be the most challenging course at the resort, not because of mere length (greater than Pacific but less than Bandon), but because of the number of holes that play directly with and against the prevailing wind. The three finishing holes, a long par three sandwiched between two daunting uphill climbs, will provide plenty of drama down the stretch. And while the Trails doesn't feature as many all-world ocean views as its neighbors, the grounds are rich with flora, and the course will explode with color in the summertime.
Some golfers will prefer the spectacular oceanside play at Bandon and Pacific (and who can blame them), but I have little doubt that the Trails will find a loyal following. Over coffee with Grant Rogers, the resort's director of instruction, I heard an anecdote that seems astonishing in retrospect. "I was here when Pacific Dunes first opened," he recalled, "and people would come out from Indiana or wherever, and they'd play Bandon Dunes three, four days in a row. I'd say, 'You know, you really should try our new course, Pacific Dunes.' They'd say, 'Oh, but I've never heard much about it. Is it any good?'"