Today, Tom Doak's Pacific Dunes ranks alongside Coore and Crenshaw's Sand Hills as two of the finest modern courses in the world. Where Bandon Trails fits into the equation hardly matters, but I wanted to touch base with Doak, who knows the area as well as anyone, to hear his thoughts on how the Trails might distinguish itself.
"I walked some of the new course with Bill and Ben in late October," he responded by e-mail. "And I was impressed with what they had done with their site. The main thing I saw at Bandon Trails is that in trying to keep the native areas in view, Bill and Ben have made many of their fairways relatively narrow, even though the clearings are wide. Pacific Dunes has a lot of short grass around the greens so you can putt the ball from thirty feet off; Bandon Trails is hemmed in more tightly. I'm curious to see whether that makes it more difficult for the average golfer, or whether the native grasses can be maintained to keep the course playable—if anyone can do it, [superintendent] Ken Nice can."
Doak's right—the Trails is narrower, but for those who haven't made the pilgrimage to Bandon, he's also speaking in relative terms. Both Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes have plenty of fairways on which you could comfortably land the Goodyear blimp, much less a ProV1. I should immediately add that this hardly makes either course any less challenging—and Bandon Trails still offers much more room to play than many courses. Par at the Trails, as at its illustrious neighbors, is defended on and around the greens rather than by penal hazards in the fairways.
For all of this talk about difference, though, the most important aspects of Bandon Trails are the things that link the course to its neighbors and to the resort as a whole. From a playing standpoint, the Trails will feature the same sandy soil and firm and fast conditions that make Bandon and Pacific such shot-making pleasures. It will be a fair test for all levels of golfers—the quintessential cliché of golf PR, but there isn't a truer place to apply it than the Bandon Dunes resort. Like its sister courses, the Trails has a modest clubhouse of its own, staffed by people who don't need a sign on the wall reminding them to smile. It will take part in the same caddie program that should be the blueprint for American resort golf. And if you're without your regular foursome, you will likely be paired with some of the most passionate golfers anywhere.
It takes some dedication to make the journey to Bandon, but those who do are richly rewarded. And regardless of whether you make eagle or snowman on the fourteenth, after your round you'll still have the chance to repair to the Lodge and enjoy a glass of Oregon pinot noir while the sun sets on the links. It's often said that half the visitors here prefer Bandon Dunes, the other half Pacific, but by midsummer a third faction will likely have emerged, taking its place at the bar to defend the spirit and strategy of its new favorite course.
It keeps getting better and better
BANDON DUNES GOLF RESORT
57744 Round Lake Drive
Bandon, Oregon 97411
Since opening in 1999, Bandon Dunes Golf Resort has made a meteoric rise to the forefront of American golf. Owner Mike Keiser selected Scottish designer David McLay Kidd for the resort's first course, Bandon Dunes, then turned to Tom Doak for the second, Pacific Dunes (2001). Both are authentic links in the mode of Great Britain and Ireland—walking-only paradises replete with crisp turf, shaggy bunkers, tricky greens and all the wind you can handle. Bandon Trails, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, is set to open in June.
Bandon Dunes is famously remote, but the golf is worth the long trip, and then some. (Unless you have a private jet at your disposal, in which case you can fly into North Bend, a small airport served primarily by propeller craft from Horizon and Alaska Airways.) The best way to get to the resort is to fly through Portland, Oregon, then connect on one of four daily flights to North Bend. From there, Bandon is a half-hour drive down the Pacific Coast Highway (Route 101). If it's a road trip you're after, Bandon is four and a half hours from Portland and nine from San Francisco.
WHERE TO STAY
Lodging at Bandon Dunes has a functional, modern charm. While accommodations aren't as luxurious as one might find elsewhere, it's comfortable and very much in keeping with the rugged surroundings. The stylishly rustic Lodge is being expanded for the 2005 season and features nineteen single rooms and two four-bedroom suites, ranging from $180 to $1,200. This is the hub of activity at Bandon and as a result should be booked well in advance. For more secluded digs, the Chrome Lake rooms and suites ($300$425) are well-appointed forest cabins, while the Lily Pond rooms ($260) represent the best value at the resort. The Grove cottages ($1,200), which open in June, are spacious, deluxe accommodations specially designed for foursomes.