By the time my father and I leave the sixteenth green, we are in a blissful golf trance in which words are unnecessary. It doesn't break until we putt out on the par-five finisher, a friendly, topographically calm hole that feels like a warm-down after a vigorous workout. Asked by our hosts to describe our impressions, the old man is a bit zoned out and for once goes easy on the adjectives. "I would say, really, it reminds me of the Bunion," he finally says, using Mr. Diaz-speak for Ballybunion.
As for me, the overused word that nevertheless seems to apply perfectly is pure. Bandon Dunes is undeniably at the top of the list of the new classics. The question now is, will Pacific Dunes be good enough for the pair to be comparable with duos such as National Golf Links and Shinnecock, and Pebble and Cypress?
The man Keiser entrusted with the mission is Tom Doak, who for more than half of his forty years has been completely immersed in golf architecture. He followed Robert Trent Jones to Cornell, apprenticed under Pete Dye and has visited more than a thousand courses worldwide. His 1996 book, The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, is perhaps the most provocative work ever written on the subject. He has also designed twelve courses, all in the deeply committed way he learned from Dye.
In person, Doak is a slightly disheveled guy with the bemused physiognomy of the late Jim Varney and the distracted but pensive manner of Peter Falk's Columbo. He's not much for small talk but comes alive when the subject is architecture. "I want holes that combine strategic interest with golf shots that you relish hitting," he says. When the old man asks him his favorite project, Doak answers, "Golf courses are like your children. You love them all equally. But Pacific Dunes is definitely my most gifted child. I'll never have land like this again. Never have a project like this again."
Despite fitting flush against the northern border of Bandon Dunes and sharing the same number (seven) of holes that play along the coast, Pacific Dunes has its own look. Doak moved far less dirt than Kidd, letting the natural mixture of dunes, valley, cliffs, trees and links dictate the character of the holes. He even left a lot of gorse, which yields incandescent yellow blooms in the spring. No slave to convention, he constructed a layout that includes a couple of drivable par fours and back-to-back par threes to rival the fifteenth and sixteenth at Cypress. The back nine includes four par threes and three par fives, and concludes with a majestic six-hundred-yarder that employs a massive two-acre natural sandy "blowout" as a strategic and visual fulcrum.
In The Confidential Guide, a ten on the Doak Scale describes a course in which every single hole is worth seeing. Doak is chary with the ultimate rating, giving it to only a dozen courses worldwide, including Dornoch and Pine Valley, and only "a perfect ten" to Cypress Point. It's clear Doak favors the intimate and artistic over the grand, a taste reflected in his creation at Pacific Dunes. A par seventy-one of 6,670 yards from the back tees, it's not designed as a tournament site, but definitely as a place "with golf shots that you relish hitting." It's quirkier and riskier than Bandon, and will evoke stronger feelings, good or bad. For me, it is a ten, even if modesty prevents Doak from rating it.
The list of golf sites that can claim dynamic-duo status is short: Pebble and Cypress Point; Shinnecock and National Golf Links; the two tracks at Winged Foot; Olympic Lake and Ocean; Ballybunion Old and New; St. Andrews Old and New; and Pinehurst Nos. 2 and 8. I've been fortunate enough to see them all, so I'm not just cavalierly tossing off superlatives when I say that I'm convinced it won't be long before Bandon and Pacific—given their public accessibility, unspoiled environment, dramatic setting, thoughtful design and true golf spirit—are considered the best tandem of courses in the world.