It’s a simple question, really: how much does influence matter in assessing a product? In Hip Hop, influence matters… a lot. Straight Outta Compton, Illmatic, The Love Below, 808s & Heartbreak, and any other major influential album in the culture gets a boost for their influence on the future generations. Often times, they’re not often seen in a positive light at the time: Kanye West’s Yeezus, or Playboi Carti’s Whole Lotta Red are modern examples of albums not well-recieved early-on, but are aging well, especially as they continue to be the groundwork for trap, a popular sub-genre taking over the greater hip hop movement. Nas’ Illmatic is perhaps the most popular choice when discussing the genre’s best-ever album, a portion of its argument rooted in its obvious influence on rap moving forward and songwriting in general. Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak is essentially the playbook for Drake, Lil Uzi Vert, Travis Scott, and more, and ushered in a much softer tone in rap, allowing rappers to be more emotional and outspoken about their feelings. Granted, this could also be traced back to September 11, 2007, where 50 Cent’s Curtis went directly up against Kanye West’s Graduation—two of the biggest artists at the time. Kanye’s album outsold 50 Cent, which is considered the death of gangster rap and the beginning of “modern” rap. Nonetheless, 808s & Heartbreak is the playbook for Drake’s entire career—potentially the biggest artist in rap history, contending with Eminem—and essentially anything other than trap in modern hip hop.
In golf, does influence matter, and should it? The topic arose on my recent trip to Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, where I visited Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, and Old Macdonald. On my first visit in 2018, I only played Pacific Dunes and Bandon Trails; on my second trip in 2021, I played the entire resort… everything. Pacific Dunes is my favourite, explaining the extra round I’ve played, never electing to skip it. Sheep Ranch is my least favourite, although the newest also, explaining my solo round.
- Pacific Dunes
- Bandon Trails
- Pacific Dunes
- Bandon Dunes
- Bandon Trails
- Old Macdonald
- Sheep Ranch
- Pacific Dunes
- Bandon Trails
- Old Macdonald
- Bandon Dunes
- Sheep Ranch
On my first round at Bandon Dunes, I was pretty enthralled by the whole experience. I had played Pacific Dunes three years earlier, but McLay Kidd’s original course really impressed me. The routing, diving to the ocean on the 4th to the 6th, and then returning on the 12th, and then again on the 15th and 16th, was a creative way to get seaside holes scattered throughout the round, and remember: Bandon Dunes predates Pacific Dunes by two years, and one of the reasons we celebrate Doak’s magnum opus is the reason Dunes is able to get so many holes on the ocean across the entire golf course.
Even on my first spin, Dunes was much more American in how it played, in my opinion, especially in contrast to the other courses at the resort. On Pacific Dunes, there were numerous times when I felt I needed to fly the ball short and let it chase up, but Dunes never really had that. It is all good, a seaside site does not come with a mandate to try and recapture Scotland, Ireland, or England; Pebble Beach doesn’t, and it’s been the #1 public golf course in North America essentially since it opened. But it did strike me as odd… McLay Kidd is Scottish, why would his course require the most aerial approach?
Nonetheless, I had Bandon Dunes second on my list, puzzling to some who love Bandon Trails, though I will admit that the course ages like fine wine. Not really blowing you away similarly Pacific Dunes might, but when you think back on the features, routing, and strategic elements, Trails continues to impress. I’ll never understand those who say Trails is better than Pacific, including Zac, who writes for this website, but there is a magical element to Trails that I could reasonably see at #2 at the resort. My selection of Dunes over Trails was shocking to most close to me, but I kept my stance.
That is, until my return trip in early 2023, where I snuck out for a late rip around Bandon Dunes, the 1999 David McLay Kidd course that started it all. “All” refers to destination golf and Bandon Dunes, where Mr. Mike Keiser and Kidd proved golfers would come to the edge of the world for quality golf. What followed is five full-size golf courses, a par 3 course, a subsequent par 3 course that officially is not included in the resort offerings, a putting course, a new par 3 course from Whitman, Axland, and Cutten, and New River Dunes, a McLay Kidd south of the town billed as the final addition to the resort, and in some respect, the bookend on the Bandon Dunes story. Mr. Keiser’s famous quote of “one course is a curiosity, two is a destination” seems to align with my own personal opinion that Pacific Dunes is the reason Sand Valley, Cabot’s portfolio, Barnbougle Dunes, or any other destination golf resort exists, but nonetheless, McLay Kidd’s course came first.
With my camera in hand and a round by myself, I managed to look with a critical eye at Bandon Dunes. Contrary to some, I like the opening hole. Part of the fun is the thought of slicing it into the massage centre or golf shop up the right is unique and fun, but the hole’s layout is not bad. It is a hard approach shot, playing back into the dune, but by no means a weak hole. After that, the issues arise on the 2nd, where the golfer climbs up the hill on the 1st, then walks back down and back to the 2nd tee, to play back into the hillside even further that you just climbed on 1. There are tees directly above the 1st green, changing the angle completely. I like to think that McLay Kidd originally built the upper tee originally and either he or the resort moved it below for drama purposes; fair enough, I can see that argument with the blown out bunkers, but off the bat, the routing is a bit janky. That thought is further enforced by the awkward walk from 6 to 7, where you walk back to the tees you just played for 6 to tee off on 7. The same issue arises on the 12th and 13th hole, ironically also features a par 3 on the shore (6th and 12th) before transitioning inland.
These criticisms are all relative, of course. In the grand scheme of things, the routing at Bandon Dunes is not bad, especially with so many holes on the ocean. The greens are good, if a bit of a cohesiveness issue, and any other complaints are minor in the overall scheme of things. By no means is this a bad golf course at all, and I hope the tone comes across as such. It continues to be one of my favourites in the grand scheme of things, though the slip from 2nd in my ranking to 4th let the wheels turn and question its higher ranking than places like Pasatiempo, Kittansett, Old Macdonald, and even Gamble Sands, McLay Kidd’s own. Internationally, St. George’s, a Stanley Thompson in Toronto, ranks behind Bandon Dunes on Golf Magazine‘s World Top 100 list, a puzzling selection even on my first play.
Which brings us full circle. Influence in music certainly matters, and I might suggest, it matters for raters for golf courses too. Among the internet—a vacuum and a small sample of the real world, I know—Pacific Dunes and Bandon Trails are the most common choices for the “favourite” or “best” at the resort. Part of the fun of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort is someone could logically argue any of the five as the favourite or best, depending on someone’s tastes. For the OG, does being the first, the influencer and trailblazer matter? In my opinion, it is a resounding yes, whether that is a good or bad thing can be debated.
In a FirePit Collective article, Matt Ginella ranked Bandon Dunes 1a., saying “It’s the OG, and for me that matters.” He is perhaps the quintessential golf influencer in 2023, although his ranking deserves a very big and bold asterisk for putting Old Macdonald behind Bandon Preserve or even the Punchbowl, the putting course at the Pacific Dunes clubhouse (what a ridiculous statement and a weird hill to stab your credibility on). Notwithstanding, for Matt Ginella, influence does matter (so much, in fact, he named his kid after McLay Kidd’s course/resort), and I venture it does for other media personalities and raters, as well.
This is not just a Bandon Dunes question, either. I suspect the question, among many others, will arise with Lido, a C.B. Macdonald design on Long Island that Bernard Darwin, likely golf’s greatest writer, called the greatest golf course in the world in a time when The Old Course and Pine Valley were all the hoopla. The golf course has been reborn in Wisconsin at Bandon Dunes’ cousin Sand Valley, at the hands of Tom Doak, Peter Flory, and others. Lido’s influence, or reputation, was one of the best in the world in the 1920s and 1930s. So, with it reopening in 2023, will it vault up the rankings? Does it deserve to do so, or will that be nostalgia, influence, and status that blinds raters? I have not seen Lido yet, though I am more intrigued by the social repercussions of whether we call it a Tom Doak or a C.B. Macdonald, whether its reputation of old allows its ranking of new to shine, and all the debate that will come with it.
Sand Hills is another good example, although this is bordering on sac religion at this point. Likewise for The Old Course, which is the playbook for golf architecture, essentially. Sand Hills is where golfers saw the light that was the dark age tunnel, allowing strategy, width, and the prospect of having fun to break through yet again. In both instances, their influence reminds me of Nas’ Illmatic or Dr. Dre’s 2001. Great golf courses and great albums alike, with massive influence on how we view music and golf today, respectively. That combination, from my perspective, certainly helps elevate those golf courses to the next level. The Old Course’s influence is obviously higher than Royal County Down or Muirfield, but is it a better golf course without building the playbook for golf architecture? Should it matter? I am simply posing a hypothetical question; in my eyes, influence is an obvious impact in how we assess the golf courses.
Should Influence Matter?
In music, the difference of sales versus influence is an important distinction. Drake’s 2016 album Views is a commercial success, selling a whopping 1.04 million domestically in its first week, good for the fifth-highest opening first week for a hip hop album. Although it was a commercial success, Views will never appear on a “greatest” album list, nor will it age like Take Care or If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Drake’s two best albums. It has no influence on the current culture, and doesn’t really move the needle anymore (though there are a handful of hits you’d play at a bar or restaurant). There are external factors for why we will remember Views, but influence is not one of them. In hip hop, influence is a massive driver in defining what a “classic album” is, and perhaps the biggest and most important category.
That is not necessarily true in golf architecture. There are categories experts, architects, and critics look for. Playability, or the ability for all skill levels to at least enjoy the golf course, would be one of the more important aspects of design; variety, too. If you built a straight, wide par 4 once, it would certainly be playable, but eighteen times, and you would want to walk off. A variety in hole length, styles, par, approach shots, doglegs, etc make a big difference (this is a bit watered down for the usual on this site, but whatever). Of course, enjoyment, routing, memorability (whatever that means), and all the other 1-10 numerical scales raters fill out factor in as well.
I suspect influence does matter, and likely should matter in golf architecture similarly in how it affects music. Now, a full list of just influential golf courses would probably not be the way to go about it. What has Los Angeles Country Club ever influenced? Yet, it is still a great golf course, widely considered among the top 20 golf courses in the world (currently, Golf Magazine ranks LACC’s North course 20th in the world). A quick scroll of courses ranked ahead of LACC and it becomes clear of their influence: Pine Valley, Augusta National, Dornoch, Pinehurst No. 2, Muirfield, National Golf Links, the aforementioned Sand Hills, and of course, The Old Course all influenced and continue to influence golf architecture everywhere you look.
Bandon Dunes walks the line a bit. Does that golf course really influence anyone? Or, is it the business model that is influential? McLay Kidd’s routing could, in theory, be reasonably argued as the stepping stone for Pacific Dunes’ routing because it, too, weaves inland and out to the coast. But truthfully, Mike Keiser’s vision is the influential part of Bandon. Five years prior to Bandon Dunes, Sand Hills ushered in the modern minimalist movement in Mullen, Nebraska at the hands of Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, and Dick Youngscap. Sand Hills is the playbook for the post-modern Renaissance we are likely at the tail end of, not Bandon Dunes. Though, you could point the finger at Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes for why the public even likes or knows about the modern minimalism. Sand Hills is private, so most will not see it in their lifetime, whereas Bandon is a public resort and thousands of people see it every year.
Who is the reason for what becomes muddy in music, let alone with the distinction of public vs private in golf. In music, you could reasonably argue patois, the ‘Toronto accent’, or Caribbean or even Spanish music might not be as big globally as it is now without Drake’s Views, which had featured artists like Popcaan, and widely embraced Dancehall. Popcaan’s been making Dancehall music since 2007, but it was not until Drake’s run in 2016 that included Views, where he featured on Rihanna’s hit “Work”, his own smash hit “One Dance,” or even “Controlla,” which initially leaked with a Popcaan feature, although it was oddly removed on the album, that he would begin to gain popularity. Granted, Popcaan featured on a Pusha T song in 2012, and his voice was sampled on Kanye West’s Yeezus in 2013, but his popularity grew when Drake’s commercial success brought Dancehall to the front.
Influence does matter in art, and honestly, it should matter in golf architecture, too. Even if we do not label McLay Kidd’s Bandon Dunes the birthplace of modern minimalism, and if we turn to Mike Keiser’s vision as to why Bandon Dunes and subsequent destination golf resorts are a success and not McLay Kidd’s course—a proper analysis in my view—his course is the reason the public has access to the ‘second coming of the Golden Age,’ as they say. Sand Hills is the birthplace, yes, but like Popcaan’s career, without Bandon Dunes (BD is Drake in this metaphor), would it be as big of a deal? Would we celebrate it as much if the public was never exposed to it? I suspect not, though I was barely alive in 1999 to see the outcome, and certainly not alive in 1994.
For me, Bandon Dunes will remain the 4th course in my resort ranking. It does not have the greens Pacific does, nor the tighter routing with less awkward walks. It does not provide the strategic elements of Trails, or the journey. Old Macdonald is a riot, rollicking around the contours, though that is a closer debate as to which is better. But if you see Bandon Dunes as the trailblazer, worthy of higher praise for what it represents, who am I to judge? You would only be following in the footsteps of music, movies, art, architecture, or anything else, really. If that matters to you, I get it.
I have always been a big advocate for separating the reputation, history, or championships hosted from a golf course, judging what only comes 1-18. It can be a difficult exercise, but one I think has made me a better judge of golf courses (or worse, depending on where you stand, I suppose). In my view, influence feels different than championships hosted or aura of a private club; if a golf course comes along and revolutionizes how we view things, a la National Golf Links of America or Sand Hills, why shouldn’t we view it in a higher light? Not that they have their flaws that get overlooked because of their influence or that they get a bump in rankings for their reputation now, but it should be something that sets it apart from its contemporaries.
When hip hop heads talk about the greatest album of all time, Nas’ Illmatic is a common answer for a few reasons, one of which is influence on the culture and hip hop moving forward. With Illmatic, beat selection, concision, pen skills, and of course influence are common tools in its toolbox, and like the greatest golf courses, someone could argue playability, creativity, variety, routing, greens, or anything similar. Why would influence for golf courses be different? If someone argues The Old Course as the greatest golf course of all time, and one of their key components is influence because it has laid the groundwork for a good deal of other golf courses—including Augusta National and Royal Melbourne—that seems logical to me. With Bandon, if someone chooses that course over Trails or Old Macdonald or even Pacific Dunes for that reason while ranking the courses at Bandon Dunes, that seems like a compelling reason to favour the OG; the one that started it all, on a much larger level than just that singular resort, deserves its flowers.