“Bring Boots,” a text from Keith Cutten reads on my phone, one third of what I would consider the (newly founded) architecture supergroup of WAC (Whitman, Axland, and Cutten), “it’s a sandy site.” Those are the magic words for any architect to get to work with, and the key ingredient to success for any project, but especially at Bandon Dunes. It is akin to an 808 in hip hop; a weird amount of gore in a Quinten Tarantino film, or any other comparison you can think of. Without sand, golf becomes difficult to build; with it, and the project is already off to a great start.
For this firm, though, it feels a great significance to get sand, no less at this resort. Truth be told, they likely have done the most with the least of any firm I can think of; certainly in my travels. Rod Whitman’s solo career began on sand at Wolf Creek, but following that, Sagebrush and Cabot Links—his two most notable golf courses—are not. Likewise for Blackhawk, another wonderful golf course near Edmonton, and Cabot Revelstoke, another difficult mountain side with heavy soils. Their portfolio is elevating, and they are beginning to get sandy sites that were usually reserved for Doak, Hanse, or Coore, but even still, there are projects that will be tough builds that go in the next few years. Note to self: if I ever get a bad piece of ground, I’m calling them up.
Fast-forward to March 2023, where I’m making the visit to Bandon Dunes to visit the new par 3 course, formally announced this month, but first-reported on this site in December 2022. The property is located to the south of Bandon Preserve, and to the west of the opening trio of holes on Bandon Preserve. For those who have been to Bandon Dunes, these are the beautiful dunes the final two holes of Trails plays through, but more extreme.
With boots on foot and an aluminum water bottle in hand from Trail’s End—my leading candidate to replace plastic—I meet Keith at the sandpit, a location the resort uses to source bunker sand for their impressive lineup of courses, including Pacific Dunes, Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Old Macdonald, Sheep Ranch, Bandon Preserve, and Shorty’s, although Shorty’s is a part of the resort’s practice facility and formally is not listed as a ‘course’ at the resort (maybe it should be though; it is well worth your time). There is a bit of regret in our words as we climb the hillside golfers will drive up to the new clubhouse—an impressive location overlooking the entire new course with long views of the Pacific—considering we take this walk directly after lunch. We both had the Turkey Sandwich… very good, but hiking through sand is not exactly the way to let it elegantly sit in our stomach.
Nonetheless, we reach the top, envious of those who get to simply drive their rental cars, ride the shuttle bus up, or even walk on pavement, and stop at the future clubhouse location high above the golf course and Pacific Ocean in the distance: “is there a better view out there?” Keith says, who is working at Bandon Dunes for the first time. Technically, it is the first time the firm of Whitman, Axland, and Cutten will put their name on a golf course at Bandon Dunes, what I would consider the buddy’s trip Mecca of golf these days. But even so, partner Dave Axland provided his expert touch to Bandon Trails and Bandon Preserve for friends Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw. Rod Whitman obviously built Cabot Links, and lend his expert eye to Cabot Cliffs and Sand Valley, but he, too, has never worked at Bandon Dunes. Keith Cutten contributed at all three courses at Cabot Cape Breton, so they are no stranger to Dream Golf’s ways, but this is a big job. The gravity of being a course here is fairly obvious: the resort calls Tom Doak (twice), Bill Coore (three times), and David McLay Kidd their architect’s, so putting their name alongside the two greatest architects ever (and certainly the two best modern architects post-Golden Age), and the man who began Bandon Dunes, is no small feat.
Originally, Bandon Dunes announced it would be Tom Doak to build the 7th official golf course at the resort. Like Whitman, Axland, Cutten’s golf course, it, too, would be a par 3 course, with twelve holes overlapping on most of the property the current routing is. Doak did not route the holes WAC did to the north—closer to Bandon Preserve—electing for an ever-so-slightly more south portion of the property in the more aggressive dunes. In March, the resort announced Whitman, Axland, and Cutten would take over. The routing is a bit of an evolution; beginning with twelve holes like Mr. Doak’s routing, before eventually expanding to 18, and now 19. Keith says they kept looking south and noticing the landforms, dunes, and hills, with goals of building more holes, “we did not want the walk to end.” Mr. Mike Keiser Sr. saw the vision and agreed, which will open sometime in 2024. Maybe nineteen holes is a lot, I am not sure. It seems like a lot of golf, especially with a maximum yardage of ~160, but I’m trusting the process. These three gentlemen, after all, are best in class; this is their time to prove it, and I’m sure they will do a good job.
Those seven holes added are the opening six, and the 19th, with the latter realized in the dirt within the last month of writing this. The 7th, at one point, was the opening hole, although I am glad things have changed. Not that the 7th is a bad hole—quite the opposite, in fact; it looks like a standout in the sand already—but the opening hole now, just steps below the soon-to-be favourite hang at the resort, plays to a green tucked into the dune off the left, and a fall off right. It begins the golf course on a high note, and the opening six are, well, dramatic. Once the golfer gets to the seventh, they have played an excellent stretch of golf, and losing that would have been a shame. Starting on the 7th would have been a crashing start into the summer wind; now, the golfer gets six holes to warm up, before taking on what will become an easy picture for the ‘Gram over a chasm to a green tucked on the other side of the aforementioned sandpit.
Back to the first, which sits comfy into the dune ridge coming all the way off the right side of the opening two holes on Trails. The green is nestled in there nicely, and I question whether or not the greens tucked into the hillside across the golf course would become repetitive in any way. I flew the drone in the morning before we began to walk, and judging a golf course off a 4K camera is not usually a recipe for success. Cutten assures me not, but I make the mistake of assuming that early in our routing. As we continue our walk, it becomes obvious my preconceived notions are incorrect, and the green site selection is first-rate. Some greens are perched up or tucked into the hillside, yes, but generally, a high side on either the left or right is met with a fall off on the other side of varying degrees, and the dunes the green sit into have their own size and scale to feed off of. Occasionally, greens sit on-grade or even below their surroundings, but nature is the key ingredient here, and the trio are taking clues from the site.
After the aforementioned first seven—where the golfer returns in close proximity to the clubhouse on the 3rd and 6th for quick evening loops, if need be—it becomes obvious this is a pretty amazing site to build golf on, but which course at Bandon isn’t? They all bring something unique to the table, and at No. 7, that will be a much more sand dune golf course. The property’s humps, bumps, hollows and rolls provide anything and everything you could ask for to build par 3 holes, and if everything goes according to plan, we could have a new contender for the best short course in the world, alongside its next door neighbour Bandon Preserve, the Bad Little Nine, Palm Beach Par 3, Quarry at La Quinta, Olympic Club, and more.
The second continues the high golfers will experience from tumbling off the dune ridge on the opening hole, although to a lesser extent, traded in for a better view and shorter club to ease the burn of a potential full wedge straight downwind in the summer. The opening two-step will be, in my estimation, early standout moments, and likewise for the 6th playing to a double green with the 18th wrapping around a hillside in the centre. Keith tells me it will stay that way, and I hope so, but I’ve been on and around enough Rod Whitman golf courses to know things change in the field for the better. The plans they draw are a great resource for a starting point to know what you are getting yourself into, but rarely are they the finished product (not that they differ too much, but there are in-the-field edits always happening). A testament to their design and build strategy—where they not only design the holes, but build them—somehow, a rarity yet again in the industry (we’ve come full circle)—but also their artistry in the field and the ability to differ from the way they originally saw it. It is a breath of fresh air from the ways of yesteryear and even some of the modern guys today who pretend to be design-build, but really only approve greens and globe-troat around to various sites to route the holes, leaving it with their shapers and contractors. With Whitman, Axland, Cutten, they will be in the machinery shaping the holes, looking at it with their own eye, and finishing the project with their own hands.
Truth be told, people will have different standout selections over the course of the nineteen holes, especially depending on their tastes and preferences. The property lends way to numerous long views over the Pacific, intimate green locations tucked below dunes, gathering points, and green contours. We joke at dinner that a great name for the property would be Bandon Slopes given the severity of such a site—too choppy for a big golf course, for those curious—with Green Circle, Blue Square, and Black Diamond emblems on the flags to represent which holes they are on. The name, according to Golf Magazine, is between Shorty’s or Sandy’s—neither is great in my mind, and people will confuse Shorty’s with the current course located at the practice facility. Keeping with the concept, the blue square holes are an eclectic bunch: from the aforementioned 1st, to the back-into-the-hillside 3rd; the slopes at the 5th, green location on the 8th, 10th, the sneaky brilliant bunker on the 11th hiding the kicker slope* (with a twist), the beautiful 16th, and double green 18th. The green circle holes—2nd, 4th, 6th, 9th, and 17th—balance out nicely with the more extreme Black Diamond holes—7th, 12th, 13th from the lower tee, 14th, the shortest hole on the course at 15, and the tricky 19th up the hill—to end the skiing metaphor.
Granted, Bandon Dunes is on the coast, not the mountains, and there is no skiing anywhere close really. But the landscape could be ski hills for rabbits, rats, or similar sized creatures, maybe the Whistler or Aspen at that, too. I’m currently writing this in Kelowna, British Columbia visiting family, with their five pound dog sitting on my lap. We went for a drive last night, through the mountainous British Columbian interior, and I ponder how a five pound dog sees the world; I venture he would see the dunes of the newest course at Bandon Dunes the same way I see the mountains surrounding Canada’s playground city. For humans, the landforms are not that extreme where you can’t fathom golf; it is a wonderful journey around the most uneven terrain at the resort. It won’t have the ocean-side holes of Pacific Dunes or Sheep Ranch, nor the gritting-your-teeth moments of Bandon Dunes or Old Macdonald. No hole is over 160-odd yards, although with back tees and back flag into the wind, it might feel like it (the 14th is an animal), but again, that could and might change in the field… who knows? But in some respect, it does feel like a journey akin to Bandon Trails. Where Trails works its way up to the mountain from the dune and back down, No. 7—another good name being referred to internally until an official one is decided on, although maybe too Pinehurst-y—playfully splashes up and down the dune ridge that Bandon Trails opening two holes play to the left of. You get the views of the Pacific Ocean a la Bandon Preserve, but also the close intimacy of the trees like Bandon Trails at the low point of the property. The routing is intimate, with joint gathering spots at the 3rd/4th/6th/18th and at the 9th and 13th double green that leads into the 10th and 14th shared tees, like Sheep Ranch, where you’ll be able to hear the roars, sings, hollers, and hoots of groups gambling, playing a match, or just having the time of their life.
Early Thoughts From a Too-Early Visit is, well, exactly that. But rather than some of the other articles in the series, where it is literally too-early to make judgment calls, nature has done all the heavy lifting for Whitman, Axland, Cutten; the golf holes are already in the dirt, ready to be polished and finished. The green contours are there, shaped by nature, wind and rain. Sure, some slopes need softened, but conceptually, nature is the main architect here: from the green running away from the golfer towards the Pacific Ocean on the 5th, to the green feeding off the dune on the 16th and everything in between and on either side, nature was the deciding factor here, Rod Whitman, Dave Axland, and Keith Cutten’s job, and plan, is to harness that into the golf course we will all play next year.
When Bandon Dunes decided to build Bandon Preserve, it was a game changer for the resort. The seaside town in Oregon is not exactly the easiest place to get to, even if I have been three times, and generally, this leaves you with an awkward amount of time to fill in a town really lacking of anything golfers would want to do (other than the obvious answer of golfing). Half days can be filled with par 3 courses, and large buddies trips can all play Preserve at once. Some might not have the ability, or desire, to play 36+ full-length in a day, which is the beautiful thing of an unconventional routing or course length. Even if the new course is nineteen holes, we can all agree that nineteen iron shots is not the same as eighteen holes requiring an average of two full swings a hole. Fast-forward to 2024, and Bandon Dunes will have two, right next to each other, compiling a whopping 32 holes. The Preserve is slammed and in my estimation, visitors will be quick to catch on that No. 7/Bandon Slopes/Sandy’s or Shorty’s provides a different experience to Preserve, and one that could rival it, and should trump it, architecture wise. If there was ever a time to hop on the Whitman, Axland, Cutten hype train, now would be the time.