Review: Bandon Trails

The most under-appreciated design at the Bandon Dunes complex, Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw’s “Trails” takes a walk on the calm side

Information:

  • Bandon, Oregon
  • Public — Resort/Daily Fee
  • Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw (2005)
  • 40th best golf course in the United States (Golf Magazine)

Even in my time as a self-proclaimed golf fanatic, the opinion on Bandon Trails has evolved quite a bit. When I first played Trails in 2017, it was ranked the lowest of any Bandon course on Golf Digest (pre-Sheep Ranch days). Now, Trails is often discussed among the 1st or 2nd best at the resort, leapfrogging over the original and Old Macdonald. Of the five courses, Pacific Dunes are Bandon Trails are the most common answers for the best at the resort, at least in my travels.

The first hole is a short par 4, playing 8 yards under 400 yards. The fairway looks like the ocean waves rolling in on high tide; rumpled and unpredictable. I love this opening hole.

This is a fairly straightforward approach, playing over the blowout bunker you most likely laid up short of with less than driver off the tee.

After a pretty gentle first hole, the 214 yard par 3, 2nd is anything but. Thankfully, it does play downhill, but the visuals here are odd and made me uncomfortable. I do not necessarily have an issue with this, but it felt early in the round to feel that uncomfy.

The third is a beautiful par 5 at 549 yards. Even if Trails is not on the ocean, I actually think this is the prettiest golf course here. Granted, I like this style of scenery growing up near the mountains, but that says something given the other four play on the Pacific Ocean.

Avoiding the bunkers left and the centreline bunker set up a decision for the long hitters who think they can get home in two. For those who layup, it is a fairly simple shot with a bunker in the centre.

This is a fantastic green complex, with some interesting movement seamlessly merging with some of the surrounding interest.

The fourth is a laughably good par 4, and one of the better par 4’s at the resort. 408 yards, a topographic ridge runs from left to right at an angle, giving the golfer the choice on where to cross. Left opens up a view of the green, but brings in the bunkers in play over the ridge. Right is a longer carry and a potentially blind second shot, but removes the possibility of a ball ending up in one of the numerous bunkers up the left.

Cresting the hill reveals another effortless green complex.

Who does not love a great short par 3? The 5th at Bandon Trails has a Biarritz-ish style to it, but not exactly a carbon copy. Some very deep bunkers sit into the hill short of the green.

I wrote originally that the 6th is an interesting hole, though the tee shot might be awkward on the first time playing before revealing itself on multiple plays. On my second spin around Trails, I agree with my initial assessment from five years ago.

At 395 yards, it is just short enough that you would think about hitting a club less than driver, but also just long enough to tempt you into pulling big stick. There is a bunker over the central bunker you see in the hillside that is blind, so picking a proper club is key. I like this hole a lot more on my second time around.

The 7th is a really strong long par 4 at 440 yards, but it plays dramatically uphill. A bunker on the right is eventually pinched in the landing area by the bunker on the left, but there is more room left.

Coming up the hill, you would expect a false front which we get. Well-bunkered with some good movement, this green is slick to the front (even more than you think).

After a very good opening seven holes, I think the 8th slows down a bit with a 321 yard par 4. It is a fairly simple drivable or drive and pitch hole, with trouble left and room right.

A fairly simple approach to a green divided in the middle by a ridge running east-west.

Continuing a bit of a slower stretch, the 567 yard par 5, 9th is a pretty double dogleg hole through the forest.

This is the Oregon I know and love: thick forest makes for a beautiful background with some rugged bunkers.

To me, this is just a bit of a connecting stretch to get from point A to B.

The 10th is a solid hole, but one that I think will leave most unimpressed. A draw tee shot is the question on the 418 yard start to the back nine.

This is a subtle green complex, with some interesting movement in the front and a confounding middle-back section.

Back to the action, the par 4, 11th is a really strong hole at 445 yards. The tee shot is interesting, with a bunker up the right side that must be challenged to make the angle coming into the green easier.

I love the bunkers here. True artistry.

After cresting the hillside, the hazards become obvious. A pond up the right awaits, and a green tilted that way makes approach shots from the outside corner—away from the bunker—more difficult. From the inside, a straighter shot in, and away from the hazard is ideal.

I’m not really sure if the hazard on the right is man-made or natural, but either way, I think it fits in well with the aesthetic and vibe of the golf course.

At 242 yards, the 12th is a very long par 3. Bunkers flank the entire left side of the possible run-up shot, meaning you either have to carry the ball to the green, or hook it in on the ground.

For me personally, I am not sure why this green is receptive from the right side where the fairway & bail out area is. A gentle slope away from the golfer, like tilting the green to the left, would make bailing out right harder. Now, it feels a bit like a dogleg par 3, where bailing out right is a simple up and down. This is pretty nitpicky, but still: if you are going to be the best at Bandon, you almost have to nitpick.

I enjoy the par 4, 13th, which is just a hair over 400 yards. A difficult tee shot bends to the left around a massive blowout bunker with trouble right. You really have to get this tee shot left, and I mean really left; the fairway tilts hard to the right.

This is a very fitting green complex, set into the hillside behind a depression that blends into a false front.

After the almost out-of-place walk up to the 14th tee, you are met with arguably the most controversial hole at the resort, but the best view. At 325 yards, it should be reachable for almost every player since it usually plays a little downwind and downhill. Split into an upper left and lower right section, the green sits on the upper portion.

From the upper tier, it is much easier than being from the right playing across the greenside bunkers, but I truthfully do not know why anyone would layup here. Not that I think it is a design flaw, per say—rather a repercussion of a resort with a $375 green fee and people wanting to make the most of the trip—but I think this green is easier to chip around once or twice than having to hit a wedge and then chip once or twice. Go for it and try and make 4, if you make 3, even better, but do not get greedy.

For me personally, I think this is a quality hole, but I can see why someone might not like it. It is very severe on a golf course of not-so-severe, and one that is the most friendly golf course at the resort (in my opinion). Getting kicked in the teeth by a 325 yard hole is a surefire way to hate a hole, even if I think it does not deserve it.

The 15th is an exceptional par 4 at 406 yards. It reminds me of the 4th in spirit, but there is more than enough difference in appearance and strategy to have them not feel the same.

A bunker in the middle bisects the fairway, splitting it into two. Realistically, you will not try and squeeze it between the bunker and the trouble on either the left or right, so longer hitters might have to lay up.

The green complex is beautifully situated into the hillside at the bottom. It looks like a green has been here for a hundred years, but Trails is 17 years old as of 2022!

The 16th is an interesting par 5, playing much longer than 530 yards. From an elevated tee, it will play directly back into the wind.

Even at 530, chances are, even the long hitters will not be able to get home in two given how severe the uphill approach is and how stiff the coastal winds are coming from the ocean.

Getting it up as far as you can to make the third shot easier is best, but in the wind, this is a true test of ballstriking.

If the 14th is not the signature hole, 17 is. A mid-length par 3 at 182 yards, this green is INSANE, with some really cool movement, a false front, and well-bunkered. When the winds are up, which they are usually at Bandon, this is a nightmare green to hit, but acts as a perfect 17th hole.

The 18th plays over similar land as the 1st, and believe it or not, it is one of the longer par 4’s on the golf course at 420 yards. This is semi-blind tee shot is difficult.

Another really classy green complex tucked into the dune, Trails is the story of Coore & Crenshaw going out and finding really sophisticated places to find green complexes. Never too aggressive, but usually slightly into hillsides, dunes, or on-grade. Seamless and easy.

This is a great walk, and a perfect compliment to the rest of the oceanside golf courses. The fun factor is off the charts, the setting is a treat, and the architecture is very enjoyable, if at times slightly toned down to be the best course at Bandon. Nonetheless, well worth everything to play here, and a worthy addition to any USA top 100 in recent years.

Author

  • Andrew Harvie

    Based in Toronto, but having lived in Alberta, British Columbia, Montana, Arizona, and Texas, I have been lucky enough to see over 400 golf courses and counting!

1 thought on “Review: Bandon Trails

  1. Great write up! The trail was the only course I didn’t play when I stayed overnight a few years ago and from your pics it looks like I really missed out. Guess I’ll just have to go back 😬.

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