Review: Pacific Dunes

What hasn’t been said about one of the world’s best? It’s hard to imagine public-access courses get better in the US than Pacific Dunes

Information:

  • Bandon, Oregon
  • Public – Daily Fee
  • Tom Doak (2001)
  • 28th in the world (Golf Magazine)

Star Rating:

What does this mean?

Rating: 9 out of 10.

“One is a curiosity, two is a destination.” Mike Keiser’s now-famous words represent the expansion of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, where the destination began with David McLay Kidd’s Bandon Dunes, and became a golf resort with Pacific Dunes.

To this day, Pacific Dunes is considered one of, if not Tom Doak’s best and is consistently debated as the #1 public golf course in North America, alongside Pebble Beach and Pinehurst No. 2.

Opening the golf course, a 370 yard short par 4 greets golfers. Although I have heard some criticism of this hole, like it awkward or not an exciting way to start, I have no issues.

While not the most breathtaking hole here, I love the green complex, which sits into the landscape quite nicely.

The 2nd begins the journey to the Pacific Ocean with a 368 yard two-shot hole. One centreline bunker and one bunker left make it obvious where the preferred angle is, but makes for a more difficult tee shot.

From the right, the golfer plays over the short right bunker with a backstop, which helps. It does not funnel balls as much as it appears to, but will help stop balls from bouncing long. The movement in this green is quite severe; I am a fan.

A better, closer look at the green complex.

The third is the first par 5 at Pacific Dunes, playing one yard shy of 500 due west. A mess of bunkers in the middle provide a distinct left or right angle, with the left side being preferred for those trying to get home in two.

This is a lovely green complex, with some textbook strategy. Tucked into the dune, bunkering on the right corner angles the green from 8-2 on a clock, with a bunker on the left for those who layup. As mentioned, playing left of the bunkers is key to get home in two for longer hitters.

This is just a pleasant green location, which will reveal the Pacific Ocean upon arrival. Less movement than the first two (although still impressive), but a smarter green complex—in my view—as it sits up higher, exposed to the wind, whereas the first two sat down low almost on-grade or below-grade.

The 4th is our introduction to why Pacific Dunes is so highly regarded. Sure, the Pacific Ocean flanks the hole on the right, but behind us is now the 13th, which we play later. Getting a routing to have both nines to play on the major feature of the golf course in a way without long walks puts this golf course up against almost anything else. At 463 yards, this is a monster with the ocean—as mentioned—up the right, and two big bunkers on the left. The more right you can play, the better.

This green is so brilliant. Sitting low into the landscape, the big bunker on the right is blown out, with slopes and contours coming off the left side and bleeding into the green. Why is this important? Bailing out left brings a much more difficult approach to a green that almost slopes away from the golfer now. From the right, you can use the slopes to feed the ball in. A master class in angles, all controlled by the green contours.

After a brief introduction with the ocean, we head inland with the 199 yard par 3, 5th. This is a cool par 3, with a very long green with undulations akin to the ocean waves you just saw on the previous hole.

As mentioned, Pacific’s strength is its routing, bringing you to the Pacific Ocean on three different occurances. However, the separator when debating it against its contemporaries is the strength of the inland holes, which might be better than the oceanside stuff. That begins on the 316 yard par 4, 6th, among the best drive-and-pitch holes on planet earth.

Given the distance of the hole, it should be drivable, but I would love to hear stories of someone keeping it on this green. Set high above the fairway and the two massive bunkers on the left, the hole almost has a verse S shape to it. Hitting it straight to your preferred number will leave a difficult, semi-blind wedge up over the bunkers.

Playing out to the right is better, but you will not get a full wedge.

Cranking driver up near the green could work, but leaves a difficult pitch.

I have played Pacific Dunes twice, one day with 70KM/H winds, and one with no wind, and this is an insanely challenging hole in the wind. Even with no wind, there is trouble everywhere.

The 7th is a very good long par 4 at 464 yards playing back into the forest. The fairway is undulating, but no bunkers or anything, so a nice time to let loose a bit. Missing the fairway too far left or right will result in a lost ball.

This is such a great green complex. I think the picture below speaks for itself.

Another look at the green complex from 2018. This is one of the few approach shots here where I felt like I had to hit it in the air, but a nice change of pace for variety’s sake.

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The actual green contours are superb, as well. I was infatuated with this hole on my second spin.

A fairly standard par 4 tee shot at the 8th awaits. At 400 yards on the nose, it is a middle length par 4.

This is another great green complex, with a reverse strategy. Instead of challenging the bunker like that at the 2nd or 3rd, playing to the outside corner actually opens up the green more. The location of the putting surface is A1.

The 9th is a peculiar par 4, but one that I like. 406 yards, we play over a ridge to a blind fairway with two fairways into one.

With a lower green and an upper green, the 9th can be played in two different ways, depending on where the turf department cuts the pin that day. Getting it on the right side of the fairway is preferred, especially to the upper green (which I believe is the more popular of the two).

Left green:

Right green:

The upper green has some impressive movement. I have never played the lower green.

The dual green sets up the start of the back nine with a lower and upper tee, although the upper tee seems to have a better view. At 206 yards, it is a longer par 3 playing back towards the Pacific Ocean with quote the backdrop.

One of the more odd choices of Pacific Dunes, but another thing to seperate itself, is the back-to-back par 3’s to start the back nine, continuing with the 148 yard par 3, 11th. A very demanding short par 3, with a narrow green pinched between bunkering, the ocean, and the hillside.

The tee shot is breathtaking here, and one of the best spots in golf. But the hole isn’t over; the green is amazing as well.

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After a superb stretch of golf, it had to come down eventually. Granted, I think having interludes is an important feature of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, so having a small interlude here does not hurt. At 529 yards, a par 4 plays around the 4th with a couple bunkers in play.

The layup is fairly chill.

The green complex is another winner, with a massive bunker short left sloping towards the green, fighting the contours coming off the dune that sits to the right. In my view, the green complex really makes the 12th. A perfect reprieve.

A better look, sitting beautifully in between its surroundings.

Why the need for the reprieve? We head to the 444 yard par 4, 13th, a beautifully difficult par 4 alongside the Pacific, with the ocean up the left now.

The green complex sits into the hillside, playing more uphill than you think. At this point, I had hit the first 12 greens in a row, so the caddie for the other people in my group started giving advice because he said he’d never seen anyone hit all 18 greens. He has now, and I am sure it has been done before, but it was one of the better rounds of 2021 for me.

The 14th is the shortest par 3 at Pacific Dunes, maxing out at 145 yards. The caddies in the group joked that Tom Doak never built an island green like his mentor Pete Dye, but the 14th is as close as he got. The green has little margin for error, wrapped with trouble. Additionally, the 14th sits exposed to the wind, high above the 13th and in the dune.

The 15th is a fairly flat and spacious par 5, measuring 539 yards.

An easy way to dunk on Pacific Dunes is targeting the back nine par 5’s with the 12th and 15th because they are less dramatic and more “plain” in presentation, but I disagree. For one, they both head in opposite directions, and given their short nature, one will generally allow the golfer to get after it and push for a birdie. Secondly, the green complexes are still superb, but before the 15th green, we still have to lay up.

What a sick green complex, with a hump short right and the green pushed up. Going for it in two is a viable option on days with the wind coming from the north, but it can be quite difficult to hit.

At 338 yards, I am still not quite sure what to think of the 16th, which continues to play much shorter than the yardage with a summer wind.

You can cut the corner, but it leaves a difficult approach to a green with some intriguing movement. The fairway is as if you crumpled up a piece of paper and tried to smooth is out again. There is no flat lies to be found here, complicating things further.

A different view of the terrain awaiting, which can either be found by cutting the corner on the tee shot of this dogleg right, or the approach shot trying to stop the ball on this somehow-firmer-than the rest.

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The 17th is a beautiful 208 yard par 3, notably utilizing the redan template. Play it out right and see it funnel down, but it will not get all the way back to the left, likely stopping in the right third.

Finishing off, Pacific Dunes ends on the longest hole on the golf course at 591 yards. A massive blowout bunker that sits on the inside corner of the dogleg left must be avoided at all costs.

The layup is all about not getting ahead of yourself and finishing strong. Fairly straightforward, at this point it is a test of stamina.

A beautiful green site to end the day, well bunkered with a quasi-punchbowl feel.

Run, do not walk, to Pacific Dunes, but I suspect most reading this review already knew that. This is an easy #1 at the resort for me, and among the best golf courses I have ever seen.

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!

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