The Essential Guide to Bandon Dunes

What could we possibly say about a place that has had writers far more talented than us wax poetic for 20 plus years? Bandon Dunes is a special place, no matter how you spin it. For all the resorts we see popping up today—from Streamsong to Cabot Links; Barnbougle Dunes to Sand Valley—stems from Mike Keiser’s adventure to the southwest corner of Oregon.

Just like we did for Streamsong (which you can read here), we have a deep dive into everything Bandon Dunes. Five courses, plus two par 3 courses and a putting course, make up this resort. For this exercise, we’ve left off Shorties & Bandon Preserve for most of the categories, for obvious reasons.

As an editor’s note, Zach has not seen Sheep Ranch. Andrew has, and as a result, his rankings will be the bolded titles.

The facts

  • Bandon, Oregon (far southwest corner of Oregon, roughly 9 hours north of San Francisco and 5 hours south of Portland)
  • Bandon Dunes: David McLay Kidd, 1999
  • Pacific Dunes: Tom Doak, 2001
  • Bandon Trails: Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw, 2007
  • Old Macdonald: Tom Doak & Jim Urbina, 2010
  • Sheep Ranch: Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw, 2020

Best Par 3’s: Old Macdonald

  • Zach’s selection: Bandon Dunes

Andrew seems to be a sucker for the template par 3’s at Old Macdonald, which feature bold renditions of the Eden, Biarritz, and Redan (“Short” does not feel like C.B. Macdonald, contrary to marketing catchphrases). Zachary elects for the seaside par 3’s at Bandon Dunes. The 6th, 12th, and 15th are obviously excellent, but the early 2nd, tucked into the dune, is an early treat.

Best par 3: 11th hole, Pacific Dunes

  • Zach’s selection: 17th hole, Pacific Dunes

On a back nine with four par 3’s, you would hope Tom Doak & his crew would deliver. Thankfully, they did. Our two votes go to both the 11th and 17th on the aforementioned back nine at Pacific Dunes. The 11th, a short par 3 with a wedge or short iron (or more if the wind blows!) on the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean and the 17th, a longer Redan cut into the dunescape, are both excellent one-shot holes.

Worst par 3: 12th hole, Bandon Trails

Zach’s selection: 5th hole, Old Macdonald

Not exactly a diss to any golf hole here, as the collection of golf holes are so strong at Bandon Dunes. The 12th is clever in appearance, but in our eyes, the green complex doesn’t necessarily match with the bailout on the right. For those who flare their long iron or wood shot to the right, you’re chipping directly into the upslope and is a fairly easy up-and-down. On the 5th at Old Macdonald, the template “short” only applies to the length of yardage; no fingerprints or moat bunkers in sight.

Best short 4’s (less than 385 yards): Bandon Dunes

  • Zach’s selection: Bandon Dunes

Our double selection to Bandon Dunes speaks volumes to the quality of sub-385 yard holes at the original golf course. Of course, the 16th is the famous (and excellent) standout, but the 10th is both brilliant in the deception bunker short, the 14th tucked at the base of the hillside is appealing, and the aerial approach shots at the 7th and 11th contrast nicely in comparison to the longer holes at Bandon.

Best short par 4: 6th hole, Pacific Dunes

  • Zach’s selection: 6th hole, Pacific Dunes

You could likely make an argument this is the best hole at the entire resort, and as evident by both of our selections, we are in sync. The green is set high above the surroundings on a knoll, with short grass right and bunkering right. At only 316 yards, big hitters—especially with a winter wind—might think about driving the green; yet the way the green sits, it’s almost impossible to drive the green. A rare drivable par 4 that focuses more on position rather than being a long par 3.

Best middle length par 4’s (386-440 yards): Bandon Trails

  • Zach’s selection: Bandon Trails

Bandon Trails doesn’t necessarily have a ton of the jaw-droppingly awesome moments that stop you in your tracks, but that is not really a bad thing. The sum of parts is the highlight, and the meat and potatoes of the golf course is the middle length par 4’s. The 1st and 18th exposed on the dunescape are the perfect cover and ending page to the novel that is the walk through the forest, while the 4th and 15th are the true standouts once you leave the linksland.

Best long 4’s (441+ yards): Pacific Dunes

There’s only three long par 4’s at Pacific Dunes, but they’re all excellent. The 4th, heading south, has the Pacific Ocean flanking on the right; the 13th has the ocean on the left heading north with a massive blowout dune on the right and an elevated green. The sneaky favourite might be the par 4, 7th inland, which speaks volumes to the quality of the inland holes on an oceanside property.

Best par 4: 6th hole, Pacific Dunes

  • Zach’s selection: 6th hole, Pacific Dunes

As we said, you could likely argue this is the single best hole at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, and here, we both select the drive & pitch 6th as the best par 4 of a world-class group.

Worst par 4: 10th hole, Old Macdonald

  • Zach’s selection: 10th hole, Old Macdonald

Not only is the green elevated in a way you couldn’t even dream of the ground game (it is far too pitched to fly it halfway in and skip it up, and it is too steep to land it short and see it come up) in the summer wind, but playing into the teeth of the winter wind proves to be rather annoying with the centreline bunker. There’s little strategy with such a beautiful concept; the bunkers are virtually the same distance off the tee, and it no longer is strategic when you simply have to avoid them.

Best Par 5’s: Sheep Ranch

  • Zach’s selection: Old Macdonald

The new kid on the block fails to live up to the other four on the resort, but that doesn’t mean there are not highlights. In particular, the 1st is a great opener, the “volcano” 11th is epic, the 13th has some of the best bunker-less hazards on the golf course, and the 18th, climbing back up, is an interesting par 4.5 to end. As Zach’s selection suggests, Old Macdonald is next with the 6th (“Long”), the 15th (“Westward Ho!”), and the 17th (“Littlestone”).

Best par 5: 11th hole, Sheep Ranch

  • Zach’s selection: 15th hole, Old Macdonald

Out of all that is good at Bandon Dunes, we would likely confess the three-shot holes are the weakest of the bunch. With that being said, the par 5, 11th at Sheep Ranch, playing to a volcano style green, is the best of the bunch. As mentioned, Zach hasn’t seen Sheep Ranch yet, but “Westward Ho!,” styled after the 18th at National Golf Links of America, is a close second.

Worst par 5: 16th hole, Bandon Trails

  • Zach’s selection: 12th hole, Pacific Dunes

Both selections are very obvious connector holes transporting the golfer from good to good. Bandon Trails is a bit of a slog, especially into the wind, void of any sort of thought or interest. Pacific Dunes’ 12th is one of the least stimulating holes on the property, especially considering it’s the white cream between the two oreo cookies that are the 11th and 13th at Pacific.

Easiest hole: 18th hole, Sheep Ranch

  • Zach’s selection: 12th hole, Pacific Dunes

Zach hasn’t had the chance to play Sheep Ranch, but I suspect when he does, his answer will change. At only 464 yards and ever-so-slighty downwind in the summer (over the left shoulder), this par “5” is really a longer par 4. But still, with the wind, lots will have a short iron in. As mentioned above, the 12th at Pacific Dunes is very low-key, and thus get-able comparatively speaking.

Hardest summer hole: 5th hole, Bandon Dunes

  • Zach’s selection: 15th hole, Bandon Dunes

Both of our choices come from the very difficult Bandon Dunes, which we might vote for the hardest golf course of the five. The 5th at Bandon in the summer is a strong 428 yard par 4 dead into the teeth of the wind. The 15th hole is a par 3 playing to a knob atop the Pacific entirely exposed to the wind.

Hardest winter hole: 4th hole, Old Macdonald

The beauty of Bandon Dunes is the golf courses are designed with wind in mind, but of course, there’s some that do not have the luxury of being equal from the summer and winter winds. The 4th at Old Macdonald is such a case at 504 yards, par 4. To complicate things, “Hog’s Back” falls off from the centre of the fairway. Certainly difficult!

Best opening hole: Sheep Ranch

  • Zach’s selection: Bandon Trails

The bunker-less introduction to Sheep Ranch is a par 5, cresting the hillside working its way down to the Pacific Ocean, is among the single best opening holes in golf. Bandon Trails is a stunner also: a short par 4 through the sandy, linksland.

Best closing hole: Old Macdonald

  • Zach’s selection: Pacific Dunes

The merits of the “Punchbowl” template can be debated all day long, but the surrounds of the green on the final hole of Old Macdonald are wickedly fun and enjoyable to see the golf ball toilet bowl around, depending on the pin location. Zach elects for the 600-or-so closing par 5 at Pacific Dunes, which doglegs around one of the meanest bunkers on property to a green set at the bottom of a hillock.

Best routing: Pacific Dunes

  • Zach’s selection: Bandon Trails

This single category is the crux of our choices for the best golf course (below), and an interesting look into what we value. Trails is a wonderful journey, graciously laying out the plot to end on the same mark it started on (in the dunescape). In some sense, it’s like the newest Batman: you’re not quite sure of all details until the finale. At Pacific Dunes, Tom Doak dances you around the property, bringing you to the ocean on the 3rd, 4th, 10th, 11th, 13th while navigating the intricacies inland. If Trails is a slow unraveling until you get to the “a-ha!” moment, Pacific Dunes routinely teases what it’s about from start to finish.

Best Greens: Old Macdonald

  • Zach’s selection: Bandon Trails

The wildly undulating greens at Old Macdonald are a controversial choice. Either you love them or hate them, but it is the main reason to play Old Macdonald as they are pretty insane. Zach selects the more subtle Bandon Trails set, but they’re no slouch, either.

Hidden Gem: Shorties

It’s easy to say this once you’ve been there, but a lot of people we talk to still are unaware that at twilight, the driving range turns into a par 3 course. Rather than paying $100 to play Preserve (which is awesome nonetheless), go to Shorties and enjoy. They’re both awesome, but if Preserve is your strict military father in a suit & tie, Shorties is the crazy uncle with a beer in his hand.

Best Food: McKee’s Pub

Not that we’re savvy food critics, but McKee’s Pub is a classic. Almost everything is good on the menu, and while the Meatloaf has been talked about for decades now, do not let someone caress you into ordering it: you cannot go wrong on this menu.

Skip: Preserve

This is a bit of a hot take, and by no means is it meant to slight Preserve. It is a great little collection of golf holes and a ton of fun to play. With that being said, it comes down to two things for us: time, and money. Yes, every first time visitor to the resort should do every single golf hole on property and then decide. But if one is pressed for money (Preserve is $100), or time, Preserve is a skip. If money isn’t a factor, but time is, we might elect to skip Preserve and play one of the 5 golf courses at their replay rate. If money is the factor, Preserve could be the make-or-break cost to being able to go to Bandon (we’re young at Beyond The Contour!).

Best stretch of golf: 4-6, Bandon Dunes

  • Zach’s selection: 4-6, Bandon Dunes

On paper, the thought of choosing the best stretch of golf at such a world-class resort seems difficult. With such a surplus of great golf holes, you would think us doubling up on the same stretch wouldn’t happen. The 4th, the first reveal of the Pacific Ocean ever at Bandon Dunes, is a strong dogleg right off a blind tee shot. The aforementioned 5th is a brute into the summer wind, and likewise for the 6th, a stern par 3 on the cliffs of the Pacific. It doesn’t get better than this.

Worst stretch of golf: 8-12, Bandon Trails

  • Zach’s selection: 9-11, Old Macdonald

Trails is extremely strong off the hop, but starting at the 8th hole, a short drivable par 4, it loses the same interest and feeling it began. It isn’t until the 13th, an awkward tee shot par 4 to a good green complex, that it picks up where it left off. Zach, being the Trails fan he is, couldn’t see past the shortcomings. Instead, electing to highlight “Cape”, “Bottle,” and “Road” as the worst stretch at Bandon. We agree, though Road’s green is enough to push it past 8-12 at Trails.

Best overall golf course: Pacific Dunes

  • Zachary’s selection: Bandon Trails

The duality of Bandon Dunes is that we both select two different golf courses that aren’t even remotely close in style of presentation to each other. It’s hard to argue with either choice: Pacific has been the highest ranked course since 2001, while Trails has aged like fine wine with the current tastes and trends.

Ten Round Split?

Andrew: 4 at Pacific Dunes, 2 at Bandon Dunes, 2 at Bandon Trails, 1 at Old Macdonald, 1 at Sheep Ranch

Zachary: 4 at Bandon Trails, 4 at Pacific Dunes, 2 at Bandon Dunes, 0 at Old Macdonald

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