To see my general thoughts on the Bandon Dunes resort as a whole and for some pointers regarding your potential trip there, click here.
Bandon Dunes is where it all started. Mike Keiser was on a mission to build the best golf resort in the world on the best piece of property. After scouting the world (more on that in the Bandon Trails post), he settled on this stretch of land in coastal Oregon. He turned to David McLay Kidd to design the first course, and Kidd certainly took advantage of the opportunity. There is no doubt that the ocean steals the show on both Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes. However, what makes Bandon Dunes, in my opinion, better than Pacific Dunes are its non-ocean holes. It is rare that you encounter an ocean-hole that does not inspire awe as you walk up the fairway. So, to distinguish the two, I had to think about the non-ocean holes and I enjoyed Bandon's more. I think the primary difference in my mind is Bandon's use of pot bunkers instead of the cavernous bunkers on Pacific. I love pot bunkers because they force you to not only hit the fairway, but also think about how far to hit into the fairway and where to hit in the fairway. By contrast, Pacific's bunkering was gorgeous, but mainly came into play on wayward shots. Of course, that is how bunkers are typically used (at least in American golf). I am simply a fan of the pot bunker that can jump up and grab a good shot when you are not expecting it. Though this may lead to some unexpected disasters when you thought you hit the middle of the fairway, it forces you to think a bit more and keeps you continually engaged.
In my mind, the front nine is defined by various stretches. The first two holes are somewhat lackluster. Holes 3-6 are great golf holes with dramatic landscapes and vistas (any of those four holes could be the best hole on the course). Then, the course comes back down to earth and 7-9 is another stretch of average holes. The back, however, (other than 18) does not have a boring/mediocre hole. To me, the difference between the two nines is that the inland holes on the back are interesting holes--more challenging pot bunkers, more gorse hazards, and good usage of dunes. In addition, you have some world-class ocean holes--16 is my favorite hole on the course and twelve is as photogenic as they come.
Now, onto some individual holes.
The first is a 353 yard par four. It is often hard to evaluate first holes. I appreciate a hole that lets you ease into the round, but that often means the hole is not all that special. You also do not want to provide too much scenic awe on the first hole because then the player may be let down thereafter. That is why I think Cypress has one of the best opening holes. Fairly easy, fun hitting over the road, and the ocean serves as a backdrop, but is certainly not among the top-five scenic holes on the course.
First tee-just hit it somewhere in this enormous field of a fairway.
Definitely a fun approach into the green. Round could get off to a rough start if you put your wedge into that bunker.
The second--a 155 yard uphill par three--is rated as an easy hole, but I always find club selection hard. It is uphill and the wind will likely be doing something to your ball. If you come up short, your ball will roll down the false front into a collection area. Exactly what happened to me and I got a bit cute on my second and the chip landed on the front of the green, but rolled back down.
I love the third hole--a 489 yard par five. The ocean creeps into view, the drive is a bit downhill and will run forever. Just as I do not understand how the second hole is among the easiest on the course, I do not understand how the third hole is the third hardest. Like every hole on the course, there are penalizing bunkers, but it is highly likely that a decent drive and a decent fairway wood will put you in the front greenside bunker where you should make 5 at worst.
Third green with the long afternoon shadow.
The fourth--a 362 yard par four--is a spectacular hole. The landing area in the fairway is tight between two dunes and hitting it through the fairway is a real danger as well. The downhill approach affords a magnificent view of a green with bunkers guarding the left side and the Pacific Ocean that comes into play for balls hit too long.
Approach to fourth.
The fifth is among the best holes on the course and is where you get the sense that you are in Ireland playing among the towering dunes. The hole only measures 363, but, in the summer, will be playing into a strong wind.
Looking backwards down the fifth hole with the dunes protecting both sides of the fairway.
The sixth is another one into the summer winds. Though only 153 yards, it can play much longer. On the first afternoon we played, I would guess this hole was playing in the 200-210 range. But, no matter the circumstances, it is as scenic as they get.
As you can see, the ocean can come into play around the sixth green.
The seventh --a 372 yard par four--is not among my favorites on the course, but it is fairly unique in using a steep elevation change as the primary way of defending the green.
The eighth--a 343 yard par four--is a fairly easy hole. Super wide fairway as long as you carry the cross bunkers. The green appears narrower than it is because you can only see the front of it, which is its narrowest point, but, other than this visual deception, the green complex is not treacherous.
The ninth--a 520 yard par five--is another par five on the front that provides a scoring opportunity. There are pot bunkers in the middle of the fairway that catch an otherwise perfect shot. Left of the bunkers has a wider fairway, but right of them provides a shorter approach to the green. The green complex is one of the few with no bunkers, so running it up there from the right side of that fairway is completely plausible.
Approach to nine.
The tenth--a 339 yard par four--is a blind hole. You don't have a great view of where your drive is heading and you have no view of the green on your second. Though most people are usually not fans of blind shots, this hole worked. Perhaps because it is so forgiving to offset the blindness. As long as you carry the cross bunkers, the fairway is huge and there are no bunkers around the hidden green.
Approach to ten.
The 351 yard eleventh is another that appears short on the card, but plays long as it is both uphill and into the wind. Three bunkers are nicely spaced on the left side of the fairway so that any hitter, no matter the person's length, runs the risk of hitting them. In front of the green is a tough pot bunker.
Uphill approach to eleven.
From inside the pot bunker.
The twelfth--a 153 yard par three--is gorgeous, but deceiving. The yardage book says that a shot played into the front right opening of the green will serve you well. Trying to hit the front of the green, my brother and I both came up short here.
Brother teeing off on twelve.
The thirteenth is a 537 yard par five that we played incorrectly. By that I mean we played to the wrong green (what we ultimately learned was the 17th green). On the left of the fairway is the only internal water hazard (i.e. not the ocean). Going down the left side of the fairway brings that into play, but the right side of the fairway is full of steep, undulating mounds that will provide awkward lies. There is nothing protecting this green other than undulation. Both shots on this hole are of the grip it and rip it variety.
This picture gives you a good idea of the severe undulations protecting the green.
The fourteenth might be my favorite non-ocean hole on the course--a 332 yard par four. The fairway is littered with pot bunkers and the green is wedged between an enormous bunker in the front and a big dune in the back.
Approach to fourteen.
The fifteenth is a 131 yard par three. Just don't go in the front right bunker.
Front bunker on 15.
The sixteenth tee is likely your lasting image of Bandon Dunes--a 345 yard par four. Your tee shot goes to a split fairway, but not your traditional left-right split fairway. Rather there is a front fairway, then some fescue, and then an upper fairway, with the upper fairway being the ideal spot. From the tee the hole is just confusing and intimidating because it is hard to trust that your drive will carry to that upper fairway. But, usually playing with the prevailing wind, it should be able to make the 210-220 carry (depending on your line). If on the upper fairway, your approach to the green if fairly easy because there are no hazards to carry. If, however, you are on the lower fairway, fescue/rock run right up to the green such that your approach has to be the perfect distance.
Little pot bunker thrown in here for good measure next to the sixteenth green.
Looking over the back edge of the sixteenth green.
The seventeenth is another solid inland hole--a 375 yard par four. Pot bunkers in the left side of the fairway, while a gorse hazard runs up the length of the right side. The left side of the fairway provides the best angle into the green because you do not have to carry the gorse. If coming from the right, the green is immediately over the gorse, so getting it close brings the gorse into play. I hit it up the right, hit an approach that carried the gorse by about 3 feet, ended up 2 feet from the hole.....and then I missed the birdie putt.
Approach to seventeen.
Seventeenth green that sits just over the hazard.
The eighteenth--a 513 yard par five--hopefully lets you get into the clubhouse without doing any damage to your score. The fairway is very wide, but, if you do go right, you may find a bunker or the hazard that runs up the right side of this hole.
Approach to eighteen.
If you want the best vistas and most dramatic scenery, go to Pacific Dunes. If you want ever so slightly less awesome vistas and scenery, but a more fun and interesting golf course, go to Bandon Dunes. But, in reality, both are spectacular and, to the extent one is better than the other, it is by the slightest of margins (and subject to legitimate debate).