At the end of June, my brother and I went on a 10 day trip in Oregon (and, though not planned ahead of time, Washington). We played ten rounds in ten days and nearly everything went perfectly. The itinerary was as follows: (1) Fly into Portland and drive immediately to Bend; (2) In Bend, play Aspen Lakes, Pronghorn (Nicklaus course), and Tetherow; (3) Drive to Bandon and play Bandon Preserve, Old Macdonald, Pacific Dunes, Bandon Dunes, and Bandon Trails; (4) Drive to Portland and play Pumpkin Ridge (Ghost Creek); (5) Drive to Seattle and play Chambers Bay.
Chambers Bay was never part of the plan (as you can see it is well out of the way). However, the initial plan was to have two non-golf days in Portland before flying home. That weekend, Portland was uncharacteristically hot with the high hitting 100 degrees both days. Since it was unpleasant to walk around and enjoy Portland, we decided to drive the 2.5 hours up to Chambers Bay where it was marginally cooler. If you cut Chambers Bay out of the trip, this Oregon loop is a manageable amount of driving. All of the driving is beautiful. Portland to Bend is 3 hours and begins in what you would imagine Oregon forest to look like, but then, abruptly, changes over to desert that looks more like New Mexico. The drive from Bend to Bandon is closer to five hours, but, again, is a wonderful drive (and will likely get you to Bandon in the late afternoon, which is a perfect time to play the 13 hole par three course, as we did). Then, we drove Highway 101 up the coast to get back to Portland, which is another five hours, but this drive is an attraction unto itself. The only part of the driving that got a bit monotonous was going from Bend to Bandon--likely because the excitement for Bandon was so high and I just wanted to get there.
I am going to use the rest of this post to give you my general thoughts on the Bandon Dunes resort.
No doubt plenty of ink has been spilled singing the praises of Bandon Dunes. The resort has five courses--Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Old Macdonald, Bandon Trails, and Bandon Preserve (a 13 hole par three course)--and features some of the best designers in the business with David McLay-Kidd (Bandon Dunes); Tom Doak (Pacific Dunes) Coore & Crenshaw (Bandon Trails and Bandon Preserve); and Old Macdonald (Doak and Jim Urbina who are trying to emulate designs by C.B. Macdonald). This was the second time I had visited the resort and my brother's first. On my initial visit, I had been playing golf in California in April and saw that the weather at Bandon was perfect (atypical for April). I decided to forgo my three non-golf days in Monterey and make the nine hour drive (alone) up to Bandon. That brings me to the first of my "things to know" about Bandon Dunes:
1) The resort's policy is that your first round of the day is full price, your second is half price, and your third round of the day is free. Given sunlight allows for approximately 14 hours of play in the peak summer months, you can certainly fit three rounds into a day. On that first trip, I played Bandon, Pacific, and Old Mac in one day. I had originally planned to stay for two days and play 36 each day. However, given I had played three of the four (and knew I would be back in the future), I decided to forgo the extra day and skip Bandon Trails. In retrospect, that was a mistake because I absolutely loved Bandon Trails. I have been thinking about my favorite course on the property, and though I do not think Trails is my favorite, part of me always questions whether I am simply reluctant to deem a non-ocean course as the best course at the resort.
2) It is walking only, so bring comfy shoes and your fitbit.
3) You have to come to Bandon with the correct expectations. It is the greatest collection of public golf courses in a concentrated area in the world. The only other contender for that title is Monterey, but Bandon has four amazing courses while Pebble Beach has 2/3 (depending on how you view Spanish Bay). However, Bandon is all about golf. Pebble Beach has a five-star spa, world-class restaurants, and has a more sceney vibe. Everything Bandon does, it does perfectly, but it is not trying to be a luxury resort--it is trying to be a golf resort. The lodges are beautifully understated. No golf carts to be seen. The food is great, but you are not going to find caviar. They might have 800 dollar bottles of wine, but you don't see people drinking them. And, if you venture outside the resort, the town of Bandon has one tiny main street with a few places selling fish tacos. Otherwise, the entertainment outside the resort is nonexistent and limited to natural beauty. One place I would highly recommend at Bandon is the Bunker Bar--an underground bar with big TVs, a pool table, and, if you are into it, cigars that you can smoke while sitting in big leather chairs. Being in a cold, dark place after 12 hours in the sun and wind was such a welcomed reprieve.
4) Weather. As far as people in Bandon are concerned, rain does not exist between June and September. Outside that window, weather is a wild card. Even in the summer, though there may not be rain, there will be wind. Don't come if tough conditions can ruin your vacation--you may not enjoy it. Come with the mindset that your are playing against the golf course, not against par.
5) Related to weather is the order in which to play the courses. Everyone seemingly has a different theory on the order to play the courses, but here is mine. Two of the courses have long stretches on the ocean--Bandon and Pacific Dunes. Of course, these stretches will be windier than non-ocean holes. Most of Bandon Trails is in the forest and protected from the wind by trees. Old Macdonald is not protected by trees (in fact it is basically one big, open field), but most holes are not adjacent to the ocean. Our experience was that the wind was nearly nonexistent in the morning when on non-ocean holes, but blowing at a moderate 10 mph when on the ocean. However, in the afternoon, the wind picked up substantially. Our rounds were atypical, but, on both days, the afternoon winds were a sustained 30-40 mph (I imagine on a normal day it is closer to 15-20 mph). On our first day, we played Old Macdonald in the morning and Pacific in the afternoon. The Old Macdonald round was completely peaceful--barely a breath of wind at all and the clearest of skies. In the afternoon, Pacific was nearly unplayable--there were par threes measuring 150 yards where we were hitting drivers into gusts of 50 mph. This caused me to change the order of our rounds on the second day. Instead of playing Trails in the morning and Bandon in the afternoon, I switched the order hoping that Bandon would be still in the morning and Trails (as it is in the forest) would at least be shielded in the afternoon. This worked out perfectly. Bandon was calm in the morning and then Trails was windy in the afternoon, but manageable winds of 20 mph on most holes. After we finished on Trails we went back to the Bandon clubhouse to eat and the wind closer to the ocean was indeed whipping as strong as it was the day prior. So, my advice is the following. Play Pacific and Bandon in the mornings to minimize wind. Play Trails in the afternoon to be protected from the wind. Play Old Mac in the afternoon where the wind will likely not be tempered all that much, but, to the extent you must have one non-ideal round, I would do it on Old Mac given it is a fairly forgiving course.
6) How would I rank them overall? So hard to say. The only thing I know for sure is that Old Macdonald is last. I nonetheless loved that course, but it is simply my least favorite of the four. Bandon and Pacific are among the most scenic courses (and most fun) that you can play anywhere in the world. But there was something about Bandon Trails that made it feel different than any golf course I have played. Trails felt perfectly integrated into the land, the design was impeccable, and it had a diverse landscape. Cypress Point is amazing because it has holes in the dunes, holes in the forest, and holes on the ocean. Trails had a similar feel in that it utilized both the dunes and the forest (though it lacked the ocean). Perhaps I will get a better sense of my ranking after writing the reviews.
7) Can't wait to be back, especially if the fifth course is ultimately built!
Below are some photos highlighting the general beauty of Oregon independent of golf.
Drive from Portland to Bend.
Lake just outside of Bend.
Elk Lake just outside of Bend.
Beach near Bandon.
Drive up the coast from Bandon to Portland.