Bandon and Pacific Dunes are the courses that draw people to Bandon with their mesmerizing vistas. But, if it's those courses that draw people, it might be Old Mac or Bandon Trails that people find themselves thinking about when daydreaming at their desks a few weeks later. Our playing partner on Pacific Dunes told us that this was his fifth year in a row coming to Bandon (from Texas). When we asked him his favorite course, he said Old Mac.
Part of the appeal of Old Mac is that it is fun and forgiving, but nonetheless challenging. It is a par 71, but only 6300 yards. The front has three par threes and one par five while the back has one par three and two par fives. Not only is it short, it is pretty wide open. It has the feel of some Scottish golf courses where it looks like you are hitting into vasts open fields. Not only are the fairways huge, so are the greens--they outsize those of St. Andrews. Don't think that the course is a pushover because of its length and enormous greens. There are some extraordinarily penal bunkers and, though it may be easy to get on the greens, two putting them is usually a challenge--you will likely find yourself with numerous 70 foot putts up tiers, down tiers, and through swales. Feel free to grip it and rip it from the tee, but expect to be shaking your head on the greens all day.
The idea behind Old Mac is to pay homage to C.B. Macdonald. In doing so, Doak and Urbina designed the course using features that incorporate elements from some of Macdonald's greatest holes, including biarrrtiz, punchbowl, and redan greens.
Weather conditions aside (which I discuss in my Bandon Dunes post), I think you should play Old Mac first among the four courses. Warm up your swing on a forgiving course, get the feel of the greens, get peaks at the ocean that will leave you wanting more, and, most importantly, have a blast.
Now, onto the holes.
The first is a 304 yard par four. Nice easy start to the round. Just make sure that you don't hit it too far on a dry day otherwise your drive may wind up in the bunkers near the green.
The second is a 162 yard par three with a green that has a back-to-front pitch. If the pin is in the back, be sure to have enough club to get it all the way up that green. If in the front, don't go too long, otherwise it is a tough putt down that pitched green. Though the green is tough, what is scary from the tee is the cavernous bunker on the front right.
Slope of second green.
The third--a 345 yard par four--is a fun hole. The tee shot is blind over a hill with the tree as the aiming point. After going over the hill, your ball with bound down a steeply sloped fairway.
Approach to three from middle of contoured fairway.
The fourth is one of the hardest holes on the course--a 472 yard par four. A straight drive is critical because it will get you over the hill, at which point your ball will shoot off the hill and get extra yards in order to help on this long par four. If you go right, you will not clear the hill and fall into a swale that will leave you a long, blind shot into this hole. I went right, hit a layup iron to leave myself a short wedge into the green, hit that wedge over the green, and then holed a 40 yard chip for par. Nice little memory there.
The fifth--a 134 yard par three--is the shortest on the course and has an enormous green, so you should be able to get that GIR. But, unless you are on the correct portion of this huge green, which has numerous plateaus and ridges, you may very well walk away with a bogey.
Brother on fifth tee.
Six, the longest hole on the course at 520 yards, is named......Long. The main feature of this hole is an enormous cross bunker that sits 100 yards from the green, which I hit.
Me hitting out of the cross bunker.
The seventh is a 304 yard par four. Bunkers on the left can catch your drive, but feel free to lay up a bit given it is only 304 yards. The approach is up a significant hill, but, there is a great view awaiting you at the top. This was our first peak of the ocean (from a golf course) at the resort--pretty sweet.
Approach to seven.
Always nice to have birdie putts, but a lot better when you get to stare at that view.
Looking down the coast from behind the seventh green.
The eighth is a fun hole--170 yards down hill with a biarritz green. Unfortunately, I was too preoccupied with by bunker shot to snap a photo of the green. Next time (as I am writing this two months after going to Bandon, I am longing to go back)!
The ninth is a 352 yard par four that doglegs right. Bunkers and gorse protect the right, so you can't cut as much off as you may like.
Approach to nine.
The tenth is a 440 yard par four with a bunker directly in the middle of the fairway. Avoid that and then ensure that your approach gets up to the slightly elevated green.
Fairway bunker on ten.
Mounds protecting the front of ten.
The 399 yard eleventh has the road hole-esque bunker. We each had to give it a whirl since we have not made our way to St. Andrews yet.
Bunker on eleven. My brother tried to putt it from here about 4 times before getting it within six feet.
The twelfth is a 205 yard par three with your typical redan green setup--front right to back left green with a front left bunker.
The thirteenth is a 319 yard par four with a ludicrous green. The back left of the green has an enormous mound in it. It is effectively not part of the green because there is no way a ball would ever stop on it. Feel free to land the ball on this left mound and let it feed back right. But, if you go too far left and hit the rough on the left, good luck getting it near the pin with your chip (I was in that position and failed miserably).
Approach to thirteen and you can make out how the left side is elevated. Unfortunately, I was too preoccupied with my insane shot from that left hill to take a picture of the sloped green.
The fourteenth is a 297 yard uphill par four with wildly deep bunkers up the left. The green is bisected by a large ridge, so it is important to be on the correct side of that, otherwise a three putt is more likely than not.
Bunkers left on fourteen.
The 482 yard par five fifteenth is one you can go for in two, as the green's only protection is a bunker short right.
Approach to fifteen.
I don't even know how to describe the 433 yard par four sixteenth. It is certainly among the hardest on the course. From the tee, you can see a mound in the distance, which is your line because the green is over the right portion of the mound (unless you hit the right side of the fairway, you will have a blind second). I did have a blind second and had no idea where the green was. But, once I went over that mound, I realized how cool the hole was.
The sixteenth tee. The mound in the distance on the left gives you an idea of where the green is.
Approach to sixteen.
And finally.....there is the sixteenth green.
The seventeenth--a 515 yard par five--is a good penultimate hole. It gives someone a good scoring opportunity to make up ground in a match, but, if played poorly, it can end a match, as it did for my brother after his drive found the fairway bunker (the entire hole is a minefield of bunkers).
One of the many bunkers on seventeen--you can see the pin sitting just beyond the bunker.
The eighteenth is a 426 yard straightaway par four with a punchbowl green protected by a large mound in the front.
Approach to eighteen.
Old Mac has it all--some great views, wild greens, potentially disastrous bunkers, good template holes, and undulating fairways. I love Old Mac because it is the rare combination of a fun golf course and a world class one. There are plenty of championship courses that are great courses, but are really hard to play where you get beat up all day. I tend to enjoy courses where the difficulty comes with the greens because low scores are hard, but ballooned scores are unlikely. Like I said, I think Old Mac is a great way to ease into your Bandon trip.