The final course we played at Bandon Dunes was Coore and Crenshaw's masterpiece that is Bandon Trails. On my prior trip, I only had time for three courses and they all looked fantastic, so I simply went based on rankings. Old Mac is rated slightly higher than Trails, so I played Old Mac. I don't know if I can say this was a mistake because all of the courses are amazing in their own ways, but I had such a fantastic round of golf on Trails, I can't believe I did not play it the first time around.
Trails has a completely different character than the other courses. It reminds me of Cypress insofar as it utilizes different terrain/ecosystems well. Cypress is famous for having six holes in the dunes, six in the forest, and six on the ocean. Trails is missing the ocean holes (had it been able to utilize some of the coastline, this course may have been able to reach the upper echelon of courses), but it does mix forest holes and dunes holes in a way that it feels like you are playing two different courses. What struck me most about the course was the peacefulness of the place. On Bandon and Pacific the wind is often howling in your ears and the ocean is begging for attention. At Trails, it just feels like you are immersed in serenity and beauty. The forest gives you cover from the wind rolling off the ocean and you just cannot help being awe struck by the beauty of this coastal forest and the plentiful wildlife you will undoubtedly see.
I normally do not really discuss how my round (or a group member's) of golf unfolded because the only thing more boring than a golf blog is a golf blog that talks about how well/poorly you played. However, I think I must make an exception. On the first three courses, my brother and I were shooting average scores that were good, but nothing amazing--usually between 80 and 85. Out of nowhere, my brother shoots 73 on Trails. Trails is indeed calmer than Bandon or Pacific with respect to the wind, but, nonetheless, on the day we played, the round started with 15-20 mph winds and the last four holes were in whipping 30 mph plus winds. It was simply one of the best rounds of golf I have witnessed. The remarkable part was that there was nothing remarkable about it--it was a round full of fairways, GIRs, and two putts. Making a ton of pars looked so easy.
I don't know if Bandon Trails was my favorite, but if I had to choose one course to play every day at Bandon, I think it would be Trails. Does that make it my favorite? I don't think so. It is how I feel about Bethpage. Love Bethpage, but do not want to play it everyday. I love Bandon and Pacific, but the conditions can make it a grind. Trails is a masterpiece and easy to enjoy. Not a bad combination right there.
Now, onto the holes.
1st--356 yard par four.
This is a visually intimidating first hole. The fairway is largely obscured by dunes and fescue, so the landing area looks much smaller than it actually is. The hole will also usually play downwind, so a driver is unnecessary and may get you into trouble. It took us a long time to find my brother's ball before locating it about 30 yards from the green, which is how we learned diver is probably not the ideal play.
Approach to first.
First green. One of the few peeks at the ocean you get on the course.
2nd--166 yard par three.
Down the hill and over the dunes to this green flanked on the right by an enormous sand dune.
Dune to the right of second green.
3rd--532 yard par five.
This is an early scoring opportunity. A wildly wide fairway and probably reachable given it usually plays downwind, is slightly downhill, and the fairway really runs.
Approach to third.
4th--363 yard par four.
After a fairly tame stretch of opening holes, I thought the fourth was a toughie. It does not appear long on the card, but it turns back into the wind. Couple that with needing to carry cross bunkers in the fairway and you are looking at a hard hole. Add to that the fact that you cannot miss the green left, right or long. I was hitting a fairway wood into this green and simply played it to twenty yards short right to leave a decent pitch and shot at par.
Approach to four.
5th--124 yard par three.
Got to love the short par three where you either hit the green or risk double bogey. The obvious mistake here is to come up short in the bunkers. If you do not take on the pin, it is an easy hole. The green is enormous and has multiple tiers. So, even if you hit it a little long, you will have a bit of a back stop to prevent you from going too far towards the back of the green. Hit it 25 feet over and take an easy par.
6th--359 yard par four.
This is a weird, tough little hole. There is a bunker in the middle of the fairway that you can try to carry. If you are not that brave you can go to the left of it quite easily, but that leaves a longer approach to a green well guarded by bunkers.
Approach to six green.
Carry it long enough on six and it will catch this steep fairway.
7th--406 yard par four.
One of the tougher holes on the course due to its length and playing uphill. You will likely have a long iron or fairway wood into a green that is well protected by by bunkers, which both my brother and I found.
Me out of the bunker on seven.
8th--299 yard par four.
Reachable par fours are always fun. Most can't hit it 299 yards, but with the right wind and firm fairways, a 270 hitter could reach it and a 250 hitter could have a short pitch in. Or lay up for a comfy wedge into the green. Though short, it requires accuracy with left presenting deadly bunkers and right somewhat less deadly bunkers.
Bunkers on left of eight.
9th--522 yard par five.
This is the hole where you really start to feel the forest infringing on the course. I had played 3.5 rounds at Bandon up until this hole and never worried about a tree, but that changed for some of the holes on the back where the forest became a hazard.
Approach to nine.
10th--393 yard par four.
Not a ton happening on this hole. Hit it to the correct yardage in the fairway and then err on the left side of the green where there is no trouble.
Approach to ten.
11th--429 yard par four.
This was a beast of a hole. Enormous waste-like bunkering down the right. Once the bunker ends, a lake begins to protect the right side. So, go left. Not only is there not much trouble on the left, but it also provides the best angle to the green. So, going right is nothing more than an unforced error, which is exactly what I did.
Approach to eleven.
Looking backwards down eleventh fairway.
12th--235 yard par three.
I don't like par threes where you have to hit three woods. A par three that wants to test distance should be 210 yards, which is a long iron or fairway wood for most. A par three that wants to be medium length should have a somewhat deadly hazard protecting the green (like the 12th at Somerset Hills). A short par three should be surrounded by pure disaster--like the 5th at Aronimink.
13th--374 yard par four.
This is a stellar hole with many notable elements. The landing area is narrower than it looks because the forest on the right that juts out into the fairway is reachable on the drive. Then you are headed to an elevated green with a deep bunker on the right and trees if you go way right.
Between the 13th and 14th greens is an area where Mike Keiser came prior to buying the property. As the story goes, this view solidified his desire to build his resort here after having scouted the world for a perfect site. I'd take it too! Ocean, forest, and dunes--three of the greatest terrains in golf.
Mike Keiser's view.
Plaque explaining Keiser's visit to this spot.
14th--306 yard par four.
Another reachable par four given how steeply downhill this hole plays. The fairway slopes severely from left to right and you may very well find yourself level with the green but thirty yards right of the green. This leaves one of the most delicate shots on the property--uphill and over deep bunkers to a shallow green. People say this hole is controversial. I can see why, but it is fun and fair. Sure, maybe you can drive it greenside and still only make a par, but it is not a poorly designed hole if people are complaining because they are making pars.
Pitch over the bunker on the right side of the green.
Looking backwards down 14th fairway.
15th--367 yard par four.
This is a stellar hole. There is a fairway cross bunker that you want to get as close to as possible. From there, the green is well protected by some scenic bunkers. Don't come up short because there is a false front and don't go long because you do not want to be above the hole.
Approach to fifteen.
16th--494 yard par five.
Did not like this hole in the slightest. The card says 494 yards, but it plays into the prevailing wind and is one of the most uphill holes I have every played (for every foot you come down on 14 you are going back up on 16). I am not sure if the course became more unprotected at this point or if the winds picked up, but we were playing this hole into a 35 mph wind. I think I hit three clubs that normally get me about 700 yards and made one of the most brutal pars of my life.
Second on sixteen.
17th--159 yard par three.
After the beast that is 16, you get a reprieve at a fairly short par three at 17. It is a tough green to hit with bunkers right, left, and long left as well as a false front. But, try to grab a par here at one of the easiest holes on the course.
18th--363 yard par four.
Big fan of this closing hole as you head back into the dunes. I think I just love the feeling of being encased in the dunes and surrounded by sand. It feels like the hole has been carved out of the land, rather than having moved land to create a golf hole.
Approach to eighteen.
Bunker left of eighteen green.
As the guidebook says, you have reached Trails end! Absolutely love this golf course and Coore & Crenshaw live up to the hype yet again. This course also made me realize how much I love dune holes. Notable courses in addition to Bandon Trails with this feature include Cypress Point, Ballybunion, and Lahinch. All are among my favorites.
If you are looking for one of the most peaceful walks in the game, head out to Bandon Trails.