My group arrived at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in the evening and were scheduled to start playing the next morning on Pacific Dunes. More than half our group was here for the first time and all of us were extremely excited as we walked out of McKee’s Pub that night after dinner. On the way back to our rooms we discussed the forecast for bad weather and hoped that as usual the weather predictors would be wrong. Back at our room we finally settled down and went to bed like anxious kids on Christmas Eve with visions of birdies dancing in our heads.
The next morning we rose from our slumber to hear the steady pounding of rain on the roof of Chrome Lake Lodge . . . when I say pounding I mean serious pounding. I thought maybe it sounded more serious than it really was, so I opened the front door to take a look outside. I was wrong. It was every bit as bad as it sounded and possibly worse. It looks like all that time I spent researching weather websites to determine the time of year with the least amount of rainfall may as well have been spent swinging my driver in the shower. Oh well.
After a quick breakfast we decided that we were going to try to get our morning round in despite the “inclement” weather. I mean, we all have rain gear, so we should be able to handle this, right?
Pacific Dunes was the second golf course built at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and it could be safely stated that the course held the spot of “fan favorite” from 2001 through 2010 while the resort had only two and then three courses. With a fourth course now open and the praise being showered upon it, I will be interested to see if Pacific Dunes retains its spot as the favorite of the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort courses. Time will tell so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Pacific Dunes is the first solo Tom Doak course that I’ve had the pleasure to play and clearly this man knows his stuff. The use of the land and the routing of the course is phenomenal. Doak didn’t just break every rule in the book, he rewrote the book in a completely different language. The first nine holes at Pac Dunes play to a par of 36 and consist of seven par 4 holes with only one par 3 and one par 5. Unconventional, but not completely off the charts. The second nine holes is where things get really interesting. The par is 35 and the layout is comprised of four par 3s, three par 5s and two par 4s. On top of that, two of the par 3 holes (#10 and #11) are consecutive! This type of audacious move was pretty bold for a guy who at the time was still a virtual unknown to much of the golf world. Evidently Doak had no doubt in his mind what was required to optimize the land for golf and I suspect he worked hard to convince Mike Keiser, the owner of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort that it was OK to color outside the lines. Kudos to Mr. Keiser for having the confidence to trust Doak and really let him run. That’s a pretty courageous move for a course owner.
So, when the shuttle dropped us off at the Pacific Dunes clubhouse we were a little surprised to find that we were the only people there. A little surprised, but maybe not a whole lot. One of the members of the staff informed us that the wind was blowing a steady 50 mph with gusts reaching velocities quite a bit higher and there was no end to the rain in sight. Were we really sure we wanted to go out? Despite the resort’s policy of not giving refunds if the course is open the word on the street was that refunds were indeed being issued because the weather was SO bad. What fun is a refund anyway????
So with no one in front of us our group of 5 headed out into the elements. The airline had managed to lose Fred’s clubs and suitcase, so he stayed back at the lodge and we didn’t even make fun of him one bit . . . some of us may have even been a little jealous and wished we had a nice easy excuse like his to stay warm and dry. We split up into a 3 ball and a 2 ball and sent the three guys who were carrying their own bags off first. Rob, his caddie John, my caddie Gerard and I went off directly after them. I had been referred to Gerard by a friend and arranged for him to be my caddie for the full three days with a simple email to the resort’s caddie master. Right about this time I suppose Gerard was wondering just what he’d gotten himself into by taking a job with a barking mad nutcase willing to play in 50 mph winds and a torrential downpour. Too late to change your mind now!! So away we went decked out in our rain jackets, rain pants and rain gloves.
I had done some research on Bandon Dunes Golf Resort before I arrived, but I what I read didn’t really sink in until I actually walked the first hole of Pacific Dunes. The fairway was a greenish brown fescue grass that I’m not really sure I had ever seen before and while it was closely mown and well maintained it was nothing like the highly manicured and primped courses I’m used to seeing back on the East Coast. I was also amazed by the hardness of the ground. It was pouring rain, every thing was soaked, yet the ground was still hard enough that the ball bounced! Very interesting. Lets see about these greens. What the??? . . . There is no collar, no fringe, no froghair??? How in the heck do you know where the fairway stops and the green starts?? Now that I think about it, what difference does that even make? All that material I read is starting to make sense. I think I’m going to like this.
Unfortunately there will be no photos of Pacific Dunes. As you may remember this little golf course architecture epiphany is taking place in midst of a howling rainstorm the likes of which I have never personally experienced. I bought a brand new camera just for this trip and I wasn’t about to pull it out in these conditions that would likely 1. not result in any good photos or 2. break the dang thing. Digital cameras and rain are not a good combination as discovered by one of the guys in our group who put his camera in his golf bag and forgot about it until we got back to the room and it was too late to save it. (Editors Note: Click HERE to see photos from another visit where I had better weather)
So back to the course . . . Rob and I were playing as a 2 ball and Jason, Brian and Tate had gone ahead as a 3 ball. After the 3rd hole we never saw them again. I didn’t know if they had given up and gone back in or if they had blown off a cliff, but I didn’t really worry about it as I was just trying to survive myself. On a scale of 1 to 10 I think I can safely say that the conditions we were battling out there were a 1 . . . maybe worse. It was absolutely brutal. Luckily for me, the week before leaving I had spend a fair bit of time on the practice tee at home developing a low stinger shot with my driver. Clearly it is no comparison to Tiger Wood’s 3 wood stinger but it sure came in handy here as I was able to hit my drives much lower to the ground than normal which made them pretty effective. Poor Rob has a long backswing and hits a REALLY high ball off the tee. Needless to say he struggled on this day. There was one hole where he hit his typical high ball with a slight fade on it and the left to right wind pushed it so far to the right I think it may have come down behind the tee box.
Another story to reiterate how strong the wind was came on the 14th hole, a par 3. I’d been hitting knock downs and bump and runs all day to battle the wind, but here Gerard suggested I hit a normal golf shot just to see how much the wind affected it. He determined that the distance was 110 to the flag, so he handed me my 5 iron. I said “You know, I hit this club 185.” His response “You might hit the front of the green”. He was dead right. I hit that 5 iron as perfectly as I could and the ball climbed in the air until it reached the top of its arch and then it just came to a dead stop and fell straight down, right on the front of the green as Gerard predicted. For 110 yards I would have usually hit a sand wedge so we basically were playing in a 7 club wind. Good times.
So what ever happened to the guys in front of us?? Did we find the bodies on the beach or were they washed out to sea? Turns out that Brian and Tate quit playing after 3 holes and Jason put his head down and worked his way around the course as fast as possible. There was definitely not anyone in front of him so he was able to move as fast as he liked. The reason the other two guys went in is because they simply didn’t have effective rain gear. They had packed their rain jackets which were basically water repellent wind breakers. These may work just fine in the type of rains we play in on the East Coast, but they will do you NO GOOD in Bandon, OR. High quality rain gear is an absolute must here. The wind pushes the rain right through your jacket, so even with a really nice gore-tex jacket you are still bound to get a little wet. Needless to say Brian and Tate bought new rain jackets while they were there and were much happier for the rest of the trip. The pro shops at Bandon must expect this and are stocked with excellent foul weather gear.
I did manage to get in a second round at Pacific Dunes before we left which is fortunate because truth be told the conditions for my first game there were so miserable that I really didn’t get to see the features of the course or even get a feel for the way to play it. For our second round on a scale of 1 to 10 I would say the conditions were about a 3. The wind was blowing, but not nearly as strong and we had a steady rain all day. Overall though the conditions were much more benign and I was able to play it more the way it was intended to be played. Despite the rain and wind the second day I managed to play pretty well. Several people had predicted that I would finally break 80 here and there was still a chance for me to do it halfway through the second nine holes. Alas, I choked coming down the stretch and put up double bogies on 15 and 17 to miss my mark by 4 strokes. Oh well, maybe another day.
To sum up, Pacific Dunes is beyond belief. It’s incredible and I loved it. My first game there was an eye opening experience from a golf course architecture standpoint and left me with a completely new appreciation for true links style golf. I look forward to continuing my education.