Golf: Dunes Trilogy

  • Bruce Wallin

George Bennett, an ambitious immigrant from Bandon, Ireland, arrived on Oregon’s southern coast in 1873. Within a year, he had settled in a small village at the mouth of the Coquille River and renamed the community after his hometown in County Cork. Indeed, the area’s dank climate and windswept sand hills were not unlike those of the British Isles, and Bennett augmented the resemblance by importing gorse—a dense, spiny, nearly impenetrable evergreen shrub—and planting it among the dunes north of town.

Amid this contoured terrain, some 125 years later, Chicago businessman Mike Keiser built Bandon Dunes, a golf resort fashioned after traditional Scottish and Irish clubs. Keiser hired David McLay Kidd, a 27-year-old, relatively unknown Scotsman, to design the resort’s eponymous, links-style layout, which opened in 1999 to immediate and effusive acclaim. The resort’s second course, the Tom Doak–designed Pacific Dunes, premiered the next year to even greater accolades, and both routes now rank among the world’s top golf courses.
 
Following his success with Bandon and Pacific Dunes, Keiser enlisted Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, designers of the Sand Hills Golf Club in northern Nebraska and the Kapalua Plantation on Maui, to build his resort’s third course. Unlike Kidd and Doak, whose much-lauded layouts occupy sandy, gorse-lined coastal cliffs, Coore and Crenshaw would not have an oceanfront location with which to work. Keiser had set aside an inland, forested stretch on the southeastern portion of his 2,000-acre property. “Originally, Mike wanted all 18 holes in the woodlands,” recalls Coore, who has worked with two-time Masters champion Crenshaw for nearly 20 years. “After walking around the area, we decided that you could find a site like that in almost any state in America. It felt like the dunes had to be a part of it. This is Bandon Dunes, and folks expect that terrain to be part of the experience.”
 
Coore and Crenshaw convinced Keiser to extend the parcel to an area west of the woodlands. Their course’s final site incorporates the original tract, a forested ridge, a sprawling meadow, and a patch of inland dunes, and Bandon Trails, which opened on June 1, navigates the various environments in a seamless and spectacular fashion.
 
Like its predecessors, Bandon Trails begins and ends amid the dunes, but the course offers a vastly different experience in between. The first sign of the Trails’ distinction appears on the par-3 second hole, where a stand of trees—a feature nonexistent on either of the barren Dunes layouts—lines the left side of the green. The pines become more prevalent along the fairway of the third hole, the first of four that play through the Trails’ relatively flat meadow terrain.
 
On the par-4 seventh hole, the Trails rises from the meadow into the woodlands, where it remains before culminating at the 14th tee on a forested ridge with ocean, mountain, and city-of-Bandon views. The resort’s famously sandy soil reappears on the 17th hole, but not until 18, a challenging, 399-yard par-4, do the dunes return as the dominant feature.
 
Beyond a brief spell in the sand, the Trails shares with its predecessors a policy that prohibits golf carts. However, according to Coore, the similarities essentially end there. “I cannot think of any place that I’ve ever been or ever heard of where there are three courses that are so dramatically different.”

One of the most noticeable differences between the Trails and the other Bandon courses is the lack of gorse along its fairways. Although some golfers may bemoan the absence of Bennett’s beloved plant, most are sure to enjoy their walk through the pines as much—if not more—than their time on the Dunes.

Bandon Dunes Golf Resort
888.345.6008
www.bandondunesgolf.com

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