by Chris Sorrentino
August 20th, 2020
There are pilgrimages like those catholics take, I am a catholic by the way, three of the most important being Lourdes, France; Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzogovina; and Fatima, Portugal; all Marian Shrines (shrines marking an apparition or other miracle ascribed to the Blessed Virgin Mary) and all of which my wife and I have visited. But this is not about Catholicism or religion, although some might think that golf is a religion, it is about a pilgrimage that I recently took to Bandon Dunes Golf Resort on the Pacific Ocean just north of Bandon, Oregon.
Golf pilgrimages also take place, one of the most sought after and elite being St Andrews Link's 'Old Course' in St Andrews, Scotland. I made the pilgrimage to St.Andrews in May of 1998 just before departing from my military assignment in England for my next job at NATO's Southern Region Headquarters in Naples, Italy.
I played the other three less well known St Andrews courses, the 'New Course' (1898), 'Jubilee', and 'Eden', the first three days of that trip, paying about $100 total (unlimited 3-day tickets currently cost between $125 and $300) and playing/walking 36 holes a day as there are no carts, aka 'buggies', at St Andrews.
On the fourth day, I joined a threesome on the 1st tee - 'Burn' - of the Old Course for an experience I would never forget. Teeing off on Burn in front of hundreds of onlookers was nerve-racking and playing the same holes I have seen Nicklaus, Watson and many other of my heroes play on TV over the years was sublime. After paring the infamous 17th 'Road Hole', I walked over Swilcan Bridge and up the 18th fairway, the 'Tom Morris' hole, toward the historic clubhouse and the huge green surrounded by a gallery of hundreds made me feel like a PGA pro on a Sunday afternoon. I shot an 85 from the tips and did not lose a single ball that day, although the weather was rather mild for that time of year. The next day I was humbled and stumbled, shooting a 99 at Carnoustie (aka Car-nasty), located just 26 miles northeast of St Andrews.
I have played several other great and historic courses over the years, including Torrey Pines (South and North) on numerous occasions ; Cog Hill (Chicago); Mission Hills (Palm Springs), Princeville (Kauai); and Pecan Valley (San Antonio), but I have been dying to play Bandon Dunes because I absolutely love links courses.
As a member of the Oregon Golf Association (OGA), I found out about a 'special' which Bandon Dunes was offering during the US Amateur (August 10-16, 2020 - Bandon Dunes and Bandon Trails courses) on the three courses not included in the USGA tournament: Pacific Dunes, Old MacDonald, and Sheep Ranch. Green fees this time of year normally go for well over $300, $345 to be exact, but the special green fee offer was for only $155 per round, a 55% savings ... HOOAH!
My golf buddy, former caddy master at Bandon Dunes, Doug and I, made our reservation for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, August 10th through 12th, playing Pacific Dunes the first day, OldMacDonald the second, and Sheep ranch the third. I also made an Airbnb reservation for a cottage just one mile from the resort which I was also describe briefly later.
We drove from Portland, about 4.5 hours southwest, arriving at 1:00 pm to get acquainted with the resort and warm-up. Unfortunately, their infamous Practice Center, approximately 50 acres in size, which has two full practice ranges - one for hitting north and one for hitting south - a one-acre practice green, and two short game practice areas (Day Guest Passes are just $10), was closed for the US Amateur. We were told that the only other practice range was out at Sheep Ranch, the furthest course from Pacific Dunes, so we decided to bypass warming-up, big mistake, and headed over to the equally acclaimed Punch Bowl putting area, a massive 18 hole putting-only course with tee markers, large bumps and deep swails, and plenty of frustration. Do not fret though, the actual greens are treacherous in the own right, but not nearly as sadistic as Punch Bowl.
The wind was blowing out of the north at 25-30 mph, sustained, all day, so the rather short par-4 1st hole was playing close to 400 yards. The holes going north were playing two to three clubs longer and the ones going south were one to two clubs shorter. All of the holes at Pacific Dunes run parallel to the ocean, so there were relatively few cross wind shots unless you put yourself in that position to the green.
All of the holes are surrounded by sand dunes, long native grasses, the odd tree of bush, and loads of gorse with four holes, 10 and 11 heading north and 4 and 13 heading south, nestled atop the steep cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The fairways are relatively wide, but the natural undulations of this links course can toss your ball into one of the many bunkers and other hazards along the way, even on the best shots.
Some of the bunkers are so deep and treacherous that you are better off taking an unplayable lie, biting the bullet by taking the penalty stroke and saving yourself even more frustration and a much higher score. There are also numerous tiny bunkers scattered about, making for challenges to your backswing and/or follow-through, so prudence might require you to pitch out sideways or backward rather than advancing your ball toward the hole.
The undulating fairways and numerous hazards require a plan, but there are relatively few blind shots on this course, so what you see is pretty much what you get. You definitely need a caddy at St Andrews because of all of the blind tee shots, but we did not hire caddies at any of the three courses we played and did just fine. Some advance planning will do you good as there are detailed descriptions, photos, and yardage on their website for all holes or you can purchase yardage books for all five courses at $10 each or $40 for all five, money well spent in my opinion unless you happen to have a former Bandon Dunes caddy master playing with you.
You will almost always have a good lie if you find the fairway although you will likely have a side-hill lie of one sort or another. The fairways are firm and consistent throughout all five courses, but do not expect thick, lush, green grass because this is a links course and plenty of roll on the fairways is part of the challenge and fun.
14th Tee - 119 Yards
The greens are massive and fast, some with large undulations, but most with subtle breaks, so distance control and good lag putting will do you well. I am a decent putter, averaging 1.85 putts per hole, and I had little difficulty reading greens and hitting good lag puts. You may even find yourself so far away from the hole on these massive greens that only a chip will get you close to the hole. The greens have no collars because the grass on the greens is the same grass and mowed to the same height as the fairways, so your Texas wedge may very well be your best option around the greens rather than risking chunking a pitch or chip to a tight pin. Finally, the greens are so fast that the wind does affect the ball, so make sure to add another 10% to 20% more oomph into the wind, and vice versa, as well as taking it into consideration on the break in sidewinds. Good luck!
In all, the views at Pacific Dunes are incredible, the land rough and rugged, but beautiful, and the course very challenging, but fair, unless the weather fails to cooperate as it did on this day. I play to a 13-handicap and floundered on the front nine, partially because of the headwinds on five of the nine holes (1,2,3,6, and 8), but mostly because I teed-off without striking a ball and understanding what I had to work with that day. I shot a 14-over par 50 on the front nine, but finally found my game on the back, shooting a 7-over par 42 for a total score of 92. I was not displeased with that score considering the difficulty of the course and the wind we had to contend with all day.
Afterward, we went over to our Airbnb (review below) a five minute drive away, checked-in, shot the shit with Eddy, our host, also a very nice guy, and jumped in the car to go and get a bite to eat. It was nearly 8:30pm when we headed out, so by the time we got to Bandon it was almost 8:45 and not much was open. After considering going to the market and buying sandwich makings, we decided on Foley's Irish Pub (review also below) and they were closing in about 10 minutes. We should have made sandwiches, I will leave it at that.