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Sunday, December 26, 2021

Bandon Dunes Golf Resort: A Pilgrimage To America's Premier Links Courses

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.

Day 1: Pacific Dunes - Par 71 - 6,633 / 6,142 / 5,775
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.
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.

18th Hole

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.

Day 2: Old MacDonald - Par 71 6,944 / 6,320 / 5,638
Old MacDonald had a farm, kinda like a sheep ranch, but more on that later, e-i-e-i-o. 

I really liked Pacific Dunes and the wind was brutal that day, possibly tainting my opinion slightly, but I absolutely loved Old MacDonald. It is not an easy course, especially when the wind is blowing 15-20 mph like it was on Day 2 when we played.
The course looked nearly deserted when we drove up after hitting some balls over at Sheep Ranch, about a 10-minute drive away, except for the sweet young lady from Peru who greeted us warmly. Another guy arrived and was on the practice putting green, quite large, but not nearly as large or undulating as Pacific Dunes' Punch Bowl. His name was Wayne and he ended up playing with the two of us, having driven up from Monterey, California with his wife in their motorhome. Nice guy.
The starter, a semi-grumpy guy, barely said a word except 'no' when we asked if we could tee of early, considering that there was nobody else in sight. It turned out that we has on his lunch break, a poor excuse, but his demeanor was slightly, very slightly, more upbeat when his break was over and wandered over to the first tee to finally greet us. He folded after encountering my charming wit and repartee, letting us tee of a minute early.
The first hole, a short par 4 called 'Double Plateau', was, again, right into the teeth of the wind, but a relatively easy par. Hole 2, 'Eden', was also relatively straightforward, a 140-yard par 3 with a bunker on each side, protecting the green. Another easy par. Then the fun began.

Hole #3, 'Sahara', requires a tee shot just right of Old MacDonald's iconic (dead) tree and the courses symbol which sits atop a rather foreboding cliff a little over 100 yards away. You have to guess where to hit it, so I pulled out my trusty Callaway 'Heaven' (7) Wood and launched it downwind and just right of the tree, leaving me a 130-yard 9-iron to the green, about 60 to 70 feet below. Par.
The rest of the course was hilly and extremely interesting with elevated greens, elevated tees, pot bunkers scattered about, and just a few holes bordering the blue Pacific, the 7th green, 8th tee, 15th green, the entirety of 16, and the 17th tee. Hole number 5, a relatively short par-3, hence the name, 'Short', has the largest green on the course and it is brutal, reminding me of the undulations we saw on the Punch Bowl the day before
I loved the layout and found Old MacDonald quite challenging, but fair, shooting a 12-over par 83. We were having a great time!
Hoping for a better meal than the night before, we decided on the Blue Heron Bistro (review below) in Coos Bay, a German restaurant and ich liebe German food. It was well worth the drive ... HOOAH!

Day 3: Sheep Ranch - Par 72 6,636 / 6,245 5,810




Veterans can play any of the courses for $215 all year round, but Bandon Dunes does not offer a military discount in the pro shops or restaurants, even for active duty troops or those of us who are retired and subject to recall to active duty by our Commander-in-Chief at any moment, which I found a bit odd. However, $215 to play these five extraordinary courses is a relative bargain from May through October, considering that green fees range from $255 to $345 during those months. For comparison's sake, St Andrews green fees range from $33 (low season) to $115 (high season - April 20th to October 18th) on the New, Jubilee, Eden, Castle, and Strathtyrum Courses and $125 (low season) to $260 (high season) on the Old Course.

The staff at all of the courses were very pleasant and helpful and each course has a pro shop where you check-in and can purchase balls, tees clothing hats, yardage books and the like. The pro shops at Pacific Dunes, Old MacDonald, and Sheep Ranch were all rather small, strictly carrying apparel and equipment with the logo of that particular course. We were unable to access the Practice Facility and the Main Pro Shop and restaurants because of the US Amateur being played simultaneously during our visit and the need to keep the players, facilities, and staff 'inside the bubble' during the COVID-19 pandemic, so I guess we will have to go back again soon to get the full Bandon Dunes experience ... darn the luck!

Local Restaurants

Blue Heron Bistro
100 Commercial Avenue
Coos Bay, OR 97420
German, Seafood
Phone number: (541) 267-3933
Prices: $$$$

Hours on Yelp are wrong, they are open from 4pm to 8pm daily. Therefore, it is difficult to make a reservation, handy during COVID distancing requirements, because they only answer the phone during business hours.

It's a cute little place on a corner right on the main drag going south in Coos Bay. It has a Bavarian look inside and out, reminiscent of many a gästhaus I have been to in Germany. They even have a small biergarten out back with three large picnic tables.
They have a nice selection of traditional German favorites at reasonable prices. I had the Jägerschnitzel ($22), coming with a cup of goulash soup, a small salad, and bread before the main course arrives. The schnitzel was huge with a wonderful crispy batter that was light, not greasy and topped with a tasty mushroom gravy, accompanied by hot, crispy and light french fries. I normally like the more traditional fried potatoes with my schnitzel, but the fries were yummy and plentiful.

My only negative and a personal pet peeve of mine was that our entrees came out way too soon. We were not even halfway through our soup and salad when the owner arrived with our dinners. I have spent many years in the restaurant business and there is no reason the next course should arrive before the last course is finished and cleared from the table. They probably would have gotten my highest rating had they not screwed this one up.

The meal was a very good value, considering that we paid nearly the same amount we had at Foley's Pub in Bandon the night before, getting three times as much food and a much higher quality meal ... ACHTUNG!

CombatCritic Gives Blue Heron Bistro 8 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!
Eight Bombs Equates To:

Translation for Civilians: "What-The-Fuck ... Over!"

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Title: Coos Bay, Oregon: A Delicious Taste of Germany in Coos Bay 

Key Words: Coos Bay, Oregon, Blue Heron Bistro, blue, heron, bistro, German, Germany, schnitzel, Jägerschnitzel, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, hotel, accommodation, destination, product, service, business, review, Yelp, Zomato, Google, Facebook

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Foley's Irish Pub
160 Baltimore Avenue
Bandon, OR 97411
Phone number: (541) 329-2203
Prices: $$$$

There was a young barmaid named Heidi
Who greeted us and offered a pi-e
The Shepherd's was small
But Heidi was tall
And we paid too much, leaving angry.
Heidi was very nice and treated us well, but having arrived 10 minutes before posted closing, we were told that the kitchen was closed, so all we could get were a cup of Clam Chowder ($6), a slice of Shepherd's Pie ($15), and an IPA ($7.75). We didn't know the prices, having assumed by the decor that it would be fairly reasonable. It was not, having paid $70, including tip, for a cup of soup, a tiny slice of lukewarm shepherd's pie, and a decent size mug o' IPA.
How does a place close the kitchen before posted closing hours? If they are supposed to be open until 9pm, then the goddamm kitchen should not shut down until 9:01pm. With that being said, Irishman owner, Foley I assume, sat down at a nearby table around 9:30pm and polished off a plate full of Bourbon Marinated Pork Ribs and Fries ($19.95) while we ate our nearly cold shepherd's pie.
Beside being overpriced, the food was bland and not hot. From what I have seen, the city of Bandon takes advantage of its proximity to the world renowned Bandon Dunes Golf Resort where we played earlier that day (Pacific Dunes), overcharging golfers who have little choice of restaurants in the area.

CombatCritic Gives Foley's Irish Pub 3 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!
Three Bombs Equates To:
Translation for Civilians: "Situation Normal, All Fucked Up"

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Title: Bandon, OR: Second Verse, Same As The First - Tiny Pub Grub For Big Bucks

Key Words: Bandon, OR, Foley's Irish Pub, Foley's, Foley, Irish, Ireland, pub, grub, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, hotel, accommodation, destination, product, service, business, review, Yelp, Zomato, TripAdvisor, Google, Facebook

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Airbnb Helen's Place

Entire Cottage - 1BR / 1 BA, Pull-Out Sofa, Kitchen
5 Minute Drive from Bandon Dunes Golf Resort
Price: $$$$

The cottage was rustic, but very nice and the proximity to Bandon Dunes was a big plus, just a five minute drive from the main clubhouse. The king size bed was very comfy and the kitchen/bathroom were well equipped for a short stay. The highlight of our stay was Peanut, the host’s sweet kitty who greeted us on arrival and stopped by to say hi throughout our stay.
It's the little things that make a host a Super Host, so here are some of the constructive suggestions I offered our hosts ...
Travelers assign 5-star ratings far too easily and do a disservice to subsequent travelers by not being honest. I have a popular travel website and owe it to my 80,000 readers each and every year to be completely honest, otherwise they would not return. Honesty and integrity are my top two core values, so I have to be truthful no matter what.
I travel all over the world and have stayed in many Airbnb's. Helen’s partner, Eddy, gave us a nice welcome, but Helen never introduced herself, even when I went to the door to find out where the sheets for the fold-out couch were. 

Many hosts leave a personal welcome note and something that shows that they are glad we are staying with them such as a bottle of inexpensive wine, homemade cookies, chocolates, coffee/creamers/Keurig/sweeteners and the like. Our welcome was just a single coffee filter and a bag of coffee beans (no grinder), so we had to go out and buy 200 filters and a bag of ground coffee. 
Finally, one or both of them could have come out on the morning we were leaving to say goodbye and thank us for staying with them, and paying $315 for 2 nights, but that did not happen.
As I said, I don't bring these things up to be mean or to insult the hosts, I'm hoping to help them become better hosts by offering some small suggestions to make future guests feel more welcome and appreciated, therefore enhancing the value of their accommodation.
We rarely pay more than $75 per night on Airbnb's and I'm talking about nice, private apartments in central London, Paris, Lyon, Lisbon, and Tel Aviv, just to name a few. At over $150 per night, I was not overly impressed by the cottage, but I think Bandon locals are taking advantage of tourists/golfers in general because this was actually one of the cheaper places in the area. 

CombatCritic Gives Helen's Place A Very Respectable 6 Out Of 10 Bombs, Leaving Room For Improvement ... More Bombs Are Better!

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Title: Bandon Dunes Golf Resort: My Pilgrimage To America's Best Links Courses

Key Words: Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, pilgrimage, links golf, course, Bandon, Pacific, dunes, OldMacDonald, sheep, ranch, resort, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, hotel, accommodation, destination, product, service, business, review, Yelp, Zomato, TripAdvisor, Google, Facebook

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