In 1998, 22 years ago, a golf course by the sea opened to the paying public. It was the brainchild of Mike Keiser, who grew up in East Aurora, NY, not far from Buffalo. Keiser’s affection for traditional, sand-based golf courses was known among his traveling band of friends. That group roamed the world on a yearly basis, visiting the wondrous layouts of golf’s golden ages. The common theme was fast and firm layouts, quick play, and great fellowship.
The original layout, called Bandon Dunes, paid homage to the town of Bandon By The Sea, Oregon. Nowhere close to anywhere, many questioned the logic of building a golf resort away from everywhere. One course would be a curiosity, but in Keiser’s mind, two courses made a destination. Within three years, that second course did open. Adjacent to the north of the original layout, Pacific Dunes was designed by a separate architect and offered the same building blocks of the original: exposure to the elements; firm turf; shot options; and strategic alternatives.
Pac Dunes, as it came to be called, also introduced the golfing world to something that Keiser would never shy from: quirk. Pac Dunes offered consecutive par three holes (10 and 11), along with two greens (upper and lower) on a single hole, the 9th.
The third course, opened in 2005, did two things to set the golfing world in yet another tizzy. It moved golf at the resort away from the Pacific ocean, and it introduced the bluff (behind the 14th tee) where Mike Keiser looked out and decided that golf would work here, and that he was fully committed. A third architectural team was selected for Trails, and they returned another gem … almost. Trails traversed the dunes, an interior meadow, and the woodlands near the entry road. It was everything that Bandon and Pac were not, and it took a while for the golfing public to warm to the course. When it did, there was no turning back.
Mike Keiser felt that he owed the Trails architectural team another chance at a different property, and that chance would come at the end. However, we’re not quite there yet. Course number four debuted in 2010. Demonstrating Keiser’s sense of whimsy, the Pac Dunes team returned to craft an homage to the great architect of the early 1900s, Charles Blair Macdonald. Macdonald had championed a series of template holes found in Europe. He mastered these templates at Long Island’s National Golf Links of America, a course that always inspired Mike Keiser. The 4th course was baptized Old Macdonald, and introduced those with little knowledge of template holes to Punchbowl, Bottle, Short, Redan, and many others.
The Trails team returned to open a short course, in 2012. Bandon Preserve is the perfect 2nd course for groups that want more golf, but not enough to walk another 18. Yessir, walk. There are no golf carts at Bandon Dunes. The Preserve offers 13 of the most rollicking, enjoyable, one-shot holes you will ever experience. The best part? You can putt from tee to green on a few of them, and you might even secure that elusive, first ace.
One of the great stories at Bandon was Area 51. It was a mysterious, fabled plot of land to the north, beyond Old Macdonald. Employees claimed no knowledge of the place, and the only way to access it was to walk through the doors of Bandon Golf Supply, in town, and inquire. The course was a series of greens and fairways, roughed in by the designers of Pacific Dunes, with no specific routing. If you wanted to play from here to there one day, from there to over there the next, and from over there to here the third day, you could.
On June 1st, 2020, Mike Keiser unveiled the final course at his original property. It was the debt that he owed to the designers of Bandon Trails: the chance to build an eternal course, on as magical a place of linksland as existed in the world. The team did not disappoint. Sheep Ranch joined its flock and cemented Bandon Dunes as the single greatest golf destination on the globe. Remember what we said about quirk and whimsy? Well, given the extreme winds along 5 Mile Point, not a grain of sand inhabits the bunkers at Sheep Ranch. Hollows and hummocks roil the turf, encouraging the golfer to bound his way from tee to green.
The circle has closed, and golf is the beneficiary. Do your best to save up and schedule one trip in this lifetime to Bandon Dunes. Whether you take a caddie, push your clubs on a cart, or shoulder them, your time along the Oregon coast will be the single greatest golfing sojourn of them all.
Bandon Dunes: David Mclay Kidd
Pacific Dunes: Tom Doak
Bandon Trails: Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw
Old Macdonald: Tom Doak and Jim Urbina
Bandon Preserve: Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw
Sheep Ranch: Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw