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The Ultimate Golfer's Getaway

A trio of courses on the Oregon coast— Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes and Bandon Trails—are a golfer's paradise in the middle of nowhere
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Emeril Lagasse, Sept/Oct 2005

(continued from page 1)

What Keiser has clearly done is touch the soul of American golf by connecting it to its Scottish heritage. He hired a 27-year-old Scotsman, David Macklay Kidd, as the architect of Bandon Dunes. He wanted as authentic a Scottish course as he could get. He contracted Tom Doak, the famed American minimalist architect, to build the Pacific Dunes course, which has more of an Irish links feel to it. He brought in Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, whose classical work has received accolades, to design the Bandon Trails course. The courses were built using small machinery and a lot of handwork by local laborers and the architects themselves. Mike Keiser found Bandon Dunes, and his architects, with Keiser as the angel (or the devil) on their shoulders, found America's truest links experience.

It's also one of America's purest guy experiences, outside of more unusual pursuits such as cattle driving, monster-truck racing and alligator wrestling. "We certainly don't discourage women at all," says golf operations director and assistant general manager Matt Allen. "About 91 percent of our play is men, nine percent women. This is a golf resort. We don't have a pool, we don't have a spa, no tennis courts. You come here to play golf and then meet with friends in our restaurants and bars for the camaraderie. The men who play are rabid about the game. Those women who do come are very serious about it, too. And while we don't have a spa, we have two massage rooms that are kept pretty busy. It's mostly deep-tissue, golf-specific massage that keeps players going. In the better weather months we get a lot of players wanting to go 36 holes a day, and the availability of massage helps them with that."

Peter Smola and his sons Neil, 20, and Greg, 23, made the trek to Bandon Dunes from South Dartmouth, Massachusetts. They had been talking about a golf trip, one that was different from the previous family vacations. "We had been to Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach, and were looking for something different," says Peter Smola. "I was very intrigued by what I had been reading about Bandon Dunes. I saw it as a real golfer's thing, and it was a great experience. I was taken aback a bit by the rural-ness of it. The boys loved it, loved having the three of us together playing this kind of golf. I'm a sort of traditionalist anyway. We belong to the Plymouth Country Club, which is a Donald Ross course. I could play these courses over and over again."

You play the Bandon Dunes courses walking, either with a caddie, a trolley or the bag slung over your shoulder. There are no carts, but there is likely the biggest caddie pool in the country and possibly the world, more than 300 of them now that the new course is open. Most of the caddies come from the surrounding area and some migrate from out of state. At about $75 per bag and two loops a day, there is some decent money to be made. "When you go to Scotland or Ireland, where the old links courses really don't have carts, you realize how much walking is part of the whole experience," says Keiser. "I personally think the experience of playing with a caddie is a great one and is so much a part of the traditional game."

There's no question, from the starter's orders on the first tee, that you are playing the traditional game.

"We'd like to maintain a pace of play at four hours and ten minutes," he'll say.

"We'd like you to play ready golf. Two balls in the air at the same time is OK," he'll say.

"You might see a player ahead of you rolling his trolley across the green or a tee. That's OK," he'll say.

The first course you should play is Bandon Dunes. Kidd, its designer, is the son of the greenskeeper at the Gleneagles Golf Club in Scotland. If you have any experience playing links golf in the old country, then you will immediately feel at home. It has the look, the shape and the feel of links golf, and is the kind of course that is found rather than created. Its Scottish look is enhanced by the use of stacked sod bunker faces. There is very little exposed sand on the course.

After an inland opening three holes, the course dives for the ocean on the par-4 fourth hole, perfectly routed through low dune ridges to a green that's a balcony to the Pacific. The long par-4 fifth plays along the cliff line to the north, the tee shot needing to negotiate a series of bunkers that pock the fairway. The second shot is to a narrow green in an amphitheater created by surrounding dunes with thickets of gorse menacing the wayward shot. With the wind fresh off the Pacific, there's a sense of arrival on the fifth hole, that while there is still a lot of golf to be played, the long journey to get to Bandon has been worth every minute.

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