The fourth hole at Bandon Crossings features an elevated tee and waste area to hit over, adding to the character of the new course. - Bandon Crossings

No cross to bear

Rex and Carla Smith enjoyed their vacation home on the Southern Oregon coast, but the Eugene residents were frustrated by a dearth of quality, affordable golf.

Bandon Dunes Resort is world-renowned but would be pricey to play on a regular basis.

So the Smiths did something about it. They built their own course.

Bandon Crossings opened this week at the southern end of town and appears to have exceeded the expectations of everyone involved, from the Smiths to designer Dan Hixson to players fortunate enough to have already tested it.

"It's going to be an attraction unto itself once people go over and see it," said Ashland's D.L. Richardson, who was on the first tee on opening day Wednesday and met Hixson, who greeted each group. "I just think it's a special course."

It's the first 18-hole course built by Hixson, a Portlander who has some ties to Medford. He's mostly worked on remodels, including redoing a couple of tee boxes at Quail Point. Prior to that, he was in line to design Centennial before it was turned over to John Fought.

Richardson's sentiments were echoed by Franklin and Laraine Corbin of Jacksonville, who made it a point to be among the first on the tee sheet. A shoulder separation suffered by Franklin two weeks prior threatened their plans, but he was intent on playing.

"I see it as a great complement to Bandon Dunes," said Franklin. "It's a third of the cost and a great golf course right next to those guys. They'll (Crossings) probably get a lot of secondary play from people who fly into Bandon but, man, for the money, they've got a winner. It's very diverse. That's what makes it."

Bandon Crossings costs $70 for 18 holes, and carts are available. Bandon Dunes costs $250 for those not staying at the resort and doesn't allow carts.

The new course was carved out of a 340-acre piece of property the Smiths bought 21/2 years ago. It was only in June 2005 that Hixson signed on, meaning the entire project was completed in a what amounts to a blur.

Richardson drove around the property with a friend after it was staked out in 2006 and marvels at how it came together in such short time.

"The greens are new but are holding," he said. "You can hear the ball hit the green. It looks like it's been there for years. It's really a well-designed and well-manicured course."

Located on the east side of the coast highway, there aren't any holes on the ocean, which gives the course a feel similar to Bandon Trails — the third offering at the resort. Being a mile or so inland serves as a buffer against the wind, though it will blow there, too.

The first five holes are in the course's north section, which used to be a cattle ranch and is open and features gently sloping terrain. At the sixth hole, a 200-yard-plus par 3, the course turns into woodlands and stays there until No. 14 ushers players back to the north section.

The layout is such that you never feel like you're playing a series of look-alike holes.

Some turn left, others right. There are waste areas to be hit over or to lay up short of, and you'll find the occasional bunker in the middle of a fairway.

"It seemed to be a good test for just about any skill level," said Corbin.

He noted an interesting feature of the course: back-to-back par 5s on both the front and back nines.

"I love that," he said. "I see par 5s as a way to score and get your game back."

His favorite hole was the fifth, a par 5 with a blind tee shot over a ridge that then funnels to a downhill green.

Richardson found the meat of the course to be in the wooded section, where scoring is more difficult than at the beginning and finishing holes.

"You need to make sure you keep the ball in play," he said, "then it eases up on you some and you can come out of it without being too scarred up."

He liked that it finishes with a par 5, which proved to be a bear of a hole into the wind and with a waste area that, if not cleared on the second shot, leaves a 200-yard approach to a downhill green.

My own trip around the course was unique, occurring Monday. I was the only player on a course yet to be opened. It was a bit surreal and really struck me on the third hole. For the first time, I hit a bunker. For the first time, I used an expletive and realized no one was there to hear it. For the first time, I dropped another ball to hit the approach again, knowing I could do better. For the first time, I blasted a bunker shot over the green and into the woods. For the second time, I used an expletive.

That rendered my scorecard defunct.

The pro, Mark Fiore, who is most recently from Aspen Lakes in Bend but also has worked at Pumpkin Ridge, Turtle Bay and Cherry Hills, among other courses, drove by me in a cart on the sixth hole. I was picking up two tee shots that came up short on the long par 3 and heading for the green, where two more of my balls were.

"I'm not doing this on every hole," I told him, somewhat sheepishly.

He smiled and shrugged, "You can."

At the eighth hole, Hixson and contractor Tony Russell, who is regarded as a magician with an excavator and worked on all three Bandon Dunes courses, pulled up.

We were a few steps from the ninth hole, a par 3 on the back edge of the property which now is easily accessible. That's in contrast to when they first routed the course through trees and brush thickets.

"We kept trying to find it through the brush," said Hixson, referring to the hole they envisioned, "but we kept coming out somewhere else."

"That was a nightmare," laughed Russell.

During our conversation, Hixson said a group from Oregon State had come out for a preview of the course and, when polled, they had 11 "favorite" holes. That's a good thing.

Hixson's favorite is the par-3 11th, which starts with a slightly elevated tee shot into a potato-chip green with a high ridge on the right and a tough bunker short left.

Myself, I couldn't settle on one hole I liked best. All of them were appealing. I was struck by the character of the par 3s as a group and the variety of the layout as a whole.

The greens weren't fast, but that's likely by design because there's a lot of undulation in them. Speeding them up would eliminate pin placements.

Overall, it's a very playable, interesting, fun course that won't break the bank.

And that's what the Smiths were after all along.

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