Beauty abounds at Bandon Dunes

BANDON — The first question my caddie asked was this: "How's your ball flight?"

Instantly I knew this would be nothing like I've encountered in 15 years of golf. I have played desert courses in Arizona such as Starr Pass, the lakeside Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, the picturesque Kapalua in Maui and tree-lined Chicago-area layouts such as Medinah.

The Bandon Dunes experience, as it turned out, would exceed all of them.

Where else, thanks to the wind and varying topography, do you summon a 6-iron for a 131-yard par 3 and then, shortly after, discover that a 3-wood you hit off the tee traveled 298 yards? Where else would a caddie advise you to aim your drive "just a smidge right of that deer" or "out by that wave?" Where else do you putt it off the green and simply laugh, knowing you're not the first such victim?

"A little slice of heaven," said Chicago Blackhawks television play-by-play man Pat Foley, making his fourth trip to the property.

Bandon Dunes has no homes, golf carts or golf-cart paths, but in the span of playing 63 holes in 26 hours, there's a lot we did see.

Let's start with the Pacific Ocean. Mike Keiser, the Chicago visionary who prospered by using recycled paper to make witty greeting cards, insisted on ocean-front property and "breathtaking beauty," according to Stephen Goodwin's "Dream Golf: The Making of Bandon Dunes."

In 1991, Keiser purchased 1,215 acres along the rugged Oregon coast for $2.4 million.

Bandon Dunes, an homage to the legendary links courses of the British Isles, opened in 1999. Next came Pacific Dunes, with its dramatic views and natural, 60-foot sand dunes. The inland Pacific Dunes weaves through the coastal forest and was hatched in 2005.

Golf Digest ranks Pacific Dunes No. 2 among the nation's public courses, behind Pebble Beach, which costs more than twice as much to play. Bandon Dunes is seventh on that list, and Bandon Trails is 21st.

Not content with a threesome, Keiser and his team earlier this month unveiled Old Macdonald. It's a tribute to C.B. Macdonald, the father of American golf course architecture (see: Chicago Golf Club, National Golf Links of America). GolfWorld magazine called it "Bandon's Newest Beauty" and said "it just might be the best of the bunch."

Old Macdonald has enormous fairways that let you create your own path to greens that seem large enough to host a softball game (20,000 square feet).

We played "Old Mac" on a Tuesday afternoon, the final 18 of our golf marathon.

We started at 2 p.m. (local time) that Monday at Pacific Dunes, playing into a wind that sent mediocre drives sideways. Hence, the question from my caddie, a sage retired golf coach named Casey Matthews, about my ball flight. (The answer: It changes on every swing.)

The 11th hole is a par-3 stunner with a green surrounded by native beach grass, bunkers and gorse. To our left we noticed a man kite-surfing on the Pacific Ocean.

"This is a Keiser classic," said Josh Lesnik, the president of Northbrook-based KemperSports, which manages Bandon Dunes. "People stand here and say: 'It just doesn't get any better.'"

Many of the Pacific Dunes greens are simply extensions of the fairway, allowing for mile-long putts, bump-and-runs and long pitches.

"You hit shots here," Foley said, "you'd never try in Chicago."

With the sun giving way to the moon, we snuck in nine at Bandon Dunes, playing until 9:20 p.m. We then feasted on pub fare (corned beef-and-cabbage spring rolls, Grandma's Meatloaf) at McKee's Pub and were the first off the tee at Bandon Dunes at 7 a.m. on that Tuesday.

The rolling fog allowed for a novel sensation: We could hear the Pacific's crashing waves but not see them. Shortly after the turn, the sun came out and the wind kicked up.

"Must be 10 o'clock," Matthews observed.

I enjoyed a birdie-par-par-par-par stretch before falling victim to a devilishly deep bunker on the par-3 15th called Satan's Sphincter.

Foley encountered an equally daunting shot on the 11th at "Old Mac." His ball came to rest less than a foot from a bunker wall nearly five feet high. Foley took a whack with his 60-degree wedge and hit it to 10 feet.

"He scores!" Foley screamed as if describing a Patrick Kane wrister.

After playing 63 at Bandon, we all felt that way.

Share This Story