Why Visiting Bandon Dunes with My Dad was Even Better than Expected
It was 5pm the night before I was scheduled to leave on a 4 day trip to Bandon Dunes.
The line up was incredible.
We had an afternoon round on the Sheep Ranch on Thursday.
Another Sheep Ranch round Saturday, followed by my personal favorite, Bandon Trails.
And a final round on Old Mac to close things out Sunday.
It was a perfect Bandon Dunes trip, and one I’d been excited to make for a long time.
And then I got the text:
“Dude, I’m so sorry to do this so last minute, but I’m not going to be able to make it tomorrow…”
Who cancels an epic trip to Bandon the night before you’re supposed to leave?!
Now don’t get me wrong, I was perfectly happy making the 4.5 hour journey down from Portland, solo.
After all my primary reason for going was to photograph and cover the new Sheep Ranch course.
But after thinking about it for a few minutes, I reluctantly, called my dad.
Why I Reluctantly Invited My Dad to Bandon
Now for most golfing families, this would be the bucket list trip a father and son duo would dream of taking.
The catch is, we’re not exactly a golfing family.
My dad golfs occasionally, but he probably hasn’t played a full round of golf in over 5 years.
Even longer since it was on a full length, non-executive course.
“So, my buddy just bailed on my Bandon trip. Do you have any interest in going?”
We talked for 10 minutes about the pros and cons.
You see, the idea of Bandon can be an intimidating place for a high handicap golfer.
5 of the best courses in the world, people flying in from all over the place to play, having caddies – the list goes on.
And frankly, I was kind of on the fence too. I knew I’d be taking a ton of photos and video, and wouldn’t exactly be able to play babysitter if he was really struggling with his play, with etiquette or anything else.
I told him to think about it, and he could make up his mind in the morning.
And then I sat there for all of 5 minutes and thought “this is crazy.”
Why on Earth wouldn’t I take this opportunity?!
In the past I’d kind of lamented the fact that I’d probably never take an epic golf trip with my dad. We have a lot of shared hobbies, but golf hasn’t really been one of them.
But we were fresh off 24 hours at Pronghorn the week before (where we got 9 holes in before the light got good and we ran around snapping photos), so he at least had a little bit of a warm up I told myself.
This was the chance. Everything was booked, I was going anyway, and worst case he could help me shoot some content and simply pick up his ball.
I called him back and said “you’re going.”
“Ok, I’m in.”
My Dad’s First Round at Bandon Dunes
We drove down separately, as he would be taking off on Saturday and my friend Zach would be joining me for the second half of the trip.
We met up, checked into our Chrome Lake room (my favorite rooms at Bandon), and proceeded to head to the range before a 3:50 tee time.
I don’t see my dad visibly nervous or uncomfortable all that often, but you could tell, he felt a bit out of place.
I mean this is Bandon Dunes, and his golf experience had mostly consisted of the Oakway executive course in Eugene (which is also where I first learned to golf).
We pulled up to the Sheep Ranch and got checked in. Despite the nerves, the look on his face when he looked out over the first fairway told me this was going to be worth it.
We were paired up with a couple guys from out of town who had a caddie.
The first few swings were rushed and uncomfortable. The ball was in play, but nothing to write home about.
By the time we got to the first par 3, 3rd hole?
Well, let’s be real the nerves were still there, but the words “this place is incredible” were uttered more than a few times.
The tee shot over the beach on 6? Ok, a little intimidating, but he kept it in play straight up the fairway. It’d be a long hole, but he hit the shot.
And then on 7 is when everything clicked.
An unbelievable par 3 looking out over the ocean, and with a windless day, the relatively short hole would be among the easiest on the course.
He hit it to about 15 feet, KP of the group.
And then rolled it up close for a true, tap in par.
Why did we think we shouldn’t do this again?
The Closing Stretch
By the time we got to the instantly iconic 16th hole, we were downright giddy.
I was teetering on the edge of breaking eighty, and him?
Oh, he wasn’t keeping score – but he, and by he I mean we, were having some of the most fun we’d ever had on a golf course.
The Sheep Ranch was the perfect welcome to a Bandon newbie. The forced carries were limited, the views made any mediocre golf feel secondary, and most importantly, it was making a memory.
The course is filled with “wow” moments, but one of the best was walking up the trail from 16 to 17 at sunset, and seeing the hole laid out in front of us shooting straight down the coastline.
While we waited to tee off, we had to go back and get a photo:
After the round I asked him if it lived up to expectations and he said:
“I’m not sure what I was expecting, but that entire experience far exceeded any expectations I did have.”
We finished up the day with a couple Brisket Burgers and IPAs at McKees and rehashed shots, views, and the experience we had on the course – just like I’d do with any other golfing companion.
Except this time it’d be with one of the few people who would make any memories from the trip, just a little more special.
Is Bandon Dunes Appropriate for High Handicappers?
There were a few more pretty amazing moments from the trip, but before I share those, I want to address the thing that might be most directly relevant to you.
Is it worth taking a beginning golfer with you to Bandon? Whether that’s a parent, significant other, kid, or just a friend.
Bandon is known as a diehard golfers resort.
There’s no pool.
There’s no tennis.
There’s golf. Lots of golf.
And aside from some beautiful trails on the property, and the town of Bandon, when you’re down there, that’s what you do – you golf.
So it can be intimidating to be around golfers that are so diehard about the sport that they would literally travel across the world to a very remote stretch of Oregon coastline in order to do it.
But if there’s one thing I learned over my 48 hours there with my dad, it’s that they shouldn’t be intimidated. Or at least they shouldn’t let it keep them from visiting.
One of the best parts about Bandon is that everyone is just stoked to be there.
Everyone is excited. Everyone loves the shared experience.
And if you want to experience it? Then you should.
Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t be mindful of who’s around you during this experience.
The saying “Play well, play fast – play bad, play faster comes to mind.”
My dad didn’t keep score during any of the three rounds we played. If we were getting a little behind, he’d pick up his ball.
If he pumped two out of bounds off the tee, he wouldn’t stress if he couldn’t find them.
Often he’d just drop up in the fairway wherever he felt like it.
If he hit a bad shot, he laughed at himself – which made everyone in our groups more comfortable.
If you can take that attitude as a beginner, then you can have as much fun as anyone at Bandon Dunes
The Best Moment of the Trip
We woke up the next morning with an early tee time at Pacific.
I was curious to see how this would go, as Pacific is a very different, and frankly, more challenging course than the Sheep Ranch was.
Oh, and it was raining.
You could tell the nerves were back.
We were paired up with a husband and wife from the Bay Area, who showed up to the tee right at our scheduled time.
I hit, and he followed with a topped ball that went about 4 feet.
He turns and gives me a look that could only say “this is my worst nightmare coming true.”
He re-teed and this time was middle of the fairway.
I wouldn’t get that look from him for the rest of the trip.
By this time he was finding a bit of a groove. He had the “Bandon Ball” of a low runner straight up the fairway mastered by this point.
And after playing the 2nd and 3rd holes pretty well, I got a different look from him as we headed to the 4th tee.
One that simply said “Ok, now this is cool.”
But the best moment of the trip would arrive on the par 3, 5th hole.
We get to the teebox and he says “Are you kidding me?? This is NOT what the par 3s looked like yesterday.”
And it’s true. The 5th was longer than anything we played at the Sheep Ranch, tighter, and had a small forced carry over beach grass that we all know is the mortal enemy of the high handicapper.
He pulls out his driver and says “Does it make me look like a wuss if I hit driver?”
“Yep. But go for it!”
He tees up his ball, and then proceeds to hit a beautiful drive up the left side of the hole where it hits just left of the front of the green and then rolls up the left side of the green arcing around the back edge of it, before coming to rest about 25 feet from the hole.
Smiles, cheers, and high fives were exchanged.
He’d never had a birdie on a proper full length course before – but his putting, well, he should probably practice it a little bit before the next trip, so hopes weren’t high that he’d sink this one.
He stands up to the ball, and proceeds to roll the long putt in beautifully for his first birdie ever.
More cheers, more high fives, and his hands were raised all the way up to the hole where he picked up his ball, and put it in the bag.
“I think this one is worth saving.”
To have this experience, and this story which I’ll tell dozens of times over the course of the rest of my life was worth the entire trip.
The Ultimate Father Son Trip
But that was just one moment out of 2 days that were filled with memories.
Playing an afternoon round with just the two of us at Bandon, filled with sarcastic smack talk and laughs.
Small bets of who could get it closer to the pin at the Punchbowl over beers.
Seeing a bear walk in front of us on our drive out to the Sheep Ranch.
A fantastic sunset dinner over wine at Pacific Grill.
And many cheers using our favorite expression during moments like this, exclaiming “life doesn’t suck.”
I’ve taken dozens of golf trips over the years and played many of the best golf courses in the world.
But this trip was different.
I’ll remember this one for a long time, in part because it was so unexpected.
I never thought I’d go to Bandon with my dad. And if I did? I never could have expected to be such a positive experience.
There are few places in golf as special as Bandon Dunes.
And now rather than being terrified of what might happen, or how it might be uncomfortable golfing at a place like that?
All we can talk about is when we’re going to do it next.