How I Broke 80 at Bandon Dunes in the Coolest Way Possible
Before I go too far into this story, there’s one thing you have to understand.
The last time I went down to Bandon Dunes was in February of 2014.
This is what ensued:
So my friends thought I was a little crazy when I scheduled another winter trip to Bandon. This time it was for 5 days in early January.
What many people who aren’t from Oregon don’t understand is it can be 65 degrees and sunny at Bandon in January just as easily as it can be 40 or rainy in July.
It’s just the way the Oregon coast works.
I persuaded my friend, and typical golf travel companion Dan to fly out from NYC for the trip – despite is skepticism about the weather.
In this post I’m going to do a little recap of each day, and discuss how each day seemingly one-upped the other in terms of memorable golf experiences.
Day 1: Pacific Dunes and Bandon Preserve
We arrived the night before, and despite a long flight delay, we were ready to go for an 8:20 tee time at Pacific Dunes.
I’ve got a love hate relationship with Pacific. My previous two rounds I shot a pair of 96s, and while there’s absolutely no denying it’s a world class golf course – it has never quite grabbed me the way some other courses have.
Did that change this go around? Well, yes and no.
We had a slightly overcast day but there was no rain and it was warm, so no complaints here. We were paired up with a father/son duo from Chicago on their 5th annual winter Bandon trip. They were much better golfers than we were.
It was fun playing this round at Pacific, as I’ve now buffed up on my golf architecture IQ a bit, and was able to appreciate the course more. I like Doak’s use of blind shots to keep the course interesting and the rough undulating terrain is definitely a different beast than what you’ll find on any of the other Bandon courses.
While the primary ocean holes (#4, 10, 11, and 13) are world class golf holes, I found myself not being as taken by them as I was the ones at Bandon Dunes.
I kind of feel like those are just fairway, cliff. Whereas Kidd did a little bit more with the ocean holes to hold the intrigue.
A great example is playing the par 3 15th, where the walk up to the green is in a valley, and even when you’re on the green you don’t fully know what to expect on 16 until you’re standing on the tee.
With all of that said, on this day, there would be no 96. I shot an 84 while birdieing 15 and 17 – the latter was nearly a hole in one.
From there we ran over to Bandon Preserve and were reminded once again why it was voted Golf Digest’s #3 most fun course in the country. That’s exactly what it is, flat out fun.
Not only that, you could say half of the holes on the course would be better than the best par 3 on 90% of the golf courses of the world.
The last time I played it was in 40 mph gale force wind and rain, so I was able to appreciate the course a little bit more this go around.
#2 plays on the precipice of a cliff and is a beast of a par 3 from the back tee – especially if the wind is up.
But I found #6 to not only be my favorite hole on the course, but one of my favorites on the property. You’ve got a forest drop off to the left and big dune up on the right, making for a unique hole – you even have a little ocean view looking off past the green.
As is customary on the course, we each rolled putts down 13, and unfortunately my result wasn’t quite as favorable as it was the last go around.
This course is at it’s best with a bunch of friends (they allow 8-somes), some beer and a lot of betting. Do it after a round of 18 and don’t feel guilty at all for not playing another full round.
More than most golf courses Bandon has the “fun level” dialed up with just about everything they do – this and the new Punchbowl being great examples of that.
So 84 on one of the top 25 courses in the world – not a bad first day!
Day 2: Bandon Dunes and Old Macdonald
We woke up the next day to something completely unexpected: bright, beautiful sunshine.
The weather reports basically reported overcast for the first few days of the trip, moving into rain.
Let’s put it this way: by the start of my round on Old Mac in the afternoon, I was in shorts.
I honestly believe there’s not much better in the golfing world than teeing off at Bandon Dunes in bright sunshine in the middle of January – oh and then being 1 over through 5.
As me moved through the course, giddy is pretty much the only word I can use to describe the feeling.
I couldn’t wait to see the look on Dan’s face as we turned the corner on the fairway of #4 and turned down to the water.
It may not be the most difficult hole in the world, but no matter how many times I play it the views definitely add a couple points on the distraction meter.
4, 5, and 6 continue to be my favorite stretch of holes on the property. The more times I play Bandon Dunes (I’ve now played it 4 times), I like it more and more.
To the point where we played it twice on this trip, and almost played it a third – but opted to play Trails a second time, which as you’ll see, was the right decision.
I think Kidd nailed it when he referred to Bandon Dunes as a symphony. It truly ebbs and flows and works it’s way up to a piercing crescendo with number 16.
While I’m still not crazy about the finishing hole at Bandon Dunes, on this trip, there’s a chance, that just maybe it moved past Bandon Trails as my favorite course on the property.
I ended up repeating the feat that I’d accomplished just a few months prior on Pinehurst #2. I shot tied my best round ever with an 81 – for the 5th time…
We went back to the room quickly, I changed into shorts and then we hustled over to Old Macdonald. We had a 1:20 tee time in the middle of winter, so we’d be lucky to finish the round.
What ensued was another memorable experience as we had the whole course to ourselves, 65 degree weather, and we finished in just over 3 hours.
I’d only played Old Mac once before, and I’ll be doing a full writeup soon, but I will say it’s my least favorite course at the Resort. It’s by no means a bad course, and is actually a ton of fun. But holes 9-11, get me every time.
They’re long, difficult, and honestly, relatively uninteresting.
Old Macdonald I feel has hits of greatness. The quirky but fun #3 Sahara hole, what might be the most fun green at Bandon on #5, Short, and the straight uphill tee shot of #7, Ocean.
Those are just a few of the obscenely fun holes on the course. The Redan #12, which I’ve parred both times, I’m told is brutally unfair in the wind – but I have no issue with it. 15 may also have one of the best views on the entire property.
But it’s the long holes that just kill it for me.
All told, I started out with a really solid round here that carried over from Bandon – but in the end I had to make par on 18 to save an 89.
On that note, I will say 18 is one of the most fun approaches anywhere. I took a 3 wood to the far left side of the green and watched it roll all the way back down to within 5 feet of the pin.
Day 3: Bandon Trails and Bandon Dunes
Ah, the day I’d been waiting for.
Earlier this year, I boldly proclaimed that Bandon Trails was not only my favorite course at Bandon, but my favorite course in the world.
While I feel that might change in my upcoming Top 25 post, it’s still one of my favorites, and after being in Bandon for a couple days I was ready to get out and play it!
Dan and I teed it up with a couple singles, and from the beginning you could tell it was going to be a rough day.
On the one hand, it was shorts weather again, but on the other, we were both 5 over after two holes.
He would turn it around, and I would continue my downward spiral – not making a par until the 11th hole and finishing up with a spectacularly bad 94 – that felt like 114.
But then the day completely turned around.
After switching into shorts, we went out for another round at Bandon Dunes – where I was treated to what is easily a top 5 round of golf for me.
The entire round felt as though we were playing in Golden Hour. The light was beautiful, we were one of the last people on the course, and we didn’t care about anything but having fun.
We shot a bunch of video, smoked some cigars, and by the time we rolled around to #16 we were treated to the most spectacular golf course sunset imaginable. It was one of those moments you didn’t want to end – you just sat there and stared out thinking “does life get any better than this?”
Indeed it does, as I would find out the next day.
Day 4: Breaking Eighty on Bandon Trails
The night before Dan and I debated where we’d play our final full round: Bandon or Trails.
We left it to me, and I felt like I had something to prove and opted to head back out and play Trails again.
This time it would just be the two of us, and I was able to start out in shorts this go around.
I bogeyed the first two holes, and made particular spectacular save on #2 as my 4 iron was hooked deep into the woods, and somehow I got it out and two putted.
Better than the previous day.
The next 7 holes were a blur. 7 pars in a row, and I made a couple 10 footers to keep it that way. On each 7, 8 and 9 I thought I’d be screwed either because of poor approach shots, or bad first putts.
But as I drained my putt on #9 from 6 feet, I turned to Dan and said “best 9 of my life, 38.”
And then I got in my head.
It was my favorite course. “What a story would this be if I broke eighty here!”
I couldn’t stop thinking about it on the 10th tee.
I sliced bogeyed it.
Then on 11 I sliced it into the sand. Were the wheels falling off? Perhaps.
It was then that I fired a hybrid 210 yards out to the middle of the green. In that moment, I was thinking maybe things were under control.
Until I 3 putted.
Bogey, Bogey – not a good start.
The 12 became one of the most memorable moments I’ve ever had.
The par 3 was playing about 230 and my three wood was about 20 yards short of the green.
I pulled out a wedge, flew the ball up towards the hole, and then watched it bounce once, hit the pin, and drop in.
I dropped my club, screamed, and could not believe my luck.
Maybe this was meant to be after all.
13 found me lying 2 in the ugliest position I’d ever been in at Bandon.
Far down to the left of the hole in a tight lie on the color of the rough with the green sloping steeply away from me. Chunked it. Then ran it way past the hole.
I two putted for a double, and then proceded to go bogey, bogey on the subsequent holes.
I did some quick math and realized I was 7 over.
I’d have to par out to have a shot.
With the lack of wind the long uphill 16th hole was actually pretty easy, and I made par.
On 17 I chunked it and left it well short of the green. Then had a decent chip to leave it to 5 feet where I missed the putt.
Dreams shattered. Oh well, next time.
Unless I can birdie 18 that is…
On 18 I crushed my drive down the center, and then started looking at the scorecard. I noticed something I hadn’t realized before.
I was 8 over, but because it was a par 71 course a par meant I’d still be in with a 79.
I left the approach to about 25 feet and started to get nervous.
I had a terrible putt, which left me with about 6 foot right to left putt to make my par.
On our last round of an epic trip.
On my favorite course.
Wearing shorts at Bandon Dunes, in January.
That’s what golf is all about, right there, and why I will continue to come back for years to come.
We celebrated with an afternoon at Shorty’s and the Punchbowl and an evening of scotch and cigars at the best golf bar in the world (Bunker Bar).
Friday morning, we solidified the best week of golf we’d ever had at the Ballybandon Sheep Ranch.
But that deserves it’s own post. Until then, I’ll just leave you with this:
Bottom line? Life doesn’t suck.