Is Pacific Dunes the Best Public Course in America? It Might Well Be.
I’ve spent pretty much my entire life living in Oregon. Yet for some reason, I didn’t make it down to Bandon until last November – or 14 years after Bandon Dunes first opened it’s doors.
Every year my golf buddies and I would say, this is the year we’re going to do it, and every year, time, money, or other commitments got in the way.
So when I was out at Portland Golf Club in October, and their membership director told me they needed one more guy for a November trip down to Bandon there really was no way I could turn it down.
And thus began my first trip to what some are calling Golf Mecca.
While I’ve talked to people lucky enough to go down there for a week or more, our trip was a bit abbreviated. Leave on a Monday, back on a Wednesday. I’ll tell stories and give details of the trip throughout the 4 posts I write about the 4 courses we played, but it started by meeting in Portland at 6am and hightailing it down I5 for 4 hours until we arrived in the seaside town.
Now if you’ve ever been to Oregon, you know that November can be, how shall we say, a little dicey.
For my first trip, I was just hoping for no rain.
When we pulled through the gates and headed out to the practice range, we weren’t met with sun, but it wasn’t raining and it wasn’t that cold – which was perfect in my mind.
There were 16 of us playing Ryder Cup style: the long standing members of the club, and the new members (or non-members), which included myself.
I’d go into the whole handicap fiasco, but if you’re interested in that, see this post.
We hit our balls and after shaking off the nerves we headed over to Pacific Dunes to grab lunch and hit the first tee.
Somehow I ended up with the club champion, and the guy who holds the course record on Pacific – Tim Hval, the former head pro at the resort.
All I could think was “God, I hope I don’t embarrass myself…”
Pacific Dunes was the second course built at Bandon and was completed in 2001 and designed by Tom Doak. I’ve always loved Tom’s designs and his minimalist nature.
Pacific is pretty spectacular in the sense that it seems like the course was always there. By looking at it, you wouldn’t have thought an ounce of dirt was moved – the landscape is that fitting for golf.
It’s got a quirky layout going out with one par 3 and coming in with 4 on the back – but that’s part of what makes Pacific Dunes so unique.
It’s highly rated on just about every list there is, including:
- #1 Top Courses You Can Play (Golf Magazine)
- #20 Top Courses in the World (Golf Magazine)
- #3 Top 100 Public in the Country (Golf Digest)
- #19 Top 100 in the Country (Golf Digest)
- #21 Top 100 in the World (Golf Digest)
I don’t care who you are or what publication you look at, Pacific Dunes isn’t just good, it’s world class.
It’d be my first round at Bandon, and one that had sky high expectations.
Did my experience live up to them? Well, let’s look at the course and I’ll let you know at the end.
Just the Facts
- Designer: Tom Doak
- Built in: 2001
- Rank: See above
- Location: Bandon, Oregon
- Fees: $75-295 depending on time of year.
- Website: http://www.bandondunesgolf.com
- Slope: 142, Rating: 73
Hole by Hole
Distances are from the 6,142 yard green tees, which is where we played.
Hole 1 (Par 4, 304 Yards)
The opening hole at Pacific Dunes isn’t nearly as scary as it looks.
You step up to the tee and in front of you you’ll see rugged undulations, areas of sand and gorse – but no green.
It’s hidden slightly down the right. That said, there’s more room out there than you think, so keep it left center of the fairway and consider a hybrid or wood – that should get you close enough for an easy wedge on approach.
Hole 2 (Par 4, 335 yards)
#2 is a really well designed short par 4.
You ideally want to be on the left of the fairway for your approach shot, but you have two big bunkers that you’ll have to avoid if you want to be there. Right side is safe, but will two greenside bunkers into play.
Along with reading Dream Golf before you’re next round at Bandon, I’d recommend reading Tom Doak’s Anatomy of a Golf Course. Really helps to put into perspective, why the courses are laid out the way they are – and it gives you a better sense of why they’re ranked as highly as they are.
Hole 3 (Par 5, 476 yards)
The first par 5 is a tough hole, even if it’s length doesn’t seem like it.
You have 3 bunkers that are more or less in the middle of the fairway, so you need to actually make shots, rather than just bombing the ball. Left fairway is a safe bet, or if you can clear the first bunker, directly over it will line you up for the best angle into the green on your approach.
A great example of why having a caddy or yardage book is so essential at Bandon.
Also, whatever you do: don’t go short-right of the green. Took me 3 shots to get out of that bunker.
Hole 4 (Par 4, 449 yards)
This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. The hole where “Pacific Dunes” really becomes the course you were expecting. A par 4 over the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean, you obviously can’t miss right. Ever.
I tried, slicing my drive, but there was a convenient little nook right around 250 yards that kept my ball from dropping in (by inches).
This hole has constantly been rated as one of the best par 4s in the world, and once you’re on the tee, it’s not hard to see why.
Par 5 (Par 3, 181 yards)
The only par 3 on the front, and probably my least favorite of the 5 (you have a lot to look forward to on the back). Also, one of the more difficult greens on the course.
Hole 6 (Par 4, 288 yards)
A fun short par 4 (seems like we’ve already had a few of those, which I really like). You’ll want to be in the center of the fairway edging towards the right for the best angle at a very narrow green. Too far left and not only do you have to contend with the big bunker left of the green, but it makes the green ridiculously shallow, with a big drop off on the right.
Hole 7 (Par 4, 436 yards)
Some people consider this the most difficult course on the entire property. It’s an extremely long par 4 playing 464 from the tips. If the wind is in your face good luck reaching the green – give the course some respect and layup. That being said, there are some weird bumps and patches of heavy rough that will make finding your ball extremely difficult.
Hole 8 (Par 4, 369 yards)
Another long Par 4 that often plays into the wind (we got lucky and the wind was pretty minimal). Watch out for the false front and make sure you take enough club into your approach.
Hole 9 (Par 4, 379 yards)
This starts one of my favorite strings of hole on any course I’ve ever played. 9-14 of Pacific Dunes are world class no matter how you put it.
9 is somewhat similar to #3 on Old Macdonald as you have a blind tee shot up to a ridge with plenty of room over it.
This hole is also unique in that it actually has two greens an upper and lower – so pay attention to which one is in play.
Hole 10 (Par 3, 163 yards)
You start the back 9 off with one of the most specactular par 3s on the paroperty. An elevated tee plays down to a green that sits right on top of the Pacific, giving you unparalled 360 degree views.
Watch out for unplayable lies in the thick brush to the left of the green, slightly right is the safer play.
Hole 11 (Par 3, 131 yards)
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, Hole 11 is another par 3 and has the smallest green. Playing parallel with the Ocean, I promise this a hole (and a view) you won’t soon forget.
Hole 12 (Par 5, 507 yards)
After back to back par 3s we have a reachable par 5. The biggest danger here is going to be your approach, especially if you’re trying to get home in two. There’s a big bunker guarding the front of the green, and a large mound right behind the green that doesn’t give you a whole lot of room to work with – so keep a close eye on your yardages.
Hole 13 (Par 4, 390 yards)
13 gives #4 a run for it’s money as the best par 4 on the course. Playing the opposite way as #4 (meaning into the wind) two accurate shots are necessary. This is a deep and narrow green, so consult your caddie as to where the hole location is for the day.
Also don’t forget to take a second on the tee and soak in your surroundings, golf simply doesn’t get a whole lot better than this.
Hole 14 (Par 3, 128 yards)
While not right on the ocean, 14 is still a really cool par 3. Take note of the wind, as this hole can play much shorter than it’s yardage states.
Hole 15 (Par 5, 504 yards)
This hole sucked…well for me at least ha. My tee shot barely cleared the gorse on the left and popped over to the next fairway. Because of my struggles aiming I didn’t get a photo of this one, so we’ll just move onto 16 🙂
Hole 16 (Par 4, 338 yards)
A couple years back Golf Digest called the 16th at Pacific one of the “18 Most Fun Courses Golf Courses in America.”
While it’s certainly no stretch to say that, I’m not sure it’s quite as much fun as some of the other holes at Bandon.
Hole 17 (Par 3, 189 yards)
The 4th and final par 3 on the back 9.
Playing about 180 from our tees I thought my 5 iron would be plenty of club – not so much. You don’t want to go short as you have a difficult and potentially steep up and down, but if you’re too long, you’re in the gorse. Don’t try and be a hero, just get it on the green.
Hole 18 (Par 5, 575 yards)
While I’ve heard many people say that Pacific lacks a good opening and closing hole, I don’t necessarily agree.
I think this par 5 is a really visually interesting hole, that can be difficult the first time you play it (or every other time for that matter). Careful on your approach as there are some pretty terrifying bunkers surrounding the green.
As a whole being at Bandon was even better than I thought it would be (is that possible?). The courses had much more variety than I was expecting, the camaraderie and vibe around the entire complex was unlike anything I’d experienced, and we had unbelievable weather for the trip.
However, there was only one thing that I’d say slightly disappointed me. What was it?
Don’t get me wrong, the course was phenomenal. The ocean views, unparalleled. But, there were a couple reasons I wasn’t as wowed quite as much as I was expecting.
The first? While we were there the greens were in pretty rough shape. They were slow and pretty grown out – something I wasn’t expecting. Obviously playing on fescue is very different than most golf in North America, but the greens were in by far the worst shape of any of the other courses.
The other reason I was slightly let down, is partially because the other courses were all so good – namely Bandon Trails.
The inland course which is always rated the lowest on major polls of the Bandon Courses was actually my favorite.
I thought it had the most fun and unique holes, was in great shape, and wasn’t at all hindered by the forest landscape.
I was expecting Pacific to be far and away a better course than Trails, and it wasn’t, or at least I didn’t think so.
So while I loved all of the courses there, I think the reason I found myself slightly disappointed was because comparatively everything else was still so good. Talk about a high quality problem.
That being said, have you been to Bandon Dunes? I’d love your feedback on whether or not Pacific was your favorite?
In the meantime, I think I need another round to give a proper rating. Guess I should go back next month 🙂
Yep, that’s happening.
Read our Ultimate Guide to Bandon Dunes if you’re thinking about planning a trip down there.
Thanks for asking for feedback on the Pacific course at Bandon.
I wish to provide feedback as well.
I just returned from my first trip to Bandon. As a former college player and one that
has played all over the west coast I would like to express my opinion with you.
I agree with most of your sentiments. When I first learned that some publications listed
this as 1 or 2 of Americas top 100 I thought I needed to play it for myself.
Pacific is a great golf experience and a terrific course. It’s not however a championship caliber course.
It’s simply to short and relies to much on wind conditions to be challenging. Under calm conditions
which it rarely is would be a fairly easy course to play. The first 2 holes and a few other par 4s are too benign. Although you can argue that Pebble has several weak holes as well.
Pacific is a terrific course that has charm and is a enjoyable course. I like that you rarely see an entire adjacent hole while playing the hole you are on as each hole is often nestled down below the tree lines and slopes of the contour.
I enjoyed Old Mac more as well as Bandon despite a weak start and finish on Bandon.
Old Mac is the purest layout of the four. The trials is special and beautiful with the meadows
and the forests the ponds. Old Mac being the truest links course of the four.
The overall experience factor with the remote location the coastal beauty the service by the staff
do make this a incredible golf value that should be experienced by every golfer at least once.
On a foot note the Sea Pines course 90 minutes north in Florence is the truest links championship
caliber course on the oregon coast and should be played as well.
Love your website. I found Pacific and Dunes probably the most scenic of any courses in the world, but we were playing in very windy conditions and I did not think either course was designed to accept low shots. Its a” through the air” course and when we played, down wind shots were knocked out of air as fast into the wind shots.
Did not play Trail,will play it on trip there next month. But Old Mac was my favorite. It was St. Andrews (except for #18) on the Pacific. Maybe because it is set in a small valley,it was still windy but shots didnt seem as effected and of the course is designed for wind. Most fun I have had outside of Scotland.
I have also had the opportunity to play Waverly several times. Greatness. Blows my mind how architecture 100 years ago is superior to new designs. The best new designs seem to copy the old.
I am showing my incompetence here or possibly my lack of appreciation, but strangely enough Pacific Dunes is the least memorable course (for me) at the whole resort. I have a clear picture in my mind of the other three but for some reason Pacific does not resonate. Bandon Dunes for me is #1 , Trails #2, Old Mac #3 and Pacific #4. perhaps I played them in the wrong order BD/PD/BT/OM. I am actually quite disappointed about this so I guess another trip will be needed to doublecheck!
On my recent– and first– trip to Bandon, I ended up playing Pacific on 3 of the 7 days (as a senior, 18 per day is fine). I found the changing conditions intriguing. Round 1 occurred in a wide variety of weather, all with wind out of the south: sun, then light rain, then heavier wind, then more sun, then a brief (luckily) period of hail(!) on #16, and finally a heavy rain as we finished the 18th. Wow! Round 2 was the sunniest but coldest day of the trip, with a steady north wind. Round 3 saw overcast conditions, with a lighter north wind, and chilly but not cold.
As for the course, it’s simply spectacular. Tom Doak made the most of the land by ignoring convention and placing 7 par 4s on the front but only 2 on the back. He couldn’t have done a better job. Virtually every hole, if placed on an average golf course, would be a signature hole,
so it’s probably unfair to mention #4 and #13 (par 4s), #10, #11, and #17 (par 3s), and #18 (par 5)
as particularly exciting, but they are. The most memorable moment of the trip occurred at the start of round 1, when, peering down the fairway, I realized my target line was… THE MIDDLE OF THE RAINBOW!!! Rating for the course: 5 stars out of 5!
Sean, great podcast on Pebble and enjoyed your top 50 list. Just returned from first Bandon trip. It was a dad-son trip, first since pandemic. Shout out to entire Bandon team on cleanliness, safe masking etc.
I preface my comments by saying I am 67 with bone on bone hip that needs replacement. Pacific Dunes is indeed a top 100 course but at the low end. Courses like Lahinch, Crail Whistling Straits have equal or better dramatic shots and views without such extreme trekking. I gladly tipped a random course Marshall $20 to drive me in after#12 snack stand.