Sheep Ranch at Bandon Dunes: The Most Stunning of All
After two years of waiting patiently, it’s finally here: the Sheep Ranch at Bandon Dunes is now open for resort play.
I could hardly contain my excitement as I made the 4-ish hour drive down from Portland.
A day that was supposed to be full of rain was shaping up to be dry after all, and my 3:50 tee time would have me hanging over ocean top cliffs right as the sun was setting.
You probably have a lot of questions. Does the Sheep Ranch live up to expectations? How does it compare to the other courses at Bandon? Is it weird not having any bunkers on the course? Yes, there are zero sand bunkers.
Or perhaps you may be asking an even more basic question: what the heck is the Sheep Ranch?
Well have no fear, today we’ll be answering all of those questions and more, as I give you the full rundown of what you can expect when playing the newest course at Bandon Dunes.
A Brief History of the Sheep Ranch at Bandon Dunes
I’ll be honest, when I first heard the announcement for this course I had pretty mixed feelings. The original Ballybandon Sheep Ranch was one of the most unique experiences in golf.
If you’re not familiar, the Sheep Ranch used to be the “secret” course at Bandon Dunes.
The land was co-owned by Phil Friedmann and Bandon Dunes founder Mike Keiser, but the general sentiment was that there wasn’t enough land to build a full 18 hole course.
So back in 2001 when Pacific Dunes was built, Keiser tasked Tom Doak to build 13 greens on the property under the mandate that each green be able to be approached from any angle.
Thus the Sheep Ranch was born.
It was $100 per player, no more than two groups could go out a day, and you had to know the secret-ish way to get ahold of the man who kept up the course if you wanted to get on.
The original Sheep Ranch was golf’s version of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel.
There was a suggested routing, but usually whoever won the previous hole picked a green, and you played cross-country to that.
The “E Green” at the Sheep Ranch was, and is, arguably the most dramatic green site on the entire property, and the Sheep Ranch provided some of the most fun golf shots you’ll ever see.
So when I found out they were developing it into a full course, my feelings were mixed.
How Does the Sheep Ranch Compare to the Other Courses?
I’ll do you a favor and not bury the lede here:
The new Sheep Ranch course manages to maintain all of the fun shots, incredible views, and unique greens that made the original property so interesting.
But one of the biggest questions you’re probably curious about is, how does it compare to the other Bandon courses?
Honestly? It’s the perfect compliment to every other course at Bandon.
One thing that Bandon has done better than any other resort in the world is manage to have courses that each have their own character, while having threads that let you know you’re still at the same resort.
You can make the argument that of the 6 courses, there isn’t one that is truly better than any of the others. They’re all different characters of the story, and depending on your interests, you’ll prefer certain ones over the others.
The Sheep Ranch fits into this beautifully.
Sheep Ranch: The Views
The views on the Sheep Ranch are absolutely phenomenal. There isn’t a hole on the course that doesn’t have an ocean view.
In fact, the views are so good that in some ways it can almost detract from the views on the other courses.
On this trip to Bandon I spent half the time with my dad, and half the time with one of my best friends, Zach. I played the Sheep Ranch with both of them, and neither of them had been to Bandon Dunes before.
In both cases, we played the Sheep Ranch first.
Neither my dad or Zach are diehard golfers, and in both cases they talked about how incredible the views on the Sheep Ranch are.
They also remarked when they each made the turn on 4 at Bandon Dunes that, while impressive, it doesn’t quite have the same effect after playing the Sheep Ranch.
If I were taking first timers again, I’d play the Sheep Ranch with them last. So that you still get the same wow factor on each of the courses you play.
Weather and Playability at the Sheep Ranch
Playing my first round on the course with my dad, we were treated to one of the most benign Bandon Days you could ask for.
There was no rain, the sun was shining, and the wind was minimal.
Under these conditions I shot an easy 81, while not feeling like I played my best golf.
Under perfect conditions, I think this is the easiest of the 5 18 hole courses at the resort, and it’s course and slope of 70.2/119 from the Green resort tees reflect that.
Our second round however, had some pretty strong gusts and the wind was prevalent the whole day.
I shot 10 strokes higher.
The Sheep Ranch is hands down the windiest and most exposed course at the resort, so in ugly conditions? This will be a brutal course to play. There’s simply no shelter from the elements.
But that’s part of what makes it such a special experience.
It’s also a given, but worth mentioning that the greens are slow. Being brand new and not fully grown in, they’re definitely the slowest at the resort. That will certainly change as they mature, but it honestly didn’t bother me or hurt the experience in any way.
The Grass Bunkers
One of the defining characteristics of the course is that there are no sand bunkers at the Sheep Ranch.
Rather, there are grass bunkers. Imagine if a course closed down, and the traps were emptied and then sat for a year with fescue growing up in and around them – that’s kind of what you have here.
This might be one of the most polarizing aspects of the course.
Some of the purists might look at the grass bunkers as a bit contrived or off-putting.
Me personally? I loved them.
I’m notoriously bad at hitting out of the sand. Often one sand trap can kill my score for the round.
With the grass bunkers, you can still get bad lies, but generally the ball will sit up a bit in the fescue and be relatively easy to play out of.
It inspired an extra level of confidence that you can lose very quickly if you start out having a bad round on one of the other courses at the resort.
The Sheep Ranch: Just the Facts
It’s not often I do a full hole by hole review here anymore, but I feel that for this course? It’s worth it.
- Opened: June 2020
- Designer: Coore & Crenshaw
- Length: 6,636 yard from the tips. 6,245 from the green resort tees.
- Course Rating/Slope: 72.1/122 from tips, 70.2/119 from green
- Green Fees: $100-295 depending on time of year.
The Front 9 at the Sheep Ranch
All distances are measured from the Green Tees, as that is what most resort guests will play it at.
Hole #1: Par 5, 517 Yards
The opening hole at the Sheep Ranch is not just the best opening hole at the resort, it’s one of the best opening holes in golf.
It very much has Spyglass Hill vibes, with it’s big sweeping downhill dogleg left that takes you straight to the ocean.
There’s plenty of room off the tee, but if you play a fade, watch out as anything too far right can be trouble.
Every single person I played with was in awe when they got to the middle of the fairway and looked down to the green and the rest of the course.
Views aside, the hole isn’t overly difficult and is a perfect “welcome handshake” to the experience.
Hole #2: Par 4, 303 Yards
The second is a drivable par 4 dogleg left. The wind will play a huge factor in your decision off the tee here. I opted for 4 iron both days despite playing into the wind, and was left with a 9 iron in each time.
One thing you’ll quickly notice about the course is that despite the beach grass not looking like much, it can be much more difficult to find balls in it than you think it will be.
If you haven’t played this course before, I highly recommend bringing a caddie. It will make the experience much better.
Hole #3: Par 3, 113 Yards
The par 3s at the Sheep Ranch, while they can certainly be a challenge, are friendly to the higher handicapper.
The 11th at Pacific Dunes is a wonderful hole, but despite being a short hole, the forced carry can be intimidating to newer golfers.
Each of the par 3s at the Sheep Ranch gives you the option to run the ball up to the green if you choose. And whether you’re a scratch golfer or a 30 handicap, we all know that many times at Bandon, this is actually the smartest play.
I really like the left pin position behind the ridge of this hole.
Hole #4, Par 4 443 Yards
This starts what can be a pretty difficult 3 hole stretch.
At 443 yards, this par 4 is a beast of a hole, but isn’t even the #1 handicap hole on the course.
A big dogleg right with tons of room off the tee, but if you end up in the centerline grass bunkers, good luck making a par (or a bogey for that matter).
The second day I played it when the wind was up, it was coming out of the north, so it made the front 9 going out incredibly challenging. Even a good tee shot here, can leave you with a 200+ yard shot into the wind if you’re too far left.
Under the right conditions, a much friendlier hole.
Hole #5, Par 3 166 yards
In the grand scheme of par 3 holes, none of the ones at Sheep Ranch would be considered overly difficult – but the 5th is probably the toughest on the course.
The card says 166, but my second round we played it over 180.
Similar to 3, the hole looks directly back out to the ocean and is gorgeous.
There’s a little collection area long, but too far and you’re on the beach. The thick grass on the right was particularly worrisome for my fade. It’s made a little worse, as you’re in range of people driving on 15. So if you hit it in there while people are teeing off, the quest for your ball can feel a little rushed.
This was home to my best shot of the round during my first day, I was about 30 feet short of the green and I made the 50 or so foot putt up a ridge for my 2.
Hole #6: Par 4, 431
The 6th at the Sheep Ranch provides one of the most fun shots in golf – and one of my best memories from the original sheep ranch.
You walk off the green to the tee box, and then see what you get to contend with on your tee ball:
You have bomb it over the beach to the fairway in waiting.
You can go straight out, but will leave yourself with a monster approach into the wind.
It’s a bit of a risk reward hole that will largely be dictated by your confidence level and the weather conditions.
The 6th is a difficult hole, but the smile on your face while hitting that tee shot will negate any double bogeys you may procure.
Hole #7: Par 3, 138 Yards
I purposefully didn’t do much research on the course beforehand, so I didn’t know this hole existed.
Which made it all the better when I walked up to the teebox to see a spectacular infinity green with nothing but beach and ocean behind it. One of my favorite holes on the course.
Hole #8: Par 4, 407 Yards
Depending on how the wind is blowing you’ll either get a nice reprieve on 8, or a big blast from the fans.
We got the former, and watched as at least one of the drives in our group sailed through the fairway over 300 yards.
This hole is a great par 4 dogleg right. The green has some awesome contours, and a tricky collection area in the back.
If you don’t get it far enough out, you’ll have a mostly blind approach.
This is one of a couple areas of the course where you can feel just how little land they had to work with for the course.
It’s pretty remarkable what they did, but we had issues where we were hit into from people on the teebox on 9, and we had one ball go left off the tee into 10 fairway.
We didn’t have any close calls or anything, but this is a course that feels very communal and one where at times you just need to be aware of your surroundings.
Hole #9: Par 4, 399 Yards
This is my favorite par 4 on the course. I heard at least 3 people working at Bandon also say this was their favorite hole.
You have a canyon to the left that you have to drive over off the tee, and then you’re met with a spectacular infinity green looking out towards the ocean.
It’s something special.
While the course isn’t necessarily a typical out and back routing, it does happen that the 9th green is the farthest out you go away from the clubhouse.
Hole #10: Par 4, 375 Yards
A solid par 4 with trouble all down the left. I found said trouble both rounds, and in both cases hurt what were pretty good scores up to this point!
Nice big green with some cool contours.
Hole #11: Par 5, 506 Yards
The very first thing I thought when I walked up to this tee box was:
“Man, it looks like something I’d see at Tobacco Road. Cool!”
And apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought this, as after posting this on Instagram I had 3 people message me saying they thought the same thing.
It’s something about the narrow entry to the green and the giant red rock walls on the side of it.
A very forgiving tee shot with room on the right, the toughest part is judging your approach.
When I first got to the course I assumed this was 18, as it brings you right back to the clubhouse. Clearly I was wrong.
Hole #12: Par 4, 414 Yards
This was the opening hole on the original sheep ranch routing, and is another beast of a golf hole.
The fairway is generous, but at this point the wind at picked up more making it quite the challenge.
Hole #13: Par 5, 485 Yards
A nice par 5 that heads back up towards the clubhouse. Good use of grass bunkers throughout the hole, and I really liked the approach shot with the bunker covering the front, and a ridge of gorse defending long.
Hole #14: Par 4, 377 Yards
If there’s one hole where a caddie comes in handy, this is it.
An alps tee shot over a ridge can leave you really close, or really far away from the green depending on your line.
Our second round we didn’t have a caddie in our group, and I couldn’t remember the exact line to take off the tee. Hint: It’s not a slice out to the right.
Careful on your approach not to end up in the fescue up to the left of the green like me:
Hole #15: Par 4, 303 Yards
If you know me, you know I love a good short par 4 – so I was excited about the fact up to this point, the Sheep Ranch has two of them between the second, and the 15th.
This is another area where you can have some safety issues with people trying to get after it on the tee. One round I had my ball go into the rough area bordering on 5 green that I mentioned before, and we also had someone end up over in 4 fairway.
Fantastic green site that brings you back to the cliff for what you might be able to guess, is a pretty special set of finishing holes.
Hole #16: Par 3, 131 Yards
One of my big concerns before playing the new Sheep Ranch was what they’d do with the old “E Green” on 5 mile point.
In my opinion they made fantastic use of it. They turned it into a double green with #3, but with a big ridge full of bumps from 3 down to 16 – I didn’t see any issues of the two getting in the way of each other.
16 you know play directly on the coast with a big dune to the right hand side.
In some ways it kind of reminded me of an easier version of 16 at Port Royal in Bermuda simply due to it’s cliff-front setting.
Honestly, the hole is spectacular. The views are insane, and the experience of playing it is one of the best at the resort.
It’s not a tough hole. In fact, with a front pin position our second round, it played a mere 99 yards, and resulted in 4 shots within 12 feet.
I love this.
Everyone wants to hit their best shot of the day on the signature hole, so by making this hole approachable, and giving the opportunity for some 2s, or even 1s, I think that’s a great way to finish out the par 3s on the course.
Also worth noting is that the course is a par 34 on the front and 38 on the back. This is the only par 3 on the back 9.
Hole #17, Par 4 314 Yards
Did I say there were two drivable greens? Whoops, I meant 3 – and this is the best of the bunch.
There’s a lot that can be said about the 17th.
First off, the question I got asked most on Instagram about the round was “did you hit from the pro tees on 17?!”
Similar to #6 over the beach, arguably the best shot from the original Sheep Ranch is hitting from just off 16 green back over the beach to 17 fairway.
You might be surprised to know that as of right now? There isn’t actually a teebox there, and there’s not one on the card.
I imagine this is a safety issue.
But during our second round with no one in front of us, I had to do it.
And yes, it was everything I remember it being.
It certainly makes for a more challenging hole, but it’s one of the coolest shots in golf – so I hope that the resort does indeed put some tees there. If you do this, and have a front pin on 16 – you shouldn’t run into too many issues with golfers hitting into each other.
The rest of the hole is pretty straight forward running directly down the beach, with a signature ghost tree out in the fairway in front of the green.
Hole #18: Par 5, 436 Yards
18 is a reachable par 5, and is an excellent way to end the round. There are a few grass bunkers in the fairway to avoid, and deep ones both in front of and behind the green.
But it’s a great chance to make a good score to finish out the round.
A Few Notes About the Sheep Ranch
If you can’t tell, I think the Sheep Ranch is a wonderful addition to Bandon Dunes.
You have the same links feel you get on all the other courses, but the setting, lack of bunkers, and compact footprint make it not just feel unique among the courses at the resort, but it’s unlike any golf course I’ve played before.
They say that Merion is the best course on the smallest piece of property. I’m not going to say that the Sheep Ranch is better than Merion, but it certainly is worth mentioning in that conversation about good use of land.
With all that said, I have a few more just final thoughts and observations that might be interesting if you’re planning to visit the course sometime soon.
Consider When to Schedule Your Round at the Sheep Ranch
Earlier I talked about how I played the Sheep Ranch first with each of the people I brought to Bandon – neither of which had ever been here.
Both remarked that the views were so good, that it in some ways diminished the great views on the other courses.
However, the Sheep Ranch in good weather is also more forgiving than some of the other courses, and made for a nice opening round – especially for my dad who isn’t a diehard golfer.
So consider who you’re bringing. Have they been to Bandon before? Are they good golfers? Are they likely to be back? What is the weather supposed to do?
Consider all of these when adding Sheep Ranch to your itinerary. I think more than the other courses you can get the most out of your experience here depending on if it’s first or last in your rotation.
It might have the most fun shots at Bandon.
Teeing off on 6…
The infinity green 9th…
The cliff side 16th…
17 from the “pro tees”…
These are some of the best shots in all of Bandon. Savor them, enjoy them. It’s shots like this that can make a round at any of the Bandon courses so special.
It can get a little cramped
As I understand it, there was about 400 acres of land on the Sheep Ranch property, but only 140 acres of which were in the discussion to be built on – so it pretty much maintains the footprint from the original Sheep Ranch.
This small area can lead to a more community feel. You can always see other holes and always see other golfers. Coming back by the clubhouse after 11, and at the snack shack after 4 and 14 adds to this.
But this can come at a little bit of a price. There are a few spots on the course where you feel like you could be in a little bit of danger of hitting into someone with an errant shot, or being hit yourself.
We never had any really close calls, but you need to pay attention. Especially when the wind is up and any calls of “Fore!” may be blown away.
Ranking the Sheep Ranch
I know everyone is going to ask this, so I have to include it.
“How does the Sheep Ranch rank compared to the other courses at the resort?”
There is no bad course at Bandon. In fact, there’s not even any good courses at Bandon.
Every single course at Bandon can be described as excellent or more fittingly, world class.
Much of it comes down to what you like.
But I thought it interesting that of myself, my dad, and my friend Zach we all had the courses ranked differently.
My dad who is a the most novice golfer of all of us had the three courses he played ranked:
- Pacific Dunes
- Sheep Ranch
- Bandon Dunes
But he’s still talking about the views at the Ranch.
My friend Zach ranked the courses:
- Sheep Ranch
- Bandon Trails
- Bandon Dunes
For me personally, I waffle a bit on this, but if you forced me to give an answer it would probably be:”
- Bandon Trails
- Bandon Dunes
- Pacific Dunes
- Sheep Ranch
- Old Macdonald
Bandon Trails for me is a solid number one, and Old Macdonald is a solid number 5.
More than ever before, the middle part is tough.
I was pretty steadfast in having Bandon over Pacific. After playing Pacific again, it’s now not so clear cut.
Throw the Sheep Ranch in there and it gets even muddier.
The Sheep Ranch had some of my absolute favorite holes on property (1, 6, 7, 9, 16, 17), but it also had some that felt a little bit more pedestrian to me personally (10 and 12 come to mind).
Final Thoughts on the Sheep Ranch
In the end, I am thrilled to see how the Sheep Ranch turned out.
It fits perfectly at Bandon Dunes: It’s wildly unique, different than any golf course I’ve ever played, and has the combination of fun golf holes and amazing views that add up to making a course fun.
Pure and simple, the Sheep Ranch is fun.
If you’ve been considering making the trip out for the first time, or if you’ve been wondering if it’s worth returning to see the new course, let me make it easy on you: Go.
The course lives up to every bit of well-deserved hype it has received.
Note: I’ll be doing another post about the resort as a whole to talk about the rest of my experience, as well as the COVID-19 vibe and precautions they’re taking.