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November 25, 2023

Bandon Dunes: How to plan your trip

By Dan Vukelich, Alabama Golf News Online Editor
Bandon Dunes aerial

2025 reservations now open

BANDON, Ore. – A memory of the Bandon Dunes Golf Course: The Pacific Ocean shimmers pale blue-gray to the horizon, golfers, tiny dots of them, are scattered across a plateau of green, a beach below where ocean waves end their journey of thousands of miles in a froth of white foam.

This is Mike Keiser’s vision of the game of golf, one he’s replicated elsewhere on dramatic outcroppings where the land meets the sea. It’s a vision that golfers worldwide have embraced enthusiastically.

Bandon Dunes
The bunkers at Bandon Dunes courses are left in their rough-edged natural state.

It’s hard to believe that Bandon Dunes has been around for less than 25 years. In that time, it’s made its mark  – again and again – as top golf architects working for Keiser built one masterpiece after another on that plateau of green.

The Bandon Dunes Resort opened in 1999 as a destination for golfers to get back to “golf as it was meant to be,” to borrow a phrase from the resort’s marketing. Its courses play along dramatic bluffs towering 70 to 125 feet above a nearly four-mile stretch of unpopulated southern Oregon coast.

David MacLay Kidd built the original Bandon Dunes course, emulating the Scottish style of play that emphasizes keeping the ball low or on the ground. All courses are walking only. The five championship courses are pocked by dense patches of gorse (brought over from Scotland by a man named Bandon to corral his sheep). Stiff afternoon winds prevail during summer and rain squalls are possible year-round.

All of which means that the courses of the Bandon Dunes Resort are the closest to links golf you’ll find outside of the British Isles, except, perhaps, for Keiser’s Cabot resort courses on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

The nearest population center is the town of Bandon, a sleepy seaside village, population 3,300, long favored as a getaway for hippies and others escaping civilization. At the time Bandon Dunes was built a few miles south of town, the idea of a golf resort hundreds of miles from a major population center seemed outlandish. But over time, Keiser’s resort and the world-class quality of golf courses he built there proved the early skeptics wrong.

Bandon Dunes aerial
No. 16 at the Bandon Dunes course.

In this article we’ll lay out what you need to know to plan a trip to Bandon Dunes. But let’s start with a warning up front:

The bad news is that post-pandemic demand for bucket-list golf trips has Bandon Dunes lodging booked through most of 2024.

A bit of good news is, first, golf on its courses can be reserved even if you’re not staying at the resort; and, second, even in the colder months, the golf at Bandon Dunes is worth the trip.

The Bandon Dunes courses

Bandon Dunes aerial
From the air, Bandon Dunes’s courses look like a wrinkled carpet of green.

As my colleague, Alabama Golf News Editor Gregg Dewalt, wrote yesterday, the five regulation courses are on everyone’s best-of lists, and the designers are a who’s who of the modern greats.

Notably, one course, Old Macdonald, a tribute course that borrowed ideas of C.B. MacDonald, one of the most influential golf architects of the early 20th Century.

Shorty’s, the new short course, is being built by Whitman, Axland and Cutten, a Canadian concern that built Keiser’s first Nova Scotia course. There is talk about yet another 18-hole course, at Bandon Dunes but no formal announcement has been made.

The overall atmosphere

In contrast to many golf resorts, the vibe at Bandon Dunes is decidedly laid back. From its earliest days when only the most diehard golfers would make the trek there, the resort has carefully managed its growth to ensure there are no lines or hubbub at its golf shops and restaurants.

Bandon Dunes courses
Morning shadows reveal the elevation changes at Bandon Dunes.

“I think a lot of people would assume, ‘Well, why don’t you just build more rooms?’” said resort spokesman Michael Chupka. “’You could fill ’em up,’ and it’s like, well, if we do that and we bring in a lot more people, then it’s going to affect the overall experience.”

The result is a sense that, if anything, the place seems underpopulated. There’s no waiting or need for reservations at most of the resort’s restaurants.

When they say walking only …

They mean walking only. For those not used to walking an 18-hole round, it’s best to log a few loops walking your home course to strengthen the legs before making the trip to Bandon Dunes because rounds there are, to be frank,  a hike.

Elevation changes within and between holes during a single 18-hole round can be as much as 50 to 80 feet, meaning there are some substantial hills to climb and descend. Pushcarts are complimentary. Rounds are expected to be completed within four hours and 25 minutes and your caddies are the courses’ traffic cops charged with keeping things moving.

Caddies and forecaddies

Caddies are available although not mandatory but they add immensely to the golf experience. You’ll be asked when you register for a stay there whether you want caddies. If you do, the resort’s practice is to assign you a caddie for all of your rounds during a stay unless you ask to make a change.

Bandon Dunes
Because of the expansive views, even when the tee sheets are full, the courses at Bandon Dunes look empty.

The caddie fee is $100 per bag, plus tip. The cost of a forecaddie – who advises a group of players but doesn’t carry a bag – ranges from $40 to $60 per player, depending on the size of the group, plus tip.

All caddie fees are paid directly to the caddie in cash. Players who might forget their wallet in their room can get cash to pay their caddie from the golf shop, and that amount will be charged to the room.

Caddies have the right to ask you to empty your bag of excess items that they’ll store in a secure area of the clubhouse. With clubs, balls, tees and a rainsuit, your bag must weigh less than 25 pounds if it’s going to be carried by your caddie.

The practice facilities

Bandon Dunes has a superb centrally located practice range that includes a large putting green, a chipping green, and a bunker and pitching green, plus Charlotte’s, a nine-hole par 3 course. Each of the regulation courses has its own practice putting green, and Sheep Ranch has its own practice range.

The Punchbowl is a 100,000-square-foot putting course designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina that opened in 2014. It’s located near the first tee of the Pacific Dunes course. Each day, staff maps out two 18-hole layouts on the massive putting surface and the routing changes daily. The Punchbowl is free and there are no tee times. There’s even on-course beverage service.

The restaurants

Counting all options, including golf clubhouse snack bars, there are 10 dining options at Bandon Dunes. The top-of-the-line restaurant is the Ghost Tree Grill, a brand-new restaurant off the 18th green of the Old Macdonald course. With floor-to-ceiling glass to take in sunsets, the restaurant features a raw bar with local oysters, sashimi, and Pacific Northwest seafood and steaks.

McKee's Pub at Bandon Dunes
McKee’s Pub serves Scottish pub fare, plus pizza and burgers.

McKee’s Pub at the Bandon Dunes course clubhouse serves Scottish pub fare, plus burgers and pizza. For breakfast and lunch, there’s the Tufted Puffin and The Forge, but by spring, The Forge is expected to be converted into an Italian bistro, based on results of a guest survey from a couple years ago.

Other options include the Pacific Grill, Trails End with a Pacific Northwest seafood-focused menu, the Bunker Bar, and the Library Lounge, a smallish whiskey bar that serves wraps, sandwiches and antipasto trays.

Parked by the central practice range is Charlotte’s, a food truck that serves BBQ and tacos. Even the walk-up snack bar at the Sheep Ranch clubhouse has a bit of flair, offering lamb stew to go.

Getting around Bandon Dunes resort

The resort has a fleet of 15 free shuttle vans, six of which are on duty at any time. Staged throughout the resort, they are summoned by guests via house phone or by staff, and they generally appear within five minutes. They serve all courses, the practice facility, all lodging and restaurants.

Lodging at Bandon Dunes

By the standard of the typical American golf resort, Bandon Dunes is relatively small in the number of units. It has 210 rooms scattered in small building clusters on cul-de-sacs throughout the property. The Inn and the main lodge have the most rooms and have the feel of a small hotel.

Lodging at Bandon Dunes
A double in one of the Round Lake, the resort’s newest and largest.

All rooms are eithr new or recently renovated. All sport a clean, minimalist design emphasizing natural wood evocative of Scandinavian style. Because golf in the Pacific Northwest in fall and winter can be wet, all rooms have electric golf-shoe dryers. Soap and bath products are by Occitane.

What everything costs

Bandon Dunes, like the rest of the golf world, has seen an explosion in interest of golf since the pandemic subsided and, sadly, availability reflects that. While lodging in December of this year is widely available, little to no lodging availability exists from March through next fall, according to the resort’s online calendar.

Bandon Dunes
The ocean at low tide below the golf courses.

Lodging availability doesn’t really open up again until next November, when the least expensive option for a single golfer, a California- king room in the main lodge with a view of nearby dunes, going for $250 a night. The good news is that Bandon Dunes just opened up reservations into April 2025.

For a twosome, a double in either the Chrome Lake or Lilypond units goes for $360 a night. The green fee for all courses next November is $200 a round, $100 for a replay. For the sake of comparison, if there were availability next July through September, the cost of that Lilypond or Chrome Lake double would be $460 a night; and the price of golf would be $350 a round, $175 for a replay.

More good news: While you might not be able to stay at the resort for much of 2024, golf is available to non-guests, albeit at a higher rate. Rates for an 18-hole round for “Day Guests” range from $140 in January to $400 in July. “Premium Day Guests” can reserve a tee time up to a year in advance from April through most of November for a slightly higher fee.

For players looking to visit Bandon Dunes but stay off-campus, the lodging website Booking.com shows there are eight motels in the Town of Bandon, plus some Airbnbs.

The weather

They play year-round at Bandon Dunes. In the Pacific Northwest, winters are notable more for rain than cold. Highs in November are generally in the mid-50s and lows range from 40-ish to the mid-50s, with the average low hitting around the mid-40s, according to the weather site wunderground.com.

 Getting to Bandon Dunes

Bandon Dunes is on Oregon’s Pacific Coast south of Coos Bay. Most people fly into Eugene (EUG), two and a half hours away by car. All major airlines fly to Eugene, plus Allegiant and Avelo. The best fares are to Portland (PDX), which is four and a half hours north. The closest airport, North Bend (OTH) is about 35 minutes away. It’s served year-round by United through San Francisco. In the summer months United has flights through Denver twice a week. The Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport (MFR) is about three hours away. It has nonstop service via all major carriers via Salt Lake City, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and the Los Angeles/Southern California airports.

Dan Vukelich is the online editor of Alabama Golf News.  He lives in Albuquerque, N.M.

Have a story idea or a news item to report to Alabama Golf News? Email gregg@alabamagolfnews.com

All images courtesy of Bandon Dunes Resort

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