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November 24, 2023

Bandon Dunes is the essence of ‘pure golf’

By Gregg Dewalt, Alabama Golf News Editor
Bandon Dunes

Five world-class courses to choose from

BANDON, Ore. – There are few true dream jobs in the golf industry, but Nick Bonander readily admits he has one of them.

He’s one of two directors of golf at the Bandon Dunes Resort and has an office that sits just 75 yards from the first tee at the iconic Bandon Dunes course.

Tomorrow:

Everything you need to know to plan a trip to Bandon Dunes

“It’s kind of a dream job,” the 35-year-old Bonander said on a recent November afternoon. “It’s a dream job because I’m lucky to work with a lot of great people and have amazing mentors.”

Having access to Bandon Dunes’s five world-renowned 18-hole golf courses, a short course and outstanding practice facilities isn’t half bad for Bonander, who admits to finding time at least a couple of times a week to play.

Bandon Dunes is a destination for true golf nuts

“I’m a crazy golf nut,” Bonander admitted. “I’m not going to lie, if I go a week without playing a round of golf, I am not going to be the happiest person. That doesn’t happen very often. Like every other golfer that comes here, I love the game, I love to play and that’s why I’m in the golf industry. I just love the game so much.”

Bonander, who has been at Bandon Dunes for 10 years, is not alone in his love for the game. It’s a love shared by the thousands of golfers who annually flock to Bandon Dunes’s courses. Bonander declined to offer specific numbers when asked how many rounds a year are played there, but he confirmed that during the peak months the tee sheets are mostly full.

A trip to Bandon Dunes should be on every serious golfer’s bucket list. It’s that good. Pure golf – no riding carts allowed. Caddies and trolleys dot the landscape. The spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean from holes played along the bluffs of the Oregon Coast are picture-postcard perfect. And the links-style golf is other-worldly.

Bandon Dunes has 5 courses on everyone’s ‘best of’ lists

The resort at Bandon Dunes consists of five 18-hole courses and the 13-hole, par-3 course Bandon Preserve:

  • Bandon Dunes (1999, David McLay Kidd)
  • Pacific Dunes (2001, Tom Doak)
  • Sheep Ranch (2020, Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw)
  • Old Macdonald (2010, Tom Doak/Jim Urbina)
  • Bandon Trails (2005, Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw)
  • Bandon Preserve (2012, Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw)

Shorty’s, another short course, is set to open next year.

From the time you hit your first tee shot and get to see the first reveal of the Pacific Ocean, it’s clear that Bandon Dunes is special.

Bandon Dunes
There are significant elevation changes on the Bandon Dunes Resort courses. (Photo: Gregg Dewalt)

The resort is the vision of Mike Keiser, who took an incredible piece of land and with the help of some of the top golf course architects in the world, turned a four-mile stretch of the Oregon coast into a piece of Scotland.

There aren’t many courses in the U.S. that require you to play the type of golf needed at Bandon Dunes Resort. Imagine encountering a 133-yard par 3 that your caddie tells you is playing 175 yards, thanks to a 25-mph wind in your face.

Imagine facing a 260-yard downwind shot on a par 5 and launching a 3-wood that, when it stops rolling, is over the back of the green.

Imagine when putting from 40 yards off the green is the preferred shot instead of a lob wedge.

Creativity is the name of the game on the courses at the Bandon Dunes Resort. They are visually intimidating and spectacular at the same time. Massive greens and rustic, natural bunkering define the on-course experience.

Bonander said he’s not sure there is any place in the country similar to what’s offered at Bandon Dunes Resort in terms of golf experience.

“There’s a lot of really, really great facilities, great resorts around the country, but as far as a place that is, we’re all about golf here,” he said. “I think if you’re coming to Bandon, you’re an avid golfer, you love the game of golf and you’re coming to hopefully play 36 holes every single day you’re here and get as much golfing as you can, spend a bunch of time with some really good people and enjoy yourself. I think that’s the thing that sets us apart. We’re all about the golf and we want our guests to be experiencing the courses they want and not be in their rooms.”

Bandon Dunes
Gorse bushes, with needle-sharp spines, an import from Scotland, (right) come into play for spray hitters. (Photo: Gregg Dewalt)

How good is the golf at Bandon Dunes? All five of the resort’s 18-hole courses appear in some capacity on Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golfweek’s Top 100 lists.

Golf Digest lists Pacific Dunes at No. 21 on its Top 100 courses in the U.S. Bandon Dunes (40), Bandon Trails (65) and Old Macdonald (72) follow.

Golf magazine has Pacific Dunes at No. 17, followed by Bandon Trails (40), Bandon Dunes (46), Old Macdonald (77) and Sheep Ranch (97).

There are four courses listed in the top 11 of Golfweek’s Top 100 Courses You Can  Play: Pacific Dunes (2), Old Macdonald (4), Bandon Dunes (6) and Sheep Ranch (11).

Two August visitors said their trip to Bandon Dunes easily met or exceeded their expectations.

“This was my first trip there so was not sure what to expect,” Paul Monahan of Kansas City said. “The golf courses were amazing. Having been to Scotland and Ireland, the course designers performed a miraculous job of replicating the playing conditions.  From the gorse to the undulating green complexes, I thought I was across the pond.”

The wind comes into play

Monahan pointed out that the wind, which during summer picks up as the day goes along, should factor into when a person plays. When he played, the winds were consistently blowing in the 15-25 mph range in the afternoon.

Bandon Dunes 2
The Pacific Ocean is a constant companion at Bandon Dunes. (Photo: Gregg Dewalt)

“The wind conditions were a bit overboard, especially in the late afternoons,” he said. “I was told by the caddies that the conditions were quite normal for [August].  If so, I would recommend playing sooner or later in the year.  If August is it, I would recommend playing in the morning and taking the afternoons off to enjoy the other options that Bandon has to offer.  If you like playing in wind, [Bandon] is your happy place.”

Kent Schlesselman of Tulsa, Oklahoma, said his visit to Bandon Dunes exceeded his expectations, although it wasn’t a bucket-list trip for him.

“I don’t keep a bucket list,” he said. “It did change my opinion from: ‘I will never play top dollar for destination golf as I can experience the level of frustration brought on by golf for far less money at my local muni’ to ‘If you are going to experience the level of frustration brought on by golf, you might as well do it in a really, really nice environment once in a while.’”

Bandon Dunes
Late-day shadows highlight the rolls and wrinkles in the terrain at Bandon Dunes. (Photo: Gregg Dewalt)

Monahan said Pacific Dunes was his favorite course. Schlesselman liked the Bandon Dunes course the best.

Bonander said that is not uncommon for visitors to have different favorite courses. He noted that other destinations have one course that stands out over the others. That’s not the case at Bandon Dunes.

“I think the best part about Bandon Dunes is that you could sit around a dinner table with 12 people and ask everybody to rank their top five, you would get 12 different answers,” Bonander said. “I think each course offers something different. And the best part about golf is everybody has a little bit different taste for what they like and what kind of fits their eye.”

Pacific Dunes is Bonander’s favorite.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s one of those courses where every time I play 18 holes out there and I walk off at 18, I just am like, it never disappoints. Even if I get my butt kicked, which is most of the time, I walk off of it and I’m just like in awe because I know what Tom [Doak] did out there. It’s pretty remarkable the way that he used the dunes, the way that you weave in and out of inland on the coast and it’s just a special walk.”

Monahan said after Pacific Dunes, his pecking order was Bandon Dunes, Sheep Ranch and Old Macdonald. He did not play Bandon Trails, which is more of an inland course.

“They were all so close that it is really hard to choose which is better,” he said.

Bonander calls a visit to Bandon Dunes Resort “a pure golf experience.”

He’s not wrong. A visit to Bandon Dunes is essential.

Gregg Dewalt is the editor of Alabama Golf News

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

Featured image of the Bandon Dunes course courtesy of Bandon Dunes Resort

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