Before I begin, here is a little warning: This entry is about a new course I played a couple months ago named Bandon Trails, and I am an admitted Bandon-phile. I’m seeking help from a support group but none of us really want to get better.
Ten years ago, Mike Keiser, the recycled paper mogul, had an affinity for links golf and an enviable glut in his checking account. That combination allowed his dream to become my reality: world class links golf in the Pacific Northwest. In case you had not heard, he built the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, and attached the tag line: “Golf as it was meant to be.”
Fast forward to 2005.
In the summer of 2005, Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore unveiled the third course at the Bandon resort: Bandon Trails. Trails is a very different course from its predecessors, Pacific Dunes and Bandon Dunes. The latter are links style; wind-swept, ocean-side courses that dazzle you with their postcard views while mystifying you with their undulating greens and dastardly bunkers. Trails takes a different route. It turns away from the ocean and heads into the hills.
Literally, the golf course starts with as panoramic an ocean view as can be found on the property only to turn inland, meander through the hills, and finally swing back to the sea. Initially, I read about the routing, saw the layout on the website, and thought: why? Why stray away from the ocean and the style of golf that put Bandon on the map in the first place?
A few months ago I got a call, and with it, an opportunity to play the third course free of charge. I was excited, but my excitement was tempered with my hesitation about this third course. After 18 holes, I discovered why that hesitation and the questions I had were unfounded. I am writing about it now to share the reason with all 3 of my readers. The short answer is that Trails is a links/parkland hybrid with tremendous natural beauty, and unparalleled shot variety.
The long answer is the same, but I’ll try and fill in some things I liked and disliked in particular. The first tee is tremendous. The view is breathtaking. It is almost too much for an opening hole. I found myself trying to walk and talk slowly in order to calm myself down. Adrenaline has a tendency to hurt my golf swing more than it helps it, and accuracy is pretty important as there is gorse left and the beach right. I will actually go into a bit of detail here as I thought the first hole was illustrative of Creshaw’s thought process as much as any other on the course.
If you play a fade off the tee and are interested in being safe, then you need to choose how far right you want to go. There is room far enough right to call it bail out space, but with the way the hole sets up, the longer and farther right your tee shot goes, the more obstructed your view of the green becomes on the approach. A better player will tease the left but as their shot travels it can find serious trouble due to the gorse and slop of the fairway. The safe play is short middle or left. A shot that is short and right will not hurt you too bad, but it is not ideal. I found myself fairly long and right.
For my approach, my lie was below my feet, and I could not see where I wanted to land my shot. It was occasions like these that made the caddie worth every penny. If only I realized that at the time… He encouraged me to pull a shorter club and even changed my line a bit. Of course, I followed half of his advice and ended up taking too much club. I was on in regulation but had a long putt from above the hole. My friend found himself chipping from below it after heeding the caddie’s advice. At the time, I thought I had done alright following my gut. Then I hit my putt well. Well, I thought I did. I proceeded to watch it gather speed, roll past the hole, and then end up farther off the green than my friend had been after his approach.
I have said it to a number of friends and I will write it here for posterity’s sake: nothing in life had prepared me for those greens. I hit the ball wonderfully that day. I hit more than half the greens in regulation and shot a 92. As I like to say, ‘in real life’, I’m an average putter. At Bandon, I was awful. It became funny after awhile. I started wearing the growing number of three-jacks like a medal, but my ability to keep a sense of humor about it never helped much. As we neared the end of our round our caddie told us something I thought was hilarious. He said: “Pacific Dunes is proof that Tom Doak hates people, and Bandon Trails is Ben Crenshaw’s way of telling the world he is a great putter and you’re not.”
The greens were in wonderful shape, they rolled true, but there are no easy putts on that golf course. The variety of the scenery as you play the course is matched quite well by the variety of shots required from you. There are vistas and postcard views like its predecessors but not in the same quantity. The ocean is always present in your senses, but rarely in your sights. The truth is that Bandon Trails is a great golf course that is different from its siblings. Nevertheless, after playing a round there I trust, like myself, that you will find it lives up to the lofty ambition of the resort. It is indeed: Golf as it was meant to be.