This is part two of a four part series on our recent trip to Bandon Dunes
DAY TWO – PACIFIC DUNES
We had finished our first 18 holes, an enjoyable trip around Bandon Trails for fourteen of them and an exercise in wind resistance for the final four, and now it was time for lunch. We made our way via shuttle over to the main lodge and our original five (me, my wife, KB, BP and KM) were met by the final two members of our 7 person “wolf pack” (The Hangover reference is intentional). One friend, PJ, we knew well. The other, Pat from Chicago, was a stranger to all of us save for KM.
If you look up recreational golfer in my imaginary dictionary you will see a picture of our friend PJ. He is a decent player and a hell of a decent guy but, as far as I know, he has always treated golf like the other non-essential things in his life… That’s to say it is NOT to be taken seriously. Pat, on the other hand, appeared to be the definition of the demographic on which the folks at Bandon Dunes have their sights set. He is a single digit handicap that probably practices almost as much as he plays. He, more than likely, has Bandon, Pebble, The Old Course, and a few more on his bucket list, would pay for Golf Channel if he had to and was coming to the Oregon Coast to break 80, maybe 75. To his credit, he was not too serious to share a few laughs around the table with our eclectic group over lunch and, for some, a few cold beers.
As the big Rolex clock near the first tee ticked toward 2 PM we made our way to the restrooms or the bar for a few more carry-outs and gathered again at the starter’s shack at Pacific Dunes. Waiting, fueled and rested themselves were “Rake”. If you missed the first post in this series allow me a “previously on Bandon Brothers and Sisters” moment. “Rake” was the co-mingled nickname my wife attributed to our caddies, Eric “Rack” Rackley and James “Jake” Muldowney. Rack would once again tote the two bags belonging to my wife and KB while Jake had my set. At Bandon when you request a caddie you get him for every round you play for the duration of your stay.
Pacific Dunes was the second course built at the resort. It was designed by Tom Doak and opened in July of 2001. Over the course of its thirteen year history, Pacific Dunes has been widely regarded as one of the America’s best golf courses and the highest rated, of all the tracks at Bandon, by golf magazines. In fact recently Golf Digest magazine placed it third on its 2013-2014 list of public courses and #19 when that list expands to all courses, public and private, in America. GOLF Magazine said it’s the eighth best links course in the world and in 2005 Golfweek wrote, “Pacific Dunes is the #1 resort course in the country.” High praise for sure, but with apologies to our friends at Bandon Dunes (www.bandondunesgolf.com) that’s going to be the last really nice thing I say about the Pacific Dunes golf course in this post. Mother Nature had flipped the blow dryer to “MAX”.
We stood on the first tee, waiting for the group in front of us to clear the fairway, getting absolutely pummeled by, what had to be, a 40 mile an hour wind. “Is this normal?” I asked Jake as he pulled out my driver and removed the head cover. “Pretty much,” was his two word reply. So with the entire group watching, the two ladies with whom I would once again play, our caddies, and the four gents who would tote their own clubs and play behind us, I pegged my Pro V1x between the green tee markers (6,142 yards on the card) and made my first swing of the afternoon. I smoked it. Straight, lower than normal and screaming into the wind as the wind screamed back. “That’s a good one,” Jake said grabbing the driver from me and putting it back in the bag. It would turn out to be one of only a dozen or so shots I actually hit squarely on the club face that afternoon. For the first time on the trip I actually lost a ball (truth be told I lost a sleeve), but continued my string of not making a birdie.
Maybe I should have prefaced all this by saying that these days I rarely play 36 holes in one day, in fact more often than I’d like to admit I won’t play 36 holes in a month. Add to that the fact that 22 of those holes were played in a howling, mind numbing, can barely hear yourself think, wind and it stands to figure that before the round had reached a handful of holes I was beat. Thank goodness I continued to enjoy very much the company and continued to be in awe of the surroundings. Kite surfers, whales, rock formations and Rack’s stories of great white sharks kept our group enthralled while our play kept us amused. On one hole KB unleashed one of her normal powerful swings and sent her tee shot rocketing up in the air, straight up then spinning sideways, eventually landing in the fescue rough 40 yards right of her target and ten yards behind her!
My wife, on the other hand, may have enjoyed Pacific Dunes most. Maybe it was because she had had a couple of beers at lunch but more likely it was because her game is played much closer to the ground than both KB’s and mine. The transition from teeing ground to fairway and fairway to green at Pacific Dunes is true links golf. I have never played golf in Scotland but could imagine it being like this. I had seen it on TV and now I was experiencing it in person watching golf balls rolling for yards along the fairway (and sometimes into fairway and greenside bunkers), choosing putter as the play from as many as ten or fifteen yards off the green. Despite the wind, or perhaps because of it, my wife found a groove. She consistently hit it past me down the fairway and occasionally got it by KB and just like at Bandon Trails she putted, on more than a few greens, like she owned the place. She also, thanks to an apparently simple and as yet unrevealed tip from Rack, became Gary Player out every bunker in which she happened to find her ball. All in all, the best shots by far at Pacific Dunes were struck by my wife and taken by KB and her camera.
The tenth hole is a 163 yard par 3 that has you facing a smallish, by Bandon standards, green protected on both the left and right by dunes and gorse bushes. Beyond the green the magnificent Pacific Ocean is a constant presence as is the aforementioned whistling wind. Without hesitation Jake pulled my driver and with less hesitation I hit it… onto the 11th tee box, flag high, 20 yards left of my intended target. The second best shot I hit all day came next when I lofted a 60 degree wedge over the gorse and onto the green ten feet from the hole. I two putted for a bogey that felt like a birdie.
At one point on the course, pathways to and from holes on both Pacific and Bandon Dunes cross in front or behind each other depending on which course and what hole you are playing. Our group was going one way as we stopped to admire yet another outstanding view while three guys from another group, toting their own clubs, walked along their path in front of us. Head down and hunched over to battle the wind the lead guy suddenly looked up and saw my wife and KB, “kudos to you gals for being out here in this,” he said loud enough for me to hear then put his head back down and continued to trudge along. “What the hell was that supposed to mean?” My wife asked rhetorically while she walked by. When we got to the tee box she calmly rifled another dart right down the middle.
On the back nine an assortment of 4’s, 6’s and 8’s littered the scorecard. All we needed was a 2 to re-create the Little League cheer from my past, “2, 4 6, 8 who do we appreciate…” then on the par 3, 14th KB obliged. A sweetly struck short iron combined with a well read, then well stroked putt and KB had the day’s first birdie. For her it wouldn’t be the last.
The 16th hole is a 338 yard sharp dogleg right, downwind, par 4. Jake suggested I hit my hybrid by pulling it out of the bag and unsheathing the head cover. I obliged by pushing it into the trees and the rough on the right. After my wife smacked another one down the left side of the fairway, Rack suggested Katie might want to give the driver a go telling her “with a solid one” she could get down near the green. She accepted the challenge and hit it a bit more solidly than solid. As I was looking (briefly), then dropping, then punching out, KB, my wife, Rack and Jake were high-fiving because the drive KB crushed had sailed, ridden the wind and ended up twenty feet from the hole for eagle. A two putt birdie left us with one more long to be remembered moment in a scrapbook full of them from a weekend at Bandon Dunes.
Two of the final four holes at Pacific Dunes are par 5’s and by the time we got to the final one, the 18th, the sun was setting and the wind had appeared to subside (maybe 25 mph). A drive in the fairway, a topped hybrid (after Jake had told me I could reach the green in two) and an 8 iron to the middle of the green gave me the afternoon’s best chance at birdie. I breathed a sigh of relief and was feeling pretty good as we made our way to the putting surface. Jake spoke up, “maybe the wind today was a little more stout than normal,” he said never looking up at me. I smiled and we kept walking. Two putts later my score added up to 94 and I was ready for a cocktail. My playing companions agreed so we thanked and paid “Rake”, said we’d see them tomorrow around noon for our round at Bandon Dunes, and headed for the bar and a perch from which we could watch our friends finish.
Thirty six holes, played on two completely different golf courses were in the books. Bandon Trails was more enjoyable, Pacific Dunes more difficult. While I’m sure it deserves accolades I wasn’t sure after playing it that it was “all that and a bag of chips” like some had alluded it was. After the trip was complete I was even more convinced of my assessment. I’ve played some of the best, nicest and most famous courses in the country and while Bandon Dunes as a whole would make my top ten, Pacific Dunes in particular would not. Maybe I owe it another chance, in a slightly less aggressive wind, or maybe my first impression is the correct one.
The group, as a whole, told our tales, drowned our sorrows and soaked up the splendor of the Punchbowl as the sun set and the temps dropped more than a few degrees. A great day, we all agreed. Our new friend Pat was equal parts impressed, humbled and ready for the challenges of future Bandon rounds. The rest of us were tired, but energized to do it all again the next day. As KB rolled in another putt to win the hole and close out the “match” we were attempting to have, everybody was ready for a nice meal. PJ, scotch in hand, shivered slightly from the coastal chill. With the ever-present smile on his face he exclaimed, “This is a terrible place to play golf! Has anyone ever heard of Florida?” We all laughed and we also disagreed, actually Bandon Dunes was proving to be a delightful place to place golf.
Next up – Day three and our trip around Bandon Dunes