This is part three of a four part series on our recent trip to Bandon Dunes
DAY THREE – THE NAMESAKE
After a few rounds of cocktails and a round of putting on Punchbowl, the 18 hole, 100,000+ square foot putting green at Bandon Dunes, our group of seven (me, my wife, KB, BP, KM, PJ and Pat from Chicago) headed to the restaurant next to the golf shop at Bandon Trails for dinner. We ordered our food accompanied by a couple of bottles of “B” Pinot Noir (Bandon’s proprietary red).
At some point during the conversation KM and Pat from Chicago, buddies from grad school, decided they were good to go for 36 holes on Sunday in addition to the 36 we had all, except Pat, just finished. This change in plans came about because Pat hadn’t arrived yet when the group played Bandon Trails that morning and, having heard so many good things about the Tom Doak design, he wanted to tee it up there too. BP, my wife and I had been friends for years and were looking forward to playing together for the only time on the trip so he was out with them and in with us. PJ in a bizarre coincidence had run into another group of buddies enjoying a golf trip of their own to Bandon and had planned to join them the next day so he was out as well.
To accomplish what Pat wanted to accomplish the six of us decided to meet at The Preserve (the 13-hole par 3 course) at 8 AM and from there KM and Pat would head directly to Bandon Dunes for a morning round before the additional eighteen at Bandon Trails. That plan meant 31 holes for four of us and 49 for the other two. We said goodnight, parted ways with KM and Pat and headed back to the four bedroom cottage. Not surprisingly after 36 holes of walking and swinging in the wind, a good meal and an alcoholic beverage, or four, I slept like a dead guy then awakened in the morning ready for another day at Bandon.
My wife felt the same way and so did BP. Of our group only KB seemed a little slow on the uptake but a quick breakfast and a latte at the main lodge worked wonders. We met KM and Pat at The Preserve and made our way to the first tee. Number one is slightly downhill and only about 75 yards from the tee we played into, of course, a slight breeze. After deciding the match and the make-up of the teams (KM, my wife and I would take on KB, BP and Pat) I plopped a ball down and took a swipe at it with my 54 degree Vokey wedge. I carry three, 50, 54 and 60 degrees and I use and love them all. This one I hit on the nose and the ball flew straight and true eventually settling about 12 feet from the hole. There are 13 par threes at The Preserve and that morning I hit 12 of them in regulation using everything from a 7 iron to my 60 degree sand wedge. I couldn’t miss, much to my amusement and the amazement of the other five. The only green I didn’t hit was the result of choosing the wrong club the ball landing short and in the bunker after a perfectly struck pitching wedge. I got it up and in.
We learned on the first day of the trip that on the 13th and final hole of The Preserve it is customary to play a shot off the tee with a putter. The hole is straight down hill, anywhere from 75 to 109 yards long and conducive to rolling a ball from the very top to the bottom. We all tried and even on that shot I hit it square on the clubface, exactly where I aimed it. The ball rolled and rolled and rolled before reaching the putting surface then sliding just by the hole. From our perch 80 yards up the hill we thought I made a one but instead it ended up just 3 feet away and I made a two. It may have only been the par three course but I definitely had a little bounce in my step as we headed to Bandon Dunes for an early lunch.
After another satisfying meal (the food at Bandon Dunes is not gourmet but it is very, very good and on most every occasion it was the perfect salve before and after a good walk “unspoiled”) of burgers, bratwurst and banquet beer we stepped outside to meet up with our caddies “Rack” and “Jake”, or “Rake” as my wife had taken to calling them since day one, who were waiting with ready smiles.
Bandon Dunes was the first golf course designed on Mike Keiser’s land and he hired Scotsman David McLay Kidd to fulfill his vision. It opened in the late spring of 1999 and was one of McLay Kidd’s earliest works. Since then Bandon Dunes has become known and respected worldwide and McLay Kidd has gone on to design some of golf’s most interesting and talked about golf courses including South Africa’s Fancourt, which hosted the 2003 Presidents Cup Match, Nanea on the Big Island of Hawaii and Gamble Sands along the Columbia River in central Washington State. From my now customary green tee markers the course sets up at 6,221 yards on the card but there is NO WIND on the card! Sunday’s breeze was around 20 to 25 miles an hour as we got set to play and my caddie, Jake, looked at me with a grin and said, “This is what a normal Bandon wind feels like.” “Does it ever NOT blow?” I asked. “Sure,” he replied and then added, “the day before and the day after a storm.”
Our good friend BP, a single digit handicap, plays most of his golf in the San Francisco Bay Area so the conditions (wind, sweater weather chill) seemed to affect him much less than it affected us. In fact, on the golf course, he wore shorts and a golf shirt with a long sleeve undershirt while I almost always had on a sweater and slacks. I did pack a pair of shorts but they never got unpacked. On the tee Jake handed me my driver, pointed out the desired direction and watched as I blasted another first tee shot right down the fairway. BP followed and ripped one down the left side about 20 yards past me and away we went.
I don’t know if it was because we were refreshed, or that BP had joined us, or simply because we had each played more than 60 (BP had played more than 78) holes of golf in two and a half days but we all played pretty well. My good technique, or was it good fortune, continued with the short irons and as we made the turn there weren’t more than a handful of scores worse than bogey on any of our scorecards. KB made the group’s first birdie with a nice 15 foot putt on the par three third while BP made his first birdie of the round by reaching the par five ninth, in two. No birdies for me or my wife but plenty of pars and bogeys led to respectable front nine scores.
The tenth at Bandon Dunes is legendary, literally. After we had all hit our tee shots Rack started to tell us the tale of a group of Scots who came to Bandon very early on. While Rack spun the yarn Jake instructed BP to “walk this way” and they headed into the right rough. According to Rack’s story the Scotsmen buried a treasure (a very old, very good bottle of scotch) under a tree in the direction Jake and BP now wandered. Years later, the same group returned and set about unearthing, with hopes of enjoying, the golden liquid. “This is where it gets interesting,” Rack said and continued to relate the story. It seems, according to the legend, the men were unable to locate the bottle and assuming the grounds crew had subsequently found and drained the bottle they headed toward the superintendent’s office to get answers. Upon inquiring about the long buried treasure the Super let out a hearty laugh and exclaimed, “So that was YOUR bottle!” The Scotsmen said that indeed it was and announced their displeasure that it had been “stolen” from them and the liquid poured down some American greens keeper’s gullets. His honor questioned, the Super bristled and then assured the gentlemen that he and his crew had done no such thing and then he proved it. He led the return visitors back out to the tenth but stopped in a different place, under a different tree.
Without taking further questions he explained in the intervening years they had reworked the earth in that area and unearthed the bottle. After agreeing that something mysterious was at work the crew put the bottle, unopened, in a box and buried it again, albeit in a slightly different spot. And that’s where it sits to this day. Jake had shown BP the bottle but I passed on taking a peak, preferring to keep the details of the story safe in my imagination. BP birdied the hole while I made bogey from the middle of the fairway. Maybe I should have gazed upon the bottle after all.
After a good par for me and a three putt double bogey for BP at 11 I had the tee at the par three twelfth. From our teeing ground the card says the hole plays 153 but it’s a little downhill and the wind was helping slightly from right to left. “I like this,” Jake said while handing me my 9 iron. I took it, teed the ball up and stepped into my stance. My swing was good as was the contact and the ball beautifully rode the wind, landed on the front part of the green and rolled out to about 15 feet from the hole. “That’s as good as it gets right there,” said Rack. “Nice shot,” echoed Jake as he reclaimed the 9 iron and put it back in the bag.
Back on the first tee my three playing companions (I have no idea where I was) had determined that afternoon’s match. My wife and I would take on KB and BP. KB is a 17 and would get 8 shots, my wife is a 25 and they awarded her a stroke a hole. BP was prepared to give me 3. When I heard the bet, in some fit of bravado, or insanity, I said I would play BP straight up and we went ahead and lost the front 9, three down. After BP’s birdie at ten we went four down and one down and then KB poured salt on the wound with a stellar birdie at the eleventh. That meant the “good guys” lost the front nine, were down five on the 18 and two on the back nine needing something good to happen. Then it did, I finally followed Jake’s advice to perfection on the green at twelve and rolled in the putt for my first “real” birdie of the trip. That got us one hole back and my wife’s par net birdie on the par five 13th meant we were three down and all square in the match. We lost 14, and the 18 hole match, thanks to a KB par, halved the 15th and stood four down and one down on the picturesque par 4 16th tee.
The mighty Pacific Ocean takes up all the room to the right with tall grass, gorse and dunes if you miss left. That said the fairway, like most at Bandon Dunes, was expansive though riddled with several well placed bunkers. To add to the grandeur of the hole you also have to carry your tee shot over a ravine but Jake was reassuring when he handed me the driver and said, “It’s more intimidating than it looks. Just rip it over the fairway bunker on the right side of the fairway.” So I did. ”You,” he said to BP, “can drive the green.” He didn’t. His ball had the distance but not the direction and it sailed 30 yards left into the rough. From there his approach landed in a greenside pot bunker and his only play was back the same we from which he had come. In the meantime I had hit my 60 degree wedge on the green and my wife and KB, both getting a stroke) had reached the green in three. Three putts for KB later we had won the hole and had brought the only bet we still had a chance to win to all square with two to play.
Throughout the course of this four part discourse I have mentioned fondly our caddies Rack and Jake. If I said they made our Bandon Dunes experience exponentially better once I could have said it a hundred times and not been overstating their impact for me. James “Jake” Muldowney, my guy, was the younger of the two. Fresh from a stint playing competitive college golf for the Runnin Rebels at UNLV he clearly knew, loved and was good at the game. I could sense he would much rather be playing out of my bag as opposed to carrying it and it won’t surprise me one bit if Jake has moved on to other adventures if, or when, we go back to Bandon Dunes.
Eric “Rack” Rackley, on the other hand, is as much a part of the scenery at Bandon Dunes as the kite surfers, the whale spouts and the wind. My guess is he will be there as long as he can hoist a bag or two over his shoulders. Walking down the first fairway on Friday he was quick to mention, but humble enough not to dwell on, the fact that he was the very first caddie hired at the resort and then he never mentioned it again, didn’t have to. I know he plays but have no idea how often or how well. I also sensed, from those first moments, that he has great respect for the game and he LOVES Bandon Dunes. He did much more than give my wife and KB yardages, advice on clubs and great reads on the greens; he told us stories, jokes and imparted a sense of place at Bandon, an idea of what the resort is all about. Then on the 16th green (our 52nd hole together) he pulled a rabbit out of his hat.
“Hang on a sec,” Rack said as he dropped to his knees near the hole, “I have a special picture for you.” We, especially KB, had been taking pics all day, Mother Nature providing amazing natural photo op after amazing natural photo op. Now it was Rack’s turn to provide a man made one. We weren’t waiting on the group in front and the players behind us were at least a hole and half from catching up so we weren’t in a rush. We watched, with interest, as our caddie, turned director of photography, speared two tees into the inside of the hole just above the line of the cup. His next move was to place a golf ball on top of the tees and then he spoke again, “Okay now one of you pretend you just stroked a putt and hold your finish. The rest of you react like it went in to win the U S Open.” We wondered what he was up to but didn’t protest and did as we were instructed taking turns being the putter who made it and the appreciative gallery who reacted. The results, some posted here, were predictably humorous and, for us, another memorable moment in a trip more and more full of them.
After, and maybe because of, the photo shoot, we all played the 17th like dogs but I won the hole with a six foot bogey putt which meant my wife and I stood on the par five, 18th tee, one up. KB stroked on the hole but made that irrelevant when she sailed her tee shot into the gorse on the right and lost her ball. The rest of us hit good tee shots then my wife and I laid up and watched BP go for the green in two. His second was long enough but missed a little right and ended up ten yards off the green but nearly pin high. My third was average, 25 feet from the hole, but my wife smacked a solid 5 iron that flew true, rolled straight when it hit the ground, and ended up 12 feet away from a natural birdie. The way she had putted all week, and with Rack’s read, a two-putt par for net birdie was a given so BP he knew he had to pitch his in for eagle to sweep all three matches of the bet. He didn’t but man did he come close! Played to perfection the ball landed, pitched forward and rolled toward the cup looking for the longest time like he was going to accomplish what he set out to do… break our hearts. In the end the shot carried just a little too much speed as it nicked the flagstick and settled less than a foot away.
My wife did indeed two putt for her par and we avoided the shutout. Handshakes, hugs and air kisses were exchanged and I penciled in a very respectable 84, with a birdie, on my line of the scorecard. We were more than ready for an evening cocktail, or two, and another go around on Punchbowl. The afternoon was outstanding and at that moment Bandon Dunes had become my favorite golf course on the property with only the newest, Old McDonald left to play.
Up next – The last day and Old MacDonald