This is the final part of a four part series on our recent trip to Bandon Dunes
DAY FOUR – PUNCHBOWL BY NIGHT, OLD MACDONALD BY DAY
Sunday evening, our final Bandon sunset, found us embroiled in another epic putting competition over a new set of 18 holes at Punchbowl, the massive 100,000+ square foot, real grass, putting course at the resort. The length of the holes had changed and so had the size of our group. The friends, with which our friend PJ had met up while on a separate golf trip, had joined in the fun. They were his friends from law school or grad school or business school and, like him, were fun loving, funny and not particularly concerned with the state or quality of their golf games.
The putting green was packed so we placed our “team” golf ball in the slot that determined order of play, noticed the cocktail waitress was busy assisting other customers, and headed for the bar to order a first round of drinks. Avoiding the risk of running dry because of the busy waitress we ordered doubles and sipped while we started the match. By the time the waitress made it our way for another round the beverages and the banter were flowing freely and, with the exception of our friends KM and KB, the putting suffered from it. Since they were on the same team in the five on five (or was it six on six) battle of big breaks the match wasn’t even close. But my team, which included my wife and good friend BP, led by a wide margin in terms of insults so we felt pretty good about that. When it’s mostly dark and everyone is half drunk a well-timed zinger is more satisfying than a well struck putt any day, or night, of the week.
The genuine laughs and the counterfeit insults continued as we regrouped in the cottage, opened up bottles of scotch and wine and ordered burgers off the room service menu. Once the food was gone the friends, old and new, began to file out around 10:30. KB had disappeared into her corner bedroom of the cottage and my wife and I were ready to do the same into ours. If we wanted it breakfast was bright and early the next morning before our 8 AM tee time at the resorts newest course, Old MacDonald, and we still had to pack. Our trip was coming to an end but we had one more round of golf.
At one point, while playing Bandon Dunes on Sunday, we looked out across the landscape at Old MacDonald. “We call him Old MacMullett,” one of our caddies Eric “Rack“ Rackley said, “Short in the front and long in the back.” “At least we’re playing there in the morning,” our other caddie James “Jake” Muldowney added, “because when the afternoon winds get up over there it can be a bear.” We were playing in the morning and the morning turned out to be glorious. The huge American flag that stood guard between the practice putting green and the first tee lay flat, peaceful, quiet in anticipation of a steady stretching out that a certain wind would give it at some point during another day at Bandon Dunes. KB, my wife and I did get out of bed early enough to have a little breakfast and a cup of coffee while the rest of our group BP, KM and Pat from Chicago met us on the putting green. Our other friend, PJ, was nowhere to be found, maybe teeing it up somewhere later and maybe not.
Old MacDonald was designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina as homage to Charles Blair MacDonald. MacDonald was a renowned, Canadian born, player and architect who won the United States Amateur Championship in 1895 and designed The National Golf Links of America on Long island, NY in 1908. Most of his courses feature his version of holes from famous courses in Great Britain and include The Old White course at The Greenbrier, Piping Rock and The Yale University Golf Club.
The course at Bandon Dunes was completed and opened for play in June of 2010 and in addition to being the newest it’s the most “links-like” and features the resort’s biggest greens. It plays 6,320 yards from the green tees and, true to Rack’s description from the day before, 1,642 or 26 per cent of those yards come courtesy of the last four holes ( 2 par fours and 2 par fives). We stopped for a quick peek inside the smallish golf shop to survey the merchandise and, as we had at the other shops on site, liked what we saw.
Our group was eclectic, well educated, well-travelled and knew a little bit about a lot of things and a lot about a few things. One of the things a few in our group knew a great deal about was marketing and branding and, according to them, Bandon Dunes had “hit it out of the park” when it came to logos. They consensus was all the courses individual logos were well done but the designs for Punchbowl and The Preserve(the 13 hole par three course) earned extra high marks. You can see them all at the Bandon Dunes website www.bandondunesgolf.com and decide for yourself. With selections mentally made for post round payment and pick up we headed to the first tee and met up with, for the last time, our caddies Rack and Jake.
We were back to two threesomes and once again our trio (KB, my wife and me) would go first. That meant I would strike the first tee shot at Old MacDonald. Just 304 yards on the card the first hole is relatively benign so I teed up my Titleist and let it fly. My shot sailed straight and plenty long enough making me four for four in first hole tee shots at Bandon Dunes. Sadly for me the short iron prowess I had exhibited the day before had deserted me completely as I began this round. I chunked a wedge, then chunked a chip before abandoning that strategy and putted my fourth from a few yards off the green. The back of the Old MacDonald scorecard lists the names of each hole and the first is called “Double Plateau”. I renamed it “Double Bogey”. Things didn’t go any better at “Eden”, the par three second hole. 139 yards is normally a good, solid 9 iron for me but off the tee on “Eden” I hit a “hellaciously” fat shot that travelled all of about 80 yards. A fourth consecutive chunk put me in the greenside bunker from which I couldn’t get up and in so the start to my day at Old MacDonald looked more like an In N Out Burger order, double double.
On number three, “Sahara” I finally found some relief when, after another good drive flew over the hill and trundled down the other side near the green. Handing me my 60 degree wedge Jake said simply, “Commit to it and get down through it.” Since I had laid the sod over every other short iron, I approached this one with very little confidence but I heeded Jake’s advice, kept my upper body still and finally hit the golf ball first. Green in regulation, two putt par, yeah! I ended up playing the last seven holes on the front nine in the same number of strokes over par that I had played the first two posting a 42. Then I began the back nine with a swell three putt triple bogey seven.
My wife had made three pars on her first nine including the last two holes and after adding up all nine scores the number I wrote down for her was 46. It was her best nine holes of the trip and among the best first nine holes of a round she had recorded in the dozen years we’d been playing golf together. She knew she was playing well and enjoying herself but she didn’t ask what she had shot. I wouldn’t have told her if she had. Her back nine started with a bogey but then spiraled a bit off the rails with a double and two triples before she was able to refocus and get things back on track. KB had also played well and limited the really big numbers to only a couple but her back nine was schizophrenic as well starting double, par, triple, par before playing the final five in just two over.
As for my round at Old MacDonald I might remember the eleventh hole best. I have watched the British Open (excuse me, The Open Championship) for decades and have always been impressed by how difficult many of the bunkers looked. I also marveled at how easily the pros seemed to be able to extricate themselves from those hazards. I always wanted to attempt a shot from such a bunker one day and got my chance when a not quite perfectly struck 6 iron approach landed in the one fronting the green on the hole called “Road”. I climbed the steps down into the bunker and remembered the advice I had heard once upon a time. I opened the face of my 60 degree Vokey wedge a little more than usual and I settled in, aiming a tad further left than I normally do for sand shots. Swing, splash and out popped the ball on an excellent trajectory, landing on the green and rolling out to four feet from the cup. A good putt saved my par and reinforced what I tell people I love a great deal about the game of golf.
I can’t dunk. I have no chance of hitting a hundred mile an hour fastball and if I got hit head on by San Francisco Forty Niner linebacker Navarro Bowman my guess is I’d wake up in a hospital. But several times during a round of golf any one of us can hit a shot or a putt as well as the number one professional player in the world. I had done precisely that on “Road” at Bandon Dunes.
I followed my par with three straight bogeys and then played “Old MacMullett”s” green mile (the last four holes) in one under par thanks to a most memorable utility wood second shot over the giant mound that shelters the green at the par four, 16th appropriately named “Alps”. KB and my wife had righted their respective ships, posting more bogies and pars than “others”, when we arrived at the final two holes of our trip. Seventeen, called “Littlestone” is a par 5 and eighteen, “Punchbowl” is a finishing par 4 that take you back to the clubhouse. On “Littlestone” KB creamed another drive that unluckily ended up in a fairway pot bunker Rack had told her she probably couldn’t reach. It might have been the only time either Rack or Jake had been wrong all weekend and in his defense he did say “probably couldn’t reach”. Undaunted by a difficult lie and unwilling to just punch out and play safe, KB smashed an iron that sailed over another bunker approximately 20 yards from the green and ended up just off the putting surface to the left, 30 feet for eagle. Two putts later she had her first birdie of the day, I made my par and after reaching the green in regulation the conventional way my wife uncharacteristically three putted for a bogey. It totaled up to even par 15 for the group.
On 18 I stood on the tee and said what I always say on my last hole of a four day golf trip, with good friends, to Bandon Dunes, “One last good one.” I swung and hit a bullet dead right into the high grass between the eighteenth and first fairways. “Believe it or not that won’t be too bad,” Jake said and he grabbed my driver and put it back in the bag for the last time. It turned out he was right. A seven iron second hit the huge green, bounced a couple of times, and slid to a stop just 15 feet from the hole. I made my only birdie of the day and the last of our excursion to the Oregon Coast.
A storybook ending would have me making that putt and after another good read by Jake and another rather rare perfect stroke by yours truly I made the storybook ending a reality. 84 for me, 88 for KB and my bride made a five footer for bogey at the last to break 100. We said goodbye to Rack and Jake, shopped a little, then grabbed a cold beverage and took it outside to wait for our friends and reflect on the trip.
Another golf adventure with this group is definitely in order, maybe Kiawah next time, maybe Pebble Beach. That could be decided at a later date. We did decide that we would all absolutely come back to Bandon Dunes. The trip was a blast, the company was outstanding and the golf was great. In terms of ranking the courses, it was easier to pick my least favorite, Pacific Dunes, than it was my favorite. In the end I decided to put Bandon Trails at number three and then rank Bandon Dunes first by the slightest of margins over Old MacDonald. Those rankings might completely flip if we go back and play at a different time of year in different conditions, but I doubt it.
If you are thinking about going to Bandon Dunes I would only say stop thinking about it and get it done. It is not the least expensive golf trip you’ll ever take but, if you are a hard core golfer, it won’t be the most expensive either. Be prepared to be cold, to play in the wind, practice your lag putting and for goodness sake and your sake, pony up the dough for a caddie. You won’t regret it.
Special thanks to KB for first taking, then allowing me to use some of the wonderful photographs she took during the trip.