After a morning round at Old Macdonald and a quick lunch – the dining is nearly as good as the golf at Bandon – we took on Pacific Dunes.
There’s no confusing the two courses. Pacific Dunes isn’t as intimidating on the scorecard at 6,633 yards from the tips, but tighter fairways demanded more accuracy and smaller greens, in my case, didn’t necessarily translate into fewer putts.
The penalties are more severe for wayward shots. By the time we teed off the breeze had freshened into a two-club wind, making crisp ball-striking essential to steer clear of trouble.
“The layout is short enough to give every golfer hope,” architect Tom Doak says in Old Mac’s yardage book, “but its rugged nature will test every facet of your game.”
Pacific Dunes, which opened in 2001, is beautifully crafted and a visual treat. It’s typically the highest ranked of Bandon’s four courses by national publications.
“He (Doak) moved the least amount of dirt,” director of communications Erik Peterson said. “He said, ‘Here’s the lay of the land, let’s follow it and take what the land gives us.’ ”
The first two holes are shorter par 4s, followed by the 476-yard par 5 that becomes a scoring opportunity if your drive avoids a pair of fairway bunkers, spaced roughly 40 yards apart in the landing area.
Nos. 4, 7 and 13 are long, difficult par 4s. The fourth measures 449 yards and runs adjacent to the bluffs overlooking the Pacific. The beach awaits drives off line right and a series of bunkers gobble up errant tee balls left.
The green on 436-yard seventh is heavily contoured and guarded left and right by bunkers. Good luck finding a prettier hole than the 390-yard 13th – yet another screensaver candidate. It played roughly 430 yards into the wind. The fairway is bordered by a little water hazard called the Pacific on the left and an assortment of bunkers on the right.
No. 9 fooled all four us. We felt pretty good after sending our tee shots toward a hidden landing area. We expected to be in the fairway but the right-to-left slope steered our balls off line. We had to search for a few minutes before discovering that two of us were in a menacing bunker and I was close to a steep lip. I was fortunate to barely clear the face of the trap and salvage a par.
The back nine is unique with four par 3s, three par 5s and two par 4s.
The 10th is 163 yards but required an extra club into the wind and extra concentration with stunning ocean scenery in your field of vision. The 11th is only 131 yards, but the tiny green sits on a bluff and is surrounded by sand and beach grass.
“You’re working with smallest green (at No. 11) on the property,” director of golf Jeff Simonds said. “Usually the wind is in your face and you have big bunkers facing you. It’s tough to commit to hit a great shot there.”
The 338-yard 16th offers two options: Try to crush driver and thread your ball on or near the shelf green or maneuver a long iron/hybrid to a favorable yardage for an approach shot. I went with the latter and still made double bogey, in part because my second shot sailed over the green, leaving a near impossible chip shot to a back-center pin.
The 17th is 189 yards and a large, sunken bunker gathers everything short and left. One ball in our group plugged near the top of that bunker and required playing a second shot away from the green. The shelf on the right is more hospitable if your ball stays away from two traps.
The par-5 18th is an intriguing closing hole. A massive natural bunker skirts the left side but a long, accurate drive sets up a birdie opportunity.
“One of my favorite things is watching people pull out their scorecards and think it’s easy,” Simonds said. “People find the little course has some teeth. It goads you into hitting driver on holes and that brings trouble into play. It’s all about playing the finesse game around Pacific Dunes.”
My highest score on the four courses came at Pacific Dunes. Paging my finesse.