BANDON DUNES

Bandon Dunes

(Dedicated to Dr. Stu
Levine, my brother from another mother who shared the adventure with Genie and
me and to Dr. Marty Raber who should have been there and hopefully will be next
time)

By

Leonard Zwelling

         It has been said that this is as close to Scottish golf as
you can come without going to Scotland. My only comment after three days of
playing there is—aye!

         On the coast of Oregon, south of Portland and Eugene, lies
the small town of North Bend. It looks like it was an old logging town and now
just seems to be the site of a very small airport.  Commuter jets look like the biggest things
that can land there.

On
south from the airport is Coos Bay. For those of you old enough to remember the
greatest middle distance runner ever produced by the United States, the late,
great Steve Prefontaine, this is his home town. He died in an automobile
accident in his prime in 1975. There was not a single sign or tribute to him
that we saw on the main drag through Coos Bay, Highway 101.

Another
25 or so miles down the coast is Bandon, an even smaller town than Coos Bay and
looking much more like it was fabricated out of Hollywood plywood than the time
worn storefronts of Coos Bay. But before you get to Bandon, a large totem-like
sign beckons from the 101 roadside—Bandon Dunes.

         Bandon Dunes is Disney World for golfers—in a good way. Unlike
Tour 18 in Houston, Bandon Dunes does not try to reproduce or emulate the great
holes from other American golf courses. It is not trying to copy geography. It
is trying to capture the spirit of golf. Bandon Dunes says it all with its
motto: “Golf as it was meant to be.” Bandon Dunes is the dirt, atmosphere, and
gestalt of Scotland and I have been to
both.

         First, there’s the weather. When it was 90+ degrees in Portland
and the inland valleys of Oregon, the high in Bandon Dunes was some 35 degrees
lower. And windy. And I mean windy.

         On day one we played the original Bandon Dunes course.  No electric carts on these golf courses. You
walk. Period. Your choices are carry your clubs, get a caddie, or push a manual
golf bag trolley. There are no cart paths anyway.

One
look at the course will tell you to get a caddie or perhaps a Sherpa guide. This is unlike anything seen
anywhere else in America. It is almost true links golf. True links golf is by
the sea, on a course with few if any trees, and number 9 does not return to the
clubhouse. On Bandon Dunes the first two apply. The return after number 9 is a
small concession to the American need for concession stands. There are a couple
of restrooms out there, but very few. (And, as I said, no trees, guys). No ball
washers at all, unless you have a caddie with a wet towel. There are a few
sprinkler heads with yardage measurements to the green’s center marked on them.
Few. There are no 100-150-200 yard markers at all. They wouldn’t help all that
much any way. The greens are so large the distance to the middle and the
distance to the pin can be as much as a 40 yards in any direction.

         Without a caddie you may have a problem with navigation from
any given tee.  You won’t know in which
direction the hole goes.  There are no
obvious demarcations like on an American course. Fairways and rough blend
separated only by the gorse, the straw like, ball swallowing long grass I saw
for the first time on the Prestwick course in western Scotland. The grass on
all the Bandon Dunes courses has only one length. Short. Tees blend into
fairways and fairways into greens. Yes, you can putt from 50 yards out, but leave
all wedges besides the one you use from the sand at home for the ground is like
rock requiring perfect contact to throw the ball in the air and when you do the
wind may not cooperate in landing it where you had planned. This is Bandon
Dunes and golf as it was meant to be.

         That first day the wind was ripping at about 20 miles per
hour and the sun never shone. It was a real battle finishing the 18 holes. But
Bandon Dunes was the easier of the two courses we played. It did indeed
resemble Scotland, but the vistas were not as complete as the ones at St. Andrews
where, from some vantage points, the entire course would lay out before you as
a sea of gold, green and tan with the grey-blue of the ocean in the distance.
Bandon Dunes had enough hills that the entire course was not visible from any
one site.  It is probably just as well.
It would have scared the haggis out of you.

         How scary?

         The golfer also known as the Head of the Division of
Pediatrics putted one from the back of a green that rolled past the hole and
came to rest 70 yards from the pin back towards the tee. She also was the only
one of the three of us to make a birdie that was almost an eagle when she punched
a low third shot into a par 5 green that stopped within two inches of the cup.

         The good walk was not spoiled as our scoring expectations
were low. Survive the terrain and the elements and have dinner. And that we
did.

         The following day we played Old McDonald, another links
course. Here, as at St. Andrews, there are many points where the entire course
is laid before you with a white-capped ocean beyond. It is beautiful! The
greens were even larger, the fairway lies tighter (that means shorter grass)
and the wind was a constant 35 miles per hour plus gusts. I have seen golf
balls come to rest on greens and then be blown by the wind when I played at
Kapalua on Maui. I never saw a ball drift after coming to rest in a sand trap until
I played at Bandon.

This
was indeed survival golf with balls rolling every which way. The only shot I
hit into a green that stayed on that green was with a 64 degree wedge.  For those unfamiliar with wedges, that’s a
really elevated one that puts a tremendous amount of spin on the ball.  All other good approach shots rolled up
having landed short of the green. This was made easier because sand traps do
not rim the greens. The course is made to have approach shots run up to the
holes not land and stop or even come back like on American greens.

Golf
was invented long before high spin balls and 64 degree wedges were even a gleam
in Old Tom Morris’ eye. This is golf as it was meant to be. It was also a war
of attrition that we survived–again.

         The next morning our legs were so sore from the up and down
of the previous two days we were sure we couldn’t play any more. But we were on
vacation and play we did. We played Bandon Preserves. Get ready. It is a
13-hole course consisting of only par 3 holes. One might anticipate some relief
from the rigors of the previous two days, but forget about it. These were as
unforgiving albeit shorter than what we had battled on the previous 36 holes.

         Bandon Dunes is not somewhere you go with anyone who does
not play golf. There are no great restaurants although we had good meals. There
is no spa although a massage can be had. The best shopping is in the pro shop
and the best entertainment is on cable. In fact, these are pretty much the only
shopping and entertainment to be had in Bandon. This is a temple to golf and
one I hope to revisit someday.

         I would like to go back when the wind is calm and the
temperature is in the mid-70’s. It just never is at Bandon Dunes. Any more than
it ever is at St. Andrews.

         Nor should it be.

As
the Scottish say, “Nae wind, nae golf.”

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