2005: Features - At Bandon, the beat goes on

Bandon, Ore.

Sometimes, the toughest act to follow is your own. A season after winning the 1956 Triple Crown with 52 home runs, 130 RBIs and a .353 batting average, Mickey Mantle had “only” 34 homers, 94 RBIs and a .365 average. He was asked to take a pay cut.

Imagine Mike Keiser’s circumstance at Bandon Dunes, a 1,200-acre golf resort on sand-strewn bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. As principal owner and visionary of the property, Keiser started off with a business plan that would have fit on a cocktail napkin. In 1999, he stunned the golf industry with a sparkling design by previously unheralded Scottish-born designer David McLay Kidd that relied on wildly rolling, windswept fairways pocked by deep, revetted bunkers. The course, simply called Bandon Dunes, now sits at No. 5 on the Golfweek America’s Best Modern Courses list. Among the handful ahead of it is the resort’s second layout, Pacific Dunes, No. 2 on the list. Pacific, built on dunes that seemingly shift from day to day with the wind, solidified the reputation of emerging architect Tom Doak as a talented protege of the Alister MacKenzie school.

What to do with the third act? As usual, Keiser’s answer was to do something different. To start, he avoided the mistake made at a lot of properties, where owners ask an established architect to reprise an initial success on the same site. In choosing Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, Keiser ensured that he’d have a traditionally inspired layout, one without curbed cart paths, waterfalls, rock garden sculptures or the predictable load of “signature” celebrity-design schmaltz to ruin the ambience he had so assiduously cultivated the first two times around.

Unlike its adjacent siblings, Bandon Trails is an inland layout, with distant views and sounds of the ocean but no proximity to the shoreline. Initial plans called for the course to be on parkland. At Coore’s urging, the land for Bandon Trails was shifted to the west to include links-like dunes. A central spine or hill bisects the 270-acre routing, so the course starts and ends on sandy dunes but heads inland for the middle of the round. In this way, Bandon Trails avoids the fatal flaw of Spyglass Hill, which is to tease golfers with an early feel for the coast, then to get lost in the woods without returning.

Bandon Trails is brilliant. Like Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes, it is a walking-only course. The par-71 layout, measuring 6,839 yards from the back tees, kicks off with two pure linksland holes framed by beach grass, Scotch broom and gorse. The course then shifts to a modestly sloped interdunal meadow that has huckleberries, wildflower and both manzanita and madrone trees. The middle of the course, Nos. 7 through 13, works its way through an upland climax forest of fir, hemlock, spruce, cedar and pine trees, with an understory of rhododendrons. Then it’s back down through the meadow, with the 428-yard, par-4 18th completing the odyssey by bringing golfers back to the dunes.

The sense of journey across dunes, meadow and wooded scrubland evokes Cypress Point. Those familiar with Coore and Crenshaw’s other stunning designs will see glimpses of those here, too – the bold putting surfaces of Friar’s Head; the generous chipping areas of Hidden Creek; the imaginative use of cross-bunkered fairways that mark Talking Stick North and Cuscowilla; and the vast scale of features that fill up a wide canvas, the chief virtue of Kapalua’s Plantation Course.

The real challenge of this site was making the forested holes as compelling as the dunes and meadow holes that lie west of the ridgeline. There’s a lovely stretch here – and on parkland that could have been anywhere in the Northwest, certainly not unique to coastal Oregon. The long, wide, uphill 460-yard par-4 seventh hole is followed by the intimate and nearly driveable, 320-yard par-4 eighth, and then the starkly wooded 570-yard, par-5 ninth. The only let-up in imagination comes at Nos. 10 and 11, both par 4s with a bit too much open ground and symmetrical lines that are out of character with the rest of the property.

But all is forgiven over the next few holes: a long par 3 culled from Los Angeles North; a twisting par 4 to a green site perched like a saddle on a bucking horse; and then the par-4 14th hole, only 320 yards, downhill to a convex fairway and domed green that turn long drives into sucker shots.

Bandon Trails is an amazing place, all the more because it’s adapted for play from two contrary wind directions. Somehow, Keiser and Bandon have done it again.

This third act is a charmer.

And now there are rumors of a fourth.

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