Readers of this humble almanac have probably surmised by now that I submit to no cosmic authority higher than Lenny Bruce or John Coltrane, a couple of my cherished boyhood idols. When I look into the sky at night I see nothing but the ivory moon and coruscating stars, no pantheon of bearded superbeings staring in disapproval of my dilatory ways. It's eerily quiet out there….
However, miracle of miracles, I underwent a spiritual transformation last week that demands a thorough confession: I discovered Heaven-on-Earth and it happens to be sitting on the Oregon coast near a little town called Bandon. Golf aficionados already know wherefrom I speak: a divine collection of four eighteen-hole layouts that comprise the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. I've been home a week and my heart still aches like a jilted lover. Good thing there's no sharp objects around.
Seriously speaking, there is no golf destination in America that offers such a pure rendition of the ancient game in all its windswept glory. It's customary to honor great golf courses by lauding their timelessness and nature-hewn contours, qualities common to older layouts like Cypress Point and Pinehurst. Bandon Dunes has only been around a little over a decade, but looks like it was laid out just after the big bang — well, at least shortly after the earth cooled down and proved receptive to trees and grass.
- Bandon Dunes: The original eighteen — the eponymously-named Bandon Dunes — was designed by Scotsman David McLay Kidd, hand selected by visionary owner Mike Keiser to clear the ubiquitous gorse and leave the native dunes virtually untouched. Seaside views abound, looks from the tee are generous, but approach shots are tricky affairs — what with the swirling winds and contoured green complexes one must do as the Scots do and learn to play one's ball close to the earth. My artless short game profits by such a scenario — one can forgo the delicate, high wedge shots and putt the tight approaches from as far out as thirty yards!
- Pacific Dunes: Next up was celebrated architect Tom Doak, whose scholarly reverence for classic designs resulted in Pacific Dunes, which immediately vaulted to the top of the course rating charts alongside names like Pebble Beach and Whistling Straits. Doak says his routing was "guided" by the natural bunkers as he found them along six of the 18 holes, and the rippling fairways were similarly utilized as found. Endless ocean views fight for one's attention, but my advice is to take a few quick snapshots and focus on your game instead.
- Bandon Trails is the handiwork of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw — who are just now breaking ground on an amazing-looking par-three layout — and meanders through a vast sand dune into a gorgeous meadow and up a coastal pine forest. It is a wonderful walk — bursting with variety and photogenic ocean tableaus.
- The latest addition, Old Macdonald Golf Links, is a tribute to legendary architect C.B. Macdonald, who was tutored by none other than St. Andrews' Old Tom Morris. Teeshots can be hit almost anywhere on this vast prairie, artfully routed by Doak and Jim Urbina. But picking the proper spot for an efficient approach makes the course a real handful to master. It is well worth the effort.
Reams more could be written about Bandon's stark beauty and puritanical approach to classic design, but let's just say you needn't think about traveling across the pond to Scotland or Ireland to play great linksland golf from now on. Pack up three or seven buddies, rent one of the rugged, handsomely-appointed lodges, eat to your heart's content at one of the consistently fine restaurants and play as much golf as your feet and hands can withstand. All of the courses are eminently walkable, in fact only those few with medical exemptions are allowed to drive a golf cart on these pristine grounds.
United Express operates direct flights from San Francisco right to nearby North Bend, or you can drive down from Portland in about four hours or so. Book now — you'd be surprised how busy this remote slice of golf nirvana can get. The golf gods do exist — and Bandon Dunes is their home course.