Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw faced a tall order in developing the Bandon Trails, the piece of property furthest from the sea at the Bandon Resort. I break no new ground when I tell you the forested route features winds less buffeting than its more coastal cousins, and of course the greens also tend to offer more wobble. But the design duo offered something at Trails special to the links tradition...a factor that generations of Americans (and don’t let me leave out international moderners) have come to ignore, and even despise.
We are control freaks. We demand rewards for doing everything the right way, and punishment for those who do it the wrong way. Simple things, like a bad bounce, are ill-received. This does not apply to the wind at links courses; the wind may impact difficulty, but it is predictable. It is blowing at a speed, and in a direction. Better players can overcome defined challenges. Better players (and lesser ones, like your correspondent), cannot overcome chance. They can only embrace the unexpected.
Blind shots, for example. The Dell concept has never really caught on over here. I doubt even Coore & Crenshaw had quite free reign at Trails — opening with a replica of Tobacco Road’s wall of sand probably would not have sat well with Mike Keiser — but the semi-blind opening draw at Trails is an opening to a message that culminates at the totally blind tee shot at tee No. 18: You will be hit balls to places you cannot see right now, and some of those balls will settle in places you didn’t imagine. Will you respond well? Will you have fun? To be fair, I have only had the opportunity to play Trails and Pacific Dunes, but while the latter was certainly more of a challenge, I could more easily see the writing on the wall as well. Bumps and blind landings turned my Callaways into tumbling dice more often at Trails.
A unique take on the concept comes during many of the bunkers, which frequently feature mounds of sand topped with grass, or even small trees. Consider the rightward fairway bunker at No. 11, which is peppered with obstacles. Rolling into the hazard while challenging the corner of the dogleg does not guarantee any particular result. Some may still see fit to lay up 125, and others may need to hit backwards because their drive drew the shortest straw. “Patently unfair!” the modern golfer quacks. Perhaps it’s a warning we shouldn’t play with dangerous things. The losers at Russian roulette never complain, after all.
There are exceptions, of course. No. 14 is typically the “controversial” hole at Trails, and I’m inclined to lean against. Although perhaps more spontaneous than any other hole at the course, there is very little room for success off of the tee (this was my only birdie hole of the day, so I’m speaking for the observed travails of my playing partners).
I had heard frequently coming into the round that Trails, among all the entries at Bandon, was the one that needed the most plays to truly appreciate. Knowing that I didn’t necessarily have the means for requisite multiple plays, I tried to pay more attention this time around. I think I see you, Coore & Crenshaw, even if I didn’t see where my final tee shot landed.
As I crossed the crest, first seeing the green in the distance and then my landing spot, I saw that my luck had been good...both on that drive and in getting to experience something like Bandon Trails on my own continent.
Date: October 20, 2020