Generally accepted as one of the best modern golf resorts in America, Bandon Dunes further enhanced an already stellar reputation with the unveiling of another world-class 18-hole layout in the summer of 2010. When developer Mike Keiser decided to expand his burgeoning Oregon golf complex, he turned to the tried and trusted Renaissance Design company that built Pacific Dunes a decade earlier and so Tom Doak and Jim Urbina headed up the team that took three years to create the Old Macdonald course.
The fourth 18-hole layout to grace the Bandon Dunes property, Old Macdonald, has been built in the architectural spirit of Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor. Macdonald is widely regarded as the Father of American golf course architecture, designing the momentous National Golf Links of America on Long Island a century before, with Raynor acting as his construction engineer. Many of the National holes like “Redan,” “Sahara” and “Alps” are based on their famous British originals and these inspirational classic holes have equivalents on the new tribute course at Bandon Dunes.
The landscape for Old Macdonald is totally different to that found on the Pacific Dunes layout so it’s no real surprise to learn that the courses are totally different in style, even if the same architect was involved in their design. The course begins inland, moves over the dunes on the 3rd then spends most of the round in the open with splendid views of the Pacific before heading inland again on the last two holes. Three of the four par threes on the scorecard are played on the front nine at holes 2, 5 and 8 so visitors are advised to have their short game in good order as it will be severely tested early in the round.
Fairways are very forgiving, often 60 to 80 yards in width, and (like the original National course) the greens are enormous with a combined area in excess of 6 acres – almost as big and as bold as the putting surfaces on the Old Course at St Andrews. Although they all look natural, only two of the putting surfaces (on holes 3 and 9) occupy true, lie of the land green sites, which speaks volumes for the work of the shapers on the remaining 16 holes, as their greens blend in seamlessly with their surroundings.
Old Macdonald is my favorite course in the world, and for good reason. It transports you across space and time, and truly feels like you're in a different universe than the other Bandon courses. The ocean, maiden, Leven, and alps holes are world-class and standout, even amongst the other Bandon courses. I particularly enjoyed a 5 hole loop that I did at sunset, where a ranger drove us back to the clubhouse.
Between talking with my friends who I travelled to Bandon with and reading a few reviews, I sense that Old Mac can range in terms of feedback and where the course ranks on people’s personal rankings for the courses at Bandon Dunes resort. I think more casual golfers will rank the courses that have more seaside views higher than Old Mac, whereas those players who are into golf course architecture will likely appreciate Bandon Trails and Old Mac more when compared to the other courses at Bandon (each of which are great, of course).
Old Mac is fairly exposed to the elements and is an open property sprinkled with gorse and shielded from seaside views, for the most part, with the exception of an elevated green and a tee that follows to a downhill Biarritz hole. Some consider the property inferior to the land that hosts the other courses at the resort, but it’s still an outstanding and rolling terrain that can pique the interest of any avid golfer. The course plays open with wide fairways, so while it’s unlikely any player will lose a ball, it still demands quality shots from better players to score. This is the mark of quality architecture from Doak, and the course is much more playable than his design at Pacific Dunes next door.
The first and second holes are solid warm-up holes, with the former being a par 4 with a slight left dogleg and the latter a par 3.
The third hole is one of the most famous holes out of all the courses at Bandon and makes perfect use of the property, as you hit left of the famous “Ghost Tree” over a ridge to a blind landing and a drivable (without a headwind) short par 4 that doglegs left (pictured from the green - look at that land movement!). One of the most enjoyable driver holes out of all of the courses at the resort, and as you climb the ridge to the side of the property where most holes sit, you are introduced to the windy elements you will face for much of your round, and a sprawling links-style course that truly feels like Scotland (I played in June and it was playing browner, firmer and faster).
Other standout holes for me include:
- the par 4 7th that plays to an elevated green (perhaps highest point of the property) on the ocean, followed by the downhill par 3 8th Biarritz, though the green has a more shallow swell in the green-swell-green design.
- The par 4 11th is one of the better Road Hole templates I have played, though still not as good as the original at the Old Course, and plays as a par 4.5. The player needs to try to carry a set of bunkers down the right and try to cut off as much of the corner of the left to right slightly dogleg fairway and then hit into a shallow green angle from right to left with a pothole bunker protecting the middle left side of the green. To a casual player, this hole might just seem like a long and difficult par 4, but the genius in the subtlety of the design and needing to hit two quality shots of different shape to get on the green in regulation (or an exceptional recovery around the green to save par)
- The 16th is a really cool Alps hole. To get a good view of the green that hides behind a mound and sits slightly left of where your tee is aligned, you need to head down the right side of the fairway, which is flanked by bunkers. As you look at the green, you can kick your approach off the left slope of the mound (the same mound that will make players who drive the ball left have a blind approach) to feed your ball onto the green and closer to the pin, or if you hit a good drive, you can take your approach shot by air to the pin (assuming it is on the center/right side of the green).
- The 18th is a getable par 4 that is a real fun hole to settle matches with. A good drive will yield a short-iron approach into a punchbowl green that slopes severely from left to right and has a high backboard – any pin in the center or right side of the green will be very receptive! After we hit our approaches, we all tested putting and punching 7-irons to the left side of the green (the center/front right is protected by a bunker) and watching our balls roll 40+ feet to the right closer to the pin.
I will not try to ignite debate on how to rank the courses at Bandon, as it is impossible to order a cluster of high quality courses, but I will just say that Old Mac is up there in the order for me. The course provides optionality for different types of players and a variety of types of shots, can play different every round, and can offer the random bounces that a true links provides but does not feel quirky or unfair in how the course plays.
Two weeks have passed since I played Old Macdonald and Pacific Dunes, the former still heavily on my mind. As many mentioned Old Macdonald is arguably the most polarizing course at Bandon. Some may be put off by its rugged nature, deep bunkering and exposure to the elements.
Playing Old Macdonald in December, I was fortunate enough to get on during a calm day. Sunny 45 degrees Fahrenheit, with a 20-mph wind. Perfect day for golf is you must ask.
The first and second hole I feel primarily serve as quality warm up holes for what’s to come. I don’t wish to detract from them as standing alone they are superb golf holes. However, they play differently than what you will experience throughout your round. Covered and somewhat protected from the wind #1 and #2 are great starting holes winding you up for the round ahead.
Hole #3 is arguably the most famous hole on the course which may or may not have something to do with the ghost tree. However, I much of the excitement lies after your tee shot over, and hopefully left of the ghost tree. Once you climb over the hill, after your tee shot, you are rewarded with one of the most stunning vistas of the entire property. Doak’s usage of many templates holes such Sahara for hole 3 is ingenious welcoming golfers onto the spender of Old Macdonald.
Tom Doak’s Old Macdonald has many steep uphill walks, you are strongly rewarded with pure golf magnificence regardless of the days weather. Take hole 7, climbing up the steep hill towards the green, you can hear the crashing of the ocean. But until you reach the green you don’t get a glimpse of it. Hole 7 in my opinion was equally as polarizing as hole #3 which formally introduces you to the property and elements.
Of any I would say that Hole 8 was a bit subdued for an otherwise polarizing course. #8’s Biarritz features only a minor swale much more subdued than that of Yale’s, which may be the most extreme rendition.
#18 Punchbowl, is a superb finishing hole which one of the most aggressive punchbowls that I’ve seen to date. 17 and 18 seem to serve as holes that get you back to the clubhouse. 18’s Punchbowl in what seemed like a previously heavily wooded area is a great way to make a strong and firm last impression.
Of the two courses I’ve played on this trip (Old Macdonald and Pacific Dunes), it is Old Macdonald that struck and shook me. We will see if this changes after playing the rest of the Bandon courses in February.
One of the many distinguishing qualities of Bandon Dunes is that after experiencing the great courses there, golfers have a hard time choosing their favorite. This was easily apparent after a recent trip to Mike Keiser’s masterpiece resort. Old Macdonald was a strong contender for my personal favorite.
The mantra of Golden Age architects was that with 18 great greens, it was nearly impossible to end up without 18 great holes. Old Macdonald captures this spirit exceptionally. Even without the dramatic ocean vistas of Bandon’s other courses, Old Macdonald was captivating at every turn. Its 18 bold putting surfaces were the most memorable of any course at the entire resort. While critics may argue that they are not all exact Macdonald templates, each one forces the player to think through the hole strategically. Playing angles are at an absolute premium at Old Macdonald, magnified by the sheer enormity of the greens, fairway bunkers that actually lie in the line of play, and width of the rumpled corridors.
This is not to say that Old Macdonald lacks the flash of the other Bandon courses. The 3rd hole, which dramatically plays over the dune ridge and “Ghost tree,” is an all-world thriller for any level player. The short par three 5th may seem like a pushover, but any shot which improperly uses the banks built into the green can lead to a massive score. The 16th was another standout that offers options. Tee shots to the left will be blind into the green, blocked by an ‘Alps’ mound, but often will have a superior angle; drives to the right open up the hole, but may make the approach difficult due to the awkward angle. Too often, these equitable trade-offs are lost in a world where the focus is simply on penal risk/reward shot-making.
Simply put, Old Macdonald encapsulates all that is right with the game of golf. It embodies strategic options while also presenting a delightful element of randomness. It is a course that you could play every day, yet never experience two rounds alike. It honors the ideals upon which the game’s founders built their architectural philosophy. In its simplicity it is magnificent.
I'm definitely spoiled having played 100's of rounds at a Macdonald course, because I think I had certain expectations going into my round at Old Mac that weren't exactly met. The course isn't really in the style of Macdonald, so don't go in thinking it will be like NGLA or Chicago. If you do that, you'll have a really good time. Think of it not as what first attracted you to come to Bandon (lets be honest, its the views on the picture of the 16th at Bandon), but rather as a Scottish links.
The coolest holes on the property are the ones that utilize the two ridges. Three is a an awesome hole where cutting off more of the ridge will allow your ball to run down close to the green. Seven is an awesome dogleg left up to the cliffside with a beautiful view of the Pacific. 16 is a really cool rendition of the Alps with a challenge on the bunkers to the right allowing a view of the green. 17 is really cool for readers of Macdonald's book Scotlands Gift, where he describes the 15th at Littlestone as a hole he always wanted to replicate but never did. The late George Bahto insisted this hole be built, and it couldn't be a better par 5, with a split fairway and decisions off the tee.
Old Macdonald is a tribute course, sort of, to C. B. Macdonald. There are template holes and the fairways are wide and the greens are large. There have been a lot of quality reviews so I will only touch on a couple of holes. The third is a par 4 and called Sahara, but it most well known for The Ghost Tree. While I had heard people talk about it, seeing it gives you a different perspective. It is the middle of a dune and it seems to scream, something bad happened here. I did three putt, but that isn’t that scary. The par 3 5th, named Short is a downhill and a great birdie oppty. The 7th called Ocean is considered the signature hole. A short dogleg left to an elevated green. Interestingly, this is not a template hole. The 8th is called Biarritz. It is downhill and purists may claim, thus it is not a true Biarritz, perhaps faux Biarritz? I also really liked the long par 4 16th called The Alps. It is downhill but has a large mound that obstructs the view of the green. If you go left, you will have a blind approach and right will be longer but at least you can see the target.
My second favorite course at Bandon.
Mike Keiser is a member of the first course built by C.B. MacDonald- the ultra exclusive Chicago GC. He was keen to pay homage to C.B. with the 4th course at Bandon Dunes. Originally the concept was to reconstruct a legendary CB course called The Lido Club (New York)- which was hailed as the best in the world at the time.
However when Tom Doak (as an expert in MacDonald) was asked to build the Lido at Bandon he rejected the idea, saying the land at Bandon was not suitable for such a project.
His suggestion was that a project of template holes might better fit the land , so that's what they did- and I have to say it turned out very well!
I had done my preparation and read about the classic links holes for 10 years before I ever saw them, and by the time I played Old Mac I had played most of them a number of times
So I was able to compare the original holes behind the templates that C.B. MacDonald used in his designs to the Tom Doak's interpretations . C.B didn't copy holes, but in using them as templates employed the inherent strategies when creating his template version or the interpretation of them . Some like The Redan and Short, he used in all of his courses, and others less frequently.. MacDonald also included original holes in his designs from time to time, but with styles and strategies sympathetic to the template holes... And then Seth Raynor, who started as the engineer assisting C.B., and went on to build many more courses himself- used the same concepts he learnt from C.B.... The MacDonald and Raynor template courses form a significant portfolio that mark the start of golf architecture in the USA... Hence C.B. (who also won the first US Amateur as a player) was considered "the father of golf in America"
The holes at Old MacDonald are (with original hole which inspired the template denoted) :
1. Double Plateau (National Golf Links- hole 11) 2. Eden (The Old Course, St Andrews- hole 11) 3 . Sahara (Royal St Georges- hole 3) 4 . Hogsback (Lundin Links- hole 17) 5 . Short (Royal West Norfolk- hole 5) 6 . Long (The Old Course- St Andrews- hole 14) 7 . Ocean (an original) 8 . Biarritz (Biarritz- hole 3) 9 . Cape ( National Golf Links- hole 14) 10 . Bottle (Sunningdale- hole 12) 11. Road (The Old Course, St Andrews- hole 17) 12 . Redan (Nth Berwick- hole 15) 13 . Leven (Lundin Links- hole 16) 14 . Maiden (an original) 15 . Westward Ho! (an original) 16 The Alps (Prestwick- hole 17) 17 . Littlestone (Littlestone- hole 16 ) 18 . Punchbowl (Chicago- hole 12)
It is all brilliantly done and a real education for those who have any appreciation for the history of the game and how it has evolved.
I particularly enjoyed:
- hole 5, the aptly named short par 3 (Short)
- hole 7 (Ocean), with it's brilliant green site on the ocean
- hole 8 (Biarritz), it's an intriguing hole- especially when the flag is forward!
- hole 13 (Leven) with it's lovely green complex fitting perfectly in the dunes and bunkers
- hole 16 (Alps), a real old world hole and fun to play!
- hole 18 (Punchbowl), 'cos I always love punchbowl greens!
Old Mac is something very special!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
My appreciation for this layout multiplied, 10 times over. When I first placed this layout in 2012, I had deep thoughts comparing original Macdonald templates, with the presentation at Old Mac. Experience is among the greatest educators. Striking my drive off the first tee recently came with a renewed sense of optimism. I was determined to show some maturity and get a deeper understanding as to what Doak was trying to achieve. I played from the green tees (rather than the blacks), and very soon into the round, this decision paid off. I was now playing a very special course, where the templates made more sense to me, especially the par 3s. The course quickly won me over. I decided to stop comparing it with the likes of National Golf Links, Piping Rock or Chicago GC, and focus my mind on appreciating the course for what it is by itself. Old Macdonald is a seriously good golf course, and having played Ballyneal 3 days prior, I was immersed in Doak’s talents without the distraction of comparison. His interpretation of the templates is outstanding.
The offerings at Bandon are celebrated around the world, and naturally resort guests will begin to rank their favourite courses. With each visit to Bandon, your preferences will naturally change – especially as more courses are added. As I walked past the famous Ghost Tree on the hill that leads you to the 3rd fairway, I had a huge smile on my face as I had Old Mac all to myself and the horizon was full of magnificent golf holes waiting to be played.
The course grows on you, and I can’t wait to play it again. I say that because it’s a great test of shot-making with Doak constantly throwing challenges at you. The piece of land he worked with has no shortage of humps and bumps, and even permitted the creation of an Alps hole on the 16th. Upon reflection, while many of the template greens are man-made, let’s not forget that many of the templates are not about the greens. The “Bottle”, “Alps” and “Cape” holes have unique characteristics that many of us are familiar with, but they don’t get their names because of the green shapes. Doak’s presentation of such holes is superb, as is true of every hole at Old Mac. Just like at Ballyneal, you don’t need immediate coastline for a golf course to be great. Just like the inland holes at Cape Kidnappers or Pacific Dunes, you don’t need dramatic cliffs for a golf course to be great. What’s the common denominator among all these courses? It’s Doak’s ability to produce brilliant architecture that’s an absolute blast to play, regardless of proximity to coastline. The Bandon Dunes resort is so lucky to have Old Macdonald, and I’m delighted to have experienced it with a mature state of mind.
Over the last 30 years two States have made nothing short of spectacular upsides in terms of architectural impact. The two are Wisconsin and Oregon. The former came about in 1988 when Herb Kohler entered the golf scene. His American Club became synonymous with top tier quality -- bolstered by the creative genius of Pete Dye's efforts with the various courses there. If circumstances permit -- the '20 Ryder Cup will be played at Whistling Straits in late September,
The latter is Oregon with Bandon Dunes and its series of courses. commencing in 1999. Visionary Mike Keiser went forward with a bold game and made it into the juggernaut one sees today.
Both men lit a fuse -- each in his own way -- paving the way for other noteworthy courses in each State to come forward in the years afterward.
This review is centered on the qualities of Old Macdonald. The design is the handiwork of Tom Doak and Jim Urbina but others were also involved. The late George Bahto -- a man I personally knew and the foremost expert on the golf contributions of C.B. Macdonald. His consummate book, "The Evangelist of Golf," is clearly a must read for architectural devotees. In addition to Bahto, Brad Klein, noted golf writer and historian and Karl Olson, long time superintendent at the National Golf Links of America -- along with Keiser -- were central figures in the creation of Old Macdonald.
I have read the various comments from those who have opined on Old Macdonald. In my mind, no course in America comes as close to the spirit found when playing the iconic Old Course at St. Andrews. A high compliment? Sure. Rightly merited? I'm more than happy to debate that assertion with anyone who sees otherwise but before one does be sure to have a better alternative course in America when making such a challenge.
I have been fortunate to have played Old Macdonald on a few occasions and each time a bit more mystery was revealed. Sad to say but undoubtedly true, first time plays showcase just the surface level aspects of the holes. One needs to play a few additional times to truly unearth the internal character of what was created.
The course starts off slowly but frankly so does the opening hole at The Old Course. You quickly find getting one's ball into the proper positioning is central in scoring low -- especially when the pin is cut front left or towards the rear back right section. Old Macdonald rightly eschews narrow fairways and suffocating rough. Quite the contrary. It follows the maxim that looking for lost balls -- a chief pet peeve rightly espoused by Alister MacKenzie -- is something to be avoided at all costs.
Playability is front and center at Old Macdonald. No question, the location along the Oregon coast means a daily intersection with Mother Nature. I have always opined that shot control -- the magnificent skill in altering trajectories and in working the ball in any direction -- lies at the core of a great course. When the wind is up -- and at Bandon it can be maddeningly so -- the test for players is always adjusting. Great courses mandate that wherewithal.
The 2nd is a fine par-3 -- it appears docile and quite elementary. That's the seduction. Getting the payoff is a bit more complicated -- especially when the wind is inserting itself and pity the hapless player short siding themselves. Ditto for the devilish pot bunker that seems irrelevant until you under club and find yourself hopelessly struggling to escape.
As others have opined -- once you arrive at the 3rd you face a blind tee shot that calls upon a deft command on the line of play chosen. The rapture with the property begins to take hold the moment you ascend the rise and come into full view of the property with the holes scattered about. The 3rd is simply a grand hole. Those wanting to attack can do so but be forewarned -- the penalties for being overzealous are ever present. The meek can seek other plans of attack but securing a par is no small task if out of position. The shape of the green is brilliant - most especially when the pin is placed in the far rear area because it takes the touch of a safe cracker to safely negotiate a soft wedge to that finicky position.
One of the core strengths of the course rests with the fescue grass surface. The ultimate combination is where aerial and ground games are both at work. That partnership is alive and well at Old Macdonald and it is that element that provides for the foundation in truly enjoying the game as it was meant to be played.
The routing of the course is also smartly done. A number of holes traverse in a south/north and north/south manner but there are also others plotted in different directions where crosswinds are faced.
The various rendition of old time classic hole types are all present. But, I more thoroughly enjoyed the originality of the par-4 7th -- upon reaching the green you finally see the glory of the Pacific surf pounding the shore. The approach to the elevated target is a shot you'll long relish.
The back nine intensifies the shotmaking even more so. The long 10th is artfully bunkered -- making one think most carefully before launching from the tee. The 11th slides back in the reverse direction -- generally into the prevailing wind with a phalanx of bunkers protecting the preferred right side. Patterned after the iconic Road Hole -- the 11th at Old Macdonald features a challenging approach because the green slides completely behind a solitary bunker. Be sure to give that bunker wide berth because like a magnet it will draw you in with just a hint of misguided execution.
The par-3 12th is reminiscent of a Redan but the shape of the hole is not as exacting as the 2nt at Somerset Hills or the 4th at NGLA.
The 13th is not a long par-4 but often back into the prevailing wind. A quality green awaits -- high towards the front left and then falling away to the far right.
The 14th is short par-4 but the key is knowing where the pin is located -- there are "wings" on the green and when the pin is placed in either corner it's best to give yourself the best angle with the approach. Players may see this as easy pickings but when walking off the green with sloppy execution and a five or more on the card you know full well your pocket has been quickly picked.
The par-5 15th can be a birdie hole but the key is understanding how the 2nd shot must be well-positioned. A pesky fairway bunker on the right must either be carried or played to the far left side. The green is two-tiered and the approach must be carefully judged when encountering a crosswind.
The final trio of holes is a tour de force experience. The 16th is a version of the famed Alps hole and frankly it is no less in stature to the one Macdonald created at NGLA. The par-5 17th provides a supreme challenge of nerve -- does one dare cut the corner on the right with hopes in reaching the green in two blows? There's a bailout area but that route mandates a three-shot situation. Be ever mindful when the pin is cut to the far left side -- any pulled shot will need a weed whacker to escape.
The 18th is a first rate closing hole. Generally playing downwind the key begins with the tee shot. The left side is the best route but even then the approach is vexing -- the bowl-shaped target does not provide an easy to gauge approach. Getting near for a worthy birdie try is no small feat.
Those who moan and groan and opine how Old Macdonald is contrived or goofy need to refamiliarize themselves with the tenets of classic golf architecture. Ignorance, like concrete, can be difficult to penetrate. One often hears from disgruntled types chirping on and on about fairness -- when the crux of the case is they want sure fire guarantees. Handling random bounces -- both good and bad -- is a big part of Old Macdonald.
There's nothing like seeing the talent of someone able to play with a high level of dexterity off the firmest of turf. Too many whiners leave Bandon and return to where gushy lies are the norm -- where greens provide high enough edges keeping errant approaches from escaping and finding perilous locations. Old Macdonald does not provide such guard rails propping up mediocre shotmaking.
Kudos to the design team for what they created. The spirit of C.B. clearly lives on along the Oregon coast. When you say the word golf -- remember the first two letters -- GO.
M. James Ward
Probably the purest links course at Bandon. We played on a beautiful February morning and the wind wasn't too bad (but it was definitely still there). A simple start with a straight away par 4 that makes you think you are going to take it deep (its an easy par). A par three follows and then on 3, you are presented with a blind tee shot uphill and you think you are playing a dumb hole until you get to the top and you see the whole course in front of you. What a view. Welcome to links golf in its purest form after that. Everyone knows the back story here and what the holes are based after. It doesn't disappoint. The punchbowl 18th was a very cool finish and the redan was memorable as well. If you go to Bandon, leave enough time to play all the courses. While this was number three on my list, its awfully close. You can't skip any of them. Enjoy the trip and the views.