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.
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.
The second day of my recent trip took me to Old Macdonald. For me this course was far and away the most links like of the four courses. This course epitomizes what I consider "old school" design with an emphasis on width and playing angles. Generous fairways and large greens keep the player in play and interested, but the contours of the green demand great play. You could probably hit every green in regulation on this course and not break 80 if you putt your ball in the wrong part of the green.
The course starts with a straight forward par 4 with a massive double plateau green. Two is an excellent short par 3 but the excitement turns at the par 4 third. The drive is blind, up over a ridge and around a Port Orford Cedar. When we played a fog bank was rolling in and for all the world it looked like I was hitting the ball into the twilight zone. However I followed my caddies club selection and line, drove it perfect then nearly holed my second shot for a gimmie birdie. Now how much fun was that! The terrain is beautiful links land with the course making it's way up to a ridge on 7 with the green magnificently situated on top of the ride with the ocean behind you. The routing is absolutely fabulous as the holes flow in every conceivable direction up and around the two ridges that define the property. The two nines are quite the comparison, with the front having par of 34 vs 37 on the back. From the two longest sets of tees the back is almost 700 yards longer! My favorite hole was probably the redan hole at 12. The right to left slope was tricky enough, but the deep bunker and swale left in addition to the sharp drop off back and right could possibly keep the player hopping from one side of the green to another for a long long time. I loved the look, feel and playability of this course. On top of all that the wind was pretty calm and I had my best ball striking day of the trip by a good margin which allowed me to post a pretty decent score. This is a great links course that any lover of links golf will enjoy playing.
Click the link to read my story – Bandon Dunes - not only for the guys
Richard Smith, Knoxville, Tennessee
Finally, on Sunday July 1st after painful loss for Argentina against France 4-3 at the World Cup, I walked to Old Macdonald to complete the full house of the resort, the Career Grand Slam at Bandon Dunes. The truth is this was complete after playing Preserve immediately after the Round at Old Mac, but it was the Poker at the big courses.
I had the highest expectations on the course, having read about it since it was planned and in another windy sunny day the game started. I arrived tight to the tee time due to logistic problems, with no time to warm up and it showed in two very bad opening holes. 1st is another easy opener, just don't go over the green.
In 2nd hole you start to see what Doak did, just an amazing tribute to golf in Scotland. This one is very similar to Old Course 11th hole, cannot love it!
3rd would be something similar to Prestwick, blind tee shoot to a donwnhill fast rolling fairway. 4st a monster par 4, this time downwind and where I made a 50ft birdie putt. 4th a short 3 with an amazingly sloped green, where if in the wrong platform count yourself on an easy 3 putts green, being the only co-joint green with 10th.
Second great tribute to The Saltire comes on 6th which is a combination of 14th at Old Course (very similar green design) and 14th at Carnoustie with the Spectacles. 7th into the wind was just a nightmare, a green located 15mts over your feet at the second shot where if you go over it is just death penalty.
Take into account this course is located just beside Pacific Dunes and again the set up is totally different with very firm fast grees but grass kept like yellow, very firm and rolling for miles if downwind.
8th with its Biarritz designed green (like 5th at Trails) measuring like 80 yds long was great! Another 40ft birdie putt made, it roller for ever!
9th and 10th are two great 4s, 10th with a severy sloped green from back to front and where I made the fastest rolling putt of the week, from 15ft I thought it was going to stop half way and it just got there!
11th is a tribute to 17th at Old Course, with a green very similar to the Home of Golf. It played straight into the wind! 12th comes a tribute North Berwick with a sever Redan design, smaller than in Scotland and NLOA.
13th was one of the toughest, again straight into it. 15th a short one where I putted from 40yds as the wind was so tough I had no better option.
15th a great 5 where I got home in 2 but my 30ft eagle putt downwind when 20ft past the hole...
16th and the last tribute to Prestwick 17th, but longer and tougher. 17th a very nice 5, with an elevated tee shot. And 18th with the punchbowl green is a grand finale for a fantastic course where I made another long one ... for par!
Firm fiarways, fast greens, reminiscense of being in Scotland at every corner, creativity plus tribute all in one, challenge to the limit and the need of all the clubs on the bag. Despite making kilometers of putters and feeling I played decent, I abrely broke 80 with a huge effort. Some weeks after having played them all 4 I am sure it was my favourite of all 4, which is not to say the best one but just the one I liked more.
This resort completes the best combo on US soil to play links golf and when they complete Bandon Links by Gil Hanse I can't imagine it not being full of golfers all year long.
If you consider yourself a real golfer, please go there and enjoy the experience. Hard to beat and even harder to forget.
They say the Old Course at St. Andrews when viewed for the first time leaves the golfer slightly underwhelmed. The magic comes alive after repeat playings where the subtly of the course takes hold. Old Mac similarly presents the golfer with similar uninspiring views but doesn't contain nearly the same complexity as I imagine there is at the Old Course.
Old Mac's challenge resides in the greens which contain numerous false fronts which kick balls off the green or to other areas where the golfer will face further undulations. The challenge is made more severe given that Old Mac seems to use a different grass mixture for the greens than the other courses at Bandon (the mixture tending more toward sand than grass) thus leading to more difficulty in reading the putts.
Getting to the green is a lot less challenging as Doak has laid out the lines to the greens pretty clearly on a rather flattish piece of property. Sure there are rolling fairways and devilish bunkers lurking but to my eye it wasn't that engaging. The standout holes are when Doak does something different like the routing for the third hole which features a blind tee shot near the famous Ghost Tree coupled with a difficult second shot. The 7th hole goes up the slopes to a green complex nearly dangling over the ocean but allowing the golfer multiple ways to attack the pin from a lower down on the fairway.
It is tough to judge Old Mac in comparison to its Dunes siblings at Bandon (or even Trails) as it just isn't in the same league as those. Standing on its own, it is a true tribute to CB MacDonald but admittedly left this golfer underwhelmed about the 18 I had just played. Perhaps repeat playings will change my mind but for now it is "good" not "excellent".
With every play Old Mac grows on me. Every time I’ve played it it’s been gusting pretty hard and this time we caught it early in the morning and as a two ball we flew through the course, taking a lot of photos and discussing all the holes in great detail. Still managing to finish well under 3 hours – something impossible if you are playing in the afternoon. As the holes become more recognizable so too do the varying strategies needed to best make it through the round with a decent score. A few holes really stick out: the 3rd hole, Sahara, with it’s iconic blind tee shot over the lone tree and dune; the 7th hole, Ocean, with it’s second shot steep up the hill to the plateau green with amazing sea view; and the 16th hole, Alps with it’s blind approach into the green. Old Mac feels wide open and created to a grand scale indeed but as the player soon realizes, position and strategy off the tee are still vital. There won’t likely be many lost balls but in order to play well you will have to have your thinking cap on and be hitting and putting the ball well.