Generally accepted as one of the best modern golf resorts in America, Bandon Dunes further enhanced an already stellar reputation with the unveiling of a fourth 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 latest 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.
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.
This past September, I once again arrived at Bandon Dunes with such great anticipation of playing Old MacDonald. With its recent induction into the Top 100 golf courses in the USA and the world by Golf Magazine, and with Tom Doak signing off on the layout, the bar was set pretty high. After placing the flag in the 18th hole (called Punchbowl), my highly experienced group looked at each other with slight disappointment. The course just doesn’t have the WOW factor and appeal that I expected. Even after my second visit to the property, Pacific Dunes is still my favourite with the other 3 securely in the rear-view mirror.
I’ve played all of the Top 100 golf courses in the United States. I’ve played at least 20 C.B. MacDonald and Raynor courses. I know what the holes look and feel like. I also know how they are supposed to be played. If the hole names weren’t on the score card, for most of the holes I would never have guessed that I was playing a hole inspired by C.B. MacDonald. I’ve been told that Doak wasn’t trying to exactly replicate the holes that C.B. MacDonald built, but if you’re going to call a course Old MacDonald and include at least 6 or 7 signature holes, then I struggle to understand what the architect was trying to achieve. Given that Mr. Keiser (owner of Bandon Dunes) comes from Chicago, and is a member at Chicago Golf Club, it’s easy to realize why he would want to create a course with the fundamentals which can be seen at Chicago Golf Club. It’s a masterpiece.
Old MacDonald has signature holes, but I just didn’t enjoy them as expected. Let me give some examples. The Redan at Old MacDonald plays 236 yards to a green that doesn’t really slope much from the right to left. I scratched my head looking at it. Normally, a Redan plays around 170 yards and you must land the ball on the right-side of the green. You normally step onto a par-3 tee box and immediately recognize the Redan green. This didn’t happen for me. Furthermore, the Biarritz at Old MacDonald plays around 170 yards downhill, which was an unusual angle. Normally, a Biarritz plays 200 yards, and is flat. Additionally, the Punchbowl at Old MacDonald doesn’t really feel like a bowl. I have a +1 handicap, and when hitting my approach shot from the middle of the fairway, it never even came into my mind that I could hit the ball into a bowl and have it funnel towards the flag. I only realized it was called Punchbowl after the game. You’re almost better off playing this course not knowing anything about C.B MacDonald, because then you wouldn’t have a baseline for comparison. I’m confident that most golfers (who aren’t architecture geeks) playing this layout are blown away, and long may that success continue.
Once you come over the hill on the 3rd hole, you bear witness to a vast stretch of links-land. The greens at Old Mac made my jaw drop. Yes they flow well with the land, but I feel like an NFL team could have spring training on most of them. I just couldn’t understand why the need for them to be so enormous. I know a bunch of the caddies out there, and many of them hate the Old Mac greens. Furthermore, the average golfer doesn’t have the skill to cope with such putting surfaces, which gets annoying. It’s a novelty to put from the fairway, and then it’s a novelty to apparently be “on the green” and have a putt that is 150 feet. But to have 18 greens like this? I feel like Donald Ross would roll over in his grave.
This review I’m sure reads like Old MacDonald really doesn’t justify the long journey. It does. There are many outstanding links holes and really force the golfer to play the Irish bump-and-run shot. You know you’re on a golf course which can’t be found anywhere else in America. The best holes for me included the 9th (Cape), 10th (Bottle), 11th (Road) and 16th (Alps). I’m confident that I will play this course again, and I’m sure the more I play it, the more I’ll appreciate it - but first impressions really count. At least Pacific Dunes isn’t too far down the street.