Pacific Dunes is considered by many to be the best course at the fabulous Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. But with the opening of the new (June 2010) Old Macdonald course, opinions may soon change. Pacific Dunes is located a little farther up the Pacific coast, just to the north of Bandon Dunes. Both courses have similarities but there is no doubt in our minds that Pacific Dunes is a very special case.
It opened for play in 2001 and Tom Doak who knows a thing or two about golf course architecture designed it. Frankly it’s a modern masterpiece and architects would reap rewards from carefully studying Pacific Dunes before they embark on any future seaside design. Often, when the setting is gorgeous, as it is here at Bandon, course design often finishes a poor second. The Pacific Dunes design is at least as good as the setting and if they can harden up and quicken the playing surfaces, this could be one of the world’s greatest links.
Measuring 6,673 yards from the tips, Pacific Dunes is by no means a championship layout. But with par set at 71, it’s tough enough for most of us, especially when the wind is up. We are thrilled that Doak used kindly Nature and it’s reassuring to know that the undulating fairways are mostly as he found them. Many of the holes weave in and out of the dunes and this provides the golfer with lots of variety and some respite from the terrain.
Writing in Tom Doak's Little Red Book of Golf Course Architecture, Tom commented as follows: "The 13th at Pacific Dunes is one of the most beautiful holes we've ever built. It was almost exactly like it is today when we found it; we just had to cap the fairway with sand so we could grow grass there.
It didn't take a genius to figure out that a hole with 440 yards of Pacific Ocean frontage – not to mention a 40-foot dune on the other side of the green – was going to be famous someday. Now that I think about it, there are only three other par-4's in America that have that much Pacific frontage – the 9th and 10th at Pebble Beach, and the 4th at Pacific Dunes. What a coincidence that they all turned out so well! Or maybe the setting has something to do with how much people like them."
With a plethora of great holes it seems fickle to single one out, but if we had to, we’d probably plump for the short par four 16th with its rippled fairway and plateau green which slopes from front to back. It’s a real gem.
“Every architect dreams of building among the sand dunes in the same terrain where golf was conceived in the British Isles… Pacific Dunes is that dream come true.” Tom Doak has undoubtedly fulfilled his dream and he has left the reality and the legacy of a most wonderful course that has real heart and soul. Make the trip and play Pacific Dunes immediately, you will not be disappointed.
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. Although a bit predictable and cliché, Pacific Dunes stood out as the crown jewel even among its elite counterparts.
Upon reflection, Pacific Dunes emerged as my personal favorite at Bandon because it eloquently united the standout themes present throughout its sister courses:
• Like Bandon Dunes, the routing at Pacific is full of surprises. On most holes, the player must navigate through dense gorse-covered mounding to find the next tee. It is impossible to predict the next hole’s adventure. One such example comes early in the round. The feeling emerging from the bushes to the vista overlooking the oceanside par five 3rd is magical.
• Like Bandon Trails, Pacific feels entirely natural and ‘discovered,’ rather than built. The topography varies significantly throughout the round. There are tremendous flat holes like the 4th, and all-world climbs like the step-up fairway at the 9th. Not a single component of any hole feels out of place.
• Like Sheep Ranch, Pacific’s views are absolutely stunning, yet perfectly incorporated. Thank goodness Tom Doak did not try to force a more traditional sequence of pars onto the course; to have done so may have taken away from the perfect flow of the round.
• And, like Old Macdonald, the bold undulations in the greens and the wide, yet hazard-filled playing corridors lend themselves to unparalleled strategic options. By the turn, most players will not only have hit most clubs in their bag, but also will have needed to employ every type of shot imaginable. Some holes, like the par three 5th, will appear to require an aerial play, yet a low runner can creep over mounds into the far corners of the putting surface. Others embody the opposite effect. The 16th green may appear to welcome bounced shots, yet knobs fronting the putting surface can actually reject shots into treacherous dips and hollows surrounding the complex.
Many peers ask what traits I feel make a golf course great. Although my favorite courses span many different geographies, levels of difficulty, and price points, the one factor they all have in common is variety. Pacific Dunes is a consummate test of golf. It is a course that favors no one, yet is accessible to everyone. It is a course that reflects its environs exceptionally while still presenting challenges fit for the modern era. It is impossible to ask for a more thoughtful, yet peaceful adventure than that which awaits at Pacific Dunes.
One thing I absolutely love about Bandon is that you could ask anyone in McGee's Pub what their favorite course is and hear six different answers. If you go to Pebble everyone will say Pebble is their favorite, followed by Spyglass and then Spanish Bay. At Pinehurst it'll go 2, 4, and 8/3. At Bandon we all have our lists but each one is different, which makes it special.
For me personally, my rather unoriginal favorite course at Bandon is Pacific, followed closely by Trails. Pacific is by far the boldest design on the property, playing through massive dunes and a unique sequence of holes that I think just adds to the quirk.
The first is one of those easy handshakes where you don't need driver and can get a great look at birdie with a wedge in. While the second is equal in length the similarities stop there. Two massive bunkers must be carried in order to get a good angle into the mounded green. The third gives the first view of the ocean, not as dramatic as the fourth at Bandon but still never something to complain about. The hole features a centerline bunker which, if challenged, can allow a player the opportunity to shoot for the raised green in two. The fourth is the first hole played along the ocean with an awesome tiered green complex set back into the dunes.
The fifth is my personal favorite hole on the course. Its a mid range par three with a kicker on the right and a back tier guarded by a massive bunker. Its one of those shots where you have so many different options of how to play it, none of them being necessarily perfect. The sixth is another favorite, a driveable hole with a narrow green guarded by the deepest bunkers you'll ever see. Just go down and hit one from down there and I'll venmo you $5 if you can actually get up and down from down there. People might think its overly penal but you're not going to hit a wedge in there, the bunker is meant to catch people who get overly greedy off the tee. It reminds me of a much bolder version of 6 at LACC.
7 is a cool hole that comes back to the clubhouse and plays to a green set in the trees. Tip for anyone looking to sneak in an extra couple holes: since the 7th green backs up to the Punchbowl putting course (which you have to check out at night) its perfect for an extra go. Remember that the second round of the day is half off, and the third round is free. So after you finish your ice cream skillet at the Pacific Dunes Restaurant (which is to die for), head back over to the first tee and play the fourth as the sun sets over the Pacific.
The 8th is a perfect Tom Doak hole. From the tee its a straightaway par four with two bunkers wide right. But hitting a shot down the center screws you, as you have no angle to go at the pin depending on its location. The green is unlike anything you've ever seen, it features a bunker fronting the center of the green with a runoff area left and punchbowl right.
The 9th is a blind tee shot where the more you cut off the dune the better you'll end up. The two greens are both equally awesome and while I like the flow of the lower one better, the upper allows for the higher tee and a great view on ten. Ten is a rather nondescript green situated between dunes with a beautiful view of the ocean. Eleven is a short very old school feeling par 3 along the ocean. A deep bunker deceptively guards the green.
Twelve is another interesting short par 5 with a wacky green that requires thought to play into if attempting to get there in two. 13 is probably the most photographed hole on the course, and rightfully so. Playing closer to the ocean allows for a clear shot at the green, while bailing out forces you to hit over the massive dune. 14 is another tough short three that reminds of the postage stamp at Troon, missing is a complete kick in the teeth. 15 is a short 5 where I had the first of two eagles on the day (the other being on OM 15). 16 is another really quirky yet awesome Tom Doak hole. Its only 300 or so yards, laying up to the left can give a short wedge in, but pulling out driver can allow the ball to take the slot to the green, or leave you down in a deep valley. In that way it kinda reminds me of 10 at Shinnecock. 17 is a redan hole that is miles better than the redan at OM. 18 is the perfect finisher with an aerial tee box where a good tee shot can give one last birdie opportunity.
Pacific Dunes is in my opinion the best test but at the same time the most fun course on the property. A high handicapper will lose more balls on Trails but a scratch golfer will be challenged by the difficult greens at Pac Dunes. At the same time, its almost hard to keep score because there are so many shots you want to hit, so many slopes begging to be used. No course at Bandon will disappoint, but a day at Pac Dunes will remind you that the long travel to get here was worth it.
Just writing about PacDunes makes we want to catch a plane to revisit golfs Disneyland. Normally, I get fairly detailed, but my prose will not surpass the reviews below. PacDunes is my favorite at the Bandon complex. When you go, ask for Brown Bear as your caddy. Savor every moment as the round will zip by with astonishing speed and most importantly have fun.
Tom Doak is one of the great golf architects of the modern era, and Pacific Dunes is the course that announced him. It is one of the world's great courses.
In recent years Tara Iti in New Zealand has also been recognised at the highest levels. With Barnbougle Dunes a personal favourite it is my opinion that Doak now has three courses in the best twenty five courses in the world.
Pacific Dunes is blessed with great golfing land- beautiful dunes land with gorse, and a dramatic coastline.
One of TD's Great skills is the routing of his courses and at Pacific Dunes he has been able to get a very nice mix of ocean side and dunes holes, and move between them to add interest, variety and rhythm to the round.
There is some flatter less interesting land but he has used par five's at hole 3, 12 & 15 as the connections between sections of the course.
With impressive green complexes and attractive fairway bunkering they are good holes- but more importantly they allow the course to take maximum advantage of the more exciting terrain
I have played Pacific Dunes quite a number of times now and will never forget playing the first hole for the first time. I just knew immediately that it was something very special.
The green complexes, bunkering and use of exposed sand in the first few holes impressed. And then we hit the coast!
Holes four & thirteen are impressive, but hole eleven is one of my favourite holes anywhere!
Notable holes include:
- hole 1, a stunning short par opening hole that sets the scene. The short approach must be accurate..
- hole 2, another short par 4 with sand to carry off the tee, and bunkers galore!
- hole 3, a nice par 5 with an impressive green complex tucked into a dune
- hole 4, a long par 4 right on the coast. Right is not an option!
- hole 9, a unique par 4 with two quite different greens- a sign on the tee advises which green is in play
- hole 10, a longer par 3 from an elevated tee to a green with ocean backdrop. Wind is a major factor!
- hole 11, a magnificent par right on the clifftop. It's a small target surrounded by trouble. One of the world's great par 3's
- hole 13, a long strong par playing along the clifftop with ocean left. The fairway rises as you progress toward a green sitting between cliffs and a massive exposed sand dune
- hole 14, a pretty par on an exposed ridge
Bandon Dunes Resort is the best golf resort in the world, in my opinion. Pacific Dunes is one of the best courses in the world. What more can I say?
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
I picked up on some advice regarding golf photography from Tom Doak a few years back as I was considering potentially pricey equipment to supplement my rather basic setup. I found a quote from Doak praising the standard DSLR setup that can be had at a relatively low price at most electronics stores. He offered some other tidbits about angles to the sun and such, but the crux of his argument was that if you understand framing, you can do much without doing excess.
The same could be said for Pacific Dunes. In fact, Doak has said about as much regarding the course, noting that the average golfer could easily find the incredible green sites at Pacific, whether that’s the descent toward the Pacific at No. 10, the following Par 3 into the wind along the coast, or the green parked against a significant dunescape at No. 13. Observing the black streaks and pebbles in the bunkers suggests just how natural this course is.
Is it possible that you or I is equally capable of creating a Pacific Dunes, should Mike Keiser call us tomorrow with a similar piece of property? Tom may suggest so, but he’s incorrect.
I’ll prove this point by highlighting my least favorite hole, No. 4. This long Par 4 covers 463 yards of shoreline, which — if we take liberty with Doak’s words a tad — implies it should be the most obvious hole on Bandon’s property, considering it has the longest chunk of cliffs at its disposal. It’s a tough hole, even with the wind at your back, as you’ll need to hug those cliffs with consecutive shots to arrive in regulation, and a relative lack of rolling turf doesn’t add much to that formula. It is a beautiful hole...one that you or I might have actually been able to dream up. That the majority of Pacific’s most strategically interesting holes are inland is testament that Doak is my superior.
There are any number of holes to cite, most of which have probably been included in previous reviews, so I won’t dwell. My favorites include the fall-away fairway and grassy mounds that maker No. 7 a Par 4.5 during matchplay. Or the Road-style green at No. 8 that, despite its 400-yard length, proves any hole with a Road-style green is a think-piece upon approach. The downhill Redan at No. 17, which ups the template’s challenge thanks to the gorse-covered dune at the rear (which distracts nubile American eyes like mine, who has never experienced such a sight). Finally, the largest bunker on the course off the tee at No. 18: You have the wind at your back for the final hole and are sensing the opportunity for glory...so of course there must be a monster for the hero to evade.
Apologies to No. 4; it’s not a weak hole by any means. Just the least successful child in a successful family (I know the feeling, No. 4). But I don’t generally give six-ball ratings to courses that have weak holes.
Looking back...it doesn’t look like I’ve ever given a six-ball rating. Let’s break that streak today.
Consistently my favourite course at the resort, and arguably one of Tom Doak’s best original designs in the United States. The second course at Bandon Dunes has certainly added to the hype of the resort over the past 20 years. Playing towards and along the ocean is magnificent, but as I often point out, many of Doak’s best holes are away from the water. If you look at an aerial of the course, arguably 12 of the 18 holes are away from the coastal cliffs, which only furthers my respect for the green-sites that Doak discovered on this magical routing.
There’s been no lack of documentation covering the highlights of Pacific Dunes, and those famous 3rd to 5th, and 11th to 13th hole stretches along the coast that are frequently found on course photographs. Pacific Dunes clearly has its own identity at Bandon Dunes, and certainly compared to Doak’s other recognized courses. The architect never limits himself architecturally, and each course uses the land to develop its own uniqueness. The end product at Pacific Dunes highlights how much time the architect and his team spent onsite to route as many holes as possible across terrain whose main features already existed on the canvas. Will you dare to hit great shots into natural land-forms?
The course advertises itself. The fact that I hope to play it at least 20 more times in my life is all I need to say.
When Tom Doak came forward in 2001 with his tour de force effort at the mega-course facility he actually exceeded all the fanfare that the original Bandon Dunes created. Often times, courses that follow a success can be a letdown-- living in the shadows.
Not this time.
Pacific Dunes demonstrated how a sequel actually exceeds the original.
More importantly, Doak showed how a top tier layout -- one available to the public -- and considerably under 7,000 total yards can be designed with a myriad of fascinating elements. Without question, the layout remains utterly relevant. Pacific Dunes changed the conversation. No less in the same manner that Pete Dye had done with his sterling effort at Harbour Town Golf Links when it first opened in 1969. The Harbour Town layout shined a clear light on how courses need bot be inane behemoths with length piled on top of even more length. Traits such as guile and savvy were much needed -- more than simply brawn.
The individual holes at Pacific Dunes have been examined countless times in earlier reviews so no need to go over each of them at length. The rapture for Pacific Dunes comes from return rounds -- the first time is clearly grand -- but the ones that follow expose the richness of a property in tandem with a myriad of design details that slowly reveal themselves. There is also the land type -- fescue surfaces that test the skillset of the player -- knowing how to merge the flight and bounce of the ball. If I have one quibble it rests on the smoothness of the greens which can be vexing simply because of the unpredictable nature of how the surfaces are when played. To be fair -- the wherewithal to play off the tightest of turf and to ponder what short game choice you wish to play is ever present at Pacific Dunes.
The ending trio of holes is arguably among the finest combination where a 3,4 and 5 intersect with one another. The par-4 16th is a junior version of the 10th at Riviera. The par-3 17th a devilish Redan that uses the land brilliantly. The closing par-5 18th is clearly reachable for the long hitter when the prevailing north wind is blowing. Doak surmised as much and asks those seeking such glory to not only hit the ball with power but show the considerable skills in moving the tee shot from right-to-left to gain the most advantageous position without finding any fairway bunkers. A closing birdie can indeed bring smiles but don't ever be seduced into thinking such an outcome is preordained. And each of the trio plays just as well when the wind switches to a southerly direction.
When you have a courser under 6,700 yards it's very difficult to include an intoxicating blending of holes facilitating the widest array of players all seeking out their respective moments to shine.
Like I stated at the outset -- game changer. High praise indeed. Clearly, the phrase "must play" is mouthed to the point of being a mindless cliché. However, in this particular case -- it's worthy on all counts.
M. James Ward
A wonderful golf experience. Although Pac starts off with an inauspicious par 4, the course slowly builds to some breathtaking holes capped off with the back to back par 3's #10 and #11 right on the coast. About as good as it gets and its true links style golf right here in America. We played twice (both gorgeous February days). The second time around it was a bit easier to know what to expect and the course was quite playable even the holes along the coast with heavy wind. The use of the land was great as was the routing. This is a must for golf enthusiasts.
The USA took a public game from Scotland and turned it into this private thing. If Margaret Atwood, Aldous Huxley, or George Orwell wrote golf novels, surely even they wouldn’t dream up such a dystopia? In this context Oregon’s Bandon Dunes - admittedly a resort - is exceptional with its accessibility to multiple world class golf courses. It is appropriate that the playing experiences here may remind you of a round in the UK or Ireland. America could clearly do with a little more golfing philanthropy, until then they’ll have to make do with Mike Keiser.
The Pacific Dunes course at said resort is quite brilliant. We played in a stiff breeze, and as we fought our way around, we thought our way around, and appreciated every shot. I soon realized, as I tried to keep my ball out of that great big ocean, that this is everything that can be achieved with a good/great design, on good/great land, with the odd sea view thrown into the mix. It reminded me of Castle Stuart in this respect, but probably better. Amongst the collection of 18 excellent holes, some were more excellent than others. Yes, I loved dramatic ocean views at 4, 11, & 13, but at Pacific Dunes the inland holes, like 16 & 17, were equally engaging - the terrain, angles, and variety were top drawer - to the extent that sea views became almost irrelevant to the golf experience. I think the sequencing of holes on the back 9 was anything but standard, but presumably it was designed to take advantage of the land offered and disregard any kind of scorecard convention. It strengthened by view that this course was a bit of an outlier.
One of the minor highlights for me here was our playing partner, who owned a swing that made Jim Furyk’s Octopus falling out of a tree look like Ben Hogan’s textbook drawings. I actually failed to stifle a laugh - had to turn it into a cough - when he slashed away on the first tee, his ball heading towards Korea. We had never seen anything like it. It came back like a boomerang though, he birdied the hole, and he must have beaten me by a good 10 shots come the end. In some ways, his effective unorthodoxy mirrored Bandon Dunes place in American Golf. It’s a tough trip from some parts of the world, but all US golfers should make the pilgrimage here. One of the very best I’ve played so far
This is the best golf course I have played out of 170 different courses to date since I took up golf in 2011. This course is magnificent on every scale. Oregon is a beautiful State, vast and unspoilt and Brandon Dunes complex blends into the surroundings beautifully. Everything about BAndon Dunes is 1st class - the club house, the restaurant, the 18 hole putting course with it’s own half way house serving beer, the dormy house rooms to stay in, the vast number of courses. I want to go back for a week taking several 000 USD with me! I only played one course so picked the highest in the world ranking. I had taken a detour from Crater Lake just to be able to play and I was not disappointed. Playing at 7am in the morning, in foggy conditions (marine layer I believe the Americans call it) made it a less then visual speactacular start, but it did not spoil my enjoyment. This round of golf was part of my wedding trip to the states and like the rest of the holiday was simply amazing. There are so many strong holes and the cliff top ones simply breath taking. Even as the round progressed the hole routing remained strong and the 18th back to the clubhouse and restaurant was as good a finishing hole as I have played.
This isn’t links golf, it is cliff top golf but it is as linksy as you will find in America and as close a comparison to Scotland golf as they come. Very similar to the Castle Course at St Andrews
The hospitality, the facilities, the scenery, the nature reserves, the courses and the people made this my best golfing experience ever! Next time a week there and play every course!
I wonder if Tom Doak will take your Castle course comparison as a compliment?
Not links golf? I can assure you it’s as links like as anything in the U.K. Comparing it to the Castle Course is hilariously wide of the mark.
Links Golf Courses are not really defined in black & white classifications (despite Campbell & Peper’s best efforts), but more on some kind of gradient or sliding scale.
So Pacific Dunes may be a Links, but to say it’s as “linksy as anything in the UK” is hilariously wide of the mark
Thank you BB for adding some context. Michael, this is all about opinions and I can assure you that for UK readers, it is important for them to get an understanding that this isn't pure links compared to what we have in the UK. No-one would call the Castle course links and the Bandon property is similar. I am not comparing Pacific Dunes directly with Castle but given David McClay Kidd has designs at both properties then some comparison can be drawn.
It's always good to get a review to provoke some debate :)
Pacific Dunes certainly has many links attributes - fast running ground (I played the 4 courses at Bandon in early September), undulating fairways, sand dunes, and near the sea. It also has one of the the most stunningly scenic holes (13th) - have a look on the website.