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.
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.
Pacific Dunes is generally regarded as the best of the Bandon Courses. This is an incredible design with a number of cliffside holes. The holes off the ocean are not lacking in character due to the rolling fairways where a level lie is a rare event and fantastic greens protected by slopes, bunkers and semi blind shots. Doak is not afraid to use central hazards and the central fairway bunker on the second is an example of that and sets the tone early. The challenge is to decide on a line of play and stick to it. In general there is plenty of room here, not as much as Bandon Dunes or Old Macdonald, perhaps, but still the premium is on decision making and solid ball striking. I loved the short par 4 6th. The fairway is wide but the hole plays dead into the prevailing wind and a ridge and bunker right can capture a weak tee shot. The approach to the narrow green is protected by a gnarly bunker left and an incredible slope to the right. I thought I had hit a decent approach but alas found myself at the bottom of a 20 foot slope!
Doak deftly combines long and short par 4's and was very aware of the prevailing north to south wind during his design. The back nine starts with two back to back par 3's and then continues into the wind to the diabolical 13th. The green has about a 100 foot drop off to the ocean on the left and probably a 60 foot bank and bunker to the right. Nowhere to go here for the faint of heart! The finish returns inland with two par 5's on the last five holes but there is no ease or let up throughout the round.
Pacific Dunes is a fantastic course that probably needs to be played several times to be fully appreciated. Pacific is often compared to Pebble Beach so I'll throw in my 2 cents. I think the stretch of 6 through 10 at Pebble is without compare in the world of golf. The ocean holes at Pacific are fantastic but not quite as good as those at Pebble. However the remaining holes at Pacific outpace the more mediocre holes at Pebble such as the first and several holes on the back nine. My main quibble with Pacific is that the holes almost entirely run straight into or against the wind with very little crosswind holes. In addition I thought the course was over watered a bit for August and I would have preferred the course be a little firmer and faster. However this is clearly a top golf course by any standard and one I look forward to returning and playing again.
Click the link to read my story – Bandon Dunes - not only for the guys
Richard Smith, Knoxville, Tennessee
Third leg of the Bandon Grand Slam in which many or most say it is the best one, statement I will not deny but as I said in my previous reviews all 4 of them are just great and so different that making one of the 4 "the best" would just be unfair. I played it in the afternoon after the morning round at Bandon in a 2-3 clubs wind and played my best round of the 4. Will this qualify for the best? No. Will it qualify for my favourite? Again, no...
The piece of land is maybe the most scenic of the 4 and the no standard pars distribution (4 par 3s in the back 9, 2 of them consecutive) is just special.
It all started with a nice big burger watching some fellows enjoy the Punch Bowl (that huge putting green beside the 1st tee) and how fun this ism for sure another of the features that makes this Resort so good.
We had a fun match with a US friend again the 2 Australians and it was close and tight, scoring 34 on the back 9 with an unfair bogey at 18th reaching the greenside bunker in 2 and having just the nastiest lie of all week. But this is golf and it just happens, could have been a 71 but 73 is not something I can't be proud of.
The best feature on the course was climate; sunny and very windy, which made it both enjoyable and challenging, maybe the best combination possible of links golf!
Some of the holes to highlight, stating there is not even 1 weak hole out there:
- 500yds par 5 3rd into the wind facing the ocean was just all you wish from a golf hole, up the hill for third shot it was very risky to try and get to the pin.
- short par 4 6th into the wind (they say it plays downwind in winter) with a very small green compared to others, just great.
- Par 4 9th with one of the toughest blind tee shots on the property, there is room on the right side but if left, just pray to find the ball.
- Consecutive par 3s 10-11, one long (2 iron) and a short one (7 iron) are so wild!
- Par 5 12th again into the wind, when 3 good shots are necessary. Inmense green, made a 40ft birdie putt.
- Short par 4 16th, with the green hidden over some trees and with a very fast putting surface.
- 17th completing a great set of 5 par 3s, a nice 200yds long iron with a sort of Redan breaking green.
- 18th is just great, just an unfair break avoided me to finish better but a great 3 shot par 5.
Greens were rolling so fast, sometimes for 20ft it was tough to get it close. Firm as well, where downwind getting the correct distance is another big challenge.
Just beside Bandon Dunes, which seems to be Scotland, this one feels like Ireland at it's best. And it is just 500m away from it! That is one of the marvels of this resort, 4 different great courses different from each other in the same geography.
I played many of the best and a lot around USA, and have to say I doubt there is something better out there. Maybe if Sand Hills completes 4 courses and a par 3 course, we can make them be compared. This is the best links golf you will play in USA. Said this, my favourite was the last one ... Old Mac!
The wild beauty of Pac Dunes has been discussed many a time and you can add me to the chorus of those that found the dunescape, the blowout bunkers and the omnipresent gorse breathtaking and a wonderful stage to set a top flight golf course wending its way through it all.
I liken the course to an accordion that constantly pulls you out into long cliffside holes and then squeezes you into tighter spaces like the back to back par 3s.
Oddly enough, one of my favorite holes on the course is the par 4 9th which features blind tee shots, alternate greens and a whole lot of fun in trying to figure it all out. It may not be the prettiest hole but it is a darn fun one to play.
Relatedly, the reason for the 5 ball rather than the 6 ball is that I felt that the routing maximizes the difficulty of the course (both in the general course design as well utilizing the prevailing winds which were 20-30mph the day I played) at some expense to the enjoyment of playing the course and at the end of the round the overall sense I had was that I "survived". That being said, it is clearly a top class golf course, just pray for calm conditions when you play it!
Dream course. Never played in Scotland or Ireland but cannot imagine something other than this when imagining a Links course. Hope to test this against Scotland and Ireland one day
It’s been 4 years since my last visit to Pacific Dunes and I have to say it’s still by a margin my favorite course at the resort. What a great mix of holes. I will say that the greens were suffering a bit from poa invasion, unless of course they are letting it take over completely which I’ve not yet heard. They were the most stressed of all the courses. In 4 plays I’ve still not managed to play the par 3 17th the way it’s supposed to be played, what a tough redan it is. Wind was blowing hard and to shape it or manage to land it precisely at the point to feed it down into the wind is just a tough ask from the back tees (or the front for that matter). It’s still the course that in the end makes me the most proud to be from Oregon. Bandon Dunes resort on a whole is truly in the middle of nowhere but it’s one of those places all serious golfers in the US really need to see. 5 unbelievably good courses, playing fast and firm all with their own completely unique character set on the amazing Oregon Coast. Wow! Every return is such a complete and utter joy.
One of the signatures of Pacific Dunes are the rippling fairways, which Tom Doak says are the original contours of the land. It was a strong decision on his part to leave them the way they are. Another feature of Pacific Dunes is that a lot of the approach shots play to elevated greens.
The par four 4th hole is a spectacular hole that plays along the Pacific Ocean. If you find yourself at Pacific Dunes with a slice (as a right hander) the likelihood is a lost ball at the 4th, probably more than one, since the ocean hugs the hole the entire way to the green. Not that it matters. The dreamy view is so spectacular that it is difficult to concentrate on the golf. The hole is set along a high bluff with land that tumbles down to the broad beach along the rugged Pacific Coast. This is simply one of the best golf holes you will play anywhere in the world on one of the best golf courses in the world.
The par three eleventh is another favorite hole. Since Pacific Dunes was one of Doak's early courses I tend to like it more than some of his more recent designs. He has increasingly gone crazy on the greens with too many breaks, humps, hollows, and tricks. His early works like Pacific Dunes are challenging without being over the top.
The 17th hole at Pacific Dunes is a "Redan" replica, and one of the hardest holes on the Bandon resort, if not in the continental United States. The effective landing area to place a good shot is about 10-15 square feet. Too far left leaves you in penal and steep bunkers. Too far right leaves you in hidden bunkers. Too long leaves an impossible chip. Adding to the perverse pleasure is the predominant wind which blows left to right, asking the golfer, if they are brave enough, to take dead aim at the penal bunkers, so that your ball will blow into the best position.
Play Pacific Dunes in the morning when the winds are lower.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs