Early in the new millennium, Bandon Dunes owner Mike Keiser and his long-time business associate Phil Friedmann acquired around four hundred acres of land from Pacific Power and Light on a site to the north of where the Old Macdonald course would later be built.
Purchased largely on a speculative basis for an undefined future project, around a dozen holes were roughly shaped on this property by Tom Doak and Don Placek when the Pacific Dunes course was constructed, with minimally maintained playing corridors and putting surfaces irrigated occasionally by fire trucks.
There were thoughts of developing the informal layout into a private 18-hole course but the owners backed off after learning of objections to this proposal from local people. In the meantime, those “in the know” at the resort were still able to access this informal golf experience, which Tom Doak described as "transcendent".
Around 2015, new plans to construct a “proper” golf course resulted in the recall of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to work on yet another Bandon Dunes track, even though many in the industry thought either Tom Doak or Gil Hanse would be the architect of choice for this layout.
Five years later, Sheep Ranch finally debuted, with nine greens located against the bluffs, making full use of a mile of ocean shoreline. Interestingly, there are no sand bunkers here; only twenty or so grassy depressions that have something of a natural, “abandoned look” about them.
The routing is such that instead of holes being laid out linearly on the coast, they weave in and out of little peninsulas, offering golfers the opportunity to play out over the cliffs on some of the tee shots.
"You can play diagonally across the ocean away from the promontories that jut out toward the ocean, which you can’t do from any of the other [Bandon Dunes] courses," Bill Coore said. "The ability to watch your tee shot go, literally, over water and over a cliff, instead of just along the water [is exciting]. The key was how best to use the shoreline."
What must also be factored in is how windy it can get out on the course, evidenced by the site’s former use as a wind farm back in 1970s. Making golf playable in the often blustery conditions on a compact property is why Coore and Crenshaw are regarded as among the best in the business.
I expected to be blown away by the Sheep Ranch – both literally and figuratively. I had heard that a round at this Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design could be played in winds as high as 40-50 mph. I had also heard the course was perhaps the best on the Bandon Dunes property due to the nine holes that sit near the almost mile-long coast, the absence of sand bunkers, and a clever routing.
I loved the setting even if the amount of land at times seemed cramped to me. Despite very wide and generous fairways, I saw a few tee balls land in opposite fairways and my caddie said that some people had been hit by balls on the course. Due to the shortage of space, some of the tees boxes had to be placed close together so one sometimes has to wait for the group next to you to either finish talking or complete their tee shots.
I had a good chance to look at most of the course in great detail given our group was only a threesome. We played the first nine holes in 1:58 but as the the front nine is a par 34, we waited on every tee and in every fairway. The group behind us never threatened us so I was able to look at the green complexes.
The back nine, a par 38 due to only one par 3 and three par 5’s, took 2:56 minutes. We sometimes sat down on the tee boxes or in the fairways due to the glacial pace of play. While this allowed time to study the holes, it was extremely frustrating to never be able to get into a rhythm.
We played the Bandon Trails course the next day and had a caddie who told us that he was at Sheep Ranch for the 7AM tee time the day we played it (our tee time was noon), and his threesome played the round in just over 3 hours. So it is possible and what a joy that would have been.
On the plus side, I liked much of the routing as the course moves in all directions although the northerly wind does not benefit a player on as many holes as it hurts. There are holes set diagonally to the coast to minimize some of the effect of the wind. There are very fine holes along the coast line which is a cliff that appears to be 300 feet high, possibly more. However, it is only on four of these nine holes that I felt the cliff line came into play for defense of the hole. That is fine as seeing the cliff and views on the other five is a joy, unless there is fog.
Although many rave about the coastal holes, particularly six, sixteen and seventeen, I thought the best hole on the course to be the eleventh, the par 5 returning to the clubhouse set high above the fairway on a ridge between mounds.
I also liked how many of the fairways had rolls and undulations. There are a few holes where the mounds/knobs are too manufactured resulting in being too big/tall as this detracts from the hole, . Yet in most cases it is a joy to look down the fairways and know that one can either receive a favorable bounce propelling one’s ball forward or hit a landing mound that will both stop a ball and kick it twenty yards left or right. I liked the guessing game of where to land one’s ball on many of the fairways. Most times, I guessed wrong but it only made me chuckle.
As to the negative of the course, it does not seem like it sits naturally on the land due to the green complexes feeling very contrived. Too many of the greens seemed overly manufactured which I did not expect. Secondly, too many of the fairways lack definition although the occasional gorse and taller grasses define some playing corridors. The speed of the greens at times was like putting through molasses. A full shoulder turn often was not enough on a longer putt. Given the course is less than two years old, I would suspect that would change. However, once the green speeds improve one wonders whether that would make the round even slower? The green surfaces are sometimes overly done with shelves a bit too small and swales a bit too deep. A few times the fall-offs from the greens, which is most cases are well done, are too close to the more difficult parts of a green and sloped too severely. I would note that our caddie said that on at least nine holes we had tough pin positions, adding he rarely saw the flag there. There is a shortage of interesting green complexes.
The course begins and ends with a weak par 5. While the opening hole playing as one of the easier holes is not uncommon in order to start one round off with a gentler opening, the eighteenth reminded me of the eighteenth at Streamsong Red, even if both holes have a nicely done green complex.
Finally, there is a lack of elevated tees resulting in less visual attractiveness from the tee. The better visuals of the holes are from the fairways on the approach shots.
The Black tees play to 6636 yards par 72 rated 72.1/122. We played the Green tees at 6245 yards rated 70.1/119. There are three sets of lesser tees.
Our twosome was joined by a long-hitter former college player who often was 90 yards ahead of us and sometimes as much as 150 yards when the wind was behind us. For me I was very appreciative as I got to see how a longer/better player attacked the course. When he hit a tee shot offline, he was only penalized one time.
1. Par 5 – 549/517. The opening hole plays flat over a valley to a rise. Thick trees are off the left but should not be in play. Taller grass is down the right. A ball that does not crest the hill will likely fall off right leaving a blind second shot but the fairway is very wide. Our longer hitter easily reached greenside high in two shots. The hole rolls and rises to a large green tilted back to front. The hole immediately gets one to the cliffs and ocean which I thought was nice although we had fog. (It later burned off once the wind speed got higher). The green’s undulations are not as severe as many other holes. There are smaller fall-offs around the green but no real mounding nearby.
2. Par 4 – 318/303. This hole plays as a dogleg right. Our bigger hitter did not quite take the right line and so he missed the green to the left but was greenside. The green is raised here and is manufactured with a steep slope back to front and a more severe fall-off on the left. Maybe this green was put on the land that existed but to me it felt like too much earth was moved to create a more difficult green on a short hole. The green is not as receptive as it appears and balls landing on the back third will likely go through the green. The front left of the green features a sizeable grass bunker.
3. Par 3 – 120/113. This is an “infinity” like green on much of the right side. Our pin was blind to us tucked behind the large/high mound on the left side of the green. This green is somewhat shared with the sixteenth’s so any ball hit long will tumble off the back onto the long sixteenth green. A ball hit well too hard might even go over the cliff some thirty yards away, according to our caddie. One would have to hit a perfect shot over the mound in order to get close to a pin behind it. As it is the play is to the right and allow the ball to release to the left as the green gently slopes that way. As I write this, I still cannot decide if I liked it or thought it to be too quirky. I did love the view and the length.
4. Par 4 – 474/443. This hole is a much longer version of the second hole as a dogleg right. It features a large grass bunker on the right of the green. I did like how the fairway rolled. The green is large with a back to front slope. It is a decent hole.
5. Par 3 – 198/166. This hole plays back to the cliff/coast on a diagonal. The land is lower before the green with the most pronounced fall off on the left side. I did not think this was an interesting hole.
6. Par 4 – 460/431. Most people likely consider this the best hole on the golf course but I rate it second. It is a good golf hole playing as a sharp dogleg right over the bend in the coast. From the tee the decision is how much of the dogleg does one want to carry. The fairway is wide but one can certainly run through it if they do not take an aggressive enough line. The longer hitters who cut the dogleg as much as they dare can get a favorable rollout and perhaps get within 50 yards of the green given there is likely to be a prevailing wind behind one’s tee shot. There is a grass depression just short of the green. It is a good golf hole rivaling some of the best on Bandon and Pacific Dunes.
7. Par 3 – 155/138. This short hole plays along the coast with the fall-off down the right side. This green significantly widens at its back third. There is another slight grass depression center before the green which has a lot of undulations.
8. Par 4 – 429/407. Our longer hitter was left with 80 yards to the tee even though the wind was somewhat against us on this dogleg right. This hole features one of the widest fairways on the course. Due to the gorse the player that hits down the right side will likely have a blind tee shot into the green. This fairway also has several rolls to it. The green has a shelf on the middle right side and other internal swales. This is a fine golf hole.
9. Par 4 – 399/386. This hole plays straight back to the coast with the wind likely coming from the right side. The hole features gorse on both sides but the fairway is generous. There is not much room to the left of the green due to the fall-off and the taller grass before the start of a deep ravine. It has a decent green that is slightly raised. This hole plays to the furthest point of the golf course.
10. Par 4 – 390/375. Amazingly, it only takes two holes to get back to the clubhouse which seems very far away. This hole is a slight dogleg right with brush and gorse down the right side while the left side shares the rough with the sixth hole. This hole is a bit more raised than some of the others with fall-offs on all sides. The green has primarily slope to it with more subtle dips.
11. Par 5 – 529/506. My favorite hole at the Sheep Ranch is the eleventh which plays to a fairway that dips and rolls repeatedly all the way to the start of a high hill about 50 feet above the fairway placed between two mounds. From the tee this hole plays as a dogleg left. The green is very long with a false front and it seemed to be slightly crowned with a higher back tier. I played it poorly but perhaps because I was so busy admiring the hole.
12. Par 4 – 440/414. From the rare elevated tee on the course this hole plays straight with brush down the left side. Again the fairway has a lot of rolls and dips to it. The green is raised to the back with a higher back right and a depression near the middle. The elevated tee is a nice addition but the approach shot is standard.
13. Par 5 – 510/485. The thirteenth plays as a double dogleg with a sharp turn at the end that often does not play like a dogleg. The tee is fairly level before the hole falls away a bit before rising again to a green that is overly manufactured.
14. Par 4 – 403/377. The fourteenth plays strongly uphill from the tee to a green well above you and a steep slope to the back. I would not say the hole has a false front but other’s might consider it as such. There is a grass bunker on the left side that makes recovery more difficult. I disliked this hole as it seemed overly manufactured and the green surface was uninteresting.
15. Par 4 – 321/303. Fifteen plays back to the coast with a slight turn to the right that is barely noticeable. The hole often plays longer due to the prevailing wind in one’s face. The green is long but somewhat flat. I did not consider it to be much of a golf hole.
16. Par 3 – 151/131. The back right of this green is hidden due to a large hill on the right side. The left side of the green is the coast/cliff and with a prevailing wind one must not hit a ball to the left. The front of the green is somewhat narrow with a small section of lower ground on the left before the cliff. Once on the green the surface is flat. This is a fun hole but can be somewhat unplayable into a wind that requires 3-4 more clubs.
17. Par 4 – 326/314. The coast/cliff is down the entirety of the left side but the fairway is very wide and one can easily play down the right without too much of a penalty if they get into the rough. The green is large and essentially level to the fairway.
18. Par 5 – 464/436. This is possibly the worst hole on the course due to it being a par 5. The hole plays out to the right from the tee and then back to the left. There are raised grass bunkers to avoid with the shortest line to the left of it. However, if one hits to the right there is still ample opportunity to get close to the green or even reach the green if one is a longer hitter. The green sits above a depression in the front and is sloped back to front. Behind the green is a lot of scrub making a back pin position one that is difficult to want to try to get close to it. This hole cannot be lengthened but perhaps would be better if it was shortened by 20 yards and converted to a par 4. However, there are many who like the concept of a par 4 ½ and this does fit perfectly into that philosophy.
I would likely put the Sheep Ranch as the weakest of the courses at Bandon Dunes resort. Indeed, if this course lacked the cliffside setting and ocean views, it would likely be just another golf course. It is those views, much like Chambers Bay, that creates the excitement while playing a round. The course does seem cramped and overly contrived at times, with a lack of visual attractiveness from most of the tees. The course does have an interesting routing and several very good holes.
I certainly would not return to play Sheep Ranch unless I had one of the first tee times of the day in the first hour.
For me I could see the case for a 3.5 but I will rate it a bit higher because of those several very good and memorable holes.
A bit disappointing. Despite fabulous ocean views, greens were slow & a few had bare spots. Tee boxes so hard we had to step on tees to get them in the ground. Our views hampered by fog/haze/cloudy day. Wind makes it tough to reach some holes in regulation but overall, very playable layout with wide fairways.
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. With so much already written about Sheep Ranch below, our group noted the following highlights:
• The course (intentionally) has the best views on the property. With so many greens on the ocean, it is difficult not to be taken by its natural beauty. The way the cliffs are incorporated into the tee shot on the par four 6th is captivating.
• Interestingly, though, our group felt the most compelling holes architecturally were actually away from the Pacific, especially those which maximized the terrain. The blind, infinity fairway at the 14th was our favorite tee shot on the course. The one-of-a-kind, protruding terrace at the front of the 8th green left us entirely perplexed. And, the blown out green site at the par five 11th made us feel like we were right at home in the Sandhills of North Carolina.
• While the winter was harsh on the newly sodded greens, we did not think playability was affected. We preferred Sheep Ranch and Old Macdonald’s bent/fescue mix which was exceptionally firm and welcoming to ground shots.
Sheep Ranch is a must include on any trip to the resort. It will be fascinating to see how the course matures and develops in the years to come.
I agree with the other reviews in that this course will only improve as it grows in over time. This is a stark, dramatic piece of property with some ghost trees, less gorse than Pacific and Bandon Dunes, and no sand bunkers. It's the northernmost track on the property and certainly can get windy in the afternoon and even more so than the other tracks. I also agree with the rater who had Pacific, Bandon Dunes, Sheep Ranch, and Old Mac/Trails as the order of best courses. The oceanside holes are spectacular, particularly #6 and #16 but even an inland hole like the par 5 #11 is worth the trip. #16 was only 92 yards one day with the flag as front as possible with a 25-30mph wind into and towards the ocean and it was one of the most unsettling shots I've ever had. Alternately, next round a partner went long on #3, which shares the football sized three-tiered green and ended up using a hybrid for that length and uphill putt. Only downsides I can see are the extreme imbalance of the 9's with the front playing a short 34 and mostly downwind and the back being a much longer par 38 mostly into the wind. Also the par 5 #18 is quite short and somewhat anti-climatic but after getting beat up on the back it's nice to finish with an easy birdie. Real good addition to the course rotation at Bandon and I look forward to playing it again as it matures.
In 2 or 3 years this could be the best course at Bandon Dunes. Needs some time to grow in and firm up. Sits on fantastic golf land with rolling terrain inland and jaw-dropping views from the cliff’s edge. #6 Tee and #17 Tee are two of the most dramatic tee box locations you’ll find, hanging on the edge of the cliff. These two tees are better than most oceanfront greens you’ll find anywhere! There are many fantastic greens with subtle undulations… when these grow in and can be cut a bit lower the course will play significantly more challenging. Highlight holes: 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 16, 17, 18.
Every new addition to the Bandon Dunes resort will make headlines. The official opening date was 1st June 2020, which was preceded with some limited preview play. Coore & Crenshaw now have a third course at the resort, which means half of the golf offerings have been laid out by the dynamic duo. Founders of Bandon Dunes Resort, Phil Friedman and Mike Keiser have owned the Sheep Ranch site for more than 20 years so no additional property was purchased to build the new 18 holes. The history of the Sheep Ranch plays a crucial role with understanding its current presentation. Many years ago, Doak created 13 random greens to facilitate cross-county golf for limited play. Each green was identified with a letter of the alphabet. When the few select golfers got access to the Ranch, they created their own course across the rugged land. From the resort, you only needed to look up the coastline to see golf flags blowing in the wind. Curiosity as to what the place was went off the charts. The mystic of the original 13-hole Sheep Ranch made it golfs equivalent to Area 51. Countless questions and inquiries went on for years. You either loved or hated the place depending on which side of the fence you were on.
When the Sheep Ranch was ultimately destined to be an 18-hole course at the resort, the level of hype was inevitable. The selection of Coore/Crenshaw to lay out an 18-hole course was a wonderful decision given their familiarity with the region, and their outstanding portfolio. Almost overnight, making the Sheep Ranch a public 18-hole course (in my humble opinion) wiped out the mystery and mythical image that surrounded the course. Gone are the days where lucrative access and secrecy of Area 51 took a strangle-hold on who got in the gate. While I love everything about Bandon and what the resort gives to the game, I can’t help but feel a little sentimental about the past. Many visitors may not know the history of the Sheep Ranch, but I think it’s crucial to its present and future intention. Try to play it with somebody who was intimately familiar with the original 13-hole site, and you’ll learn how little resemblance there is today as to the routing, or even the access roads around the perimeter. Even the sheep are gone! But while we could focus on what’s been lost forever, there is a serious amount of light at the end of the mysterious tunnel.
The immediate highlights of today’s Sheep Ranch include 9 greens abutting the coastline, 3 shared (and very clever) V-shaped tee boxes, and there are no sand bunkers because the architects concluded that sand would not stay in the bunkers given the site’s exposed location. I was fortunate to play the course 3 times over a variety of days with a mixture of wind directions, tee-markers and an assortment of interesting pin locations. Since the course opened a couple of months ago, it’s been pounded with play. It was of little surprise that the fairways were still trying to grow, and the green speeds were on the slower side. This is exactly what I expected, and totally normal for such a young public course. Conditions were not a focus of each of my rounds. With time, the Sheep Ranch will be pristine like all other courses at the resort.
The opening par 5 brings you downhill straight to the coastline, as does the par 3 3rd hole and par 3 5th hole, followed by the epic par 4 6th hole that plays parallel to the coast with a heroic tee shot over the cliffs. The 7th is yet another short par 3 that takes you to the corner of the property along the coast before turning around for the dog-leg right 8th hole which might be the best par 4 on the course. The 9th brings you straight back to the coast with a beautiful infinity green. The first 9 holes highlights how special the routing is, with an emphasis on finding as many shots down towards the ocean as possible.
No sand in the bunkers is a strange feature. There are dozens of grass hollows that look like bunkers that were grassed in. I’m not sure I loved the concept, as many of them could easily be sand bunkers. At the current moment of the course’s evolution, there’s no real punishment off the tee or around the greens. There’s plenty of width off the tee, and limited areas of higher fescue. I guess the vast nature of the land is a homage to the original Sheep Range where golfing in any direction is (technically) possible as you navigate around.
When there is only so much land at your disposal, the architects had to come up with smart ideas to economically use limited land for multiple purposes. V-shape tee boxes are used to strategically point golfers away from each other to increase the probability that stray golf balls won’t hit adjacent players. We see this concept on holes 2 & 18, 5 & 15 and 8 & 10. An aerial view of the course highlights the brilliance of this deliberate feature.
Routing a course is always a major challenge for any architect based on the land they are presented with. One of the absolute most unique design features that I fell in love with were the holes that played diagonal to the ocean. We see this at the par 3 5th and the par 4 15th. Ironically, these holes share a V-shaped teeing ground and generally play parallel to each other in places. The 15th is a brilliant example of how you play crosswise to the ocean, as the sense of anticipation builds dramatically for the mouth-watering 16th and 17th holes that begin to show their faces ahead.
Most of the drone photography you’ll see of the Sheep Ranch will be of the par 3 16th that plays to a large exposed cliff-top surface, followed by the theatrical par 4 17th that presents the burnt ghost trees guarding the fairway and green along the fairytale coastline. The crashing waves offer a symphonic melody as your experience comes to a climax. I make it a point to call out drone photography, as the views of these closing holes at eye-level is very different. Sadly, most golfers will be tricked by the drone shots and won’t even realise where they are while walking the course. The drone gets to heights and angles that players will never see. Same argument goes for the finger fairways at Cape Kidnappers. The eye-level playing view from the fairway is completely different, and essentially never shown given that it doesn’t help with marketing.
I’ve played each course at the resort multiple times based on multiple visits. I’ve seen them all at their best. Everyone wants to know where the Sheep Ranch compares to the others, and where it will appear in the next batch of rankings from the various publications and websites. I am a massive fan of the course and consider the routing to be the best at the resort. Taking an objective view, Pacific Dunes is still the #1 at the resort – after 4 visits, my opinion hasn’t changed at all. I think the rankings will be Pacific Dunes, Bandon Dunes, Sheep Ranch, Bandon Trails and Old Macdonald.
I love Bandon Dunes... After COVID-19 cancelled a group of 8 of us in March, 2 remaining die hards and I jumped in my truck and drove the 14 hours from Southern California to Bandon Dunes in mid May. On the way up I read a tweet by the renowned Bandon Welcoming-Weatherman “Shoe“ who said a select few would be able to play a preview round that week on the Sheep Ranch.
As I stood on that first tee in sunny, calm, 60 degree temps I thought I was in for a treat. When my caddy Jimmy the Canadian started laughing before I even swung the club, I asked what was so funny? He replied that “2 days ago it was blowing 50 on this very spot!”
Many who have played it since then have remarked in print, podcasts and social media outlets that it is the most spectacular starting hole in the world. As you walk over the rise and someone magically pulls back the curtains and a scene akin to somewhere over the rainbow appears in the form of the Pacific Ocean you know you are in for something epic. Words do not do it justice. It is the most beautiful starting hole in the world.
Hole after hole it is one amazing view after another. The par 3s are all spectacular with million dollar vistas everywhere. At times, you are reminded that you are only a stones throw from the other courses at Bandon but like the others, Sheep Ranch has its own feel.
Hole #6 gives Bandon Dunes #16, Pacific #4 Trails #11 and Old Mac #3 a run for their money as best hole on the property. I had been hitting a slinging (left handed) draw up to that point but aimed somewhere over the ocean and hit a perfect cut that rode the slight breeze back safely into the fairway. (Jimmy the Canadian was both surprised and impressed)
The rest of the course is not very long and without the wind or sand, there is very little defense. That does not diminish from the experience one bit. It is so much fun to play! You don’t even notice there is no sand on property. It is minimalism at its finest and Coore/Crenshaw deserve credit for painting another masterpiece.
Every time I go to Bandon, my favorites list changes but after one round, Sheep Ranch is just behind Bandon Dunes but ahead of Old Mac, Trails and Pac Dunes. I can’t wait to get back up there and try it again. It is special & I won’t be surprised at all if it become my favorite course at my favorite place on earth.
With another golf trip to Western Ireland cancelled next month due to COVID-19, I am going back up to Bandon in 2 weeks and will probably get to play it in more typical circumstances which is fine with me.
Did I forget to say I love Bandon Dunes?