A wee bit of Scots golf on the Ore­gon coast­line

Hubris aside, Ban­don Dunes’ links present the sport ‘as it was meant to be’

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY CHRIS SANTELLA Spe­cial to The Wash­ing­ton Post

Walk­ing up the 18th fair­way of Ban­don Trails, I can­not shake the phrase “fair dre­ich” frommy head, a Scots id­iom I’d first heard some 20 years ago in a pub near the Old Course at St. An­drews. Sheets of rain are fall­ing as I make my way be­tween tow­er­ing sand dunes fes- tooned with wav­ing fes­cue grass. Some­where to my left, the surf crashes on the Ore­gon coast, its fury muf­fled by the mist. Fair dre­ich roughly trans­lates as “re­ally dis­mal weather,” and though it’s rained for 35 of the 36 holes that we’ve played this day, my spir­its are barely damp­ened.

I reach my ball— in the fair­way, for a change — grab a 6-iron and drop the ball on the green, 20 feet to the right of the flag. I bound up the steep hill ahead of the other mem­bers of my four­some, an­tic­i­pat­ing one of the day’s few birdie putts. When my first putt drib­bles

past the cup andmy sec­ond comes up short, I shrug my shoul­ders, tap in for bo­gey and turn around. Look­ing back across the dunes, I take in a slice of the Coast Range moun­tains to the south and a sliver of the Pa­cific to the west, and I can’t be too up­set. The day’s score will be largely forgotten by the first pint of Al­phadelic IPA at McKee’s Pub; the rain will make a good story. And no missed putt (or three) can take away the sense that I’ve just par­taken of a very pure golf ex­pe­ri­ence, the kind once only avail­ableon­the shores of Scot­land and Ire­land.

Back in the late ’90s, more than a few peo­ple thought that Mike Keiser, co-founder of Re­cy­cled Pa­per Greet­ings, a card com­pany, was crazy when he broke ground on Ban­don Dunes on a tract of windswept, sandy bluffs above the Pa­cific, roughly 100 miles north of the Cal­i­for­nia bor­der. It was too iso­lated, not on the way to much of any­thing. The ar­chi­tect who was com­mis­sioned to de­sign the re­sort’s epony­mous first course, a then-29-year-old Scots­man named David McLay Kidd, had never de­signed a golf course be­fore. The course would be a linksstyle lay­out, ram­bling over dunes and un­groomed ter­rain that would be barely rec­og­niz­able as a golf course to the ca­sual Amer­i­can player. And there would be no golf carts; in­stead, play­ers would be re­quired to walk the rolling ter­rain and en­cour­aged to hire cad­dies, many of whom had been dis­placed from their liveli­hoods by de­clines in the re­gion’s tim­ber and fish­ing in­dus­tries.

As it some­times tran­spires when mad ad­ven­tures in art and science are al­lowed to run their course, some­thing truly won­der­ful emerged. From its open­ing, Ban­don Dunes was hailed as a links won­der, an hon­est im­por­ta­tion of Scot­tish links golf to the Pa­cific, some 5,000 miles west of the game’s home­land. The re­sort’s rather pre­sump­tu­ous slo­gan, “Golf as it was meant to be,” left those yet to visit snick­er­ing. But af­ter a round or two, most were con­verted. One wag even quipped that Ban­don Dunes was des­tined to one day host an open — the Bri­tish Open!

Ban­don Dunes has sig­nif­i­cantly ex­panded since its open­ing in 1999. There are four 18-hole cour­ses (Ban­don Dunes, Pa­cific Dunes, Ban­don Trails and Old Macdon­ald); two shorter cour­ses with noth­ing but par-3 holes (the Pre­serve and Shorty’s); anda 100,000square-foot putting course (Punch­bowl). The re­sort boasts five lodg­ing com­plexes (rang­ing from four-bed­room cot­tages to inn ac­com­mo­da­tions) to­tal­ing 372 beds and six restau­rants (rang­ing from high-qual­ity pub grub to re­gion­ally in­spired haute cui­sine). There are some walk­ing trails in­ter­spersed among the cour­ses and a few mas­sage ta­bles and a hot tub buried deep in the main lodge.

But what peo­ple come here to do is play golf. Most play rain or shine. And even out-of-shape 50some­things like my­self will haul them­selves 11 or 12 miles in a day to play 36 holes, so ev­ery inch of Ban­don’s of­fer­ings can be ex­plored over a long week­end.

For non-golfers, one course is pretty much like the next one. Park­land style? Moun­tain style? In­land links? True links? What’s the dif­fer­ence . . . and who cares? For peo­ple who re­ally like golf, how­ever, ev­ery hole on ev­ery course is brim­ming with nu­ance and in­trigue. Th­ese are the sort of peo­ple who are drawn to Ban­don Dunes. (This be­ing said, I’ve brought ca­sual golfers here who could barely dis­tin­guish a pit bunker from a put­ter and they’ve en­joyed the cour­ses for their beauty and seren­ity.) Though all the cour­ses blend seam­lessly into their sur­round­ings— one has the sense that each hole was found in­stead of built— each has its own per­son­al­ity. Ban­don Dunes may be the truest links course of the four.

Many holes are set along the coast­line, the fair­ways play firm and fast, there are many nat­u­ral un­du­la­tions in both the fair­ways and the greens, and there are few trees on the field of play. There is, how­ever, quite a bit of gorse, a spiny ev­er­green shrub that was orig­i­nally in­tro­duced to Ore­gon from Scot­land by set­tlers to help stem ero­sion. It blooms yel­low in the spring­time and is to be avoided at all costs. (The gorse at Ban­don has claimed many a ball; a story that cir­cu­lates among the cad­dies goes that one slightly ine­bri­ated golfer went into the gorse af­ter an er­rant shot, be­came lost, and was fi­nally found bleed­ing a half-hour later by a team of cad­dies, his clothes and ego in tat­ters.) The wind can blow with gusto in the sum­mer, and play­ers will do well to keep their shot slow to keep them on course.

Pa­cific Dunes, de­signed by Tom Doak, is many golfers’ fa­vorite of the four 18-holers. “When I first learned to scuba dive, my in­struc­tor ad­vised me to not look for whales, but to fo­cus on the small but re­mark­able facets of the reef,” golf writer Brian McCallen told me. “I think that ap­plies to Pa­cific Dunes. Look at the un­du­la­tions around the green, how the bunkers fit into the land. Pa­cific Dunes is a master­piece. Pa­cific is not geared to­ward pen­cil-and-score­card ap­proach. It’s about en­joy­ing each hole for what it is. You’re never un­happy, even when you’re fluff­ing the ball around. It’s just a fun course to play. And you can’t say that about many of the cour­ses that make it on the ‘must-play’ lists.”

This in­tan­gi­ble “playa­bil­ity” as­pect extends to all the cour­ses at Ban­don. The fair­ways are wide and the haz­ards be­nign enough that even a 90s player will part with only a hand­ful of golf balls over sev­eral rounds.

The two other 18-hole lay­outs are a de­par­ture from the Dunes cour­ses, in part be­cause they are re­moved from the Pa­cific. Ban­don Trails, which opened in 2005 and was de­signed by Bill Coore and Ben Cren­shaw, moves through a host of en­vi­ron­ments on its epic jour­ney. It be­gins on dunes land, moves into a ram­bling meadow, con­tin­ues through a for­est of Dou­glas firs and spruces, and concludes back in the dunes. The scenery on Ban­don Trails is ev­ery bit as in­spired as its sea­side brethren— the con­trast of gap­ing waste bunkers with tow­er­ing conifer­son this rolling ter­rain is both star­tling and ex­cit­ing. Old Mac, cre­ated by Doak and Jim Urbina, will es­pe­cially ap­peal to golf in­sid­ers, as each hole is loosely based on a hole that was orig­i­nally laid out by Charles Blair Macdon­ald, who’s con­sid­ered the fa­ther of Amer­i­can golf course de­sign. (Macdon­ald, in­ci­den­tally, bor­rowed many of his de­signs from the great links cour­ses of Scot­land.) OldMac fea­tures some the big­gest greens you’ll ever play, and a few blind shots where you have to trust your cad­die or yardage book, swing away and hope for the best.

It’s hard to choose fa­vorite holes at Ban­don as there are sim­ply so many that com­bine pleas­ing vis­tas and chal­leng­ing shot­mak­ing, and they play so dif­fer­ently depend­ing onthe wind. But here are a few: On Ban­don Dunes, the par-4 fourth, a dog­leg that opens up to a green at the edge of the Pa­cific; on Pa­cific Dunes, the par-4 13th, which plays up­hill along bluffs 100 feet above the beach to the left and past huge dunes and waste bunkers on the right; on Ban­don Trails, the diminu­tive par-3 fifth, a wedge or 9-iron for most play­ers, but with zero room for er­ror, and a green where four- or five-putts are not un­heard of; and on Old Mac, the par-4 sev­enth, a short dog­leg with a steep up­hill ap­proach to a green that rests per­fectly atop the dunes. Land your shot on the low end of the green and there’s a de­cent chance the ball will roll back to your feet— if not be­hind you!

The par-3 Pre­serve course (also de­signed by Coore and Cren­shaw) is short but ev­ery bit as sweet as the reg­u­la­tion cour­ses. Only 13 holes, it was built as an af­ter­noon al­ter­na­tive for golfers who can’t quite pull off walk­ing 36 holes in a day but who still want a first-rate golf ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter their morn­ing 18.

My four­some didn’t use cad­dies dur­ing our most re­cent trip, be­cause we know the cour­ses fairly well— and we need the ex­er­cise of pulling our bags. But when I’ve used them in the past, I’ve found that their knowl­edge of the cour­ses’ idio­syn­cratic fair­ways and greens — and their pos­i­tive at­ti­tude — have added to the round, rather than mak­ing me self-con­scious. The spec­tac­u­lar coastal set­ting and com­pelling course de­signs are rea­son enough to visit Ban­don Dunes. But the re­sort’s laid-back, un­der­stated at­mos­phere makes it es­pe­cially invit­ing. The rooms and restau­rants are sparsely dec­o­rated, as if to en­cour­age the vis­i­tor to take in the beauty of the greater sur­round­ings; but the ac­cou­trements that are present are taste­ful, made with the high­est-qual­ity ma­te­ri­als. Most guests stay on the prop­erty once they ar­rive, and the restau­rants could charge what­ever they wished and ex­pe­ri­ence lit­tle back­lash. Yet most dishes are priced as rea­son­ably as the grill at your lo­cal course.

The staff at Ban­don adds a spe­cial ex­tra di­men­sion. At some pres­ti­gious re­sorts, the em­ploy­ees seem as though they’ve been re­duced to serf­dom; wher­ever I turn, there’s some­one ea­ger to carry my bag, clean my clubs, pol­ish my shoes . . . per­haps even hit my shot, if I asked. At Ban­don, peo­ple are cer­tainly avail­able to serve, but they’re very re­laxed, and al­lowed to smile, joke and be them­selves.

It’s pleas­ing to see them hav­ing al­most as much fun as me.

Santella, the au­thor of both “Fifty Places to Play Golf Be­fore You Die” and “Fifty More Places to Play Golf Be­fore You Die,” lives in Port­land, Ore.

WOOD SABOLD

In 1999, to raised eye­brows, the Ban­don Dunes golf re­sort in Ore­gon opened: a Scot­tish links-style lay­out that ram­bled over un­groomed ter­rain, with no use of carts. Yet it has been hailed as a won­der.

PHO­TOS BY WOOD SABOLD

Ore­gon’s Ban­don Dunes, ram­bling over wild-look­ing land, is barely rec­og­niz­able as a course to the ca­sual Amer­i­can golfer. But for those who love golf, ev­ery hole brims with in­trigue. Golf writer Bri­anMcCallen calls its Pa­cific Dunes course, specif­i­cally, a “master­piece”: “You’re never un­happy, even when you’re fluff­ing the ball around.”

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