PACIFIC DUNES – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION
Bandon Dunes Resort, Bandon, OR – Tom Doak
Pacific Dunes opened in 2001 and immediately skyrocketed up the rankings lists. It currently holds the title of best overall public course per Golf Magazine, second only to Pebble Beach per Golf Digest, and is considered by Golfweek Magazine to be the best public course built since 1960 (trailing only Sand Hills overall).
Pacific Dunes occupies the northernmost section of the coastal property at Bandon. Several of its holes sit hard against the cliffs overlooking the beach. Most of the holes that sit further inland still provide ocean views. And as with all the courses at Bandon, the isolation of the property is striking – there are no houses in view, no roads to be seen, and other than the clubhouse and the course itself, not an inkling of anything man-made to distract from the golf.
In short, Pacific Dunes is simply stunning – it is one of the most beautiful places to play golf that I have ever seen. But beyond its sheer beauty, it is also an extremely well designed and very enjoyable golf course. As with most Doak courses, Pacific Dunes feels very natural – the course meanders its way through dunes and gorse, making its way out to the ocean and the bluffs and back inland. The course looks and feels like it was simply laid down over the wonderful existing terrain.
Hole 1 – 304 yards (all yardages taken from the green tees) – Par 4
Pacific Dunes opens with a short two-shotter to an inviting cupped fairway. A large sandy mound sits waiting to the right to intimidate slicers of the golf ball, but any reasonably struck tee shot should leave only a wedge into the first green.
The first green sits slightly below grade and is protected by mounds in front and sandy areas and bunkering to the sides and rear. While most players will have a short shot into this green, the putting surface is small and significantly sloped, and approaches will often be played from an unlevel lie.
As is frequently the case at Bandon, approach shots can be played via the ground — here at the first, the fairway slopes down and bleeds seamlessly into the green.
Hole 2 – 335 yards – Par 4
The ocean first comes into view on the par-4 second at Pacific Dunes. This is a great strategic driving hole – the wider, safer tee shot is up the right side, but this leaves a more difficult angle into the green over a dune and some bunkering. Tee shots that successfully take on the left and middle bunkers will have an open approach to the green.
This view from the right of the fairway shows the dune and bunker that must be carried on an approach from this side.
The second green, with the elevated 6th green behind.
This reverse view shows the undulation of the second, as well as the expansive apron surrounding the green. As with many Doak courses, interesting pin positions are prevalent.
Hole 3 – 476 yards – Par 5
Standing on the third tee at Pacific Dunes is where the beauty of the course really starts to hit the player, and threatens to overwhelm. The ocean comes into full view to the player’s left, with the dunescape ahead and parts of Old Macdonald to the right. A spectacular hole, made more so by the flowering gorse.
A wide par-5 with many possible routes off the tee, the third is pocked with pot bunkers throughout its length. As this is not a par 5 of extreme length, the smart play is to focus on missing the bunkers off the tee and, if laying up, on the second.
This view from a centerline bunker shows the elevated green, perched perfectly between two large dunes.
The approach is open to the left of the green, but very closed from the right.
Anything long of this green is in trouble, as it will end up deep in a back bunker, buried in long rough on a mound or, if unlucky, rolling a dozen yards or so down the slope behind the green. A rather intimidating hole for a short par-5 . . .
. . . and yet, so pretty. What a green site!
Hole 4 – 449 yards – Par 4
A long par-4 which often plays downwind, the fourth is one of several holes which could vie for the title of “signature” at Pacific Dunes. The safe play is up the left, but the fairway bunkering must be avoided. The cliffs eat into the fairway not once . . .
. . . but twice on this gorgeous par-4. The closer one plays to the cliffs, the better the angle into the green.
The cant of the green from left to right allows for approaches to use the terrain, but balls moving left to right and riding the prevailing wind carry a real risk of running through the green and into oblivion.
The internal contours within the fourth green make two putting after an indifferent approach quite challenging.
A gorgeous hole.
Hole 5 – 181 yards – Par 3
The first of five one-shotter holes at Pacific Dunes, but the only par-3 on the front nine, the fifth hole has elements of a reverse redan, as shots up the left side will kick onto the putting surface. But the green is multi-tiered and only front pins can be accessed in that manner.
Though the fifth is the second longest par-3 on the course, the prevailing wind is generally helping on this hole, which shortens it considerably.
The green is deep but relatively narrow. Again, a beautiful site for a green complex. The sixth hole at Bandon Dunes is in the background.
Hole 6 – 288 yards – Par 4
A brilliant short par-4, this sub-300 yarder has teeth for the unthinking golfer. The fairway is massive – nearly 90 yards wide at its maximum. Anything from 40 yards left of the pin to 20 yards right and long of the right fairway bunker is in play.
Anything left will have a blind shot over the massive front left bunker to the shallowest part of the green.
The best play off the tee is to challenge the right side bunker and leave an approach from as far to the right as reasonably possible. From this angle, the player’s approach is down the heart of the shallow green.
Any approach shot or chip that reaches the darker grass at the bottom of this photo will continue to roll some 20 yards down and away from the green, leaving an extremely difficult chip back up the hill to the narrow green.
Anything from a birdie to a triple bogey is reasonably in play.
Hole 7 – 436 yards – Par 4
A long but typically downwind par-4, the seventh hole plays to a generous fairway.
The challenge at 7 comes from the long shot into the green. Ringed by areas of rough, natural grass, mounds and bunkers, this approach demands precision.
Playing down the left side into the green shortens the carry over the natural areas and bunkering, but the mounding can send even well aimed approaches offline.
The seventh is the opposite of the sixth in many ways, including the green, which is one of the largest and most contoured on the course.
Hole 8 – 369 yards – Par 4
The eighth runs in the opposite direction of the seventh and is typically upwind. Once again, the golfer has the luxury of hitting to a wide fairway, but once again, finding the proper angle of approach is critical to scoring well on this hole.
A small, deep bunker guards the front of this green, and depending on the day’s pin, the approach may be more favorable from the left or the right. Today’s pin is virtually impossible to attack from the right side of the fairway.
The shallow green slopes significantly from high right to low left.
One of the more difficult greens at Pacific Dunes to chip to or putt from distance on.
Hole 9 – 379 yards – Par 4
The ninth plays to one of two different greens – the upper (right) or lower (left). Though the fairway is extremely wide, the player’s aim might differ by as much as 50 yards depending on the green to which he is playing. Longer hitters playing to the lower left green can challenge the bunkering.
Though the ninth plays to identical yardages regardless of which green is in play, the lower left green plays much shorter.
The approach to the beautiful lower green, with Bandon Dunes in the background.
The undulating ninth fairway bleeds directly into the contoured lower ninth green, allowing for low, running shots to be played.
The approach to the skylined upper green.
Interestingly, the green to which the golfer plays on the ninth also dictates the tee from which the golfer plays the tenth. Golfers will likely debate which is the “better” of the two greens and corresponding tees (I preferred the lower ninth green / upper tenth tee), but each route is exceptionally fun.
Hole 10 – 163 yards – Par 3
Spectacular. As this view from the upper tee illustrates, the tenth at Pacific Dunes is unquestionably one of the most beautiful one shot holes in the country . . .
. . though the view from the lower tee is none too shabby.
In addition to the setting and the large dune to the right of the green, two standout unique features at the tenth green bear mentioning. The first is the large internal knob in the front left quadrant of the green, which provides for several outstanding pin positions and adds a required degree of precision to the approach. The second is the beautiful left side bunker – part of which is an “inverted” mound of sand — which resembles a crashing wave.
This view from behind the tenth green shows the placement of the prominent knob within the green.
Hole 11 – 131 yards – Par 3
The second of two consecutive par three holes to open the back nine, the short eleventh plays hard up against the cliffs to a small, well-bunkered green.
A large mound in the right rear of the green provides a backstop that will return balls to the middle of the green.
Hole 12 – 507 yards – Par 5
The twelfth plays northward between the third and fourth holes, and back toward the large dunes that housed the third green. Like the third hole, this three shotter places a premium on the angle of approach – right is favored.
The wide fairway rolls beautifully into the twelfth green, which sits flush against a large dune.
Any approach coming in from the left side of the fairway must deal with the large slope fronting the left side of the green, which can easily kick balls to the back of and through the green.
The view back up the twelfth hole.
Hole 13 – 390 yards – Par 4
One of the most beautiful holes on the property, and one of the best, the thirteenth hole plays northward along the cliffs to a slightly elevated green set at the base of a massive dune.
As seen here, the closer the player’s tee shot hugs the cliffs, the better the angle of approach to the elevated green. Note that shots falling short will roll back down the false front some 20-30 feet.
This view up the right shows the more difficult angle of approach.
The green itself, while large, provides little respite, as its internal contours make two putting a challenge.
An incomparable setting for golf.
Hole 14 – 128 yards – Par 3
The shortest hole on the course, the fourteenth is entirely exposed to the full brunt of the wind.
Sitting on top of the dunes, the fourteenth green falls away on all sides, making a small green play even smaller and requiring a difficult chip shot after an errant approach.
The reverse view of the fourteenth, with the tee and the thirteenth green behind.
Hole 15 – 504 yards – Par 5
With the prevailing wind behind, this green can be reached in two with two solid shots by most golfers.
Care should be taken to avoid the fairway bunkers, which are penal.
As does the tenth hole, the fifteenth incorporates a large knob into the green, this time front right. A unique and fun feature found twice at Pacific Dunes.
Hole 16 – 338 yards – Par 4
One of your author’s favorite inland holes at Bandon Dunes Resort, the sixteenth is a short two-shot hole which doglegs gently right.
An overly aggressive tee shot that attempts to challenge too much of the dogleg will find itself far below the green to the right. Likewise, any shot missing the green short or right will run down to the bottom of the steep greenside slope.
The one-of-a-kind sixteenth fairway. Incredible. Good luck finding a level lie in there.
A beautiful short par 4 by the modern master.
Hole 17 – 189 yards – Par 3
The longest one-shot hole at Pacific Dunes, the seventeenth has many elements of a traditional redan (though it lacks the rear bunkering). The hole plays out over a large chasm and to a green benched into a gorse-covered hill. With the gorse in full bloom, the beauty of the seventeenth rivals even the seaside par-3s at Pacific Dunes.
The proper play is to aim short right of the green and use the kick slope to bounce the ball on to the large putting surface. Note that shots taking the direct line at the pin must contend not only with the extremely deep front bunkering, but also risk rolling through the green and into the gorse.
Hole 18 – 575 yards – Par 5
Following the longest par 3 on the course comes the longest hole on the course. The tee shot plays through a valley up to a rise next to a deep left fairway bunker.
The long final hole provides plenty of opportunity to get into trouble, but also ample room to maneuver the ball with well-struck shots. The fairway is wide, but the bunkers are brutal if found.
The beautiful and challenging final green at Pacific Dunes.
A look back at the player’s final triumph.
Pacific Dunes is a striking example of what modern golf can be. Granted, it has its advantages, which include an incomparable setting and a top-shelf architect. But the principles to be gleaned from Pacific Dunes can be used at other courses. Wide fairways. No trees. No internal water hazards. Short rough. An emphasis on angles of play. Fun greens running at reasonable speed. Firm and fast conditions. Together, these things make a round of golf fun.
The Patio at Pacific Dunes, overlooking the Punchbowl – a perfect place to reflect on a round.