OLD MACDONALD – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION
Bandon Dunes Resort, Bandon, OR – Tom Doak & Jim Urbina
Old Macdonald is the most recently opened course at Bandon Dunes, but it is already considered by many to be the best. The course is intended as an homage to the architectural principles of Charles Blair Macdonald. As such, it is not a replica course, but rather uses the architectural templates of the Macdonald / Raynor / Banks school and adapts them as needed to fit the land, much in the same way that Macdonald himself (and later Raynor and Banks) did.
As stated in the yardage guide, “The goal has been not to copy Macdonald’s great holes any more than Macdonald would have settled for carbon copies of the Alps and Redan – but to borrow upon his inspiration and method for our own fine piece of links ground. Those familiar with Macdonald’s work will compare and contrast his holes and our own with their forefathers at St. Andrews, Leven, and Littlestone; others will have the chance to experience for the first time these classic concepts which are the very foundation of the game.”
Drawing upon their extensive experience in restoring the classic work of Macdonald and Raynor, Doak and Urbina set about building a course that would allow players to experience this classic golden age style of design while independently providing a fun and engaging golf experience. The result is an absolute triumph.
As a devout Macdonald/Raynor fan, I loved Old Macdonald. It was a thrill playing the modern adaptations of the Macdonald templates in such an incredible setting. But I also played a round with three people who had never heard of C.B. Macdonald, and two proclaimed Old Macdonald their favorite course at Bandon.
At over 250,000 square feet, the greens at Old Macdonald are by far the largest in the United States. Coupled with the firm conditions and tight fairways, Old Macdonald allows for use of the ground game like few courses this side of the Atlantic. The golf course is a blast to play, and is proof positive that the classic principles of design are more than adequate to provide an engaging experience when adapted to modern standards.
Old Macd occupies the northernmost part of the property at Bandon. Its clubhouse is about 5 minutes by shuttle from the main resort.
Hole 1 – 304 yards – Par 4 – “Double Plateau”
No hiding the ball at Old Macdonald – the player sees just what he’s in for right from the start: namely, super-wide fairways and expansive greens. The course begins inland of a massive line of gorse-covered dunes, which obscure the majority of the course to the west.
The course begins with a favorite template of many C.B. Macdonald fans — the double plateau. Fortunately, the pin on this huge green is visible from the tee, allowing the player to pick the preferred angle of approach. The middle fairway bunkers are in play for mid- to long-hitters.
The elevation changes in the faithfully recreated double plateau green are dramatic. A principal’s nose bunker guards the front left of the green. Another bunker catches balls that run through the valley in the green.
A fun opener, and a great hole to set the tone for the round.
Hole 2 – 162 yards – Par 3 – “Eden”
The largest Eden green I’ve ever seen, and a beautiful par-3 in its own right, the third is guarded on the left by a rough bunker and in the middle-right by the deep, revetted Strath bunker that plays much larger than its actual footprint.
This bunker collects balls from far and wide. The contouring and elevation change in this massive green are tremendous.
Hole 3 – 345 yards – Par 4 – “Sahara”
One of your author’s favorite holes at Bandon, the third offers a unique and compelling take on the Sahara template. It calls for a completely blind tee shot over the sand dune to a wide fairway shared with the fourteenth hole. Anything from a ball to the left of the cedar to the right side of the exposed sand is playable.
The old Port Orford Cedar stands sentry at the top of the bluff, and lords over most of the round at Old Mac. The tree is visible from nearly the entire course.
Once the player crests the dune, the huge expanse of Old Macdonald is revealed. Parts of every hole on the golf course are visible from this spot.
Good drives on the proper line will catch the slope of this heavily contoured fairway and may tumble down to within putting distance.
It can be difficult to tell where the fairway ends and the huge green begins.
A look back up the incomparable third fairway.
Hole 4 – 472 yards – Par 5 – “Hog’s Back”
So nice to see a well-executed version of the Hog’s Back template. Here, a drive that remains on top of the centerline ridge will kick forward for more distance, while tee shots to the side will tumble down into the valleys, leaving a blind shot from an often crooked lie.
While the fairway is wide as a whole, the hog’s back itself is fairly narrow. But hitting it provides a valuable benefit on this long par 4 hole.
A nasty center bunker waits in the middle of the fairway some 50 yards short of the green . . .
. . . while a catch basin waits to collect approaches left short of the putting surface.
A superb half-par hole.
Hole 5 – 134 yards – Par 3 – “Short”
The shortest hole at Old Macdonald, and one of the largest greens you’ll ever see. Look at all those potential pin placements!
This mammoth green has a bit of curl to it as well.
This is probably the easiest pin on this green, and one of the only flattish spots on which to putt. A lovely rendition of the short template.
Hole 6 – 520 yards – Par 5 – “Long”
The longest hole on the course follows the shortest. Playing directly into the prevailing summer wind, the sixth forces the golfer to decide whether to take on Hell Bunker with their second shot.
Hell Bunker dominates the second shot and obscures the view of the green from most parts of the fairway.
The bunker is aptly named – your author speaks from experience.
The sixth traverses some of the least interesting land on the property, and it is a credit to Doak and Urbina that the result is one of the most interesting holes on the course. A large knob guarding the green front right makes the approach from the right side blind and redirects shots left short in all directions.
This large bunker center rear catches any approach that runs through the front-to-rear sloping green. It is not an ideal place to be — again, your author speaks from experience. Twice.
Like the fifth, the sixth green is a masterwork.
Hole 7 – 345 yards – Par 4 – “Ocean”
The seventh is one of the few holes at Old Macdonald not based on a Macdonald template, and it is also one of the best holes on the property. The drive out into a wide, rippling fairway is all about positioning, and avoiding the deep fairway bunker to the left of the large hill on which the green sits.
The size and steepness of this dune is difficult to grasp from a photo, but the relative size of the flagstick gives an idea of its massive scale. Any approach left short will tumble all the way back down until it hits a bunker or reaches the bottom of the hill.
Tough pin today. Though the green is large, it also contains a fair amount of slope. Chipping to this pin from the back of the green is terrifying. A tough par.
Until the seventh, the course plays mostly inland away from the ocean. This aptly named hole gives the golfer his first real taste of the sea. For a golfer on a first time trip to Bandon and who happens to play Old Macdonald first (as did your author), the feeling of ascending to the seventh green rivals any in golf.
Sidebar – Tom Doak’s Sheep’s Ranch
After playing the seventh, if the golfer looks upshore to the north, a beautiful view of Tom Doak’s mysterious Sheep’s Ranch is provided (along with a view of a hell of a lot of gorse).
Hole 8 – 170 yards – Par 3 – “Biarritz”
There remain several great Biarritz holes in the country – the ninth at Piping Rock, the ninth at Yale and the fifth at Fishers Island are a few of the best. In your author’s opinion, the eighth at Old Macdonald can stand with any of the holes in this group. It is an exceptional example of the Biarritz template.
The front portion of this large Biarritz green is sloped toward the swale, to encourage shots that run down and through the trough.
The wide channel bisecting the eighth green.
Shorter hitters can use the back of the knob front left of the green for extra forward kick. A wonderfully fun hole to play.
Hole 9 – 352 yards – Par 4 – “Cape”
The ninth turns back in a southerly direction and begins a sequence of holes that plays back and forth across the open area of the property. The ninth curves gently right around some rugged bunkers and gorse bushes.
These bunkers are nasty. In fact, missing the fairway right at the ninth is one of the few places on Old Macdonald where a golfer can lose a ball.
Playing out to the left leaves a longer approach but a better angle up the open mouth of this green.
The contours within the ninth green provide a challenge as well as an aid in directing greenside shots and putts toward or away from the intended target.
Hole 10 – 440 yards – Par 4 – “Bottle”
The tenth plays to one of the widest fairways on the golf course, but the large fairway is dotted with four penal bunkers that run from short left to long right. Care must be taken to challenge the bunker suitable for the individual golfer’s abilities.
The bunkers crossing the fairway are deep and high lipped – playing out backward is sometimes the only play.
The difficult green is set atop a small dune, with the surface falling away to the right of the green. The land allows a running approach up the left side, which will catch a slope and redirect to the center of the green. But anything short right will bound down the hill and away from the putting surface.
This view from the side of the green shows the substantial high right to low left tilt. An overly conservative miss to the left side of this green leaves a treacherous putt.
Hole 11 – 399 yards – Par 4 – “Road”
If ever there was a hole where the position of the tee shot mattered, this is it. If the pin is right, play right. If it’s left, play left. Note that the fairway is wider than it appears, as the gorse bushes down the right side come to a halt short of where many players can carry their drives.
This angle, from the right of the fairway, is the ideal position for today’s pin. While the player must still contend with the substantial false front, he is also afforded the widest angle into the green and can play away from the deep revetted bunker.
This position, on the other hand, is not ideal. Note that it is not simply the deep bunker that provides the thrills here, but the brilliantly constructed green.
A look back down the long eleventh green.
Hole 12 – 205 yards – Par 3 – “Redan”
Playing with the prevailing summer wind, this classic redan green can be difficult to hold even with well struck approach shots.
Running the ball on to this green is possible, and in some cases, preferred. The redan kick slope impacts balls that land on the green or short of it.
Everyone loves a well designed Redan, and the twelfth at Old Macdonald fits the bill.
Hole 13 – 319 yards – Par 4 – “Leven”
This short par four plays to a green squeezed between two dunes.
While the safer play is down the bunkerless left side of the fairway . . .
. . . the right provides the better angle into this severely sloping and heavily contoured green.
The large wraparound berm that runs down the left side and around the back of this green provides a backstop that allows the player to bring an approach shot back to the center of the green.
Even approach shots that land halfway up the left dune will bound happily back on to the green. A fun, exciting hole.
Hole 14 – 297 yards – Par 4 – “Maiden”
A short par four with a gargantuan fairway, the fourteenth plays back up the massive dune that the player initially crossed while playing the third hole. The player can play as aggressively left or as conservatively right as he chooses.
The inclined fairway is rippled throughout, adding a degree of challenge to what is typically a wedge approach.
The wide, shallow fourteenth green is benched into the side of the massive dune.
The back to front slope and internal contours of the fourteen provide an added element of difficulty on an otherwise short hole.
Hole 15 – 482 yards – Par 5 – “Westward Ho”
The aptly named fifteenth hole turns once more toward the sea. From a tee high on the face of the dune, the fifteenth falls to the valley below and swings right around a deep sandy scar.
This par 5 is reachable in two for longer hitters.
But care must be taken to avoid the fairway bunker short and right of the green.
Not where you want to be.
The green is backstopped by the top of the dune which separates the seventh green complex from the fifteenth.
Shots that roll through the green are gathered by this grassy trench, a nifty little feature which illustrates the care that went into designing the greens at Old Macdonald.
A very beautiful and enjoyable hole.
Hole 16 – Par 4 – 433 yards – “Alps”
The sixteenth tee is the northwesternmost point at the Bandon Dunes resort, and begins the sweeping trek homeward.
The large encroaching dune provides the “Alps” feature here, and renders blind all but the longest tee shots that squeak past it on the right.
The view of the ‘Alps” feature from the middle of the fairway. The directional post on top gives the player a general idea of the line to the center of the green.
The beautifully-sited sixteenth green, nestled between a surrounding ring of dunes, is revealed upon passing the dune. The green is partially backstopped to contain long approaches.
The view from behind this exceptional hole reveals the short grass behind the alps feature that can assist shorter hitters in reaching this green in two. While this hole remains controversial to some who are not familiar with Macdonald’s Alps template, it is surely a favorite of those who are.
Hole 17 – 515 yards – Par 5 – “Littlestone”
Playing with the prevailing summer wind, the seventeenth is reachable in two for players willing to challenge the hazard reaching into the right portion of the fairway. While the fairway does provide ample room, this is one of the more intimidating tee shots on the course.
If these bunkers can be avoided, a good score is likely on this hole.
If not, unlikely.
In your author’s opinion, Old Macdonald closes with two of the best greens on the property. The seventeenth is fronted by a bunker and a slope that will either facilitate a ball to a back pin or kick it past a front pin. Exposed knobs right, left and behind this green lend their substantial influence to the putting surface.
The view from the back portion of the sizable seventeenth green illustrates the beauty of the setting.
Hole 18 – 426 yards – Par 4 – “Punchbowl”
The final tee shot at Old Macdonald must avoid the fairway bunkers on both sides. Any tee shot on grass will have a good look at this last green.
And what a green it is. Ringed with mounding, the eighteenth green slopes several feet from its elevated left side to its lower right. Long approach shots can be hit into the mouth of this green on the left and run all the way down to today’s pin in the bottom right corner.
The view from the right rear of the punchbowl reveals the tumbling slope of the putting surface.
Having walked right past this green on the way to the first tee, the golfer has been anticipating playing it since the beginning of the round. The experience more than lives up to billing.
Old Mac is the rare course that would be both a thrill to play once and an enjoyable experience to play every day. For lovers of classic, golden age architecture, it provides an opportunity to see those principles interpreted and adapted by the brightest minds in modern golf architecture. For those that aren’t, the course is simply a fun, unique and beautiful place to play golf. In either regard, Old Macdonald is a resounding success.
I hope you enjoyed the tour!
Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf