Short version: Bandon is one of the few places and trips that not only lives up to, but exceeds your expectations. If you have not been, find a way to get out there at least once and stay long enough to play each course at least once.
2nd short version thought: Of the 10 of us who went on the trip, we could not think of another place on the planet that has 5 courses as great as Bandon in such a small radius. If you know of a place that exceeds Bandon's proximity of great courses, let me know because I want to go to there.
A group of 10 of us, including several WRXers ( @Ocgolfrick @cfree5119 @TheCityGame @eagle1997 @XHoop24 @baddomes ) traveled to Bandon from Sunday November 7th until Saturday November 13th. We were all traveling from the D.C. area so it was a full day of travel to Bandon and a full day of travel back to the east coast. So much has been written and said about Bandon Dunes, but here is a recap from our trip and like most folks who visit Bandon, I could go on much longer so reply with any questions.
1. Pacific Dunes - my favorite and the course I considered the "best"
2. Old MacDonald - the most interesting course
3. Sheep Ranch - the most fun course
4. Bandon Dunes - would like to play it several more times, but the Par 3s were tough
5. Bandon Trails - very good course, but just not as good as the other 4 for me
Sunday: travel day, arrive around 4 pm after driving from Eugene and got ~7 holes in at Shorty's before dark. Dinner at McKee's.
Pacific Dunes in the morning. Great weather and a great course. We got spoiled from the start and our group played well and put up a decent amount of birdies. I was taking so many pictures and enjoying the views that it was hard to focus on the round, but in a good way. Course was in great shape and the greens were the best of the 5 courses.
Bandon Trails in the afternoon: We played the front in 2 hours or less and then the round kind of slowed down. We got a little bit of rain around hole #11 and #12, but nothing major. We joined groups at #17 and finished as a 6some to beat darkness so not the most fair look at the course. Trails was still in good shape, but it was the wettest and least linksy of all the courses. Greens were kind of bumpy and patchy and looked they were fighting off some kind of fungus.
Old MacDonald in the morning: Such a fun course and so interesting. If I had to pick one course to be my Saturday morning round for the rest of my life, it could be OM as there is so many options from the tees, the huge greens, the weather, the approaches, etc. The course played the firmest and fastest of the 5 courses and the greens were good, but maybe a touch slow. We were one of the first groups off and played in just under 4 hours.
Bandon Dunes in the afternoon: I was excited to see the original course and it did not disappoint. We had great weather and we finished 18 just before totally darkness. Bandon Dunes is so great and it is its own course, but it is hard not to compare it to Pacific Dunes. The greens and conditions were outstanding and I'd like a couple more times around Bandon as some of the tee shots make you think and second guess yourself, but in a good way.
Bandon Trails in the morning: Second time around trails was better than the first. Our group was off early and we were not waiting like on Monday. The weather was better and I played as a twosome so we had time to take pictures and take the course in. If this course was anywhere else instead of next to these 4 other great courses, I would be raving about it more, but it's a solid #5 of 5 for me. The course is still very good, but it's hard to not have the ocean views and I think Trails is more subtle than the bold striking courses like PD, BD and OM.
Pacific Dunes in the afternoon: Second time around PD and it was great. I putted well on PD both times and just felt comfortable on the course. I like the non-traditional routing on the back and the Par 3s are interesting, but not are not going to beat you up like on BD. This round confirmed my personal ranking that PD is #1 for me. So many good holes, great views and the perfect combination of tough, but fair golf.
Sheep Ranch in the morning: The most fun course. It is such a unique course and the views are great. Our round started out with a heavy overcast marine layer, but that got lightly as the round finished. We had a strong southern winter wind so that made holes #15, 16 and 17 all downwind and #15 and #17 were drivable from the green tees. #18 is the short par 5, but it played into the wind so wasn't really reachable in two the day we played it. This was one of those rounds that you do not really know what hole number you're on and when you realize that the round is about to end, you just want it to keep going. I could see scheduling 36 on one day at Sheep Ranch as it's such a fun course that does not beat you up that it would be great to play 18 in the morning, hang out at the clubhouse for lunch and then play another 18 in the afternoon. The greens were rolling well, but you can tell that they need a couple years to mature and grow in.
The Preserve in the afternoon: I was imagining something like The Cradle at Pinehurst and I was wrong. The Preserve is a legit test and with the wind, you're hitting some mid-irons into tough greens. The pin placements were tough and a couple were borderline unfair or at least unfun. We had 10 guys playing for skins with handicaps ranging from about 0-15 and our group only made 3 birdies over the 13 holes. I'd like another shot at the Preserve as fatigue was setting in and it was probably not a fair look at the course.
Old MacDonald in the morning: I was excited to get another shot at OM and it did not disappoint. It was fun to play holes a second time, especially #8 Biarritz and #16 Alps with the blind approach. The greens had been lightly top dressed between our first time at OM on Tuesday so they were rolling pretty slow which limited some of the ground options, but it was still a lot of fun.
Bandon Dunes in the afternoon: The weather finally caught up to us. We tied off at 12:30, 12:40 and 12:50 pm and you could tell it was getting ready to rain. By about the 6th hole, we had full rain gear on and it was windy. It was not pouring rain, but it was misty to light rain the rest of the round. We did not really mind as there was something fitting about finishing our last round of the trip in the elements on the original course. Pace of play was a little slow and we finished as a sixsome with 3 of our other buddies waiting on 18. Finishing the round and knowing it was the last round of the trip was a mix of emotions as we were so happy to have been able to play 10 rounds at these great courses, but also sad for the trip to come to an end.
We were not flying out until 1 pm from Eugene so we hit up the pro shops Saturday morning. The weather was sunny, 60* and light wind. Guys were wearing shorts and below was the view at Sheep Ranch. It was hard to get in the car and leave Bandon.
Other random thoughts:
- I really enjoyed the non-traditional routings, especially at Pacific Dunes, Old Macdonald and Sheep Ranch. It is cool that at 4 of the 5 courses, you do not loop back to the clubhouse and that the architects were not constrained by that requirement.
- We were fortunate that most of us got to play each course once and every course twice except Sheep Ranch. We had above average weather for early November and never really battled the elements until our last round on Friday afternoon.
- Future trip(s): It's hard to get to Bandon from the east coast, but I could see going back in 2 years. If time and money were not limitations (in my ideal fictional world), I would book 7 full days on the property with 36 a day (14 rounds), with a plan to play 10 rounds as that would allow me to cancel 4 rounds as needed based on weather and fatigue. Doing 10 rounds in 5 days was great and I have no regrets, but we were out of our room before sunrise and did not return to our room until after sunset.
- Walking 36 a day: I walk 95% of my rounds at home, but had never walked 2 rounds a day for 5 days. It was very doable, but it was key to have good shoes and socks and change socks between rounds. We basically stayed on east coast time for most of the trip and were asleep around 9 pm local and got up around 5 am local time to shower and get breakfast and hit the range.
- Service: outstanding, efficient and golf-centric. Everyone was nice, friendly and there to get you to your rounds on time. They know that most of the folks are guys on guys golf trips and they get you in and out quickly.
- Food: good and solid, but nothing amazing. All priced reasonably and good sized portions after walking 36 a day. Bandon Trails was closed for dinner due to staffing shortages so for dinner we ate at McKee's 4 times, The Forge once and Pacific Grill once. We had the breakfast buffet at the Lodge / Tufted Puffin each morning and it was quick and good food before a long day. We did lunch at the various clubhouses and all the food was good and there was decent variety between the various clubhouses.
- Rooms: we stayed at the Chrome Lake cottages. The rooms were bigger and probably nicer than I was expecting with two king beds, a fireplace, whirlpool tub, separate shower and bathroom, shoe dryer, fridge, coffee maker, etc. Nothing fancy, but all very nice and functional. Lots of room so spread out two sets of clubs, rain gear, travel bags, etc. House keeping was every other day due to COIVD, but they did a good job and no complaints.
Bottom line: great place, great buddies trip and I cannot wait to go back. It truly is a special place and is focused on the golf and making sure you have a great time.