REVIEW: Bandon Dunes Golf

It Just Keeps Getting Better

Every time you go to Bandon Dunes Golf it will be better than that last time you went;  I guarantee it!  I can’t say for certain the weather will be better, but this is now my 3rd trip to Bandon Dunes, and the experience has improved every time I’ve traveled to the Oregon coast.  I’ve done the Bandon experience different ways each time, but what they do to make the experience better each time is a testament to their commitment to having the best golf resort in America.  Because of the hard work their staff has done over the years, they are reaping the fruits of their labor with near capacity crowds all year.  If you are thinking of making the trip to Bandon, start planning now because they are filling up already for 2021.

1. Sheep Ranch, Sheep Ranch, Sheep Ranch
This course just opened in 2020.  The property had been a golf secret for many years until they finally committed to making a full accessible part of the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.  It is the smallest piece of land on which a full golf course sits at Bandon, yet it has some of the best coast line holes of the entire property.  The other most interesting feature is that it is void of bunkers.  There are a few spots that kind of feel like a bunker as the natural wind sweeps over some of the dunes and leaves mostly sand behind, but nothing in terms of a man made bunker for any of the 18 holes.  It is a tight routing, but one that works perfectly with a mix of coastline holes as well as inland holes.  They all weave together seamlessly for kind of a figure 8 routing.  They are all memorable holes, but especially 6, 16 and 17 along the coast.
2. Ranking

This is the number 1 question I hear about Bandon Dunes Resort whenever anyone talks about it; how do you rank the 5 or 6 courses?   This trip we had 2 veterans and 2 newbies.  What I came to appreciate this time was how rankings might change after more rounds on property.  I have a new appreciation for courses I maybe didn’t enjoy as much in the past.  While my rankings didn’t change much, the courses I have lower on my list, I enjoyed even more than I did in the past.  I can see why some people rank them higher.
  1. Sheep Ranch
  2. Preserve
  3. Old Mac
  4. Bandon Dunes
  5. Pacific Dunes
  6. Bandon Trails
JP Golf
  1. Old Mac
  2. Sheep Ranch
  3. Preserve
  4. Bandon Trails
  5. Pacific Dunes
  6. Bandon Dunes
  1. Old Mac
  2. Preserve
  3. Bandon Dunes
  4. Pacific Dunes
  5. Bandon Trails
  6. Sheep Ranch
  1. Sheep Ranch
  2. Pacific
  3. Old Mac
  4. Preserve
  5. Bandon Dunes
  6. Bandon Trails

3. Getting There
This still seems to be a hang-up for some travelers saying that Bandon is too far out of the way.  Yes, most golfers will have to fly into an airport that is at least a few miles away (North Bend) or up to 250  miles away (Portland) depending on what you want to spend on airfare.  I will counter that with that fact that it really isn’t a big deal, it is a golf trip.  You can play golf on your travel day if you schedule it right or just add the extra days of travel to your vacation plan and take in some of other Oregon beauty or golf.  Our group came in at different times from different parts of the country.  A couple of guys grabbed some golf en route to Bandon from Portland.  The rest of the group just met up and made the drive straight through.  Yes it might add a couple hundred dollars to your trip, but if you split the rental car and even a hotel room, it isn’t that bad.    I think the “knock” that getting to Bandon is too difficult is kind of overblown.  Just plan it as part of the trip, it is worth the effort.

4. Iconic Trees of Bandon
One thing that I found to have a visual impact on each course is an iconic tree.  While Bandon Trails might not have a single tree the way the others do, there are a couple of the very large pines that are memorable.  The Ghost Tree at Old Mac is the most iconic, so much so that it has become the course logo.  The Shepherds Crook Tree at Sheep Ranch has become one of the most photographed trees on property.  The Broom Tree on Bandon Dunes greets golfers as they near the finish of their round.  The Gorse Tree on Pacific Dunes is visible from numerous holes.   These iconic trees create cool visual reference points on each course.

5. Buddies Trip
Bandon is amazing no matter who you go with, but having the right group of buddies can make it EPIC.  This trip was my favorite golf trip I’ve ever been on because of the group of golfers that joined me.  We’d become golf friends in MN years ago, but because of various career moves, have been spread out around the country.  This was a chance to meet up and play golf for a few days.  The laughs, the golf, the birdie shots, the dinners, the cigar talks, etc all made for a lifetime of memories.  So when thinking about your Bandon trip, remember the group of golfers you go with can only increase your joy at Bandon.

6. The Little Things
  I suggest finding the little things at Bandon that are out of the way, hidden gems on property which will make your trip even better.

  • Walk the trails
  • Experience the Labyrinth
  • Wander down to the beach
  • Find the “gift” box on Bandon Dunes
  • Play the hidden tees
  • Putt on 13 at the Preserve

7. “Must Do” at Bandon
Bandon is a golf resort.  That means it isn’t set up with pools and spas and things for the kids to do.  It is really set-up as a destination for golf.  What else do you do besides play golf?  Eat, Drink, Games, Practice and Sleep.  The quad cabins are ideal for a 4-some of guys or 4 couples.  The dining options range from low-key pub to fine dining overlooking the ocean. There is food at every golf course before, during or after your round.  Most items are fair priced so budget accordingly.  You don’t need to break the bank to stay nourished, but don’t skip eating because you will need the strength for walking 36 holes a day.  Drink water and lots of it. A few adult beverages are OK too.  You can do both and still have a great time.  Water is key because of the volume of steps you will be taking.  Even if it isn’t hot, you will dehydrate quickly.  Try to set aside time for games at the Preserve and the Punch Bowl.  You can do some of those betting games on the big courses too, but to me it is more fitting to do those things on the smaller courses with a drink in hand.  Make sure to practice before, and during your time there.  It is helpful to hit shots off the turf because most golfers don’t regularly play on the firm fast fescue of Bandon.  Lastly, Sleep, get some good rest so you can attack the courses again the next day.  I really enjoying hanging out with the guys each night, but getting to bed at a decent hour makes the whole trip more enjoyable.

8. What should I pack?
What do you bring to Bandon?   This list is based on the experience of multiple trips and multiple golfers.  Bring Kentwool socks and at least 2 or 3 pairs per day.  Seriously this will save your feet.  Bring your best and most comfortable walking golf shoes; TrueLinkswear are my favorite.  Don’t get new shoes for this trip, your feet will pay the price.  Bring rain gear and warm gear in case some unexpected weather blows in.  If you aren’t taking a caddie, use a push/pull cart; carrying your clubs for 36 holes a day just wears on your body.  Bring multiple gloves because that will keep it fresh and grippy.  Layers is another great way to account for changing weather.  I like eye protection too from either the sun or the wind. 

9. When to go?
Whenever you can!!  But all things considered, the shoulder seasons are probably the best time in terms of price, crowds and weather.  I’ve gone in the spring and fall and it has been amazing each time.  I’m sure the summer weather is beautiful and you get more daylight to play, but it is probably the busiest time too.  I know they are booking fast already for 2021 so plan your trip soon.   You can even play all winter, I’ve heard of plenty of great rounds played in December and January, so don’t shy away from those dates if you can find an opening in their schedule and yours.

Whether you are a veteran or first timer at Bandon, you will have one of the best golf experiences in your life.  It is hard to beat 5 (or 6) of the best courses in the country all at one location.  Make sure you plan time to play them all, it is worth it.  The addition of the Sheep Ranch made the resort even better.  I can’t wait for the next time I go back, because it will be even better then this trip.