Short Course Blitz: The Bandon Less Traveled

While I’m in the general area for the holidays, I made it a point to visit Bandon and take care of a few odds and ends in this new golf mecca. I’ve played the four main courses at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in the past, but I came back to round out the short courses, as well as the mysterious Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch (scroll down if you are primarily just interested in that review).

I drove up Sunday morning and got a relatively early start at the resort…

The Punchbowl • Bandon, OR • 12/20/15

My first stop was on The Punchbowl putting course. It is a massive green complex next to the first tee of Pacific Dunes and it’s a fun way to warm up or play with the kids. It was designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina and it’s basically just a big green with all sorts of crazy undulations, humps and bumps.

It is designed so that they can move the holes around and play it in different configurations. On Sunday, it seemed like a rather lackluster set up because none of the holes were very long and they weren’t using a good chunk of the complex. What I was hoping for was long 100-foot putts through all the wacky mounds. I believe that is the intent of it, and that would be more fun than it was on Sunday. As it was, most holes were 30 feet at most and maybe went across one mound or shelf. It was just a glorified practice green rather than a putting “course” in my opinion. If they stretched it out, it would be better.

Some pictures from The Punchbowl (12/20/15):

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Next, I went over to the practice facility and moved onto the other warm-up course at Bandon Dunes…

Shorty’s • Bandon, OR • 12/20/15

Many people aren’t even aware that there’s a 9-hole par-3 practice course at the resort. There is, and it is nicknamed Shorty’s. It is near the south end of the driving range and is only open certain days and times. It is typically open Thursday-Sunday, but the hours vary depending on if that south range is in use. There’s a little shack there that will either have a red or green flag on it. Red of course means it’s closed, though technically you are still allowed to play the 1st, 2nd and 9th holes. Green means the full course is ready and it’s free to play when you are at the resort. They do have a donation box for a scholarship fund, so you can feel free to put in a few bucks if you want.

Shorty’s is a more legitimate course than you might expect and it’s beyond what you’d consider a “pitch and putt.” Hole lengths vary from 86 to 177 yards, and it’s a fantastic warm-up for your round in addition to some driving range time.

Shorty’s was actually designed by David McLay Kidd, who designed the original Bandon Dunes course. Still, it’s a pretty basic design in a wide open area. The greens are similar to what you’ll find on the main courses and the bunkering makes it feel like a shrunken and simplified version of the other tracks at the resort.

Ultimately, it isn’t anything that exciting, but it’s fun enough to play and it’s free. It’s a good place to play with the kids or get some more on-course style practice in before you tee it up on one of the big boys.

Some pictures from Shorty’s (12/20/15):

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The Punchbowl and Shorty’s were just to fulfill the completist in me. My main objective for the day was to finally play the real short course at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort…

Bandon Preserve • Bandon, OR • 12/20/15

The timing never quite worked out for me to come and play Bandon Preserve, but I made it a special point to visit the course this time. I reserved an 11:00 tee time and pre-paid the winter rate of $50. That is still awfully expensive for a par-3 course, but this is not your typical par-3 course.

I finished the other stuff early and headed over to Bandon Preserve. It was wide open, so I teed it up right away and basically had it to myself. I saw a few other folks out there behind me, but there was nobody in front of me and I enjoyed my own pace.

Bandon Preserve was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, who also designed Bandon Trails. The goal was to minimally impact the natural terrain and the proceeds for this course go to local conservation efforts through Wild Rivers Coast Alliance. With this in mind, they were able to create 13 holes that are tightly compacted into a small piece of the property.

Bandon Preserve offers some great views as it’s just south of the original Bandon Dunes course. It uses the natural changes in elevation throughout the design, along with the dunes, mounds, gorse and native grasses. It really is a fantastic little course that feels like 13 signature par-3s put together.

The holes range in length from 63 to 150 yards. There are multiple sets of tees on each hole so you can play what’s comfortable or mix it up if you play more than once.

I think Bandon Preserve is the most photographer-friendly course in the bunch because it is so compacted, even though the weather didn’t always cooperate with me. All those natural elements combine with massive, undulating greens and rugged bunkers to make for a really fun layout. With everything closer together, it provides a great visual perspective that’s hard to capture on the big courses that are so much more spread out.

It was in good condition and consistent with all the courses at Bandon Dunes. The greens did seem a tad softer, which is good when you want to fire at these pins with short irons and wedges. The greens are not hard to hit, but you can expect to have at least one or two three-putts before your round is through. They are very tough to navigate, especially if you are ever above the hole.

For those of you who can’t take a 13-hole par-3 course seriously and choose to pass on Bandon Preserve, you are missing out. This is one of the best short courses you will ever play and it is an absolute blast on all levels.

Some pictures from Bandon Preserve (12/20/15):

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I held off on posting this Short Course Blitz until after Wednesday, because I made my back up to Bandon for one more very special and unique treat. I don’t know if I should consider this next course a “short” one. It’s kind of a hard course to categorize on many levels…

Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch • Bandon, OR • 12/23/15

This is one I’ve been looking forward to for some time, as soon as I found out that it was somewhat accessible to the public now. Last time I was up there a few years ago, I was playing Old Macdonald and noticed what looked like more golf holes to the north. I wondered if the resort was building a new course. When I later looked at the satellite image, I could see what looked like a somewhat complete course, so I did more research and learned about Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch.

Basically, the owner of Bandon Dunes commissioned Tom Doak to lay out a very crude and old school course on this piece of property just north of the resort. For some time, I believe it was solely a “personal” course for the owner and special guests to play, but over time it evolved and now the public can access it for a truly one-of-a-kind golf experience.

First, you call Bandon Golf Supply at 541-347-1636 to reserve your date and playing time. You’ll want to do this well in advance. Also, you need to know the course is not open during the summer months because there is no irrigation system other than the greens. The fairways are watered by whatever nature provides, which is generally plenty during the fall, winter and early spring around here. Once you request a day/time, they will contact the course’s caretaker, Greg, on your behalf. If you get the go ahead, they’ll confirm it for you and give you the address where you will send your $100 (per player) check.

Once all the stuff is arranged, you just need to show up on the day of play. They do not book multiple groups per day. You and your group get the course for as long as you want and you’ll literally have it all to yourself. I happened to book and play as a single, so it was extremely surreal being out there all by myself.

When you find your way to the property, there’s a simple old gate and a gravel road with no signage. There is a post and someone wrote “Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch” in marker if you look very closely. It’s like getting into a secret underground night club. You just need to know where to be and when to be there. The gate had been unlocked just for me and I made my way through. Just up the road, I met up with Greg, who ushered me up to the small parking area. There is no clubhouse and there are no creature comforts other than a port-a-potty. It’s as bare bones as you can get. They do have some pull carts out there if you want to use one.

Greg will give you a scorecard and an introduction to the facility, and then you are off on your own to do what you will with this unique course. There are 12 green complexes lettered (not numbered) A-M for basic reference. Technically, there is a 13th green (I guess “L” as it’s not marked on the card/map), but it is not in the rotation for whatever reason. It had no pin in it the day I played. Then, there are sprawling “fairway” areas mown all around in no particular pattern, along with a handful of bunkers and other stretches of native areas that contain gorse and fescue.

The intentions of Bally Bandon were to use these green complexes and then make up your own holes and routing. In other words, pick a green, tee it up and go for it! You might make it a short par-3 or a long par-8 from one end of the property to another. There are no rules and it hearkens back to the very early days of golf. The set up is ideally suited for a group of players who want to play a match, make some bets and have a lot of fun.

However, for those of us who like to be pointed more in an official direction, there is an 18-hole “suggested” routing that plays to a par of 70. It’s a rather robust 6499 yards since there are six par-3s in the mix and many holes play VERY long. Obviously, you play to six of the greens twice in this routing. That said, you are playing in from different directions and it’s all mixed up. Since you have the course to yourself, this layout works just fine as long as you can figure out which green is which based on the map. There are only a few areas where a tee box is clearly designated. Otherwise, you just look for a flattish spot near the green you just played to tee it up and hit in the general direction of the next hole. If following this suggested routing, you can’t always see where you are ultimately headed and sometimes you are playing right over one green to get to another, but that’s part of the fun. It’s not a course you should take too seriously, but just enjoy it for the wild adventure that it is.

I went ahead and played the scorecard routing. I would have stuck around longer to make up a few of my own holes, too, but the weather was absolutely brutal. At two different points, it was hailing and blowing sideways thanks to the relentless freezing wind coming off the ocean.

Since it was created, there have always been rumors that this course would be refined, expanded and turned into another resort course. That may still happen someday, but for now it is left untamed. It’s pretty cool they’ve been able to resist this temptation because it is prime property right along the oceanfront. In fact, six of the 12/13 greens are right along the bluffs, which I believe is as many, if not more, than any of the resort courses have. What is the “E” green is right out on a point and is easily the most dramatic place on the property (and by this I mean the entire resort and all courses). In the suggested routing, the 14th hole is the signature one. You hit right over the cliff with the waves crashing below on a hole that is definitely Cypress Point-esque.

As for conditions, the greens were actually in fantastic shape. They were very similar in size, speed and undulations compared to Pacific Dunes, which I played on Sunday. The fairway areas were kept in decent enough shape. Even without man-made irrigation, they had fairly good grass coverage and they mow them regularly to keep consistent. The native areas seem to have been cut down recently. I can imagine these get very wild if unmanaged, but I was generally able to find and play my ball if I hit it into one of these sections. Still, there are other areas where the gorse is left as big as it wants to grow.

For a hardcore course collector like myself, I wasn’t ever going to pass up an opportunity to play Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch. Also, knowing that it someday could be renovated and redone as a new resort course added a sense of urgency. I wanted to play it as it was built. It’s a no frills, simplified version of the courses you find down at the resort with similar oceanfront scenery, but it is a vastly different experience because of the isolation and a bit of mystery added in.

Is Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch a must-play when you make your pilgrimage to Bandon? Perhaps not, but it is well worth checking out because it’s so unique. If you like the resort amenities, service, caddies, etc., then this course probably isn’t for you. If you just like to play golf and want to say you saw a different side of Bandon that most people aren’t even aware of, then strap in and take this joyride! It’s something you should enjoy for what it is. Your score doesn’t matter, unless it’s money match. Then, this is a great place for that because you can make up your own rules here!

Some pictures from Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch (12/23/15):

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