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The Pilgrimage: Oregon Golf Trip, Day Four (Pacific Dunes / Bandon Dunes)

8/02/2006
Move over St. Andrews. There’s a new king in town.

Pacific Dunes is an amazing course. Unbelievable. Definitely one of the greatest golf courses in the world. Tom Doak probably couldn’t have signed his name on the dotted line fast enough when they showed him the land he’d be working with, and he is to be commended for doing a great job with what he was given (and not screwing it up).

There are no weak holes. I kept waiting for a let up and there was none. And the holes by the ocean are simply spectacular. Upon finishing, I was just dying to get out there again (and that’s exactly what we did...more on that later), which is the exact reaction I had after playing the Old Course. And that’s really the difference between a good course and a great course [Note: Mike Keiser said the exact same thing when defining a great course in the book behind the making of Bandon Dunes, called 'Dream Golf'). Like a classic movie, the more times you play a course, the more you appreciate it as you notice things you didn’t catch the first time. Bandon Trails is an excellent golf course, but in my opinion not a course that’s going to show you something new each time you play it. In fact, you probably only need to play it once per trip if you’re heading out there.

So, Old Course has the history. Pacific Dunes has the quality golf holes hard on the Pacific. It’s a tough call, but right now I have to give the edge to Pacific Dunes (although I’ve only got to play the Old Course once). At the end of the day, the deciding criteria for ranking courses is this: ‘If you only got to play one more round of golf in your life, would you rather play course X or Y?’ It’d be tough to pass on the Old Course, but I’d take one more opportunity on Pac Dunes. It’s that good.

So now that I've experienced all of the Bandon courses, here's my updated top 15:

1. PACIFIC DUNES
2. St. Andrews (Old)
3. Blackwolf Run (River)
4. Whistling Straits (Straits)
5. Carnoustie (Championship)
6. Pinehurst #2
7. Kingsbarns
8. BANDON DUNES
9. World Woods (Pine Barrens)
10. Arcadia Bluffs
11. Kiawah (The Ocean Course)
12. BANDON TRAILS
13. TPC at Sawgrass (Stadium)
14. Whistling Straits (Irish)
15. Blackwolf Run (Meadow Valleys)

One guy that I don’t have to convince that Pacific Dunes should be No. 1 is Jimbo Tang. He’s the President of the Pacific Dunes Fan Club. And after the last two days, you can call me the Vice President. Originally, Ken thought that Bandon Dunes was his favorite of the three, but Jimbo and I beat him into submission until he saw the err in his ways (actually, after playing Bandon and Pacific again, he quickly realized just how wrong he was).

The funny thing is back when Bandon Dunes opened and they just had one course, the hype for David McLay Kidd’s (an unknown rookie architect at the time) course was off the charts. And rightfully so. Bandon Dunes is a great course. But then Tom Doak comes along and completely blows Kidd away, like Jordan dunking on Patrick Ewing.

We teed off early Tuesday morning under perfect weather conditions. Very little wind. I got off to a great start, knocking it within a foot on the first hole. Off the schnide early. Then I rolled in a 25-footer for birdie on No. 7, a 4-footer for bird on No. 9, and a 45-foot bomb on No. 11 for four birdies in the first 11 holes that put me at 1-over. Then the wind picked up and holes into the wind, 12, 13 and 17, absolutely killed me. I played those 3 holes at 7-over. Brutally tough holes. But I capped the round off with a 10-footer for birdie on No. 18 for 38-40 78. Five birdies ties a personal best.

The great thing about Pacific is that the course is extremely scoreable, but it demands perfect execution of quality golf shots. You need to execute shots that you may not have tried and have definitely not mastered, figure out where to bring the ball in from in order to hold the green and/or get close to the hole, and definitely figure out what the wind is doing. Just like the courses in Scotland, the greatest defense is the wind. We got relatively lucky that the wind was pretty calm. If it’s blowing out there, you don’t have a chance.

Unfortunately Jimbo’s undying love for Pacific Dunes didn’t earn him anything on the course. He had another round where he stopped keeping a score. He’s a beaten down man, but we still love the guy. Ken continued marching along, with huge help from his caddie Lisa, and continued his inspired play. What a warrior. Charles really got chewed on by Pacific, spending an inordinate amount of time in the gorse. His caddie, Kallie, really earned her keep the last two days. She had the patience of a saint.

Speaking of caddies, I ended up making a switch for day two, which seems to stir-up a minor controversy when you bring up the subject. Nothing really against Frank but I needed to mix things up a little bit after a lackluster round at Bandon. My new caddie, Mike, who is a dead ringer for William Shatner, was a welcome switch. He lived and died with every one of my shots, gave me a lot of helpful information about how to approach the pins and obviously the breaks on the green. We had a good working relationship, and I kept him for the next morning (Jimbo just told me he was jealous of Mike and me. Part of his rough time at Pacific was attributed to his caddie Shane giving him conflicting information and automatically clubbing him..Jimbo ‘vijayed’ his caddie for day three, deciding to hoof it on his own).

In the afternoon, we went back to Bandon (Charles had to take off after the morning round). I’ve decided that Bandon will be one of those courses that just eats me for lunch. I don’t think I’ll ever play well there. The main culprit is the greens...the breaks are subtle and tough to read. Poa annua has pretty much taken over, which is baffling to putt on. The multi-colored greens (and browns) mask some of the breaks. I did have two birdies to bring my total up to 17 for the trip, but that was more than offset by five three-putts. Ugh. 41-42 83. Jimbo actually completed a round, but it was more of the same disappointment. 46-40 86. Ken kept it going with an impressive 45-48 93.

But we weren’t done yet! After grabbing some dinner at the Pub...Jimbo and I were so enamored with the allure of Pacific Dunes, that we ignored all the pain in our feet and legs and headed out for an additional quick 18 (third rounds are free!) We teed off a little after 6:30PM, and that left us with a little over two hours of daylight. To speed things up, we decided to play a friendly match play match. It was a great time...the wind died down just a little bit and the course looked great in early evening. Plus, Jimbo and I had a great little match going. We didn’t have a halve until the 8th hole and the match never went more than 1-up or 1-down the entire way. I’d love to say that all the holes were won on pars and birdies, but I’d be lying if I said that. But I did birdie No. 9 for the second time on the day and Jimbo had birdies on No. 5 (again) and No. 15.

The match came down to the wire. We were all-square through 16 holes, and Jimbo looked like he was in good shape on 17 when he hit the green and I landed in the bunker. But Jimbo ended up four-putting and we halved with doubles. That got us to 18 all-square, and I holed a 5-footer for par to win 1-up.

By the numbers:
Birdie Count - Jim 18, Jimbo 5, Charles 3, Ken 1
18 - Estimated golf balls lost by Charles at Pac Dunes, according to caddie Kallie
0 - Golf balls left in the Charles bag upon completion of the round
14 - Number of time Jimbo had to fight his caddy Shane in order to hit the shot he wanted to hit
18 - Estimated miles walked by Jim and Jimbo in one day

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