Bandon Trails
OR, USA

Green Keeper: Ken Nice

Bandon Trails Golf Course, Mike Keiser, Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, Coore & Crenshaw

Bandon Trails was the third course built at the Bandon Dunes resort. As such, and with no ocean frontage like the other two courses, one might think the course was destined to be the least appealing of the three. Nothing is further from the truth, as highlighted by the all-world 15th green complex.

If you were Mike Keiser what would you do? You have overseen the unprecedented development of two world class courses in a short period of time. Considering that you own nearly 2,500 acres, you still have plenty more propertyfor additional golf. What would make for the ideal third golf course? Certainly, you want it to complement the other two as opposed to compete against them. Building a third course along the cliff top is out of the question as you don’t own the property to do so. Your property includes some tumbling dunes south of the first two courses in which as many as five or so holes could be found but that’s it. Rather than stay by the coast, what if you turn inland and build a course that offers shelter from the winds that sweep across the other two courses? Golfers would likely appreciate the break in the elements as well as a change in scenery on a four day trip.

With those well thought-out ideas in mind, Mike Keiser contacted the firm of Coore & Crenshaw to determine their interest in building such a course. Just as Mike Keiser was a long time fan of their work at Sand Hills Golf Club, Bill Coore had been impressed by the astonishing success of the Bandon Resort and was delighted to come inspect what land might be available.

Initially, Howard McKee, the highly respected planner and architect for the resort, and Bill Coore went to the area near today’s 9th green/10th tee. There was already road access to the general area, which was relatively level. A clubhouse and parking could have been easily and efficiently built. Bill Coore started walking the property and the mature fir, spruce and cedar trees were the features that first caught his eye. The land east (i.e. where no holes ended up being built) of the 9th tee had a few rolls – no great landforms but pleasant nonetheless.

Bill Coore walked the property for several days, venturing farther and farther west from the potential clubhouse site. He came to Round Lake (near today’s 7th tee) and keep walking east until he came into a meadow (where today’s 16th hole resides). Captivated by the beauty of this portion of the property, he continued poking about and found what would eventually become two of the one shot holes, the 5th and 17th. Howard McKee later told Bill Coore that this little meadow area was one of his very favorite spots on the resort’s vast property. With evening setting in and standing on what became the 17th green, Bill Coore needed to return to the main lodge. There was a 500 yard strecth of dunes nearby that headed in the right general direction, so off Bill Coore went. With each subsequent inspection of the property that week, Bill Coore found himself repeating this same walk – the land and its features pulled him this way. By doing so, he was stepping outside the loose boundaries that had been established for the third course, which is to say one that was inland and that provided respite from the wind. Bill Coore spoke with Mike Keiser , who not surprisingly was open to the free exchange of ideas.

With Bill Coore now in the dunes, Mike Keiser urged him to find more holes there. Try as he might, the property to the right of what became the 1st fairway was triangular in nature. Potentially, there were three holes there, two of which would have been one shot holes. In the end, it felt like they were forcing the issue but today’s 1st hole was easy for Bill Coore to spot as was the downhill 2nd. However, from the spot of the 2nd green, Bill Coore was stuck. Across the entrance road was a thick forest and Mike Keiser had grave concerns: How could Coore & Crenshaw make the golfer want to keep playing golf? What would it take for the golfer to remain happy in leaving the thrilling dunes country after just two holes??

Like all golf architecture students, Mike Keiser admires Cypress Point and how Alister MacKenzie moved the golfer in and out of different landscapes. Thus Mike Keiser knew conceptually it could be done but under no circumstances did he want the golfer to suffer a let down ala the walk from the 5th green at Spyglass to the 6th tee, where the golfer knows that he is leaving the inspired coastal portion of the property never to return. The fact that the 18th hole paralleled the 1st hole and ran through the same magnificent dunes country helped Bill Coore convince Mike Keiser that no such let down would occur. Still, Coore & Crenshaw had to make something of the 3rd hole – this would be the key moment in the evolutionary process of Bandon Trails‘ routing.

The other playing corridors were taking shape nicely, including the site of the 14th tee and finding the amphitheater for the 15th green. Mike Keiser was familiar with Coore & Crenshaw‘s work at Friar’s Head where they so successfully transitioned in and out of disparate landscapes by the use of long three shot holes. Betting that Coore & Crenshaw would find a way to do it again, Mike Keiser signed off on the general configuration of holes that became the final routing. As we see below, the final result is that the golfer is transported seamlessly over 300 plus sprawling acres from dunes into an expanded meadow then through a forest and back to the meadow and to one final dune hole. Only Cape Breton Highlands Links in Nova Scotia, which is also routed over a similarly vast amount of land, can compete with Bandon Trails for variety of landscapes. Apart from the tee to green walks on both courses, they also represent two of the great walks from green to tee in the game. Given how Bill Coore relied on the deer, logging and hiking trails to maneuver around the property in the early days, and given its diverse walk through nature, Bandon Trails is aptly named.

Bandon Trails Golf Course, Mike Keiser, Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, Coore & Crenshaw

A wide variety of shot requirements emerged during the construction of this Coore & Crenshaw course. Pictured above is the drivable par four 8th.

Holes to Note

First hole, 390 yards; The first and Home holes enjoy a pure dunesland setting with their respective fairways providing the most random bounces on the course. As with every hole at Bandon Trails, and virtually every hole that Coore & Crenshaw design, there is plenty of fairway width, though that may not be readily apparent from the tee. Like the grand master architects that preceded them during the Golden Age of golf architecture, Coore & Crenshaw give the golfer every opportunity to enjoy a bold, positive day driving the ball. The requirements asked of the golfer become more exacting the closer one gets to the green. In the case of the first, a spine divides the green into a lower and upper halfwith thegreen deeper than it appears from down in the fairway.

Bandon Trails Golf Course, Mike Keiser, Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, Coore & Crenshaw

The approach to the 1st plays uphill through a saddle in the dunes.

Second hole, 215 yards; From a tee high on a dune, the golfer has a clear view of the green nestled among dunes thirty feet below. The green is on a diagonal to the golfer and the immediate problem is how to control the ball from such an exposed tee location, given the windy nature of the Oregon coastline. The green and its grass surrounds offer beautiful contrast to the dunes and theevergreen trees. The land contours are such that the wise play is often to aim left of the green and let the ball feed toward the putting surface. However, there is a rub in adopting this playing tact: the golfer can’t readily discern where the fairway ends and the putting surface starts! This superb bit of green keeping by Ken Nice is altogether unique in American golf and it is impossible to overstate Bill Coore‘s enthusiasm for seeing his design presented in this manner. With the firm, tight fairways running at nearly the same speed as the greens, every imaginable recovery shot is available to the golfer, both here at the 2nd as well as throughout the course. Some might elect to play a pitch and check shot with their Titliest Pro V1swhile the traditionalists will delight in playing bump and run shots and watching the ball react to the subtle ground contours that were captured during construction.

Bandon Trails Golf Course, Mike Keiser, Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, Coore & Crenshaw

The 2nd hole plays through dunes to a green well below the tee.

Bandon Trails Golf Course, Mike Keiser, Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, Coore & Crenshaw

Hard to tell where the 2nd green begins or ends, thanks to the flawless presentation by Green Keeper Ken Nice and his crew.

Third hole, 550 yards; As previously discussed, transitioningfrom themassive sand dunes of the first two holes to this portion of the property wasthe crucial moment. As seen at Friar’s Head, and again here, nobody is better at moving in and out of diverse landscapes than Bill Coore and as at Friar’s Head, Bill Coore uses a long three shotter to handle the transition seamlessly, right down to exposing thesand dune that was sixty yards past the 3rd green. Mike Keiser was rightly worried throughout construction as to how well this transition would be accomplished. Almost shockingly, this hole became one of the finest on the course and the end result clearly demonstrates that Mike Keiser hired the right team.

Bandon Trails Golf Course, Mike Keiser, Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, Coore & Crenshaw

Hard to believe but this was once a thick forest. The golfer's eye on the 3rd tee is now drawn to the sandy hazards before him. As such, he hardly notices he has left the dunes country.

Bandon Trails Golf Course, Mike Keiser, Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, Coore & Crenshaw

Artist Josh Smith's painting of the 3rd shows how Coore pulled the sandy contours down the length of the hole.

Bandon Trails Golf Course, Mike Keiser, Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, Coore & Crenshaw

The imaginative bunker 90 yards shy of the 3rd green as well as the exposed sand dune in the background make the transition from dunesland to meadow a seamless one. David Zinkand's handiwork on the green features a clever falloff in the back that whisks balls off the putting surface.

Forth hole, 410 yards; Coore & Crenshaw‘s routing of the course brilliantly captures a ridge within the 4th fairway, and the strategy of the hole spins off that landform. Carryit and the golfer has a good view of the green. If the golfer’s drive slides to the right and fails to clear the twelve foot ridge, the approach is blind. The fairway ridge was one of the most pleasant surprises of the course’s construction. Initially this area was so thick with trees and underbrush that Bill Coore could not literally move through it. The treetops made it appear flat on the topography map. Only once a centerline cutseveral feet wide had been made, did this natural ridge start to make itself known. James Duncan excitedly called Bill Coore over to the 4thfairway once the ridge’s discoverywas made: they knew immediately it meant the hole would have its own special playing characteristics. Indeed, Duncan’s clearing of the course deserves special recognition. Take here at the 3rd and 4th holes with their connected fairways. As noted, it wasoriginally forested but Duncan cleared it in such a natural manner,leavingno uniform or linear tree lines anywhere. In addition, he was able to pick out the trees in certain areas while not disturbingthe low lying vegetation underneath. Finally, as seen in the photograph below,Duncan’s leaving theclump of trees on the right of the 4th fairway combined with Jeff Bradley’s bunker work underneath adds immeasurably to the hole’s visual appeal.

Bandon Trails Golf Course, Mike Keiser, Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, Coore & Crenshaw

A view from the 4th tee shows the dominant spine that runs on a diagonal from the tee. Ideally, the tee ball carries the ridge and ....

Bandon Trails Golf Course, Mike Keiser, Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, Coore & Crenshaw

...stays on the 30 wide yard fairway past the ridge, stopping short of the string of bunkers cut into a far hillside. If accomplished, the golfer enjoys a view of the green for his approach. As with the sandbelt courses in Australia, Ken Nice has the short fairway grass feed directly into the bunkers, reversing years in America whereby hazards have been mistakenly rung with rough. As presented by Nice, the fairway bunkers play larger than their actual footprint, gathering balls into them from well away.

Fifth hole, 135 yards; As first appreciated in 1990 with Coore & Crenshaw‘s design at Kapalua Plantation, the two architects will do all they can to avoid forced carries to greens or at the very least provide alternative routes. If Coore & Crenshaw expire all options and there is no alternative but to create a forced carry to a green, they will likely ala the 8th at Kapalua opt for a one shot hole. By doing so, they guarantee the golfer a level stance and perfect lie to bestprepare him totackle the forced carry. In the case here at the 5th, the natural feature of the gully was an obvious attraction to Bill Coore as he walked the property in search of the ideal routing. He opted to keep this one shotter modest in length and the three bunkers carved out of the gully’s far bank highlight and enhance the terrain’sbrawny nature. However, the hole’sprimary defense is its putting green. Along with the monstrous 11th green, this one at 48 yards long is the biggest on the course and features the boldest interior contours. Highly unusual to find a short hole with such a big green,it nonetheless places great emphasis on accuracy as the tee ball must find itself relatively near the hole, be the day’s hole location up front where the green is narrow, or left on top of a ridge or well back right. Otherwise, a three putt (or worse!) is almost the assured outcome. So good is the green and its playing qualities that the author places this hole with any of the world’s finest holes of similar length, including the 9th at Myopia Hunt Club (a particular favorite of Mike Keiser‘s) and the 15th at Cypress Point. In its own way, the bold contours within the large green place similar demands on the golfer’s short iron tee ball as the 6th at National Golf Links of America, a particular favorite of Ben Crenshaw‘s.

Bandon Trails Golf Course, Mike Keiser, Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, Coore & Crenshaw

Even from this view from the tee, the contours within the 5th green are evident.

Bandon Trails Golf Course, Mike Keiser, Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, Coore & Crenshaw

As seen from the left front of the 5th green, the green is high in the front before giving way one and half feet to a lower middle and then rising nearly four feet to the back edge. According to Coore, 'I'm sure people think we made it up but the landforms were just there.'

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