Ask Golf Advisor: Where should golfers go - Bandon Dunes or Sand Valley?

One Twitter user asks us to answer an impossible question.

It's a question I'm sure more than a few golf groups have asked the past couple of years.

Where should YOUR CREW go: Bandon Dunes or Sand Valley? The two golf resorts are the signature stateside experiences created by Mike Keiser. He built both remote sites up from nothing. Since 1999, Bandon Dunes on the Oregon coast has blossomed into, arguably, America's premier golf resort with six courses - four links, one inland delight, the 13-hole Bandon Preserve short course and the Punchbowl putting course.

Bandon, Oregon
Resort
4.9705882353
36
Bandon, Oregon
Resort
5.0
33
Bandon, Oregon
Resort
4.9897647059
27
Bandon, Oregon
Resort
4.9477176471
12
Bandon, Oregon
Resort
4.6666666667
6
Bandon, Oregon
Resort
4.8888941176
21
Bandon, Oregon
Resort
4.8333333333
5
Bandon, Oregon
Resort
4.0833333333
3

Nearly two decades later, in 2017, Sand Valley began to emerge from the sandy soil of central Wisconsin in tiny Nekoosa. It counterpunches with two 18-hole courses, plus a 17-hole short course, the Sandbox. It sprung to life in a hurry and is a little more diverse than Bandon Dunes with two new bocce ball courts, 15 grass courts at an impressive tennis complex, miles of hiking trails and three lakes for fishing, swimming and kayaking.

Nekoosa, Wisconsin
Resort
4.6731352941
31
Nekoosa, Wisconsin
Resort
4.6078470588
9

The two resorts are almost mirror images of one another. Each has a regulation and short course designed by Coore & Crenshaw, plus a stellar David McLay Kidd design that could stake a claim as the best at each destination. When Sedge Valley is eventually built, Sand Valley will also boast its own Tom Doak design. Both properties are walking only where taking caddies comes highly recommended.

The answer to the question boils down to three factors: Where are you traveling from? What's your budget? How long can you stay?

High-season green fees at Sand Valley are $225 for Sand Valley and Mammoth Dunes and $65 for the Sandbox, compared with $345 for the five regulation courses at Bandon Dunes and $100 for Bandon Preserve. None of these prices include a caddie or taxes. Bandon Dunes does offer a slight discount for resort guests, but, as you'd expect, golf on the Pacific Ocean requires a higher premium.

If you've got limits on your budget and time - a long three-day weekend versus a five-day golf-a-thon - then Sand Valley is a great choice. I'd play Mammoth Dunes over and over again and never grow tired. The food is excellent and the Midwestern hospitality fosters a relaxed, enjoyable vibe. Summer days can feel like they last forever and, in theory, the summer weather in Wisconsin should be more reliable than on the coast.

If cost and time are not an issue, though, how can you not choose Bandon Dunes? It's tough to get to, but that just makes the journey that much more memorable. Everything about the resort is tailored to the golf nut. I recall eating in the main dining room still soaking wet in my rain suit and my hair wrecked from the wind. Nobody cared. Everybody could relate. Finally checking Bandon Dunes off the bucket list will feel like you just joined the best fraternity on campus. It's a golf brotherhood only a lucky few get to experience.

You'll endlessly debate your favorite meal and your favorite course. You'll likely catch some foul weather (wind or rain) and get beaten up by at least one course. That's okay. Playing golf at Bandon Dunes creates the stories all golfers want to tell.

Have you been to either or both Sand Valley and Bandon Dunes? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Commented on

Planning a trip to Wisconsin at end of August. Will play Whistling Straits and Erin Hills. Wondering about including Sand Valley or do at a separate visit?
Thanks

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I can’t speak to Sand Valley but have played the courses at Bandon 3 different times. The experience is incredible for any type of golf trip with any number of players. It’s all about golf but the lodging, food & atmosphere is very memorable, to say the least. At least go once with the Dunes, Trails & Pacific being my favorite.

Commented on

$500 a day for golf w/caddie is just plain silly. I'd love to play these courses, visited the area b4 the courses were there, know how beautiful the geography is ... and I still couldn't pull the trigger on that steep greens fee. I guess money's no object to some ... more power to them. As an example, a friend was charged $35 for a bloody mary at a famous west coast golf course ... sorry, that's just way out from reality and would ruin the whole experience. Couldn't help but feel taken advantage of. I believe in their right to charge what the traffic will bear ... just can't justify paying 10 times my normal fees. The double bogeys will feel twice as bad. Guess I'll just watch these courses when they appear on TV. Here's the other side of the coin - New Smyrna Golf Club in Florida - $30 dollars w/cart - Donald Ross layout - best greens I've putted in Florida...nice weather...reasonable prices for beer and food at restaurant on site...friendly staff. Find me there!

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Bandon Dunes

Pacific Ocean

US Amateur was just played there!!!!

Commented on

Bandon Dunes is golf heaven on earth. If you are a dedicated golfer like me, go in January or February and play 36 a day, thru the cold, the rain and have a trully great experience! Golf at its finest! Definitely not for wimps!

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I've been to both and your answer is spot on. Time and money not an issue? Nothing beats Bandon. Live in the Midwest or on the East Coast? Sand Valley is way easier to get to and a little easier on the wallet - but don't make the mistake of thinking the courses aren't as good as the Bandon tracks. I especially loved Mammoth Dunes - such a fun course and absolutely gorgeous. I'll go back for sure after the new course opens.

Commented on

Both of these resorts are excellent places to play. I have been to Bandon seven times and I was just at Sand Valley this summer. I will say without hesitation that if I had to choose between the two I would pick Bandon. This is not to say that Sand Valley is a bad place but to me Bandon is the best resort in the country with Pacific Dunes being my favorite course in the US. It also offers 5 courses and a short course. The golf holes along the cliffs are some of the best in the world and the scenery is amazing.
I also believe Cabot Links is a notch above Sand Valley because of the ocean front holes with Cabot Cliffs giving Pacific a real run for its money as my favorite course in North America that I have played.
However, getting to and playing any of these places will be a great golf experience and I highly recommend all of them and would play all of them again.

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Question, if some members of your group have mobility issues, are riding carts available at Sand Valley and Bandon Dunes?

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Yes. At Sand Valley if you provide a doctor"s note and are willing to hire a caddy you can take a riding cart

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Not even a good question. Bandon Dunes Resort. Pacific Dunes alone is worth the trip. No track at Sand Valley is up to any track at Bandon Dunes but it is a fine resort in any event.

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Ask Golf Advisor: Where should golfers go - Bandon Dunes or Sand Valley?