How Bandon Dunes reshaped the golf industry

The iconic golf resort on the Oregon coast hosts its first U.S. Amateur this week.
The original course at Bandon Dunes designed by David McLay Kidd will host the match-play portion of the 2020 U.S. Amateur.

This calendar year has been rough on everybody, but 2020 has been big for Bandon Dunes.

A few months after opening its final course, the Sheep Ranch, the famous resort on the Oregon Coast will host its most prestigious event, the 2020 U.S. Amateur. Golf Channel and Peacock will tag-team coverage beginning 6 p.m. ET Wednesday. Click here for the TV schedule.

Bandon Dunes deserves this moment in the televised spotlight. It has reshaped the entire golf resort industry since opening in 1999. Architect David McLay Kidd's original Bandon Dunes course and Bandon Trails host the stroke-play portion of the event Monday and Tuesday before the original links takes center stage for match play Wednesday through Sunday.

Owner Mike Keiser's decision to build a golf resort in the middle of nowhere in southwest Oregon and hire McLay Kidd, a young, unheralded Scotsman, proved to be incredible foresight. Bandon Dunes has matured into the premier golf resort in the world, home to six courses, including five treasured American links.

Every expansion over the past two-plus decades has been calculated and noteworthy, often setting trends still resonating throughout the industry. Resorts across North American continue to copy the Bandon blueprint. Here are the five most prominent ways Bandon Dunes has influenced the world of golf travel:

  1. Walking-only golf with caddies
    A caddie tends to the pin at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.

    It's not fair to The American Club in Destination Kohler to say Bandon Dunes invented the walking-only resort course. The first was the Straits course at Whistling Straits, the monstrous Pete Dye faux links on the shores of Lake Michigan that debuted in 1998. But Bandon Dunes was the first golf destination that embraced walking as its heart and soul.

    Resorts like Kohler, Kiawah Island and Pinehurst promote walking but have various cart options. You won't see a single cart on any of the six courses at Bandon Dunes. Walking with a caddie at Bandon Dunes is an experience beyond just a round of golf.

    Following suit, Erin Hills Golf Course (2006) in Wisconsin became a U.S. Open venue, and Streamsong Resort in Florida - walking-only in peak season - has blossomed since 2012 into a 54-hole outpost that might be the best resort in golf-rich Florida. The latest edition to Keiser's walking-only club, Sand Valley Golf Resort in Wisconsin, matured in just three short years, boasting Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw's original Sand Valley course, Mammoth Dunes by McLay Kidd and soon, a Tom Doak course. North of the border, the walking-only Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs in Inverness, Nova Scotia, have taken over as Canada's No. 1 golf destination.

    I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention the two famous major championship munis that are walking-only: Bethpage Black (a major redesign in 1998) on New York's Long Island and Chambers Bay (2007) outside of Seattle.

    Bandon, Oregon
    Resort
    4.3823529412
    37
    Fort Meade, Florida
    Resort
    4.3568588235
    50
    Nekoosa, Wisconsin
    Resort
    4.8783411765
    31
    Inverness, Nova Scotia
    Resort
    5.0
    14
    Erin, Wisconsin
    Public
    4.9640470588
    44
    Sheboygan, Wisconsin
    Public
    4.9732588235
    25
    Bandon, Oregon
    Resort
    5.0
    33
    Nekoosa, Wisconsin
    Resort
    4.9934588235
    24
    Bandon, Oregon
    Resort
    4.5485882353
    29
    Fort Meade, Florida
    Resort
    4.9504588235
    45
    Inverness, Nova Scotia
    Resort
    4.4
    20
    Bandon, Oregon
    Resort
    3.1617647059
    7
    Fort Meade, Florida
    Resort
    4.7582352941
    57
    Bandon, Oregon
    Resort
    4.1046
    23
    Farmingdale, New York
    Municipal
    4.9773764706
    56
    Sheboygan, Wisconsin
    Public
    4.6599
    17

  2. Resorts in remote destinations
    A view of the clubhouse and practice area at Streamsong Resort.

    Resorts have always been built in beautiful, remote locations. The Fairmont Hotels at Jasper Park Lodge and Banff Springs in Alberta, Canada, were built almost a century ago. Bandon Dunes, though, took the concept next level. It made buddies trips to remote locations cool. Getting there isn't necessarily fun, but the trip feels more like a religious pilgrimage than just your average golf vacation.

    Developers like Keiser are more willing than ever to give a remote destination with good land/scenery a shot at becoming the next coveted golf getaway. Who would have thought a decade ago that obscure addresses in Nova Scotia (Cabot), central Wisconsin (Sand Valley) or central Florida (Streamsong) would be flourishing as golf destinations? Inverness on Cape Breton Island and Bowling Green, Fla., only previously existed on the map as mining operations.

    It's possible that none of these remote resorts exist without Bandon Dunes first blazing the trail: Forest Dunes (2002) in northern Michigan, Lajitas (2002) in western Texas; The Prairie Club (2010) in Nebraska and Silvies Valley Ranch (2017) in eastern Oregon three hours from Bend.

    Valentine, Nebraska
    Semi-Private/Resort
    4.9629666667
    10
    Lajitas, Texas
    Semi-Private/Resort
    4.8182
    11
    Nekoosa, Wisconsin
    Resort
    4.8783411765
    31
    Inverness, Nova Scotia
    Resort
    5.0
    14
    Fort Meade, Florida
    Resort
    4.3568588235
    50
    Roscommon, Michigan
    Public
    4.9654588235
    113
    Inverness, Nova Scotia
    Resort
    4.4
    20
    Valentine, Nebraska
    Semi-Private/Resort
    4.9761833333
    9
    Fort Meade, Florida
    Resort
    4.9504588235
    45
    Fort Meade, Florida
    Resort
    4.7582352941
    57
    Nekoosa, Wisconsin
    Resort
    4.9934588235
    24

  3. Short courses with an odd number of holes
    You can see the Pacific Ocean on all 13 holes on Bandon Preserve at Bandon Dunes.

    Perhaps Bandon's greatest invention is its brand of short course, one with an odd number of holes. Created to deliver a quick, fun round before or after walking 18 regulation holes is where Bandon Preserve breaks the mold. C&C didn't skimp on anything when designing 13 holes for Bandon Preserve in 2012. It's located on premier dunesland with views of the Pacific Ocean. The final hole can be - and should be - played with putter off the tee. That's the definition of different.

    The short course craze has since gone gangbusters. Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri has added two, the nine-hole Top of the Rock in 2014, and the 17-hole Mountain Top by Gary Player in 2017. Tiger Woods is making a name for himself designing par-3 courses. He started at the 12-hole Oasis at Diamante Cabo San Lucas in 2016 and took the concept private with the Playgrounds at Bluejack National outside Houston. Now he's redesigning the nine-hole Peter Hay at Pebble Beach Resorts set to open next year.

    Now every hot architect and resort wants in on the fun. From 2017-18, so many debuted: Gil Hanse's nine-hole The Cradle at Pinehurst and flexible six-hole Roundabout at Streamsong Black; C&C's 17-hole Sandbox at Sand Valley; the nine-hole Ashford by Kelly Schumate at The Greenbrier; and Dan Hixson's nine-hole Chief Egan and seven-hole McVeigh's Gauntlet at Silvies.

    New in 2020 are 10-hole courses at Forest Dunes by Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb and The Nest at Cabot by Rod Whitman and Dave Axland. Coming in 2021 are the 14-hole Quicksands at Gamble Sands by McLay Kidd and the 10-hole Baths at Blackwolf Run by Chris Lutzke. Quicksands will join The Cradle with music piped in to liven up the mood.

    Who's next?

    Bandon, Oregon
    Resort
    4.9477176471
    12
    Nekoosa, Wisconsin
    Resort
    3.9928571429
    9
    Hollister, Missouri
    Resort
    4.75
    10
    Pinehurst, North Carolina
    Resort
    4.9
    7
    White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia
    Resort
    0.0
    0
    Fort Meade, Florida
    Resort
    5.0
    1
    Cabo San Lucas , Los Cabos
    Private/Resort
    4.0
    1
    Hollister, Missouri
    5.0
    6

  4. Putting courses as entertainment
    The Punchbowl putting course is waves of fun at Bandon Dunes.

    Like short courses, putting courses are en vogue. They're free and a good way for guys to bond and bet at any point in the day, pre- or post-round. At certain resorts, they can grow the game, attracting families and beginners.

    The Punchbowl, which opened at Bandon Dunes in 2014, can't take all the credit for this movement. The origin of the putting course dates back to The Himalayas at St. Andrews in Scotland (there's also a smaller version of the same name at Treetops Resort in northern Michigan). Pinehurst actually beat Bandon Dunes to the punch (see what I did there?) by incorporating Thistle Du in 2012. That putting course moved and expanded to 75,000 square feet in 2017 when The Cradle was built.

    You'll see many of the same places, again, hoping to replicate the Punchbowl. Some of these newer putting "courses" are disguised as oversized putting greens, while others are actually played as individual holes like all-grass mini-golf. Both formats can work if designed properly.

    * The Old Wagon Putting Course debuted in 2015, stretching 150 yards just steps from the Lodge at The Prairie Club.
    * The Gauntlet debuted in 2017 at Streamsong Black as a cool hang outside of the course's modern, all-glass clubhouse.
    * The Tom Watson Putting Course at Big Cedar Lodge was added in 2017 as a part of Mountain Top's facilities.
    * The Driftwood Putting Course at Sea Island was created in 2018 during the major resort investment that added cottages and redesigned the award-winning Golf Performance Center.
    * The Cascade Putting Course at Gamble Sands came to life when the Inn at Gamble Sands was built in 2018.
    * Opening in 2020, The Drumlin is lit for night-time play as one of the new amenities for overnight guests at Erin Hills.
    * The Hilltop was revived at Forest Dunes in 2020 after being dormant for years.
    * The 90,000-square-foot Breaks Putting Course at Turtle Bay on Oahu's north shore launched earlier this year adjacent to the clubhouse's pro shop and Lei Lei’s Bar & Grill.
    * The Little Meadow Putting Course at the Big Meadow Golf Course at Black Butte Ranch also debuted in 2020, the 50th anniversary of this unique Oregon resort.
    * New putting courses at Pebble Beach's Peter Hay and Kohler's The Baths will debut next year as part of their short course projects.

    Even older putting courses are improving. The Whitewater Putting Course, which winds through rock and sand in the heart of Horseshoe Bay Resort in Texas, got a recent facelift, including lights for evening rounds. A new sportsbar built in the center of it all delivers "good food and a nice vibe," according to Brandon Tucker's review.

    Bandon, Oregon
    Resort
    4.8333333333
    5
    Horseshoe Bay, Texas
    Resort
    3.8333333333
    2
    St Simons Island, Georgia
    Resort
    0.0
    0

  5. Fescue turf in America
    It looks from the tee like it's okay to grip it and rip it on Chambers Bay's par-4 5th, but as usual, things are more complicated than they seem.

    Once again, the Straits course beat out Bandon Dunes. It was the first to introduce fescue fairways to America's resort golf scene in an effort to replicate the playing conditions of an overseas links. The fairways and primary rough at both Whistling Straits courses are a blend of three fescue cultivars, according to the resort website, while the deep rough is a blend of four. A cultivar is a variety of plant, in this case fescue, created by selective breeding.

    Although Bandon Dunes wasn't first in adopting fescue, the unwavering success growing and maintaining pristine fescue in the mild, yet temperamental, coastal conditions of Bandon, Oregon, is what gave owners and architects at other new U.S. course construction projects the guts to give it a try at their sites ... often at a heavy risk.

    Both Erin Hills and Chambers Bay were able to hold U.S. Opens despite issues with their fescue turf. The much-maligned fescue greens at Chambers Bay have since been replaced by poa annua. The change last year is being universally praised. Although turf wasn't a huge issue during its lone major, Erin Hills has decided to replace its fescue fairways with bentgrass, reseeding all 18 holes this summer.

    By most accounts, the fescue turf at Gamble Sands and The Loop, Doak's reversible course at Forest Dunes, continue to fare well. That's good news to golfers and architects who love bouncy, firm conditions.

    "I personally think, it’s the finest golfing turf surface ever," Coore said. "Even to this day, I know of no other turf that enables the ball to react so well like it does on fescue fairways."

    University Place, Washington
    Resort
    4.3657941176
    74
    Erin, Wisconsin
    Public
    4.9640470588
    44
    Brewster, Washington
    Public
    4.9117647059
    19
    Sheboygan, Wisconsin
    Public
    4.9732588235
    25
    Sheboygan, Wisconsin
    Public
    4.6599
    17

    Up Next

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    Ginella: Tips for playing Bandon Dunes

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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How Bandon Dunes reshaped the golf industry