BANDON, Ore. -- The closest thing to links golf in the British Isles on American soil is Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.
But in a way, this oft-used phrase sells what's offered at Bandon Dunes short. The spectacular Oregon coast's towering dunes, abundant gorse and bluffed perch overlooking the Pacific are idyllic enough to make certain parts of the British Isles blush. There are 85 holes (and counting) at Bandon Dunes, and not a single one mails it in.
Mike Keiser, founder of the resort who is stretching his golf footprint across North America (including Cape Breton and Wisconsin), appears to be set on creating a modern-day Pinehurst of the West Coast at Bandon Dunes -- a pure golf retreat that you would want to visit every year if you could. Bandon Muni, currently in the works, will only make a stronger case for Bandon as America's golf capital, at least in the Northwest.
You've no doubt seen the photos and the golf course rankings, and by now you've probably got a friend who has made the trip and frankly won't shut up about it. So here's what you should know about planning a golf trip to Bandon Dunes.
How difficult is traveling to Bandon Dunes?
The most convenient way of getting to Bandon is to fly into Southwest Oregon Regional Airport (OTH), which is located about 20-30 minutes north of the resort entrance near Coos Bay. Like most small airports, it's expensive and has fewer arrival/departure times. United operates regular flights from San Francisco, and Portland-based SeaPort Airlines operates a handful of flights daily out of Portland International Airport.
I've traveled to Bandon two ways: First, I flew into Eugene (about a two-hour drive and much cheaper than OTH, but you need a rental car). The second time it was through Portland. Despite the four-hour drive, it has the most flights -- and usually the cheapest -- and we tied in a couple of days enjoying the city before heading to the coast.
As for whether or not you need a car while at the resort -- absolutely not. There are 24-hour shuttles on the property. They come by often and can take you to golf, bars, restaurants and back to the resort.
An update: How much golf is at Bandon Dunes now?
Bandon Dunes has four full-length 18-hole golf courses, plus a 13-hole, par-3 course. Guests also have full use of the practice facility, which has a little nine-hole pitch 'n putt, Shorty's. The Punchbowl, a two-acre putting course, opened in 2014. The teaching academy, led by legendary Grant Rogers, also offers a wide variety of clinics and lessons.
Is Bandon Dunes expensive?
Golf at Bandon Dunes certainly isn't cheap, unless you compare it to some of America's most expensive golf courses. Peak-season green fees for resort guests are $250 on all four 18-hole courses ($295 for non-guests). State residents can receive a discount, while afternoon replay rates are very enticing.
Bandon Dunes does have a seasonal rate structure. The courses are less expensive in the winter and spring, but the weather can be spotty. In-state golfers often keep an eye on the seven-day forecast during the winter. If the coast looks like it's going to get a few balmy days, they book their trip and play golf for less than $100.
What are accommodations and dining like at Bandon Dunes?
Bandon Dunes offers five different styles of accommodations, all comfortably equipped to aid the ails of the tired golfer. Larger groups can rent their own Grove Cottage, four-bedroom units that run $1,900 per night in peak season. Two-bedroom units can be found at Chrome Lake, while the more basic hotel-style rooms with either double beds or singles can be found at The Inn, The Lodge and Lily Pond.
Off site, there are all sorts of accommodations from cheap B&B's to luxury home rentals along the coast and closer to the village of Bandon, but you don't get the perks of the resort (like the 24-hour shuttle and discounted green fees) so I have a hard time finding much reason to recommend staying elsewhere.
There are a handful of options for dining, ranging from very casual to a little more formal. Pacific Dunes and Bandon Trails offer unique menus at their clubhouses. Rest assured, you won't get sick of the food over a four-day weekend here. Also, microbrews (this is Oregon after all) and extensive whiskey and wine lists are offered. The Bunker Bar has become legendary, as poker games sprout up nightly.
Is there a spa at Bandon Dunes?
Rather than all the designer spa bells and whistles, Bandon Dunes simply has massage treatment rooms, sauna and whirlpool, which is enough to get those muscles loose for your next 18 holes (or more). There's also a fitness center, though after walking a round or two here we doubt you'll need it.
Video: Golfing World spotlights Bandon Dunes
Nobody actually brings their wife to Bandon Dunes, right?
Actually, you'd be surprised. I've been to Bandon Dunes twice and both times we've been paired up on the first tee with a couple for at least one round. If your spouse loves gorgeous coastal scenery and has a decent enough game to get around the links, chances are she'll love the place as much as the guys.
Anything off-property we should explore?
The old fishing village of Bandon is a few minutes down the road and worth exploring or having a seafood meal there. Buddies who want to gamble a little can head up to Coos Bay to The Mill Casino, which has table games and slots. Fishing, hiking trails and bird watching are all readily accessible. If you're too tired, take a pleasant drive up the scenic coast on Beach Loop Drive.
So what's not to like at Bandon Dunes?
Perhaps the most critical (and some Bandon Dunes ambassadors might say "humorous") piece ever written about the resort was by Ron Whitten of Golf Digest in 2012. Whitten's main complaints were some grumpy caddies, a few course design flaws and, most famously, a lack of sink stoppers in the guest rooms.
I will say that the one thing that bothers me about golf at Bandon Dunes compared to links golf in Scotland and Ireland is the West Coast's pesky, unwanted neighbor, Poa Annua grass. It creeps into the fescue greens, making them splotchy compared to what you'll find back east or overseas. The maintenance staff rolls these down and they become very firm (so firm you can walk your pull carts right across them). It takes a round or two to get used to the surface (all the more reason for afternoon replays).
So which golf courses should I play while at Bandon Dunes?
If I had to break down the differences in the four 18-hole courses as concisely as I can, it'd be this way:
You'll probably score best on Bandon Dunes, and it has plenty of gorgeous oceanfront holes.
Pacific Dunes is the most spectacular, with a few really unique holes that take some getting used to. You'll want to replay this at least once. It's my favorite.
Bandon Trails is the most pleasant walk, shielded mostly from the wind and a most gorgeous forested setting.
Old Macdonald is the most architecturally interesting, vast and longest for lower handicaps, but it lacks the oceanfront views of Bandon and Pacific.