Pacific Dunes: Tom Doak's pure links golf triumph at Oregon's Bandon Dunes Resort

BANDON, Ore. - It's become standard discourse to compare Pacific Dunes, one of three golf courses at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort on the Oregon coast, to the traditional links of the British Isles.

Course literature doesn't shy away from the comparison and offering that understated, old world links experience of the 19th century clubs in the British Isles is what resort founder Mike Keiser set out to do from the onset.

But in many ways, simply likening it to these overseas links is selling it a bit short. Pacific Dunes is worthy of its own sub-genre.

Sure, Pacific Dunes, opened in 2001, lacks the 19th century artifacts and black-and-white photos behind glass cases around the clubhouse. In fact, Pacific Dunes' permanent clubhouse isn't even open yet. But the golf course itself is set on arguably the best links land in the world, and architect Tom Doak found a course more than he built one.

The topography of the land on this stretch of southern Oregon coastline is in all likelihood the best stretch of links land that can be found in the U.S. It's as rugged and scenic as Royal County Down Golf Club, with flowering gorse more powerful in spots than Royal Dornoch Golf Club. There are many sandy, natural bunkers out here, like the intimidating giant one that guards the elevated par-5 third green in front - or the massive pot in front of the elevated sixth green that will be in the back of your mind both on your drive and delicate approach shot.

The sandy ground is especially firm, and greens are no exception. They are so firm, pull carts are allowed on them, so don't summon the course ranger if you see someone wheeling theirs across. Coupled with often fierce winds coming from the northwest, it makes it necessary to play the ground game around here.

The par-4 fourth hole, the longest on Pacific Dunes' front nine, plays right along the ocean from tee to green. With wind coming in off the coast, it's necessary to start your tee shot out over the beach before letting the wind bring it back if you want to catch the fairway.

The approach isn't easy either, as the green sits right along the edge of the cliff with little room on the left side. So, just how necessary is it to keep your approach out of the wind? Grant Rogers, director of instruction at the resort, has a unique way of doing it.

"I look for the 197-yard sprinkler," he says. "From there, I putt it."

Not a shot for everyone, sure. But low and simple is the right idea on most of the holes here - and don't expect much backspin.

Doak deserves credit not just for his minimalist design but for some ingenuity as well.

One of the more clever aspects is the back-to-back No. 9 and 10 holes that offer first alternate greens (one low and to the left, another uphill to the right) and subsequently alternate tees on the 11th (the short tee plays little more than 150 yards, while the back is well over 200 yards). It's a fine touch, so even if you play the course more than once during your trip, you'll play at least a slightly different golf course, especially once you discover just how different the holes play depending on the wind and pin locations.

The golf course also takes a unique routing. The front nine has seven par 4s and one par 5 and par 3 (ala the Old Course at St. Andrews). The back side, however, has three holes of each par, making the course, including back-to-back 3s on No. 10 and 11.

While the most photogenic holes are undoubtedly the coastal fourth and 13th, with its massive sand dune beside the green, the holes further inland are easily memorable in their own right. The up-and-down, snaking par-5 18th feels like it goes on forever at 591 yards from the back tees and full of deep, wild bunkers from tee to green.

Pacific Dunes: The Verdict

The best golf course in America? That's a claim that's sure to cause some Bunker Bar debate into the wee hours. Pacific Dunes is certainly unlike anything else you've played in the States.

It's definitely the top pure links creation in North America, and unlike the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort, Chambers Bay or Whistling Straits, this is all mother nature here - no land shaping needed.

The course's difficulty is debatable, as it was designed as a resort course over a major championship venue. On a calm day, its yardage at under 6,700 yards from the back tees might leave a little to be desired from scratch players thanks to generous fairways and modest yardage.

Next door, Bandon Dunes' championship rating is over 2.5 points higher (74.1 to 71.5). On a windy day, though, Pacific Dunes is all the golf course you need and more.

Green fees are $210 for resort guests, $265 for non-guests at all three Bandon Dunes Resort golf courses.

Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.
Related Links
In less than a decade of operation, Bandon Dunes Golf Resort has built a worldwide reputation as North America's top pure links experience. The resort's flagship course, Bandon Dunes, debuted in 1999. Since then, Pacific Dunes and Bandon Trails have built upon the storied legacy.
12 Images
For those golfers looking for a quick escape back to the friendly confines of their home course, where golf makes sense again, southern Oregon's Bandon Crossings Golf Course is your medicine. It provides a more traditional, parkland setting, and for tired legs, it has plenty of golf carts, Brandon Tucker writes.
2 Min Read
More from the author
4 Min Read
November 23, 2021
We scoured the web of golf and found holiday savings up to 50% off
12 Min Read
November 18, 2021
Golfers can choose from a wide variety of portable launch monitor price points and user experiences. Here is what's new and the best ones to consider to improve your golf.
7 Min Read
November 9, 2021
Our community loves the value and experience at these popular and affordable military facilities and even book online.
5 Min Read
November 2, 2021
Some U.S. cities have frighteningly few public-access courses for its residents. If you like variety, you may not want to live in these metros.
6 Min Read
October 27, 2021
Kick up the jams and drop some putts with the best portable speakers for the golf course.
4 Min Read
October 21, 2021
What began with just a par-3 course and learning center, this 2,000-acre sporting ranch between Austin and Houston is finally going all-in with an ambitious championship course.
2 Min Read
November 15, 2021
Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and world-class instructors help you get up-and-down more often.
6 Min Read
November 20, 2021
Help the golfer in your life shoot lower scores, look and feel better than ever this holiday season with these eight golf gifts.
5 Min Read
November 3, 2021
Playing golf at night is a fun experience everyone should try.
4 Min Read
November 22, 2021
Anyone can play Tom Fazio's Wynn Golf Club, which sits in the heart of the Las Vegas strip.
Load More
Now Reading
Pacific Dunes: Tom Doak's pure links golf triumph at Oregon's Bandon Dunes Resort