Ranking the courses at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort: Pacific Dunes on top, but after that, not so clear cut

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Ginella: Tips for playing Bandon Dunes

BANDON, Ore. -- It was Day 2 at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. The sky had cleared, temperatures were in the 60s and we were beginning 36 holes of golf on the spectacular Oregon Coast with Bandon Trails, the Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw-designed inland course at what could be argued as America's top golf resort.

Starting the round, I posted a photo on social media of Bandon Trails. Shortly thereafter, someone left a comment that surprised me. "Hands down, the best course at Bandon Dunes."

Wow, that was surprising. Better than Pacific Dunes? Better than Bandon Dunes? I had never played Old Macdonald up to that point, so I couldn't compare yet. But I had just started my first round at Bandon Trails, so my expectations were soaring at that point, given the comment.

At the end of the round, Bandon Trails certainly impressed but not to the point to call it the best course at Bandon Dunes. Some have argued that if it weren't at Bandon Dunes up against three other spectacular courses (four if you count Bandon Preserve), it would get its due. But that's irrelevant, because it is up against them.

Still, Bandon Trails is a terrific golf course. It blends links elements with traditional target golf. It's unique but not as unique as Pacific and Bandon Dunes, which are the only regulation true links golf courses in the United States. And it doesn't have all those ocean views.

Some, including Kemper Sports president Josh Lesnik (KemperSports is Bandon's golf management company), tab Bandon Dunes as their favorite course at the resort. So everyone has their favorites. At the end of my stay, I tried to put together a list of my personal favorites. I never wavered on my top course, but I shuffled the other three championship courses several times before deciding on what is ultimately the way they are ranked by national publications. But even there, the rankings after Pacific Dunes are so close that you can see that everyone has a slightly different opinion. We welcome yours in the comment section below or vote in the poll below. Here's my rundown:

1. Pacific Dunes

No disrespect to the original, but Pacific Dunes took the resort to another level when it opened in 2001. In a staff story we did a while back, I listed Tom Doak as the one whose golf courses I would be most willing to travel to, and Pacific Dunes is a major reason why.

At every juncture, no matter how many times you've played this course, you find yourself saying wow to the views of the designs of the holes. There might not be a more spectacular point in golf than the back-to-back par 3s of 10 and 11 leading to the par-5 tee of no. 12. To me, every hole on the course is special, which is why Golf Magazine has Pacific Dunes ranked no. 1 on its Top 100 Courses You Can Play list. (Golf Digest has Pacific Dunes no. 2 behind Pebble Beach.)

2. Bandon Dunes

I actually waffled with this selection for a while, because Bandon Trails and Old Macdonald made such an impression with me. In the end, though, I concluded that both Bandon Dunes (ranked seventh by Golf Digest and eighth by Golf Magazine) and Pacific are the reason golfers from all over the world and even overseas make this pilgrimage to the Oregon coast.

When the original David McLay Kidd-designed Bandon Dunes opened in 1999, it had already made a statement unique to American golf. And though it's certainly much more subtle than Pacific Dunes, it can be argued that it's the truest links experience of any of the courses at the resort. With plenty of great ocean vantage points as well, Bandon Dunes is and will always be a classic.

3. Old Macdonald

Old Macdonald, the newest of the four championship layouts at the resort, is one big golf course, including some of the biggest greens (6.2 acres total) and bunkers I've ever seen. No two holes are alike, and like Bandon Dunes and Pacific, there are some great ocean views, just not as many.

There are more, however, than you'll find at Bandon Trails, which puts Old Mac (ranked 12th by Golf Digest) more in character with the first two courses built here. Then you add in the element that architects Doak and Jim Urbina conjured up what they thought Macdonald would have done to this piece of land, and it adds up to one cool design. Uphill holes, downhill holes, blind shots, troublesome bunkers and even an 18th green with a punch bowl design that funnels shots close to the hole. It all adds up to a fascinating golf experience.

4. Bandon Trails

Let me start this out by saying I've never played a Coore/Crenshaw course that I didn't like, and Bandon Trails, which opened in 2005, is no exception. I actually thought this might have been the hardest to walk with Old Mac a close second, which means there's a great deal of elevation change. And even though you can't see the ocean from most of the course, its presence is always felt, though the trees block much of the wind you feel on the other courses.

But even though much of it is tree-lined, the fairways are plenty generous, so there are few problems getting off the tee here, and you can almost always recover. Again, I wouldn't come to Bandon Dunes just to play this course, but any trip to Bandon without playing is incomplete. It complements the other courses well.

Don't skip Bandon Preserve, either

Even though Bandon Preserve isn't a championship layout, it would be a serious omission not to mention what might be the best par-3 course in America. With views of the Pacific from every hole, there's never been anything like it. Best of all, the holes are interesting and way more challenging than most par 3s.

The greens have a ton of movement in them, you'll want to avoid the bunkers and have to compensate with club selection for wind and elevation change. One of the coolest elements is that you can putt the ball off the 13th tee to the green.

Also worth mentioning is the 36-hole putting course, the Punchbowl, and Bandon Dunes' outstanding practice facilities.

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Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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Ranking the courses at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort: Pacific Dunes on top, but after that, not so clear cut