First look at the newest golf course at Bandon Dunes: Sheep Ranch

Greens and tees designed by Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw ride dramatic cliffs at the fifth and final 18-hole golf course at the famed links golf resort on the Oregon coast.

Could Mike Keiser have saved the best for last?

The Sheep Ranch celebrated its grand opening June 1, the course that Keiser has called the last golf project at his Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon.

Keiser and partner Phil Friedmann turned to Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to unlock the true potential of a rugged, but constrained clifftop site that for years had been an informal routing by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina that could be rented out for the day. Coore & Crenshaw were the only architects who submitted a routing that included 18 holes. The duo was charged with fitting as many greens as possible on the cliffs. They succeeded with eight at land's end - and a ninth that looks like it is. There are also six tees directly on the ocean.

“The site has some of the most beautiful landforms and contours for golf," Coore said. "With the coastline being so visually dramatic, it is so different than the other courses. Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes are along the coast. Both are very linear. At the Sheep Ranch, the coastline is more broken in terms of its alignment. There are two promontory landforms that jut into the ocean. You cannot only play along the coast, but on hole 6 heading south and 17 heading north, you play from the land diagonally over the water to the fairway on the other side. The coastline afforded the opportunities that don’t exist at other the other courses. That was a gift."

Besides the visuals, the other characteristic that will be dissected ad nauseam will be their decision to build a bunkerless course. Coore said the windy nature of the site forced their hand. Much of the sand from the Sheep Ranch's original bunkering had been carried away over the years. Coore enjoyed the "abandoned" look and eventually built more. Some are blanketed with thick fescue rough. Others are trimmed tight and can be escaped with a putter. They built more than 20.

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Could the opening of the Sheep Ranch at Bandon Dunes make bunkerless courses cool?

"Most often they are in places like the ninth green that feels like it's on the ocean, but it has a steep dropoff all around behind it," Coore said. "Those are the situations where we created these depressions. They have turf to keep you in play. There are a few scattered out in the fairways. Visually and strategically, we started thinking of them like they've been abandoned. They will probably appear as they once were bunkers."

Where will the 6,636-yard Sheep Ranch fall in the competitive pecking order at Bandon Dunes? Golfers will certainly love the views, but some could be turned off by the wind and lack of bunkers. The 'best golf course at Bandon Dunes' debate will likely never end.

"Collectively, they are the best group of courses in the world in one place," Coore said. "You can’t even argue that. You can find regular visitors who will argue that any one of them is the best. The Sheep Ranch is going to be a different experience. It's compact. It doesn’t have the bunkers. It is windy. There will people who play it and experience it and think, 'Well, it’s my least favorite'. I hope and think there will be people who play it and say, 'This might be my most favorite'. That's what makes the whole Bandon experience so great. Hopefully, this thing is of a quality and interest level to become a member of that family."

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations 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 @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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First look at the newest golf course at Bandon Dunes: Sheep Ranch