Gaining An Appreciation For Links Golf At Bandon Dunes

Gaining An Appreciation For Links Golf At Bandon Dunes
A view of Pacific Dunes at the Bandon Dunes resort. Links golf at Bandon Dunes is an amazing and educational experience.

Gaining An Appreciation For Links Golf At Bandon Dunes

I am looking forward to watching this year’s Open Championship with my newly-gained appreciation for links golf. A week playing links golf Bandon Dunes golf resort on the Oregon Coast taught me that links golf is an entirely different — and thoroughly enjoyable — game.

Bandon Dunes golf resort has four true links courses: Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Old MacDonald and Bandon Preserve, a 13-hole par 3. The resort also sports the Bandon Trails course, which although it largely routed through a forest, shares many features with the aforementioned links. Individually and collectively, they are among the best courses I have every played.

Before I even teed up the ball for my first shot of the week, I was cognizant of the wind. Coming in from the northwest, the breeze blew steadily that first day at 25 to 30 miles per hour. I have played in winds of that sort before, but never in such an exposed position. At Old MacDonald, the wind blew over a high dune at the north end of the course, then swept down and across the exposed plain where fourteen of the holes were routed. Many of the holes at Pacific Dunes and Bandon Dunes were perched on bluffs directly above the ocean.

The exposed layout of Old MacDonald at Bandon Dunes.
The exposed layout of Old MacDonald at Bandon Dunes.

Shots into the wind fell two and sometimes three clubs short. Shots with it were two and three clubs longer. When the wind blew across the fairway, there was no way to take a straight line to the green.

Adding to the difficulty in club selection were the hard fairways and greens. From driver through wedges, balls would hit the ground and take off running. My ball found a lot of bunkers that I thought were safely out of reach.

A fairway at Pacific Dunes.
A fairway at Pacific Dunes.

Random bounces (or perhaps not so random) were another part of the equation. Balls would careen down the fairway, hit some previously unseen angle and then bound away from the line. In my case, it seemed as though the deflections were inevitably toward a bunker.

The hard ground also played havoc with my irons. Balls needed to be picked, or swept off of the ground. Downward blows skipped off the hard, sandy turf, often sending balls in an unexpected direction.

Another interesting twist: there was virtually no difference between the surfaces of the fairways and greens. Only contouring and a slight change in color revealed the border.

The wind bends the flagstick at Old MacDonald at Bandon Dunes. Notice how there is no visual difference between fairway and green.
The wind bends the flagstick at Old MacDonald at Bandon Dunes. Notice that there is no visual difference between fairway and green. Wind and hard, fast conditions are a constant with the links golf at Bandon Dunes.

None of this constitutes a complaint, however. I absolutely loved the challenges presented by the course. Every shot required imagination and planning. Often, I just completely abandoned the usual playbook. I putted to the green from forty yards out. I chipped with a hybrid if I needed to get the ball over a bunker and onto the green surface. I clubbed up four and down three. I aimed fifty yards left of the target, counting on wind and roll to bring the ball back. On multiple occasions, I used a driver on a 120 yard par 3 (all of those occasions worked out well). On every shot I had to imagine the path I wanted the ball to take, and then choose the best club to achieve that result. Often — usually — it was not the one I would have picked for that distance on Michigan’s park- and woodlands courses.

Bobby Jones said:

Mine may be an old-fashioned view, but I believe that the bounce of the ball should be a part of the game, and when you play a fast, resilient course it is. Then, you must improvise all sorts of shots to cope with the terrain. I know that some of those little pitches and pitch and runs — the ones that came off successfully — gave me as much satisfaction as any shots I have played.

After playing links golf at Bandon Dunes, I have a much better understanding of what golf’s players and commentators mean when they say a fairway is “hard and fast,” and that links courses require “imagination.”  I also have a great appreciation and newfound love for links golf.

I am anxious to take another shot at a true links course. I have much to learn. And much to enjoy.

 

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