Old MacDonald Golf Course Review
Old MacDonald Golf Course at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort
Teacher’s Comments: A must play experience.
Playing Old MacDonald (twice!) was one of the best experiences of my golfing life. It was unlike anything I have played before.
Old MacDonald is named in honor of classic golf architect Charles Blair MacDonald, who is responsible for — among others — National Golf Links, Shinnecock and The Old White at The Greenbriar. Old MacDonald at Bandon Dunes is a tribute to MacDonald, even though it does not feature replica holes. Instead, it was designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina as a response to the question of what kind of a course would classic architect C.B. MacDonald (thus the name) have designed if his canvas had been the Oregon Coast instead of, say Long Island.
Routed across a largely treeless, sandly plain, Old MacDonald is bounded by high dunes on the eastern and western (ocean) sides. The opening two holes are on the eastern side of the two dune ridges; the third crosses over the eastern dune to the plain. Four holes play up and down the western ridge, with incredible views of the ocean. Finally, the closing two holes return to the western side of the inland ridge.
Old MacDonald’s fairways seemingly are wide as the sea and every bit as wavy, with irregular bunkers flashing like white caps. The greens are said to encompass more square feet than those at the Old Course at St. Andrews. The entire course is made to seem even larger by the fact that the fairways and greens are cut to a largely uniform height (incredibly short). If not for mounding, it would be hard to tell sometimes where the fairways ended and greens began.
To a Michigan golfer who is used to lush and soft courses, Old MacDonald’s conditions were a bit of a shock. Conditions are hard and fast, just as with every course at Bandon Dunes. Balls hit the ground and then roll … and roll … and roll … sometimes in unexpected directions. In Michigan, I imagine a flight path and a landing zone. At Bandon Dunes’ Old MacDonald, I had to envision a flight path, a landing zone, and then a roll-out. The extra layer of thought made Old MacDonald absolutely fascinating.
All my old calculations on club selection had to be thrown out the window. In Michigan, my 150 yard shot starts with a 7 iron as a base. I might go a club or two up or down depending upon the circumstances. At Bandon, that 150 yard shot might be a 7 iron. Or a 2 hybrid. Or a wedge. Or even a putter. On each shot I had to imagine what I wanted the ball to do, and then pick the club — however unlikely — that seemed most likely to follow through. On several occasions, I hit a choked-down driver on short par threes (and got the ball close).
As with any authentic links course, wind was a constant factor during my rounds at Old MacDonald. It blew strong and steadily. Pure shots into the wind fell far short of expectations; poor shots with the wind carried far beyond what was deserved. In either case, the wind was another variable that needed to be considered.
On my second round at Old MacDonald, the wind tossed my bag and cart askew, breaking the cart. I carried the bag for a hole before the excellent customer service delivered a new one for me to use.
From the back tees, Old MacDonald stretches to 6, 944 yards and plays to a 74.4/131. The next tees are at 6, 320 and play at 71.6/125 for men and 77.8/137 for women. At 5, 658 yards, the gold tees play at 68.0/116 for the men and 74.1/126. In all, there are five sets of tees. Credit goes to Bandon Dunes golf resort for having handicaps on more than one set of women’s tees.
My favorite hole was the par five fifteenth, which Tom Doak dubbed “Westward Ho!” The hole is an homage to the eighteenth at National Golf Links, one of MacDonald’s masterpieces. The 535 yard par five plays uphill, and offers two daunting sets of bunkers to negotiate. Here’s how Tom Doak describes it:
This long par-5 plays back into the setting sun to a green up on the primary dune, overlooking the ocean. The heaving contours of the fairway are like ocean swells; the key shot is the second, which must either get past a deep bunker on the right or be aimed safely short and left of it, which makes the uphill third shot much more difficult. The green is sharply two-tiered, so the correct length of the approach is paramount.
So much fun.
One of the most spectacular holes is the seventh. It’s a 363 yard uphill par 4 that finishes atop the seaside dune. From there, the views are absolutely breathtaking.
To be brutally honest, I played poorly at Old MacDonald. But my score did not matter. Each shot was enjoyable for the possibilities it offered.
The Old MacDonald Golf Course Review was first published August 30, 2018 from photos and notes taken on the round on July 11, 2018
A photo tour of Bandon Dunes follows: