Pacific Dunes Golf Course Review and Appreciation
Pacific Dunes at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.
Teacher’s Comments: Sublime
Pacific Dunes currently is ranked by Golf Digest as the second best Public Course in America, and the eighteenth best course overall (a list that includes Pine Valley and Augusta National). It certainly is one of the best courses that I have ever played (for perspective, I have only played 18 of the top 100 public and 11 of the top 100 overall — so just a small sample).
Designed by Tom Doak, Pacific Dunes is a rugged true links course, routed through natural dunes, playing hard-and-fast on sandy fairways, and swept by ocean winds. Every hole looks as though it was “found” rather than created.
Pacific Dunes golf course was our group’s consensus favorite at Bandon Dunes golf resort. Every course there is a must-play, but if you have time to play some twice, Pacific Dunes should be one of those. On my trip, I played Pacific Dunes and Old MacDonald twice.
It is worth a trip to Bandon Dunes Golf Resort just to play Pacific Dunes. Fortunately, the resort also has the #36 (0verall) Bandon Dunes, the #47 Old MacDonald and the #70 Bandon Trails. You can knock off four bucket list courses in one trip to the Oregon coast. Bandon Trails is a peaceful woodlands course; Bandon Dunes, while routed through the same terrain as Pacific has a more resort feel; Old MacDonald is open and spare (in a good way). Each shares the same links golf DNA, but Pacific Dunes is somehow more wild.
From the back tees, Pacific Dunes measures 6, 633 yards and plays to a 73.0/143. One tee up, the course measures 6, 142 and plays to a 70.7/133. The course also has gold tees at 5, 775 and blue tees at 3, 920. To Bandon Dunes’ credit, women’s course ratings are offered for all but the back tees. The 6, 142 yard green tees, for example are a 76.3/143 for the ladies.
The best holes at Pacific Dunes are the par threes. The fifth is the only one on the front nine. The four on the back include the tenth, which has two very different sets of tee boxes for use on different days. The upper box turns the tenth into a dizzying downhill shot with the entire green exposed; the lower is more akin to a shot through a canyon of dunes. There are five threes at Bandon Dunes, but with the two very different tees on eleven, Doak effectively created six.
The part three eleventh just might be the Pacific Dune’s signature hole. With a very strong wind in my face, I actually hit driver to this hole, to good effect.
Doak’s routing is unusual, but works superbly. Pacific Dunes has seven par fours on the front nine and four par threes on the back. In retrospect, the idea of seven par fours sounds tedious but I did not notice at the time. Each is a unique work.
My favorite hole was the par four thirteenth. Measuring 444 from the back, and 371 from the more reasonable middle tees, it plays slightly uphill to a elevated green set against a large dune. There is a huge landing area to the right, and the temptation is to aim there to avoid launching your ball over the cliff into the the ocean (as one of my playing companions did). However, right is not the ideal location for the second shot. An approach for the right brings bunkers on that side of the green into play — particularly for slicers. Worse, since the prevailing wind is in your face, there is also the danger of misjudging and falling left and short (as I did the first time through.) A shot more centered in the fairway lets a player take advantage of the deep, but somewhat narrow green by taking an extra club just to be sure the ball arrives.
Pacific Dunes’ ninth is a 406 yard par 4 with an upper and lower green. The fairway to the lower green bends left; the upper green is fairly straightaway. In either case your tee shot needs to clear this dune.One of the most interesting sequence of holes comes at the ninth and tenth. The ninth is a par four with dual fairways and greens. Depending upon the day, the blind tee shot over an imposing dune needs to draw left or fade right. The right side heads uphill to the green; the left plunges downhill.
A split fairway and dual greens are interesting in and of themselves. What makes this sequence special is that the split fairways and dual greens on the ninth lead to dual tees on the tenth. When the upper fairway and green are used on the ninth, the par three tenth offers a dramatic drop from tee to green. When the lower fairway on the ninth is in play, the tenth also has a lower tee, with a line that passes through two dunes — with the left one being particularly imposing — to the green. Since our group played on successive days, I had the chance to play this sequence both ways. (See the photos above.)
Below are the yardage book pages. I have drawn lines on the book to show how the holes (and their following tees play).
Pacific Dunes is a tough course, but I never felt as though I was being beaten up. The fairways were plenty wide for my game; the greens big enough to make hitting them a reasonable prospect. Getting the ball into the correct position is another issue. With the hard and fast conditions, every swale on the fairways was likely to toss the ball offline. The constant wind made judging distances difficult. Fortunately, every ball location — even the poor ones — seem to offer multiple opportunities for recovery — and redemption. I think it would be a very long time, indeed, before I tired of trying to decipher the puzzle.
The Pacific Dunes Golf Course Review was first published October 1, 2018 from two rounds played in July 2018
A Pacific Dunes photo gallery follows: