Old MacdonaldArticle by: Billy Satterfield
As the success of Bandon Dunes grew, Mike Keiser continued purchasing property with the idea of expanding this wildly successful coastal retreat. But the coast isn't what Keiser would focus on for his third offering and instead decided to deliver some variety by carving a routing through the trees which is more common for courses in the Pacific Northwest. Not just anybody would do for this project though. Almost anyone can design a course next to the ocean and get rave reviews due to the stunning vistas and impressive setting, but going away from the great Pacific would require additional skill to stand tall next to the celebrated courses that put Bandon on the map. For Keiser the choice was clear; bring in the best design team in the world and let them work their magic. So when Mike reached out to the dynamic duo of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, C&C were anxious to tackle the challenge and leave their footprint in Bandon's forest.
Bandon Trails opened in 2005 and is located at the very southern portion of the resort's property. The opening hole is a dogleg left with the mighty Pacific off to the players right, but enjoy the view while it lasts because once players delve down the descending par three 2nd hole, the ocean will scarcely be in view again until coming back up the 18th. But the team of Coore and Crenshaw didn't need the ocean to made Trails wildly appealing, they just needed the blank canvas Keiser offered them.
C&C are known for being minimalists with their designs by preferring to work with the natural terrain and moving as little of dirt as possible which is in stark contrast to designers like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, and Jim Engh. As such, you are sure to find large undulated greens that are certain to generate some 3-putts and possibly even a few 4-putts. The fairways and greens are firm and generate a true links surface to contend with while the tree lined fairways will feel more like a parkland course America is famous for. Trails is the hilliest of the courses at Bandon and thus the most difficult walk. In fact, the resort waits for players coming off the 13th green and shuttles them up to the 14th tee which is one of the highest points on the course.
Speaking of the 14th, it is perhaps the most criticized hole at the entire resort. Many tweaks have been made to the hole in order to make it a more appealing hole to play then originally designed and I'll be interested to see those tweaks next month. This short par four can be driveable with a favorable wind and fortunate bounce if it is kept up the left side of the hole, but balls that tumble down to the gathering area on the right will find themselves among a graveyard of divots that all have a sad story associated with them. You see, the approach shot from the right side of the hole is the type of shot that keeps players awake at night; especially when something is on the line. The shot plays to a well elevated green that is firm and angled away from the player so that there is nearly no margin for error. A large, deep bunker looms between you and the putting surface and dares you to not leave your shot short but going long can quickly result in your ball tumbling off the back side of the green into the forest. So you think you'll just play it safe and layup off the tee huh? As long as you can keep your tee shot on the left-to-right sloping shelf on the left 1/3 of the fairway this is great; but if you leak it to the right at all you'll be left with the same horrific approach shot angle but now with a club that maintains less loft then had you used driver. This hole is devilish, there is no other way of saying it. In fact, birdies and bogeys both have a decent shot of winning in match play.
The best collection of par fives on the property are found at Trials, though a total of just three are offered. In addition, there are more risk/reward opportunities at Trails then can be found at its sibling courses with driveable par fours, speed slots, difficult greens, forced carries on the par 3s, and extensive bunkering being bigger factors to consider. For example, on the 4th hole players have the option of taking the shorter carry off the tee up the left side to a promising angle to the green or challenging the right side where a speed slot will propel balls forward to a shorter approach shot. At 133 yards the 5th hole looks innocent enough, but I'll put money on the fact that at least one person in your foursome will 3-putt and I really like the chances of someone in our 12-person group taking a 4-putt. It is simply one of the most undulated and sloping greens I've contested though the pin placement that day could soften the stakes.
Like the 4th hole, players challenging the right side of the 6th fairway will have a longer carry and need to avoid the bunker, but those that are successful will find a generous speed slot that will zip them closer to the green and set up an opportunity to card a birdie. The 8th is simply a brilliant hole and the perfect risk/reward opportunity. Risk takers will break out their driver in hopes of skipping a ball between the bunkers on to the putting surface for a rare eagle putt opportunity. The safe play is to take the bunkers and sloping portion of the fairway out of play with an iron off the tee before hitting a wedge or low iron into the green. Your decision here could perhaps be dictated by where you stand in your match.
The long uphill par three 12? All I'm going to say is that at least 3 out of 4 players in your foursome will be short. The par four 13th features the most penalizing green edges at Trails and demands accuracy. The long 16th plays uphill and into the prevailing wind and will certainly draw some blood in a match as the final holes close in. The par three 17th is a heroic offering with less forgiveness than any of the other one-shotters. The way that Trails is set up for match play is simply masterful and the new Sin City format being employed on this course should be a riot to watch unfold.
Bandon Trails is perhaps the most polarizing course at the resort. The people that like it the most of the courses at Bandon are very passionate about it which isn't alarming considering it is so much different than the other courses. In the national rankings it is ranked 4th among the courses at Bandon, yet good enough to be in the Top 15 best public courses in the country according to Golf Digest and Golf Magazine. I've said it numerous times, but I can hardly wait to hear everyone's thoughts on which courses they liked best after having played them. They are ALL VERY good, but everyone has reasons to make a course their favorite and I'm convinced there will be a couple in our group that will throw a gold medal around Bandon Trails' neck.