Bandon Preserve: A ‘really good fit’

By Ron Bellamy | Golf, Oregon, Oregon Coast |

Bandon Dunes’ new 20-acre par-3 isn’t your father’s pitch-and-putt

BANDON — Earlier in his career as a teacher of golf, Grant Rogers became passionate about links-style golf, with the challenges of shaping shots in the wind and rain of coastal courses.

“That’s what’s cool about links golf, because you can invent these different kinds of shots that you normally don’t practice, or see people practicing anywhere else,” he said.

Over the years, Rogers made about 20 golf trips to Europe, where he played such famous links courses as Royal St. George’s in England, Ballybunion (Old Course) in Ireland and Cruden Bay and North Berwick in Scotland.

Twelve years ago, Rogers came to Bandon Dunes Golf Resort as director of instruction. And he hasn’t gone back to Europe since.

“As soon as I started working here, I didn’t feel the need to go over there anymore,” Rogers said. “I didn’t feel like I had to go zooming around Europe.

“It’s a fun way to play golf. I really like it when it gets windier here, or trying to invent some shots that work in the winter, when the storms come flying through here. It’s really challenging, and it’s fun. The golf ball sometimes goes all over the place, but it really doesn’t matter.

“Occasionally, you’ll hit a shot that you can talk about.”

Since Mike Keiser opened the original Bandon Dunes course in 1999, the golf world has certainly been talking about the spectacular links golf resort carved out of the dunes and gorse overlooking the Pacific Ocean north of Bandon. The Chicago-based Keiser — who made his fortune producing greeting cards made from recycled paper and who has invested millions in the sport he loves — has added Pacific Dunes (2001), Bandon Trails (2005) and Old Macdonald (2010) to create a public-access golfing destination among the best in the world.

Now comes another revelation at Bandon Dunes, a course consisting exclusively of par-3 holes, Bandon Preserve, which opens next Tuesday.

With spectacular ocean views, Bandon Preserve will redefine golfers’ concepts of a par-3 course, and not simply because this course consists of the unorthodox number of 13 holes because, well, that’s what designers Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore had the land to accommodate.

A pitch-and-putt this is definitely not.

Instead, on a 20-acre site south of the original Bandon Dunes course, and west of Bandon Trails, Crenshaw and Coore have created a visually stunning set of holes, ranging roughly in length from 100 yards to 165 yards from the back tees — though with multiple tee boxes, the distances are variable, from as little as just over 40 yards from the forward tees on a couple of holes, to as much as almost 190 yards to a back-pin placement, and the coastal wind will have more to do with club selection than yardage figures.

‘A really good fit’

When he took a reporter and photographer on a preview round earlier this month, Rogers was playing the Preserve for the fifth time.

“Each time has been really unique in terms of the elements,” he said. “The club selection is really different when it’s windy. You can try so many kinds of shots; you don’t have to swing hard, you just have to keep it low with something.”

The acreage that became Bandon Preserve was considered by Crenshaw, the two-time Masters winner, and Coore for the other course they designed here, Bandon Trails, but deemed too choppy for that layout. But it has become an amazing par-3 course, dropping in elevation as it descends from the first hole, near the Bandon Trails clubhouse, toward the ocean, and then climbs back up. Viewed across a deep ravine from the 17th fairway at Bandon Dunes, Bandon Preserve resembles a series of terraces, as one might see in a mountainous wine-growing region, except that here the crop is vintage golf holes.

In Keiser’s vision, Bandon Preserve will fill a special niche at the resort. It will appeal to golfers who don’t have the four-plus hours to spend on an 18-hole round but want to get in some golf on the afternoon they arrive at Bandon Dunes, or in the morning before they leave. Considering that riding carts are not allowed at Bandon Dunes, the Preserve will appeal to golfers who’ve played a full 18 holes in the morning, and might not have the stamina to walk another 18.

Compared with playing Bandon Dunes, for example, at 6,221 yards from the green tees, Bandon Preserve plays at less than 1,500 yards — not even a mile.

Golfers, too, may view Bandon Preserve as a warm-up, to get accustomed to the fescue greens and playing conditions, before playing the 18-hole courses.

“I think it’s a really good fit,” Rogers said. “It’s going to appeal to golfers of all ability levels. It’s going to be challenging for everyone, and mostly I think it’s going to be another good reason to come to Bandon Dunes. … People really like par-3s; everyone has a chance on a par-3. If it’s a 600-yard par 5, for some people it’s just a struggle. But these par-3s are all doable. You hit a good shot, you’re going to be on the green or close to the green.

“So you have 13 chances to brag about your golf game a little bit.”

In the high season at Bandon Dunes, April through mid-November, when the cost of playing the 18-hole courses is as much as $275 for non-resort guests, cost of playing Bandon Preserve will be $100 for resort guests, dropping to $50 in late November and December. Net profits will benefit the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance, founded by Keiser to provide financial support for local environmental organizations for such causes as protection and reclamation of fish habitats and other environmental concerns. According to Bandon Dunes director of communications B.R. Koehnemann, projections are that the Preserve will generate $700,000 annually for the alliance.

The course also will provide a protected habitat for the silvery phacelia, an endangered native plant.

So far, advance bookings are strong for May, and for August and September, Koehnemann said, advising golfers who want to play the course in the late afternoon to make reservations in advance. “People are expecting that it will be a walk-up course,” Koehnemann said, “but late-afternoon rounds will be pretty busy.”

Mysterious, and beautiful

Bandon Preserve, featuring the large, contoured greens and formidable bunkers of par-3 holes on the other resort courses, opens with a relatively simple uphill hole, with the tee box just south of the Bandon Trails bag-drop area, and the green on the site of the old upper practice green at Trails. On the second hole, the ocean comes into view, and it plays along a ravine on the right, with a huge bunker guarding the green in front, and another bunker on the left.

The third hole plays atop the dunes, and then the fourth hole begins a descent toward the ocean for three holes through No. 6, where the golfer will feel closest to the Pacific, even though still separated by fields of gorse. The seventh hole, which can play to a back pin distance of 189 yards, turns away from the ocean, toward a huge shared green with No. 4, and leading to a turnstand with a snack bar and restrooms. The eighth hole is a mere 95 yards from the back tee to the back-pin position, but is also one of two holes in which the green is shielded from the tee by a mound.

“Mysterious,” Rogers said. “You can’t tell until you get there.”

The ninth hole turns back toward the coast again; it is Keiser’s favorite, a truly beautiful hole with the ravine that separates the course from Bandon Dunes on the right, and the gorse behind the green — the lowest point on the Preserve course, more than 300 feet below the highest point on nearby Bandon Trails — and then the view of the ocean itself.

“It’s a little distracting,” Rogers said. “Sure, you’re playing golf, but mostly you’re staring at the view.”

After playing that ninth hole, who would want to stop, and at Bandon Preserve, the golfer has four holes left, including the most challenging in the layout, No. 11, which plays 160 yards or so back uphill, the ravine on the left and cutting into the fairway. (Because it doesn’t meet minimum yardage requirements, the course won’t be rated by the USGA for handicap purposes; if it were, this hole would most certainly be the No. 1 handicap hole.)

“I think 11 is pretty difficult,” Rogers said. “You’ve got to be careful on that hole. It’s a strong hole.”

But Rogers said he’s intrigued, too, by the shorter holes that remind him of golf in Europe.

“These little holes that can get you, they kind of appeal to me,” he said. “I think it’s a good sign when a golf hole can outsmart you; it just means you have to figure out a better way to play.

“I don’t think it’s the golf hole’s fault; they want to win, too, so it’s up to you to figure out a better way to do it.”

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