The quick trip to Bandon Dunes for LINKS Magazine couldn’t have gone much better. The weather was clear, cool, and windy, and although I only had two days at the resort before heading inland, I was able to pack in tons of golf.
My round at Bandon Trails fell after a morning round on the Bandon Dunes course. We finished that morning round early, had a leisurely lunch, and I then made my way up to Bandon Trails for a solo 18 holes. It was just me and my caddie, and we had the course to ourselves… does it get any better?!
In some ways, I think of Bandon Trails like the St Andrews New or Jubilee courses. If those courses weren’t located beside some of the greatest links in the world, they would receive the individual attention and praise that they deserve. Bandon Trails suffers from the same problem with its three older brothers down on the cliffs.
After playing a morning round on one of the most dramatic golf coastlines in the world, 18 holes in the woods suddenly doesn’t seem as impressive, even with its great views. However, if you are able to separate the rounds from one another, Bandon Trails’ greatness is apparent.
The course was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in 2005, and the piece of land they were given was a mixture trees, dunes, and rolling meadows sitting on a hill above the rest of the property. It was a challenging piece of land, but it also provided the opportunity to do something different.
The design team managed to maintain many of the same links golf characteristics shared by its brothers, despite the terrain and less sandy soil. The course looks and feels different, but the running ground game is still required to score well. The highest point at Bandon Trails (seen above) also happens to be where Mike Keiser, Bandon Dunes owner, decided to purchase the property.
The weekend prior to the round I had revisited Coore & Crenshaw’s Dormie Club outside of Pinehurst, North Carolina. Bandon Trails and Dormie Club have a lot of similarities, but Bandon Trails easily wins out for me. The elevation changes at Bandon Trails make for a much more dramatic round, and the course conditions at Dormie are much softer and less linksy. Both courses have big meandering fairways through corridors of trees.
Hole #1 – 356 yards – The opening hole plays through dunes to a raised green. The area to the right of this first hole is the site of a proposed short course by Tom Doak. At the time of writing construction has been delayed, but look out for it in the future!
Hole #8 – 299 yards – While this hole is driveable for longer hitters, a long iron and wedge are a smart play for most.
Hole #11 – 429 yards – Even though my caddie explained the huge fairway to the left, I still felt the need to take on the corner… not the smartest play! The green sits alongside a pond, which shouldn’t come into play, but is visually intimidating.
Hole #12 – 235 yards – This long par 3 is a perfect example of the links-style play on the course. I hit a low 4-iron here, which is my 210 club. The area short and right of the green is firm and kicks balls forward onto the putting surface. Shamefully, I missed the 12-foot birdie putt!
Hole #13 – 374 yards – A downhill tee shot leads to a wide fairway, which narrows towards the tricky green. The pin in the photo below is also in a tough position on the right, where you’ll find a deep greenside bunker.
Hole #14 – 306 yards – This is the highest point on the course and it is where you’ll find the view and plaque mentioned in the introduction. To get to this tee, a shuttle brings you on a one-minute ride up a very steep slope. Walking it is an option, but that cart looks very nice after a couple of 36-hole days! The cart ride does point out a weakness in the routing where continuity was sacrificed for the great viewpoint. The sacrifice is worth it for the view.
The 14th hole is straight downhill and while it is tempting to smash the driver, your ball can bounce any which way once it hits that hillside.
Hole #15 – 367 yards – This is a very natural par 4 with another mean cross bunker. The green is bowl-shaped with scrubby bunker areas on either side.
Hole #6 – 494 yards – I know that this hole splits opinions, and while it is beautiful, I think it would play better as a par 4 (thankfully for you, my opinion is worth what you paid for it…). The second shot on this par 5 is simply advancing the ball up the hill with very little strategy involved.
Hole #18 – 363 yards – This was one of my favorite holes on the course. You emerge from the woods and have a final hole in the dunes. The tee shot plays uphill to the fairway, leaving another slightly uphill shot into the large green.
Coore & Crenshaw worked their magic on Bandon Trails, and the course features some beautiful natural holes. It isn’t until you pause and think about the heavily wooded site that you begin to appreciate the huge amount of work that went into building the course.
Bandon Trails will definitely be on the itinerary again next time I visit Bandon Dunes. It may not have the visual power of Pacific Dunes and Bandon Dunes, but much of its enjoyment is found in how it differs from those courses.