March 20-23, 2003. Bandon Continued

By: Jeff Shelley

If you're into rain, Bandon, Oregon, was the place to be over these four days. Our rater's retreat ran from Thursday to Sunday, with Friday and Saturday devoted to as many rounds of golf as we could cram into daylight - about 10 hours this time of the year in the Pacific Northwest.

Friday was at Pacific Dunes, Tom Doak's terrific transplant of a Scottish-Irish links half a world away on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. About an inch of rain fell during the round, with wind gusts upwards of 60 mph adding to the fun. Golf drudgery at its, ahem, best.

I played with three other raters: Kevin, a lawyer from San Francisco; Dan a food distributor from Kansas City; and Dave, a retired school teacher from Massachusetts. A great group, with all three of my cohorts better golfers and more veteran course raters than I. We managed a weird form of conversation, bellowing at full throat into the roaring air our attempts to be friendly.

Each of us were well-equipped to handle the wet and woolly weather, with Kevin the day before going to a Bandon fishing shop and buying a head-to-toe rain outfit suitable for a mid-winter salmon trawler. Sadly, after a while, our fancy 21st century rain gear totally lost its effectiveness.

The highlight of the day happened on a par-3 into the wind. Kevin took a mighty swing and sent his 9-iron flying into the great beyond, the club nearly reaching the Pacific Coast 150 feet left of the tee. Somehow his ball landed 35 behind the pin, and damned if he didn't make the birdie putt.

Toward round's end, conditions worsened. There'd only be 18 holes this day. It was all I could do to finish Pacific Dunes' nasty par-5 18th, a brutish hole under the best conditions. On my second or third shot, I found a fairway bunker, a high-lipped affair where, on this day, even a flock of sheep wouldn't find protection from the elements. I knocked the ball out over the lip and seemingly onto the fairway. But I never did find the damn ball. Coming off the course we must've each weighed 20 pounds heavier. While eating a box lunch in the small café off the 18th hole, I felt like I'd just been battered for 10 rounds by Mike Tyson.

That evening we held the second of three evening sessions in the Winchester Room. Our director, Brad Klein, did a funny slide show that documented what golf course architects (and green committees, owners, superintendents, etc.) should and shouldn't do. Klein is a former pro tour caddie and university professor, and current author of two books on golf design, and he brings a unique insight into the "science" of golf architecture.

On Saturday I had a 9:00 a.m. tee time at the original Bandon Dunes course. The conditions were even worse as a storm swept northward up the California coast and dumped what must've been an inch of rain in our first eight holes. Thoroughly soaked but enured by now to the rotten weather, I plugged on with Derrick from Wisconsin, Paul from Delaware and Mike from Albuquerque.

Paul wisely dropped out after nine holes, but the rest of us slogged on. Damned if the rain didn't halt at the turn. The sun came out and we gradually dried out. That's good too, because we were able to enjoy the full effect of one of the world's prettiest golf holes, Bandon Dunes' 16th. (Sadly, the day before we couldn't see 50 feet in front of us, let alone the signature holes at Pacific Dunes.)

That evening was another reception in the great room. The event was highlighted by talks by the designers of the two courses, David Kidd (Bandon Dunes) and Tom Doak (Pacific Dunes). Kidd did a "canned" presentation with a full slide show. The Scotsman, who fell in love with southwest Oregon after his work here, is now married to a local gal and lives near Bandon.

Almost apologetic for his polished presentation, Kidd was quite comical, talking about his various projects with great humor and making fun of the developers he's worked for. He had extensive stories about an ultraprivate course he designed for Charles Schwab in Hawaii. The Nanea Golf Club was built on a five-foot thick lava mantle, a situation that required the construction of a specially-built plant to crush the thousands of tons of the material removed from the site to make way for the 18 fairways. Kidd joshed about Schwab's love of the game and the fact that he had "no budget."

Doak, a more serious sort, was honest and forthright, saying he and David were in competition for a dwindling number of golf-design jobs but that they shared great mutual respect. A week or so later after Bandon I learned that Doak, who's never been shy to express his opinions (for evidence, check out his book, "A Confidential Guide to Golf"), had created an internship program for aspiring golf course designers at his Michigan-based firm, Renaissance Golf. Doak might appear crusty on the outside but he has a soft core.

That was pretty much it for my first foray to a "raters retreat." Golfweek has four of these a year, but I'll be lucky to attend one annually in the future. Many of the guys (and they were all guys except for a couple of women) are diehard golf junkies, savoring discussions of courses both great and not-so-great. Klein has a good team, one that now numbers almost 300 strong.

I took off early Sunday morning, having dried out my stuff enough so as to not ignite a rash of mildew in my RX-7 during the 7-hour trip back to Seattle. The radio was on, and so was the war. Looks like I - and America - are in this for the long haul.