New Par-3 Course Set to Debut; Future Plans afoot at Bandon Dunes

By: Blaine Newnham

We played it once and, so mesmerized by the beauty of the place, walked it a second time to really appreciate the art that had been sculpted out of the dunes on the edge of Oregon's famed Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.

One of the Par-3s at Bandon Preserve

Now in its second decade, Bandon continues to push golf's envelope, even in a sour economy when much of the world waits to see what's next. Owner Mike Keiser waits for no one. In May he will open the fifth course at the resort, the beguiling Bandon Preserve, 13 holes of par-3 golf on the southwestern edge of the property where sand dunes are as daunting as they come.

With the Coore & Crenshaw-designed Preserve all but done, Keiser is looking to complete a land transfer with Coos County that would allow him - acclaimed architect Gil Hanse, recently given the plum job of designing the new course for the 2016 Rio Olympics, has already drawn preliminary plans - to build a 27-hole public layout a few miles south of the town of Bandon.

The new course would be apart from the resort and run by KemperSports, which also operates Bandon Dunes. It will apparently be available to locals - county residents - for as little as $25, but escalate to more than $200 for prime-time guests of the resort.

You wonder where Keiser gets the energy and money.

The Preserve is cute - really cute, but is far from the grab-a-couple-of-clubs-and-a-beer-cute the way the Shorty's course at the north edge of the practice center is.

The Pacific Ocean is On View at Bandon Preserve

The Preserve's first green is located on sand that was previously part of the putting green at Bandon Trails. Indeed, Trails serves as the clubhouse for both courses.

The scorecard tells you that no hole is longer than 152 yards, and five are fewer than 125 yards, even from the back tees. So much for the scorecard. The first hole, near the Inn, is listed at 138 yards. To a back pin and into a 30-mile-per-hour wind, it took at least a 180-yard shot to get there.

"What Mike Keiser wanted," said architect Bill Coore, "was a collection of holes that could stand up to the par-3s on the big courses, holes like No. 11 at Pacific Dunes and No. 2 at Bandon Trails - real golf on a smaller scale."

Coore admitted that he and Crenshaw had wanted to use the dunes near the ocean in the building of Trails, but that Keiser had pushed for more of an inland course as a respite from the winds and weather of the other Bandon courses.

"In the end," said Coore, "the pockets of dunes didn't lend themselves to longer holes. It is a very special piece of property."

The Preserve didn't look the way I thought it would after listening to both Coore and Keiser describe what they were after, holes like No. 2 at Bandon Trails, a green surrounded by sand and trees. As they tell the story around the resort, Keiser pushed for as much grass as he could get - areas not only on which to land a golf ball but to be walked and enjoyed.

What transpired is a magical land of dunes and hillocks circled by grass paths, kind of a great place for an Easter egg hunt as well as an afternoon, 13-hole outing after playing Pacific Dunes, Old Macdonald, Bandon Dunes or Bandon Trails in the morning.

"Yes," said Coore, "there is more grass than we originally thought, but not an inordinate amount. It also allows us to move mowers through the property for maintenance."

The greens and bunkers are large, even though the holes are small. Each hole has many tees, some layered from front to back, some in tiny areas along the edge of a dune, some on paths that aren't in play until they are. It's all fun, a beautiful environment for golf with the Pacific Ocean as well as the 17th and 18th holes at the original Bandon course in the distance.

During the prime season, the green fees are $100 at the Preserve, where some of the money will go toward protecting the coastal land and vegetation, particularly the silvery phacelia plant that on much of the Oregon Coast has been threatened by the encroachment of beach grasses and gorse.

Coore said that in the building of Bandon Trails every time they removed gorse and created an open sandy area the silvery phacelia appeared, and thrived. The idea is that golfers will use afternoons to play the new course if they are unable to go another 18 on the regulation layouts.

"I was riding one of the shuttles and eavesdropping on some good players," said Coore. "One of them said he would play the par-3 course first on every visit to get used to the tight lies around the greens."

In another development, the resort revealed that Bandon Trails will be shut down next winter for a couple of months while Coore and Crenshaw do some work on the 18th green. "Personally, I've watched too many balls do a U-turn and roll 30 yards down the hill in front of the 18th green," said Coore. "I don't think we ever realized how fast the fairways on Trails would get."

Coore said the plan is to lower and soften the front of the green to keep balls on it, especially when the winds howl from the north and into the face of an oncoming shot. It is also possible, while the course is closed, that Coore will make some slight adjustments to the 15th green. "You won't notice it if we do," he said.

As for the new course, Keiser is waiting to hear how county officials will respond to his plan to trade ocean-front land near the resort for gorse-covered land south of town. As always, the abatement of gorse will be critical to public approval. Keiser has eliminated much of it around the resort and says he will do the same for the new course. On two different occasions, gorse-inspired fires have burned down the town of Bandon.

Keiser wants to remake it another way.

Blaine Newnham has covered golf for 50 years. He still cherishes the memory of following Ben Hogan for 18 holes during the first round of the 1966 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. He worked then for the Oakland Tribune, where he covered the Oakland Raiders during the first three seasons of head coach John Madden. Blaine moved on to Eugene, Ore., in 1971 as sports editor and columnist, covering the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. He covered five Olympics all together - Mexico City, Munich, Los Angeles, Seoul, and Athens - before retiring in early 2005 from the Seattle Times. He covered his first Masters in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman, and his last in 2005 when Tiger Woods chip dramatically teetered on the lip at No. 16 and rolled in. He saw Woods' four straight major wins in 2000 and 2001, and Payne Stewart's par putt to win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. In 2005, Blaine received the Northwest Golf Media Association's Distinguished Service Award. He and his wife, Joanna, live in Indianola, Wash., where the Dungeness crabs outnumber the people.