The Genesis of Designing a Course

by Dan Hixson

Editor's Note: The following is a first-person account by golf course architect Dan Hixson describing how he was selected to design the new Bandon Crossings Golf Course in Oregon. The regulation-length track opened in summer 2007. Hixson discusses what went into designing and building the course, and the remarkably short time it took the project to reach fruition. Though maybe not as heralded as its sister facility, Bandon Dunes, this course has a very bright future.

I am Dan Hixson, the designer of Bandon Crossings Golf Course and the owner of Milo, my pet dog. This is my first full 18-hole golf course to be built. I have designed two others, but this is the first built. Prior to designing Bandon Crossings I had done about 15 remodel projects in Oregon and Washington. To say the least, it has been quite a trip.

It all started with a phone call from my long-time friend Mark Keating, who at the time was the head professional at Shadow Hills Country Club. Mark put me in contact with Rex and Carla Smith from Eugene about building a course in Bandon. My first thought was "Yeah right"! But after meeting with them in Eugene and a site visit a few days later, it seemed like it was really going to happen. We came to terms around June 1st of 2005; the Smiths had closed on the purchase of the property a few weeks before. I immediately began working on the design of Bandon Crossings.

Most golf courses generally take years and years to go from idea to fruition. I have one project that is only a remodel in Washington that has been in the works for 5-plus years, and it appears it will be several more years before a shovel even moves any dirt, let alone opens for play. It is very rare in today's world to put together a project of this size in just over two years.

The Smiths bought a beautiful piece of land, and the 340 acres seemed plentiful. There was some difficulty coming up with a routing plan based on the general shape of the land, its roads, topography, vegetation, and wetlands. Eventually a plan evolved that uses most of the natural terrain and logically connects the north and the south sections. This took several site visits and many evenings with pencil, scale and a big eraser in hand. One of the biggest determining factors was the Oregon Transportation Department and the terrain's requirement that the entrance be in the northwest corner of the property. This dictated that it would not have a return at the 9th hole.

Around the 1st of September 2005 Rex, Carla and I decided on version 5 routing plan (I had probably done a handful of variations of each version presented to the Smiths). When I look back at those plans, some are so discombobulated that it just makes me giggle. Surprisingly, no routing changes occurred from this fifth version; many elements did, but not the basic routing.

To document everything that has happened between then and today would require a book as large as the dictionary. We dealt with many different agencies. Oregon Fish and Wildlife, Division of State Lands, National Marine and Fisheries Board, the Forest Service, Department of Environmental Quality, Coos County, Oregon Department of Transportation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife and the Army Corps of Engineers all needed to permit, approve, stamp or just OK some portion of the golf course. We also dealt with many smaller divisions within each of those groups, with each having their own unique take on the project. There were also many hired consultants, engineers, designers and experts who each added Bandon Crossings to their resumes or project list.

I should talk, since no one has gained more from putting Bandon Crossings on their project list than me. To say the least, it's a very complex game of how all the permitting and approval processes work between the agencies, and even more so within some of these agencies. Carla was masterful in pushing the project of this size, since most others are done by a bunch of developers, engineers, lawyers, consultants and the like. But she did it by using common sense, asking questions, being nice and, most of all, persevering.

In order to complete a water-rights transfer, we hired John Youngquist, a consultant from Roseburg who was a great help. (On a sad note, he passed away during the process.)

The construction started in February 2006 with the clearing of some second- or third-growth timber from portions of the south section (holes 6 through 14). Part of this area was impassible . . . I know, I tried it several times, both alone and with Carla and Rex. I never was on the 9th green or 10th tee until we cleared that area. Most of the timber was logged and sold, and the stumps, brush and debris were burned throughout the winter and spring. The north side was primarily pasture lands. This was mowed, sprayed and then tilled. Whenever possible, the land was left alone as far as shaping. Approximately 80 percent of the ground was not shaped. The other 20 percent we built; generally low-profile tees and greens, and excavated or shaped the land when needed to create playable golf corridors.

Contractor, Tony Russell and his crew did a great job of logically moving material from spot to spot with as little impact as possible. We found good sources of sand in five areas on the property to build our greens, and to cap the tees and fairways to create a playing surface that will play dry even in the wettest months. As the basic rough-shaping was completed section by section, we started building the actual features of the course. This is when we realized that Tony was magic in an excavator. As an operator he is incredible, but his artistic skills and eye of what a bunker can be is off the charts, at least to me. To some a bunker is just a nasty pit of sand, but a lot of thought goes into their placement, size, shape, depth and how that will effect each shot, hole and ultimately the entire course. He understands this and, most importantly, how the bunkers and the surrounds will drain.

Obviously, I am a very big Tony Russell fan (even though, technically, I haven't even seen him sing and dance on stage yet). I would simply flag the bunkers, provide Tony a description in about 20 seconds with a particular bunker and boom . . . there it was . . . usually better than I hoped. His crew works very hard and efficiently, and they really helped make this into the course it is. The dozer-shaper is Brian Felton from Tony's crew. Brian is very talented, incredibly fast, but his only fault is his inability to teach me how to shape with a dozer . . . and everyone there knows I tried. I'm sure somewhere there is a picture of him on the D-5 and me chasing him on a sand pro (which is considerably smaller than a D-5) eating his dust.

After the rough-shaping was completed on each hole, it was immediately torn up to put in drainage and irrigation, which can be a bit depressing. Everyone works hard to build a hole . . . then you rip it apart . . . sometime for a month or more . . . before you rebuild it and make it all pretty again. About this time is when the Bandon Crossings' maintenance staff jumps on with the finish work and grassing preparations and, finally, seeding. Brant Hathorn is the head superintendent, and has slowly grown his crew from one to about a dozen today. As the construction ends and the grass began to grow, bodies on mowers are needed. Brant and his crew have worked incredibly hard for a year through winter and now into summer, working out all the details of turning this raw piece of dirt and sand into the course you will soon be playing. Brant and crew have given me plenty of that "He's crazy" look, but always seemed to get done what I wanted or better.

It has been an incredible experience to build a course on such a fine piece of ground, in a golf crazy area of the country, for clients like the Smiths and with great personnel building it . . . what more can a guy ask for? I am very lucky as this is a dream that hopefully will live on and on. It has been so much fun to be able to create and have the artistic freedom that comes from the trust the Smiths have given me. I will truly miss this process as I have spent just under 200 days on-site. I have enjoyed it even when 3.75 inches of rain fell on November 7th (in 12 hours) and when 40 mile an hour winds blew sand and seed everywhere in September. I enjoyed it when we had snow on the ground in the winter and when two Q-tips weren't enough to get all the sand and dust out of my ear at the end of the day.

I would love to tell everyone what a great course Bandon Crossings is, but that would feel too much like self-promotion. I can't speak for everyone else on the project, but there is no way I can objectively look at the course, I am far too involved. I know I love it and so do the Smiths. We are all happy with the result. And I also know another thing for sure . . . this is definitely Milo's favorite course of all-time. He may be short, but he sure is smart.

There are still hundreds of things to do. But as we approach having an actual functioning, playing golf course in the next couple months it only needs one more thing . . . GOLFERS. I will miss the quiet evenings playing some of the holes with Milo walking along. My hope is that golfers will be smiling and have as much fun as me.

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