Golf Course Review: Kiawah Island, Ocean Course (SC)

Kiawah Island, Ocean Course Rankings:

Golf Digest: #3 US public, #1 South Carolina, #20 US top 100, #44 world
GolfWeek: #1 South Carolina, #8 resort, #15 US modern
Golf.com: #1 South Carolina, #6 US public, #50 world, #25 US top 100

Designer: Pete Dye (1991)

The Ocean course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort has always been a bucket list course for me. As most golf enthusiasts have, I’ve seen it on TV during Ryder Cup reruns, and of course during the more recent 2012 PGA Championship. I have also seen it perennially ranked as one of the top five public courses in the entire country.

I had heard all the stories about how brutally difficult the course is, how the winds will howl off the ocean at 40-plus miles per hour, and of course more than anything how spectacularly beautiful it is.

For me, the course lived up to its billing and more. The amenities at the Ocean course clubhouse were fantastic, especially the Ryder Cup Grille (maybe the best golf course bar and grille I’ve ever been to), the expansive clubhouse and well-appointed locker rooms, and the practice range.

Golfers from around the world visit Kiawah Island for this experience, of course, but what they visit it for most is to walk the same fairways that so many of the game’s legends have also walked… And to gauge their games against what they have seen played professionally.

The Ocean course is a walking-only track, although many players take carts along the perimeter of the holes. My new wife (we were in Kiawah Island celebrating our honeymoon), Kelly, joined me for the round and we took a cart and also had a forecaddie, Andy, who did a terrific job as would be expected for a professional looper who has caddied not only at Kiawah Island but also at Bandon Dunes, Streamsong and a number of other world-class golf resorts.

I was paired up with Jerry and Paul, who were celebrating Paul’s retirement with a well-deserved golf vacation. We had a lot of fun with these two. In fact, we were very fortunate during both of our rounds on Kiawah Island for getting great playing partners.

Jerry and Paul played from the Dye tees, which measure 6,475 yards and have a slope/rating of 134/72.0. The tips, noted as the Tournament tees on the scorecard, play from a staggering 7,356 yards with a slope/rating of 144/77.3, and is commonly considered to be one of the most challenging rounds of golf on the planet (a 77.3 course rating is astronomical).

It is not always the length that is so challenging about the Ocean course, although I’d imagine playing from almost 1,000 yards longer would add a considerable amount of stress to the tee shots.

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Like the Straits course at Whistling Straits, the Ocean course is intimidating off the tee but actually has quite wide and forgiving fairways. Choosing a line to hit at is a big decision on many holes, and the ever-present wind and long fescue that abounds means precision off the tee is at a premium.

I had my driver going pretty well at the Ocean course, as well as my putter. In fact, if it wasn’t for the second and third holes I would have put together a pretty good round.

The conditions were everything you’d expect from a course that charges over $350 per round: There was rarely a blade of grass out of place, and the greens ran beautifully with almost no visible imperfections. The fairways ran out nicely, too, which makes for a fun round when your driver is going straight-ish.

The greens are probably the hardest aspect of the Ocean course. Most are steeply elevated with dramatic run-offs to collection areas and deep green-side sand traps.

Unlike the 950-plus “bunkers” at Whistling Straits, all sand areas at the Ocean course are played as wasteland. This means that players are allowed to ground their clubs in them, and even take practice swings.

Among its multitude of awards, probably best shown here, the Ocean course at Kiawah Island is maybe best known for the amazing rounds of professional golf that have been played there.

Most recently, Rory McIlroy destroyed the field in the 2012 PGA Championship with a cumulative score of -13 including a final round 66, two 67’s and a +3 second round. To gain perspective, second place was England’s David Lynn eight strokes back at -5 and just 20 players in the field of 156 finished the tournament under par.

The most famous professional tournament in the Ocean course’s history, though, was when the US outlasted Europe in the 1991 Ryder Cup by a score of 14-1/2 to 13-1/2 on a missed putt from six feet on 18 by Bernhard Langer. The exuberance of the crowd and players, alike, and the howling conditions left an indelible mark on the golf world as what has historically been dubbed “The War by the Shore.”

The Ocean course starts out with a beautiful, short par four with a generous fairway. The approach carries a long fairway bunker that runs the right side of the second half of the hole, and the niceties of one of the course’s most subtle greens offers a generous handshake to start the round.

The second and third holes have risk/reward options off the tee: The further a player can drive the ball [with accuracy] toward the left side of laterally running fairways, the less distance will be left to the green.

I hit a nice drive on two to the fairway, then made up my mind to lay up with what I thought was a safe 5-iron over the creek that dissects the layup area. My shot carried a bit farther than expected and wound up behind a tree stump and was completely unplayable, leading to a triple-bogey and the first half of some terribly played golf holes.

The third is a very cool short par four! The fairway again runs right to left over a marshland, and the line to hit at is just right of the oak trees on the other side of the fairway. The further left the aim, the longer and more accurate the tee shot needs to be.

Although it sets up similarly to the second off the tee, this is a really short par four and the ultimate premium is placed on players’ approach shots.

By the way, this is the hole that Rory McIlroy’s tee shot got stuck in a tree on during the 2012 PGA Championship. This is likely not the first time you’ve seen this image…

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Rory McIlroy retrieving his tee ball from a tree on the third hole during the 2012 PGA Championship

A lone mound lies about 50 yards from the green on three, which is one of the smallest and most penalizing targets I’ve ever seen. This green is tiny from front to back, and with a right-side hole location was a sucker pin if I’d ever seen one.

The right play would have been left of the pin, but being 62 yards out and in the middle of the fairway I was feeling confident and hoping to get back one of the strokes I lost on two.

Tripling two was disappointing, but what happened on three was nuts: My perfectly drawn tee shot left me in position A. Even though Andy warned me that going at the pin would be tricky, I hit what I thought was a beautiful 60-degree wedge and nearly hit the flag. It then bounced off the green.

From no-man’s land, I was determined to hit a wedge on to the green… Four times. I also tried putting it up the steep slope once. I finally found the putting surface and two-putted, resulting in a crowd-pleasing five-over (what’s that even called!?) nine. Ouch!

The fourth is a long par four, playing just over 400 yards from the Dye tees and 453 from the tips. The hole is divided in two fairway areas with marshland separating them, and regardless of how well the tee shot is hit, will undoubtedly require a long and accurate approach shot in.

I did not amaze anyone on this hole, taking a double-bogey, but at least that was better than the eight-over I’d scored on the previous two holes (+10 on three holes, though? Wow, this is not your average golf course!).

The fifth is a tough par three over water with a long horizontal green that gets longer as it slants from the front-right to back-left.

This hole plays 207 from the tips, and is all carry with no room to miss long. The 10,000-plus square foot green allows plenty of room to bail out right, so club selection versus the wind is key while hitting the wrong side of the green complex will lead to a ridiculously long and challenging two-putt for par.

With a back-left pin and the wind blowing hard from that side, I was between clubs and decided to try hitting a drawn five-iron toward the middle of the green [in hopes it would hook left, which is never a given!]. It actually did, landed a couple feet from the hole and rolled to about five. It was a straight-forward birdie putt that I made. Phew, back on track.

Six is a tough driving hole, playing over a massive waste bunker and in to the wind during our round. A draw is the preferred tee shot, as anything hit long and right will find wasteland while anything hit short and left will find a deeper one.

The green on six is level to the fairway, and a bunker on the left side of the green is the only hazard to avoid on the approach.

The seventh is a short and score-able par five. With the wind still in our faces, the left-middle section of the fairway was our target as biting off too much of the elbow in the fairway was inviting disaster.

The fairway doglegs left to right at about 230-250 yards from the Dye tees, with deep fescue protecting the corner. The short grass then runs straight about 260 yards to a slightly elevated green with sand enveloping the right side.

I hit the ball hard off the tee, but it had some cut and we spent a few minutes trying to find it in the fescue. I hit a provisional and then heard Andy yelling to me to grab a club as my original tee shot was in the middle of the fairway well past the elbow.

I immediately went from hustling for a bogey to salvaging bird – this was becoming an interesting round!

A mid-length par three, the eighth demands accuracy. Sand abounds short, right and long of the target zone, and a mounded green means anything slightly off will kick off the hill and find sand.

There are a lot of contours on this green, so the most important shot here is the second to ensure par.

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Hole 8: Par 3 (197/170/166/151/105)

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An interesting scorecard following 8 holes on the Ocean Course

Nine is a crazy par four. At 464 yards from the tips and 406 from the Dye tees, the fairway runs right to left with sand owning the entire left side of the hole (this is “Cart path” for the Ocean course). The traps on the left elbow of the fairway need to be avoided, while the right side of the fairway funnels slightly toward the middle.

Distance off the tee is the key ingredient to nine, as the approach is bound to be long but at least a 5-iron in is easier than 3-wood!

Massive pot bunkers are found both left and right of the green complex, although the elevated putting surface has nothing guarding the front (mercifully).

Check out the awful leave Jerry had following his tee shot (picture with the ball on top of the slope):

The back nine starts out with a mid-range par four that runs left to right. The fairway falls slightly downhill with wasteland on the left, and a deep bunker looms in the back-right of the green.

The eleventh has one of the most visually intimidating sand traps on the entire Ocean course toward the right side of the fairway driving zone. Stay away from it, obviously, and set up the second shot well right in the shoulder that leaves 100-125 yards out from this highly elevated green.

Brutal pot bunkers guard the front of this par five’s putting complex, which is bean-shaped from front-left to back-right. There is nothing easy about this hole and course.

In to the wind, especially, the par four twelfth is a ridiculously challenging golf hole! While the fairway is one of the widest on the course, there is nowhere to miss on the approach shot.

Water runs the entire right side of the approach area, and tight sandy lies make up the left. The green is small-to-average sized, but all the water and sand make the approach shot quite stressful.

The thirteenth plays somewhat similarly to the twelfth in that water runs the entire right side of the hole. Where it differs is that the fairway is nowhere near as easy to hit off the tee…

Traps on the front-left and left portions of the green, and a putting surface that runs along the water make the approach shot incredibly important here.

I love the contouring Dye executed with the fairway bunkers on this hole – check out one of them below:

As you can tell by the flag on the following photos, the wind was howling off the Atlantic by the time we got to 14. Playing to 161 yards from the Dye tees (194 from the tips), this par three is similar to the eighth in that anything even slightly off will not hold the green and leave players scrambling for an up-and-down.

Also adding challenge to the 14th is the gorgeous view of the Atlantic Ocean beyond the green…

Fifteen is the first hole truly adjacent to the Atlantic on the Ocean course. The wind was roaring off the ocean, and with the sun starting to set the views back to the tee boxes were stunning.

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The tee shot, at least partially because of the right-to-left wind influence, was all systems go. The green, on the other hand, presented more of a challenge. Sand runways occupy the left side of the approach area, and the putting surface runs from front-right to back-left, slightly uphill and atop the waste area.

The final par five on the Ocean course, the sixteenth is a long 579 yards from the tips and 540 from the Dye tees we were playing. A pond has to be carried from the back tees, but should not come in to play.

A deep sand reservoir runs the right side of the hole’s layout starting at about 300 yards, and along with the wasteland on the left side of the final third of the hole makes for a narrow setup shot.

If in doubt, keep the approach shot right to avoid the green-side bunker short-left. I felt bad for Paul with the sand shot he had to deal with (shown below)… That one was next to impossible.

The seventeenth is a pretty famous golf hole. Teeing up away from the ocean, it is all carry over the pond and makes for a tight target area. With the hole cut on the left side, it is tempting to take on the green-side traps on that side, but probably the safest play is adding a club and aiming for the middle of the green.

We had a ton of wind at our back, making 170-ish yards more like 130. I hit 9-iron and barely carried the pond on the right side, leaving a 50-plus foot putt with the sun going down.

This is a gorgeous golf hole, and one that works well with the Ocean course’s world-class tournament pedigree: Feast or famine plays well with fans when championships are on the line!

The eighteenth is a challenging finishing hole at the Ocean course. The tee shot is visually intimidating with the Atlantic Ocean to the right and wastelands in play both on the left and right sides of the driving area.

The left side of the clubhouse can be targeted off the tee. Find the fairway and heed caution on the second shot to set up a chance for par. Short-left of the green complex is deep, deep wasteland with intermittent patches of fescue that if found will likely add a stroke or two to your score, so caution is the name of the game.

Playing 439 yards from the tips and 396 from the Dye tees, the eighteenth is a great, great golf hole to end your round on this fabulous Pete Dye course.

After the eighteenth, make sure to find your way to the Ryder Cup Grille out back of the pro shop. The RCG has fantastic food and drink specials, not to mention some of the most captivating views found anywhere.

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The Ocean Course clubhouse at night following our round at Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Our view of the flags from adirondack chairs on the patio at the Ocean course:

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Flags outside the Ryder Cup Grille at the Ocean Course

Specialty cocktails at the Ryder Cup Grille:

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Specialty cocktails menu from the Ryder Cup Grille at the Ocean Course

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My wife, Kelly, and me enjoying cocktails in adirondack chairs on the back patio of the Ocean Course clubhouse

My excitement to play the Ocean course at Kiawah Island was really high in the weeks leading up to our honeymoon, and that always worries me that the experience may not live up to my expectations.

It’s wonderful when a course with these high expectations pans out, and the Ocean course at Kiawah Island did. Between the pristine conditions, world-class service and some of Pete Dye’s most ingenious hole layouts, every hole on the Ocean course was fun, challenging and scenic.

“What would you compare the Ocean course to?” my friends asked when we got home to Wisconsin from our honeymoon.

It should come as no surprise that the nearest comparison for me is the Straits course at Whistling Straits. Both courses feature intimidating tee shots, wide fairways, a satisfying combination of large and small greens and a terrific variety of hole layouts.

Unlike the Straits course, there are no “Throw-away holes” at the Ocean course. The fifth at Whistling Straits is the one hole I’m referring to there. In my opinion, it does not fit the rest of the [otherwise spectacular] course and inserts an opportunity for a colossally high score that can ruin players’ rounds on a long par five where hitting driver off the tee can create a plethora of issues including lost balls. In contrast, there are zero of these contradictory holes on Dye’s Kiawah Island course, and I for one like that.

That said, both the Straits and Ocean courses are undoubtedly world-class and deserve each of their lofty state, national and world rankings.

Both courses are also stalwarts for fantastic golf destinations. The Straits course headlines the two Whistling Straits tracks (also including The Irish), the Meadow Valleys and River course at Blackwolf Run, Pine Hills Country Club (private) and The Bull at Pinehurst Farms, while Kiawah Island has terrific complementary courses including Fazio’s Osprey Point (soon to be reviewed) and River course (private), Gary Player’s Cougar Point, Jack Nicklaus’s Turtle Point, Clyde Johnston’s Oak Point, and Tom Watson’s Cassique (private).

Kelly and I spent an afternoon at Osprey Point and loved it, and from driving past the others for five days in a row we can’t wait to get back for Honeymoon 2.0 to see and review the rest.

Kiawah Island was a wonderful golf destination, and an awesome spot for the first five days of our honeymoon. The food and golf were fantastic, and there was so much to do including all the pools and beaches, an incredible spa, great shopping and seemingly endless options for dining and drinks.

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My wife, Kelly, and me enjoying our time at the Ocean course at Kiawah Island during our honeymoon

Kelly and I were fortunate throughout our wedding and honeymoon: It was supposed to rain all day for our outdoor wedding on September 24 at North Hills Country Club in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin – it never did and was perfectly comfortable; it was supposed to rain the entire time we were on our honeymoon in South Carolina – it rained for a couple of hours after we landed and we then had 80’s and nothing but sun until we left.

Within 36 hours of getting home to Wisconsin, both Kiawah Island and Charleston had been evacuated because of Hurricane Matthew. We never saw any of that weather system and hope everyone there is safe and unaffected.

We’re less than a month in to our marriage, but if we can keep getting this fortunate we sure won’t complain.

Pete Dye’s signature course at Kiawah Island is phenomenal. If you have the opportunity and finances to play it, play it. Splurge for a caddie or forecaddie, too, and make sure to ask for Andy. As far as true golf experiences go, there are few tracks I have played that can compete against the Ocean course at Kiawah Island.

Course Wrap-Up:

Location: Kiawah Island, SC
Yardage: Tournament-7356, Ocean-6779, Dye-6475, Kiawah-6202, Carolina-5327
Slope/Rating: Tournament-144/77.3, Ocean-138/73.6, Dye-134/72, Kiawah-132/70.9, Carolina-124/72.7
Par: 72
Weekend Rates: $374 + caddie and gratuity

Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Ocean Course Website

2015 Golf Season in Review

For the first couple of years I wrote my blog, I did a write-up at the end of each year to put the season in to words, and to commend the courses I felt were the best that year in multiple categories.

As my site has continued to grow, this has become less academic, especially since I joined a private club a few years back and am obviously playing a much smaller sample of different courses each season.

It doesn’t hurt to write a little review, though, especially for my own pleasure to look back at in the future at what was the golf season of 2015.

The winter of 2015 extended a little longer than normal, with most golf courses opening in early April. This was a couple weeks earlier than in 2014, but months behind some years. I am already praying that 2016 will see course openings back in the February timeline again… Fingers crossed.

With last night’s first snow of the Winter, I figure this is as good a time as any to wrap things up… Not that I won’t be out there if/when the weather warms up and the grounds are healthy enough to play!

Most of my rounds this year were played at my home course of North Hills Country Club, which under the tutelage of Randy DuPont was in exceptional shape again all year round. My season was a roller coaster of sorts, starting out with an index of 12.1 and getting down to 9.0, shooting consistently for a while in the low 80’s.

Then I became a bad nine, right around September first, shooting 87-89 and losing money in my Saturday games. In games where the total monetary payout ranges from $3-5, I actually lost $45 one day. Ouch.

That is enough about my game, though – what about the courses from 2015?

2015: Best Public Golf Course Played

1. Pacific Dunes (OR)

Rated the number two public course by Golf Digest, number two modern course by GolfWeek, and number one public course in the country by Golf.com, Pacific Dunes is coastal golf at its very best. Designed by Tom Doak and opened in 2001, Pacific Dunes blends perfectly rugged Bandon landscape with ingenious hole layouts and execution.

Pacific Dunes hole 4

Pacific Dunes hole 4

Pacific Dunes Website

2. Streamsong, Red Course (FL)

Just a few years old, the Red course at Streamsong has already amassed an incredible number of accolades, including the number 18 public course in the United States.

Continue reading

Golf Destination: Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (OR)

It is the Mecca of the American golf world, and the formula that has inspired remote golf destination resorts across the globe.

It is the brainchild of Chicago businessman Mike Keiser, and the home of our nation’s number two, seven, twelve and fourteenth rated public golf courses and three of Golf.com’s top 100 courses in the world.

It is the only natural habitat of St. Andrews-like gorse bushes in the country, and the most true-to-form Scottish golf experience in the United States… And it is so much more.

It is Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, and it has been a bucket list trip of mine for years until it was green-lit to coincide with a business trip out to Portland this past month.

To say I was excited to finally check out Bandon Dunes is an overwhelming understatement. During the months leading up to my trip I thought about it on a daily, no hourly basis, and prayed that the actual experience would live up to my lofty expectations.

I had a two queen bed standard room booked in the Lily Pond Cottages on-site, and my friend Greg figured he’d throw out the possibility of joining in on the fun as he had a free flight available and vacation days from work – an epic buddies’ golf trip came together well.

Greg flew in to Portland on Saturday night, and we left the busy city on Sunday morning. Trip advisers say to take the long route to Bandon from Portland for the scenery, but we were not about to add more time to our already four-plus hour drive and risk getting there without time enough to settle in before our afternoon round at the country’s number two rated public golf course, Pacific Dunes.

It was 106 degrees when my flight landed in Portland the Friday before, and upper 90’s when we left on Sunday morning. The closer we got to Bandon, and to the southwest Oregon coast, the more the temperature dropped, until finally we arrived in Bandon around one in the afternoon with temperatures in the upper fifties. We drove with the windows down, anyways, and were happy to breathe in the crisp ocean air.

For at least an hour, it felt like we were on the verge of pulling in to the resort. It took a bit longer than expected, but we made it to Bandon Dunes and had enough time to both check in to our room and get to the course at Pacific Dunes with enough time to grab a drink and play a quick eighteen on the Punchbowl.

The lodging at Bandon Dunes is famous for being “Spartan” – there is no need to have lavish amenities that will keep visitors in their rooms when the entire resort is built around bringing people together outside, as well as to the many restaurants and bars located throughout the sprawling property.

The beauty of Bandon Dunes is out of doors, and while the lodging is everything visitors need, it does not promote them staying inside rather than enjoying the beauty of the resort and its courses.

That being said, our room was perfect. My bed was extremely comfortable – I melted in to it each night and literally fell asleep in seconds. Our room was spacious, the TV worked great and there was even a fireplace in the corner. The high ceilings are great, as was the view from the back balcony and the bathroom and large tiled shower (kind of dorm room like, but I liked it).

Standard 2-bed room in the Lily Pond cottages at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort

Standard 2-bed room in the Lily Pond cottages at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort

Standard 2-bed room in the Lily Pond cottages at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort

Standard 2-bed room in the Lily Pond cottages at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort

Standard 2-bed room in the Lily Pond cottages at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort

Standard 2-bed room in the Lily Pond cottages at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort

I even spent fifteen minutes watching a beaver swimming around the lily pond outside the balcony during our first day there:

The lily pond from our balcony at the Lily Pond cottages at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort

The lily pond from our balcony at the Lily Pond cottages at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort

Pacific Dunes (Sunday afternoon, Monday afternoon):

Pacific Dunes is the quintessential coastal links golf course, with fast running fairways that tower over the beaches and Pacific Ocean below. The winds can be extreme on the Oregon coast, and players are told to come prepared with clothing for all possible weather conditions.

We both wore long pants for our first round of the trip, and regretted it for the most part as the light winds – “This is a one in a thousand day,” we were told – and abundance of sunshine for the majority of our round would have kept us plenty warm and comfortable in shorts.

Sun and light winds on the 11th hole of our first round at Pacific Dunes

Sun and light winds on the 10th hole of our first round at Pacific Dunes

While the weather never turned bad on us during our stay, we did encounter something very characteristic to the Bandon Dunes golf complex during this round: Fog.

When the fog drifts in off the ocean from the north, it literally engulfs the courses. It crept in like a living entity during our back nine at Pacific Dunes, and eventually left us with an eerie environment where visibility left us virtually no landmarks to aim shots towards.

Hole 3: Par 5 (499/476/476/309/452)

Fog starting to roll in over the par four 13th at Pacific Dunes

“Hit over this divot with a draw,” our caddie Charlie would tell us. “Sure, I don’t see what else I’m going to aim at so I might as well aim three feet in front of my ball.”

“This is like bowling,” Greg said, “Just aim over a certain plank and trust it’ll end up in the right place.”

It was so foggy toward the end of our first round on Pacific Dunes that we could only tell when the seventeenth hole’s green was vacated because of the ghost-like outline of their caddies’ white outfits:

Hole 17: Par 3 (208/189/164/118/128)

Dense fog on the seventeenth hole of the same round at Pacific Dunes – zoom in and notice the outline of the group before ours’ caddie uniforms

“Blind tee shot” on the par five 18th at Pacific Dunes

WiscoGolfAddict golf course review of Pacific Dunes

Following a long day of travel and a walk of more than eight miles around Pacific Dunes, we were both exhausted on Sunday night but were motivated to experience as much as possible at Bandon Dunes.

Pacific Dunes’ clubhouse is home to the Pacific Grill, which is the resort’s fresh seafood and steaks restaurant. Without a reservation, we were not able to get a table so instead enjoyed a drink and perhaps the most magnificent sunset I have ever seen before heading back to the Lily Pond cottages:

Sunset over the Punch Bowl and Pacific Dunes GC outside the Pacific Grill at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort

Sunset over the Punch Bowl and Pacific Dunes GC outside the Pacific Grill at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort

Hunger had set in, and we called a free shuttle to bring us to McKee’s Pub, located just outside of the Bandon Dunes clubhouse and main lodge.

Famished, we started with a pepperoni pizza (Greg was ticked about that – I am an incredibly boring eater and there were certainly more interesting pizzas on the menu), which was served quickly while we waited for our main entrees. I got the cod fish fry, and Greg got Uncle Larry’s Burger, which consists of ground wagyu beef, bacon, grilled tomato, provolone, onion rings and fried egg.

Cod fish fry, fries and pizza at McKee's Pub

Cod fish fry, fries and pizza at McKee’s Pub

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Greg’s “Uncle Larry’s Burger” at McKee’s Pub – served with a side of fruit because he’s obviously very health-conscious

McKee’s hit the spot, and was reasonably priced. They also have an excellent selection of whiskeys, bourbons and scotches, which we would find to be a trend around the property.

McKee’s Pub Website

After dinner, we made our way next door to the Bunker Bar, located in the main lodge at Bandon Dunes. The Bunker Bar is a cigar-friendly pub in the basement with a hardcore ventilation system that makes it seem like it’s not. A free pool table is in the back of the room, and I took the opportunity to chat with some people from the East Coast about their trip while trying to “Hustle” them in games of 3-ball. Only problem is that I haven’t played in years, and lost every game. Gonna have to work on that.

The Bunker Bar also has card tables, a great bar with high-end booze, a ton of televisions, and small lounge areas for enjoying a Bandon Dunes branded cigar (or others) and a drink. I give this spot an easy A for ambiance and entertainment.

The Bunker Bar Website

Earlier than expected, it was time to try getting caught up on sleep before Monday morning’s 7:40 round at Bandon Dunes.

Bandon Dunes (Monday morning):

Our second round of the trip was on Monday morning at Bandon Dunes. The charter course for the resort was opened in 1999 to rave reviews, and the success of David McLay Kidd’s destination track led to the future openings of the rest of the courses and amenities onsite.

McLay Kidd’s track features some of the most exciting real estate on the entire property, both on the coast and inland including one of the world’s most acclaimed golf holes: The par four fourth, as well as the spectacular stretch from fifteen to seventeen.

The sixteenth on Bandon Dunes may be the most beautiful golf hole I have ever seen, as a drivable par four along the cliffs as shown below:

Hole 16: Par 4 (363/345/301/210/250)

Hole 16: Par 4 (363/345/301/210/250)

Coming back inland, the par four seventeenth manages to somehow be just as scenic:

Hole 17: Par 4 (389/375/329/244/324)

Hole 17: Par 4 (389/375/329/244/324)

WiscoGolfAddict golf course review of Bandon Dunes

We made reservations for the Pacific Grill on Monday night, which was probably my favorite meal of the entire trip.

White sturgeon entree at the Pacific Grill at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort

My white sturgeon entree at the Pacific Grill at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort

Greg's meal at the Pacific Grill at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort

Greg’s meal at the Pacific Grill at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort

Pacific Grill Website

The Punchbowl (Monday afternoon):

Bandon Dunes is home to one of the most unique golfing experiences in North America: The Punchbowl. The Punchbowl is a 2.3-acre, 100,000 square foot putting surface set up differently on a daily basis.

Designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina, the “Course” features 18 white holes and 18 red holes. Each “Teeing area” has a tandem drink holder, and there are scorecards to promote competition.

Waitresses keep a keen eye on the Punchbowl area, and will bring drinks out to the course for players to enjoy. My favorite hole of the day during our round on the white course was a simple five-footer. Located on a plateau that had maybe six inches of level space on it, it was do or die. Greg and I were tied at the time, and he drained his first putt. Mine slipped by the left side, fell off the hill and rolled about 40 feet away. My next two tries did not get to the top of the hill, but my fourth went straight in.

Game. Set. Match.

The Punchbowl is a free amenity at Bandon Dunes, and for sure one not to be missed!

Panoramic view of the Punchbowl, and out over Pacific Dunes to the ocean

Panoramic view of the Punchbowl, and out over Pacific Dunes to the ocean

Old Macdonald (Tuesday morning):

When Doak and Urbina were awarded the bid for the Old Macdonald course design, the question was: “What would Charles Blair Macdonald have designed if he had this glorious Oregon canvas to work with?”

Similarly to the National Golf Links of America in Southampton, New York, Old Macdonald was developed as an homage to the greatest golf designs of probably the most legendary golf course design team in the history of the world: CB Macdonald and Seth Raynor.

While there are no true replica holes, a majority of them are based on the greatest features of some of Europe’s best golf courses. There is the “Road Hole,” for example, from St. Andrews Golf Links, “Sahara” (Royal St. Georges), “Hell Bunker” (St. Andrews) protecting the fairway on the sixth, a beautiful “Principle’s Nose” bunker fronting the first hole green, the “Strath Bunker” on the second/”Eden” hole, “Alps” (Prestwick), and of course fantastic redan, biarritz and punch bowl greens.

For having the largest average green complexes in the world, the putting surfaces at Old Macdonald are some of the hardest to hit! Huge swales, contours, false fronts and depressed collection areas, and of course intense winds make precision on approach shots key, and these greens that average nearly 15,000 square feet each are no virgin to three-, four- and more-putts.

Hole 6:

Hole 6: “Long” (Par 5, 555/520/467/354/401)

WiscoGolfAddict golf course review of Old Macdonald

Bandon Trails (Tuesday afternoon):

The final round of our trip was played at Bandon Trails. Inland from the Pacific Ocean, Bandon Trails is the perfect complement to the coastal and links courses onsite, and a terrific way to find a little shelter from the harsh coastal winds that gush across the property.

Our morning round at Old Macdonald was played in extreme winds, and they only picked up as the day wore on. Our scheduling was perfect, as the mature forests that surround the Trails made playing this mature, eight year old gem a pleasure without gale force winds.

When asking fellow golf writers about their “Rankings” of the four championship courses at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Bandon Trails collected the most number ones, by far. It is easy to see why, too: It is what it is… Flawlessly.

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw designed this course to provide a world-class inland golf experience, and delivered it exceptionally.

Bandon Trails stands in stark contrast to the coastal links courses at Bandon Dunes, and stands alongside them in quality and playability.

Hole 5: Par 3 (133/124/114/104/104)

Hole 5: Par 3 (133/124/114/104/104)

WiscoGolfAddict golf course review of Bandon Trails

Following our round at Bandon Trails on Tuesday afternoon, we had one more piece of property at the resort to check out: It’s world-class par three course, Bandon Preserve.

Bandon Preserve uses some of the most prime real estate on the entire property in a 13-hole executive layout like nothing I’d ever seen before.

Coore/Crenshaw designed this course that opened in 2012 to have massive greens, and to provide a variety of one-shot challenges for settling bets and enjoying a leisurely walk with just a few clubs in hand. The views are breathtaking, and the quality of the golf on Bandon Preserve is wonderful.

This par three course has probably the best conditioned putting surfaces on the property, as I assume they are used less than the others and are well within ten years of the time they were laid down.

As Bandon Dunes’ Director of Communications, Michael Chupka, told us over lunch, at around ten years fescue greens start becoming more and more susceptible to attack by the poa annua that thrives so well in this type of coastal environment.

Evidence of this war against poa annua infestation can be seen a little on the other courses, and the staff works hard to stave it off and keep the wonderful fine fescue conditions that Bandon Dunes is so well known for.

The greens on Bandon Preserve roll magnificently, and the sand blowouts and visual lines were developed with great care.

The Preserve also plays a significant roll in the local economy and environment, as all of the course’s profits go to the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance to support conservation, the community and economy of the southern Oregon Coast.

I will admit that I expected the par three holes on the Preserve to be a little more varied in length – specifically, I was expecting there to be 175-225 yard holes. While this parcel of land does not allow for that kind of length, players can tee off from virtually anywhere (sans the greens, themselves), and can therefore make holes as short or long as they desire.

Bandon Preserve Hole 1

Bandon Preserve Hole 1

Bandon Preserve Hole 2

Bandon Preserve Hole 2

Bandon Preserve Hole 2

Bandon Preserve Hole 2

Bandon Preserve Hole 3

Bandon Preserve Hole 3

Bandon Preserve Hole 4

Bandon Preserve Hole 4

Bandon Preserve Hole 5

Bandon Preserve Hole 5

Bandon Preserve Hole 5

Bandon Preserve Hole 5

Bandon Preserve Hole 6

Bandon Preserve Hole 6

Bandon Preserve Hole 7

Bandon Preserve Hole 7

Bandon Preserve Hole 8

Bandon Preserve Hole 8

Bandon Preserve Hole 9

Bandon Preserve Hole 9

Bandon Preserve Hole 9

Bandon Preserve Hole 9

Bandon Preserve Hole 10

Bandon Preserve Hole 10

Bandon Preserve Hole 10

Bandon Preserve Hole 10

Bandon Preserve Hole 10

Bandon Preserve Hole 10

Bandon Preserve Hole 11

Bandon Preserve Hole 11

Bandon Preserve Hole 12

Bandon Preserve Hole 12

Bandon Preserve Hole 12

Bandon Preserve Hole 12

Bandon Preserve Hole 13

Bandon Preserve Hole 13

As a side note, make sure to get to each course a little early to check out the pro shops. All pro shops have different clothing manufacturers, so while one course will carry Adidas and Peter Millar, another will carry Ashworth and Nike, another Cutter & Buck and Oakley, etc. The logoed merchandise at all of them is great.

Golf enthusiasts the world over know Bandon Dunes as “The remote golf destination that is tough to get to but well worth the travel.” While that is true, significant measures have been taken recently to start cutting down on travel time, and in particular the amount of driving necessary after flying in.

United Airlines now offers direct flights from Denver International Airport to nearby Southwest Oregon Regional Airport (OTH in North Bend), which is just an easy 30-minute shuttle to the Bandon Dunes complex.

This new flight service (started in July, 2015) operates on Sundays and Wednesdays between July 1 and October 18, with arrival times in North Bend that allow for same-day golfing.

Bandon Dunes: Getting Here

Along with world-class golf, the customer service at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort is tremendous. Every single person I spoke with onsite was a golfer, from the caddies to the bartenders, waitresses and shuttle drivers.

“What do you like best about working at Bandon Dunes?” I would ask them. “I get to play as much free golf as I want,” was a consistent answer, and also that Mike Keiser is a tremendous person to work for.

Unassuming and kind, he is well known to show up at the resort and sit at a table in one of the many restaurants while reading the paper and chatting with anyone who engages him. That’s a great kind of boss to work for, and I am sure a key element that has played in to the success of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and the happiness of his employees there.

A trip to Bandon Dunes is not cheap, as I am sure all golf enthusiasts already know, but it is a true bucket list golfing destination that does not disappoint.

One more present for you all: A surprise video journal of sorts that showed up on my computer when I got home and loaded everything to my laptop from my camera’s memory cards – this hodge podge of photos/videos works nicely to walk viewers through the Bandon experience:

Bandon Dunes Golf Resort Experience: A Video Journal

Bandon Dunes Golf Resort Website