I flew into Portland Oregon on Monday morning and made a leisurely five hour drive through the beautiful Willamette Valley to the Oregon coast. I arrived at Bandon during the late afternoon. I thought about getting nine holes of golf in, but decided against it. I have five rounds of golf planned for the next three days. That should be more than effort. I decided instead to go to the practice facility at Bandon and work on hitting shots into the wind. It was unseasonable warm in Oregon and Washington State. Temperatures along the coast were expected to reach the 90’s. While that may be a cool July night in Houston or Atlanta, it was balmy for the Oregon Coast. They were not used to nor prepared for temperatures this high. There was no air conditioning in the rooms on property at the Bandon Golf Resort.
Following my session at the practice range, I returned to my lodge and had dinner on the veranda while watching the final groups of the day finish their rounds on the 18th hole.
I awoke early on Tuesday morning and prepared myself for the 36 holes of golf that awaited me on this more than warm summer day along the Oregon Coast. My first tee time was scheduled for Bandon Dunes at 8:20 a.m. I took the shuttle over to the practice facility to warm up and then back to the Lodge. The starter’s hut was just a few steps away from my Lodge. I met Bobby, the starter and he introduced me to Ronnie, Chad, and Jay. They were the threesome that I would be joining for my morning round. Three strangers, so I thought. I will share more on that later. They had all worked in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but only Ronnie was still living in Baton Rouge. Jay lived in Shanghai and Chad now lived in Charlotte, North Carolina. I told them that I had lived and worked in Baton Rouge during the late 90’s.
By the time we had completed our introductions, my caddie Thomas arrived; all 5 ft. 6 inches of him. He looked almost exactly like one of my 15-year-old son’s friends who was also named Thomas. I told him that I knew his doppelganger. Thomas was scheduled to caddie for all four of my rounds at the Bandon Golf Resort. He was a freshman at the University of Oregon. He was a caddie who had never played golf. He told me that he had no interest in playing golf, but became a caddie to qualify for the Chick Evans Scholarship.
I was not familiar with Chick Evans nor the Chick Evans Scholarship. He told me that he didn’t have all the history on Chick Evans, but the scholarship was only available to caddies who must also have strong academic records. He had applied and was successful at getting the scholarship. This immediately endeared to me Thomas. I felt like I already knew him because he looked so much like my son’s friend, but now I was impressed by how he set a goal for himself and took the necessary actions to achieve it. Thomas had a strong interest in how business worked and how executives for companies were compensated. We spent much of our time on the four loops walked on the courses at Bandon Dunes, talking about those two topics. Not only did I have the opportunity to fulfill my passion of playing golf at Bandon Dunes, I had the opportunity to fulfill my other passion of mentoring.
Our tee time had arrived. We chose to play from the green tees. The green tees played just over 6200 yards. This was probably the shortest distance I’d played so far on my one year quest to play the top 100 courses in the United States as rated by Golf Digest. The slope was also relatively low at 71.4. The course rating was under par at 71.4.
It was a cool breezy morning. The sixteenth course of my Top 100 Tour, started under a blue sky like all but one of the previous fifteen. Bandon Dunes opens with an easy 350 yard par four. The fairway bends slightly to the left and then back to the right. There is one lone bunker along the left side of the fairway and one off the right side of the fairway. I hit a good first drive off the tee, but the ball ran through the fairway into the left rough just past the bunker on the left side of the fairway, 130 yards from the flag. I hit my approach shot to the front of the green, but it rolled back down the slope and off the green. I chipped on to 10 feet, missed the par putt by a mere inch. Thomas, the smart but non-golfing caddie passed his first test. He made the perfect read on the putt. I on the other hand had failed mine by hitting the putt one ball further to the right than I intended. I opened my round on this easy hole with a bogey rather than a par.
I missed the green with my tee shot on the 155 yard par three second hole. I pitched on, but rolled by par putt six feet by the hole. With Thomas making another excellent read, I sank my next putt to save bogey.
My first par on the round came on the almost 500 yard par five third hole. The hole has a narrow fairway, but no fairway bunker; just a lot of trouble in the form of native grass down the left and right sides of the fairway. I avoided all that trouble by hitting my drive about 260 yards and into the fairway. I hit my second shot just short of the green and then did something that I’ve only done a few times during a round of golf. I putted from off the green using my 5 hybrids. This was a shot that I practiced the day before after practicing low shots into the wind.
I didn’t do too well on my attempt at making that practice pay off. I left my putt short of the pin by 18 feet and two putted for par.
The fourth hole, a very beautiful and scenic hole, plays toward the Pacific Ocean. It plays 370 yards, but the fairway narrows significantly at about 250 yards from the tee box. Thomas recommended that I hit my three wood to avoid hitting past the wide part of the fairway and to stay short of the fairway bunker. Another good call by Thomas. My tee shot stopped 10 yards short of the bunker, leaving 155 yards to the pin.
The view of the approach shot to the fourth green with the Pacific Ocean as the backdrop was breathtakingly beautiful. The pin was tucked behind a left front bunker. A shot hit too short could end up in the bunker and a shot hit too long could end up in the ocean. I chose to take my chances with the bunker and hit one less club than normal while taking dead aim at the flag. My shot ended up short of the bunker.
As Ronnie and I walked down the fairway, he asked me if I’d ever had any association with LSU. I told him that I worked with the Minority Engineering Program(MEP) Director on an Advisory Board for Region V of the National Society of Black Engineers(NSBE). I told him that I also once helped with a Regional Conference for NSBE that was held at LSU. He remembered that Conference and told me that he and I had been introduced by the MEP Director during that Conference. Now here we were 20 years later, walking the fairways together at Bandon Dunes. So in reality only two the the other golfers were complete strangers.
To have any chance at par, I needed to pitch over the bunker rather than hitting safely to the right and onto the green. This was have left a long putt for par. I again decided to go toward the pin. I hit the perfect pitch shot which cleared the bunker and rolled to 2 feet past the hole. I made the easy putt for my second par in a row, while taking in the beauty of the picture-perfect scenery.
The fifth hole is the number one handicap hole on the course. From the green tees, it’s a 400 yard par four. There is virtually no first cut of rough, so any ball missing the fairway spells trouble. The first 200 or so yards of the fairway have some width, the not all of it is usable. There is a bunker and some native grass in the middle of the fairway at about 200 yards out. The last 150 yards of the fairway might just be the narrowest in golf.
I hit a short drive to the right side of the fairway, leaving 220 yards to the green. I then hit my second shot into the native grass to the right of the green. We couldn’t find my ball, so consistent with the local rules printed on the scorecard, I took a drop, pitched over the long bunker on the right side of the green and two putted for a double bogey.
I bogey the par 3 sixth hole after missing the green to the right, pitching on and two putting. The hole is the first one that plays along the ocean. The ocean runs along the left side of the hole. I was certain that it wasn’t in play for me. The hole plays fairly easy with a very short carry over the native grass, a generous short grass area in front of the green and a long green. There is just one small bunker on the left front corner of the green.
I made par with my second ball on the 7th hole after losing my first ball with a drive to the gorse. In golf that is called a double bogey, so that’s what went onto my scorecard. The fairway on the 7th hole is very generous. I just never reached it on my first drive. On the second ball, I almost saved bogey when I hit my approach shot to 8 feet, but I missed the putt. The most interesting thing about the seventh hole is that the green, while virtually level with the fairway, has an extreme drop on the right side.
Chad hit a ball that was about a foot short of the green. He found himself down in the low area hitting an extremely high pitch shot back to the green.
The eight hole is a short par 4 with a fairway that widens at about 220 yards from the green tees. I hit my drive long enough, but still missed the fairway to the right. I bogeyed the hole with a one putt after leaving both my approach shot and then pitch shot, short of the green.
The front nine on the Bandon Dunes course closes with an interesting par five that plays about 520 yards. The fairway seems wide but actually divides into two fairways with rough in between at about 240 yards from the tee. The fairways recombine into a narrow strip at about 110 yards from the middle of the green.
I hit my drive to the right rough, but had a good lie, so I hit my driver out of the rough to 105 yards out from the flag. My approach shot landed on the green to the left of the flag and then rolled off the back of the green. I chipped on to 8 feet and made the straight putt to close the front nine with a par and a score of 45.
I thought that keeping my score at 45 left me with a good chance to break 90 on my first of the Bandon Courses. I figured, that I was well rested and would tired on the back nine, which would allow me to maintain my focus and strike the ball well. All of that was true, but unfortunately, I got off to a terrible start on the back nine due primarily to some bad breaks.
Both the 10th and 11th holes are short par fours. The tenth hole is very similar to the eight hole in that a drive with a carry of slightly more than 200 yards, puts you in a generous fairway. I hit a good drive to that generous fairway, leaving me just 90 yards to the flag. My approach shot flew the green. There are several trees behind the green. My ball came to rest against one of the trees. The most I could advance the ball was five feet. I chipped on and missed my bogey putt resulting in a double bogey on a hole where I made two good swings.
On the 11th hole, I topped my drive into the gorse, re-teed and hit my third shot into the fairway. I put my fourth shot on the green and two putted for a double bogey. This was the second hole during the round that I made a par with my second ball. That is four strokes that could have easily been eliminated from my score had I hit my first ball as well as my second ball. I’ve said it many times before, but I’m eventually going to convince that second golfer in my line up to become the first golfer in my line up.
The Par 3 twelfth holes returned us to the ocean. The hole plays down hill to a green that appears to drop off into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. This gets into your head. You definitely don’t want to hit your ball long. My tee shot looked very good in the air. The ball landed on the front of the green, made one hop and then spun back off the front of the green.
I putted back onto the green and one putted for a par.
The 13th hole is the longest of the par fives. I hit a very nice drive to the fairway.
I then hit what I thought was an excellent second shot layup that would leave me with 120 yards to the pin. My ball drifted slightly left. At that point Thomas said that my ball might be in the hazard. To which I replied, what hazard. Up to this point I had not seen a single hazard on the entire course, with the exception of the Pacific Ocean. Yes, as fate would have it, I hit a good shot that ended up in a bad place – the only true hazard on the entire course. I took a drop, then missed the green on my fourth shot. By now I had lost interest in the hole. I chipped across the green on my fifth shot, chipped on and made a triple bogey after two putts on a hole that could have been an easy par if the second shot had landed 5 yards to the right.
I had my work cut out for me now. After four holes on the back nine, I had two double bogeys and a triple bogey.
The short 330 yard fourteenth hole can be an easy hole with a sensible drive of 210 yards or more. This gets you past the narrow part of the fairway and the bunkers and leaves a short approach shot of 130 yards or less. I decided to be sensible and leave the driver in the bag. I hit my three wood to the fairway leaving 125 yards to the hole. I hit my approach shot into a strong wind, just short of the green. I chipped on, then left my par putt one revolution from the cup. Another par finds a way to allude me.
The fifteenth hole measures165 yards on the ground, but was playing 210 yards into that very strong wind that we were facing while still playing along the ocean. I bogeyed the hole after missing my tee shot to the right, pitching on and two putting.
The sixteenth hole is another short par 4. It snakes it way through the native vegetation and the rough terrain. It is an intimidating hole from the tee box and a very unforgiving hole if you miss the fairway. With such a short hole and such dangers looming off the fairway, I chose to hit a 3 hybrid off the tee. I caught the ball solidly. It hit in the fairway and rolled to just 65 yards out. It was the best 3 hybrid I’d ever hit. It had carried 220 yards and then rolled another 60 yards.
I pitched on and two putted for par.
The seventeenth hole is a is a 380 yard par four. The fairway narrows at about 250 yards from the tee box. This makes it important to hit your drive to the left side of the fairway because the right side turns into a waste area at that point. Unfortunately, my drive faded to the right and went into the bunker on the right side of the fairway. I now needed to carry the waste area.
My shot from the sand fell short of the green and bounced back into the waste area. I dropped, chipped on and two putted for a double bogey.
Bandon Dunes finishes with a par 5; a difficult par 5. I hit my drive down the left side of the fairway, it faded slightly and landed in the middle of the fairway. My second shot sliced into the hazard on the right side of fairway. I took a drop, hit on to the green with my fourth shot, and two putted for a round ending bogey. I think I hit better shots on the back nine that I did on the front nine, but I hit those good shots to some bad places. As a result, I scored a 48 on the back nine and a 93 for the full round. I was disappointed in my performance. I played well at both courses at Baltusrol and at Laurel Valley, but could not manage the course dynamics at Bandon Dunes well enough to avoid the occasional loose shot. I now had a little over an hour to regroup before I faced Pacific Dunes, my second course at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.
I bid farewell to my morning golf group and headed to get a quick bite to eat before heading to play Pacific Dunes.