A new day and another 36 holes of golf. Up first was Bandon Trails. After playing the two courses along the ocean, it was now time to play a course that was carved through the wilderness just inland from the Oregon coast. The wind was lighter and there was a slight layer of fog as we approached the first tee box. My playing companions for my first round of the day were Roy, Tom, and Mark from Mueller Industries. Roy and his team were on a company outing as a reward for having the top sales in the copper tubing division. We were joined by my caddie Thomas, and two other caddies for Roy's team, Remy and Michael.
The green tees on the Bandon Trails course at 6250 yards, were of similar distance to those on the other two courses. However, the slope and rating were slightly lower at 129 and 71.1. Standing on the first tee, Bandon Trails doesn’t look much different than the Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes courses. There is a wide open and very undulated fairway lined with fescue covered dunes. The only immediate difference are the trees forming the wilderness in the distance.
My drive on the first hole landed in the right rough. I hit my approach shot onto the hill just short of the front right portion of the green. I pitched on to the green and two putted for a bogey to unceremoniously open my round on my third course at the Bandon Dunes resort.
Standing on the tee box of the second hole is the first sign that you are playing a different course from the two courses along the ocean. The wilderness and all its beauty now comes into full view. There are mountains in the distance and no signs that you are near the ocean. The sounds of nature are echoing in the background. There is a serene sense of calmness.
The hole is a par three that measures 170 yards, but plays downhill. I hit a 7 iron with a very low trajectory. I got lucky when my ball hit a mound just left of the front of the green, and then kicked onto the green. My luck was short lived as my putting woes from the previous day continued. I three putted from 30 feet to make bogey on the hole.
The third hole is a par five with a wide-open fairway. It plays 532 yards. There are bunkers down the middle of the fairway from the start of the fairway to just short of the green. I hit my drive 220 yards to the right side of the fairway. My second shot landed in the fairway, 90 yards from a back right pin position.
My third shot was not struck as well as my first two shots on this hole. I hit my lob wedge a little thin and turned it into a sand wedge. The ball flew long and into the bunker behind the green. A smarter shot may have been a three-quarters swing with a sand wedge, but I had envisioned a shot with a lob wedge that landed short of the pin, made one hop and came to rest within a couple feet of the hole. This was not to be. I was now faced with a sand shot with very little green to work with.
On my first sand shot I tried to pop the ball up so that it wouldn’t rolled much past the hole. I hit it too short and it kicked back into the bunker. On my second shot I just blasted it out to ensure I got on the green. I then completed my magic trick of turning a potential easy par into a double bogey by two putting. This was to be my only double bogey on the front nine. It takes skill and concentrate to strike a golf ball well. It takes discipline and good golf course management to score well. While I’ve worked much on the former, I think I need to work much more on the later.
The fourth hole is short but challenging. It plays just 365 yards. There is a ridge running through the fairway that must be carried to be able to see the green on your approach shot. This affects your club selection. With the fairway being as wide as it was, I chose to hit a driver to ensure I carried the ridge. It was a good choice and much better course management than I had displayed on the previous hole.
My ball landed on the left side of the fairway above the ridge with only 90 yards to a front left pin position. I attempted to go directly at the flag on my approach shot and missed slightly left with my ball kicking into the bunker. The safer shot would have been to the right of the flag. I hit out of the bunker to six feet of the hole, but missed my par putt and settled for another bogey on a hole where I was only 90 yards from the flag for my approach shot.
The 5th hole is a short par three. It plays a mere 125, but there are two deep bunkers on the front of the green that immediately get your attention. There is another large bunker on the right side of the green. I aimed left with my tee shot. My ball hit just off the left edge of the green, but seemed like an ocean way with the waves of undulation between it and the flag. There was no direct line to the hole. I made my second three putt on a par three for another bogey. Five holes into my round, I felt that I could have been even par with just a slight bit of better thinking and putting.
I continued to find the fairway with my drives. On the sixth hole which measured only 360 yards, I again felt comfortable hitting a driver on a short hole because there was a generous fairway. The fairway is very wide in the landing zone. There are a couple of bunkers in the middle of the fairway, but I avoided them on my drive which stopped 125 yards from the middle of the green.
I attempted to play it safe and hit my approach shot to the right side of the flag, but I pulled the ball into the left green side bunker. I hit out of the bunker to 18 feet. Thomas and I misread the par putt and I made another bogey.
The seventh hole is listed as the 7th handicapped hole on the course, making it supposedly the fourth hardest hole on the front nine. Standing on the tee box it looks like the hardest hole on the front nine. The fairway is the least generous. There is a bunker that runs along the right side of the fairway to about 140 yards from the green and another one that runs along the left side of the fairway starting at about where the one on the right ends. I didn’t want any part of the right side of the fairway and I knew that I couldn’t reach the bunker on the left side of the fairway. I hit my drive to the left side of the fairway, short of the bunker, 140 yards from the middle of the green. I left my first putt six feet short of the hole, but finally made a par putt when I sank the six-footer.
The 8th hole is the shortest par four on the course. It plays only 300 yards from the green tees. I chose to hit a 3 hybrid off the tee. I pulled my tee shot and the ball landed in the left rough, 80 yards from the flag. My approach short landed short and rolled down the hill on the left side of the green. I pitched on and two putted for a bogey.
The front nine closes with a 520 yard par five. The fairway is not as narrow as the seventh fairway, but it is also not as generous as the other fairways on the front nine. There are bunkers along the fairway, but they aren’t in play on a drive from the green tees, but a couple of them do come into play on the second shot.
I hit a pop up on my drive that seemed to travel farther vertically than horizontally. With 350 yards remaining to the green, I decided to hit my driver off the deck for my second shot. I hit a worm burner that ran only 170 yards.
I made up for hitting my second shot thin, by hitting my third shot fat. The ball landed 20 yards short of the green. I then made a good pitch, but the ball took an unexpected left turn, leaving an 8 foot putt. I made my putt and finished the front nine with a par and a score of 44. My putting on the front nine was horrendous. I took 19 strokes with the flat stick. I really need to spend some time on the practice green.
The back 9 starts with a 390 yard par four that has a generous fairway and not much trouble on the right. That changes near the green where there is a long and wide bunker on the right. I hit my drive to the right side of the fairway. I tried to fade my approach shot to the green to avoid that big bunker on the right. The ball just hung out to the left and landed left of the green, but in the short grass.
For the second time during my rounds on a course at Bandon, I putted using my 5 hybrid. I didn’t fair any better than I did the first time I tried it. I left my ball 15 feet short of the hole and two putted for a bogey.
The eleventh hole, at 430 yards, is the longest par four on the course and the only hole where water comes into the play. It appears best to stay to the left on the hole, all the trouble is on the right. The water is on the right and there are bunkers on the right. The only trouble on the left is the bunker on the left front of the green.
I hit my drive to the middle of the fairway, 175 yards from the middle of the green. I thinned my approach shot which never got more than a foot off the ground. I hope worms are not a protected species if Oregon because if so, I broke the law that shot as I’m certain that some worms lost their lives as my ball made its way to the green. I left my first put short and then made a six foot putt for par.
The 12th hole is rated as the easiest hole on the course. It is a 235 yard par three. There is a bunker to the left of the green and one on the back of the green. Other than that, there is no protection on this hole. There is no water, there is no carry over native vegetation, there are no ravines. It is just "mano y mano". Can you hit the ball 235 yards to the green.
My tee shot landed short. I chipped on and my ball rolled to the back of the green. I missed my 10 foot par putt and then missed the comeback putt for bogey. On this, the easiest hole on the course where the only defense on the hole is its length, I walked away licking my wounds with a double bogey.
On this beautiful course carved through the Oregon wilderness, I had hit more fairways than I missed. On the 13th hole with the most generous of all the fairways, I missed to the right near where the fairway bends left toward the green.
This left trees between me and the green. Thomas advised that I chip out to the fairway. I on the other hand caught a glimmer of the flag through a slight opening in the trees. I visualized a shot in my mind where the ball missed the trees to the left and right of the opening and went over one branch and under the other. I looked at Thomas and told him that I saw the shot. That opening in the trees was at the perfect position for the ball flight of a pitching wedge. I told him that I could see the ball landing pin high on the green. He looked at me as if I was in dreamland. I know he must have been thinking – how could someone who just missed one of the widest fairways on the course, now think that he could hit a shot that even the guys in contention on the tour on a Sunday afternoon would probably not try.
Well this wasn’t the tour and there wasn’t a million dollars on the line. So, I stood over and addressed the ball. I steadied my legs and made the shot of a lifetime. Just as I had imagined it, the ball sailed through the small opening in the trees. It wasn’t too high. I wasn’t too low. It was just right. I couldn’t see where on the green the ball landed, but I told Thomas that it had to be near the flag. And was it ever. The ball was three feet to the left of the flag.
I could have ended my round right then and there. I had hit a shot of a lifetime. The shot came off exactly as I had crafted it in my head. All my double bogeys of the week just melted away. All the frustration of my rounds from the day before evaporated. On this hole with the unluckiest of numbers, I challenged the golf gods and won. This is why we play golf, for that one moment in time when we pull off that one shot that swells our heart and our head. But now it was time to plant my feet back on the ground. I needed to finish the job. After all my putting woes on my first 48 holes on the Bandon Dunes courses, could I make a straight three foot putt for a birdie. Yes, I could! Just bury me right now with the flag from the 13th hole on the Bandon Trails golf course as my tombstone. Ok, don’t bury me, let me finish my round first, I might finally break 90 again.
The fourteenth hole is a short par four. The fairway is generous, but you must reach it first by carrying 170 or so yards of native vegetation. This led me to choose a driver for a shot that I would otherwise use a three hybrid. I started my ball along the tree line on the left and got a little too close to the trees. It wasn't clear from the tee box whether my ball would be in the trees or on the hill to the left of the fairway.
I hadn’t left all my luck on the thirteenth hole. We found my ball in the fairway. Apparently, it hit the trees and kicked down the slope on the hill to the fairway. I hit my approach shot just off the left side of the green, chipped on and one putted for a par. While pars eluded me until the seventh hole on the front nine, they were starting to come frequently now.
The fifteenth hole is 370 yard par four. While like the other holes, there is a wide fairway, this one has a bunker running a cross it at about 250 yards from the green tees. I aimed my drive at the left edge of that bunker. The ball faded slightly, landed in the fairway, then took a hard kick to the right and rolled into the right rough. My approach shot was short and landed in the bunker just off the right front of the green. I hit out the bunker onto the green. My par putt was on line but stopped just inches short of the cup.
The sixteenth hole is the only par 5 on the back nine. It measures just under 500 yards with a narrow fairway that is lined with thick trees. There is no future in missing the fairway to the left. I did however start my drive along the left side of the fairway. The ball hit just right of the first bunker in the fairway on the left side. The ball then rolled another 80 yards and stopped in the fairway 270 yards from the green.
I hit my second shot into the deep rough on the right and had to take a drop for an unplayable ball. My fourth shot landed on the green, but rolled just off the front. I putted back on and then in for a bogey.
The view on the par three 17th hole was a sign that we were about to exit the wilderness. The trees had become less dense and there was once again a sense that the ocean was near. Holes 2 through 16 had felt like a nice walk along a hiking trail. Now the hike was coming to an end and it was time to try and close out the round is style. The 17th green is well protected with bunkers on the front, left and right of the green. My tee shot landed just six feet left of the pin, but rolled to 12 feet. I still couldn’t make a putt over ten feet as missed my birdie putt. Roy, Mark, and Tom also made pars on the hole. I think the was the only hole where all four of us made par.
I saved my best drive of the round while hitting into the wind, for the closing hole. The course opens back up on the finishing hole. The trees had now vanished and links golf had returned. The 18th hole has bunkers all along the right side and a cluster of bunkers on the left side of the fairway starting about 110 yards short of the green. My final drive of the round landed in the fairway just right of the fairway bunkers on the left leaving slightly over 100 yards to the pin.
My approach shot missed the green by a couple of feet to the right. I putted onto the green to five feet from the cup and then closed my round with a one putt par. My final score of 39 on the back nine and 83 for the round was my best score so far during my quest to play the top 100 courses in the United States as rated by golf digest. I thought back to all the putts I missed and to all the approach shots of less than 150 yards that landed in a green side bunker or just off the green and wondered whether this was the day I could have broken 80. To be fair however, I also needed to consider that the shot I hit on the thirteenth hole could have hit a tree and bounce deeper into the woods resulting in a double bogey if not worse, versus the birdie I made on the hole. I guess over the course of 100 courses, it will all even out.
Time to grab a bite and head over to Old MacDonald!