It was now Wednesday afternoon. I’d completed 54 holes of golf at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and was ready to take on the last course, Old MacDonald. My scores had gotten increasingly better. I started with a very disappointing 93 on the Bandon Dunes course. I followed that with a 90 on the Pacific Dunes course and had just finished the Bandon Trails course with an 83. I was hopeful that I could continue to improve my scoring as I completed my last round.
After arriving at the pro shop, I discovered that the group I was to play with that afternoon had gone out earlier. I was now paired with a couple from California, David and Barbara. They were a delightful couple. Barbara was a former school teacher and David was a former coach. I don’t think they were married and each had their own sets of kids, but they had created a joyful life together in the twilight of their years. Our round of golf together was pleasant and stress free.
As I stood at the first tee, it was clear that I had made a good decision to save Old MacDonald for my last 18 holes at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. It appeared to be a no-frills course. Gone were the beautiful oceans vistas that were present on the Bandon and Pacific Dunes courses. Gone was the natural wilderness setting of the Bandon Trails course. This course appeared to be predicated on a test of pure links golf skills. Just deal with the contours of the terrain and get the ball from the tee box to the cup in as few strokes as possible.
The first hole is short with a wide-open fairway with a contour that flows from the tee box to the green like rippling waves on an ocean surface interrupted by an occasional fairway bunker. The key to starting my round on a positive note would be to avoid the bunkers and get a good lie. There was no reason to fear losing a ball or hitting into any other trouble on this hole. Just make a turn, swing the club and let the ball fly. And fly it did, for 260 yards down the middle of the fairway, leaving just 70 yards to the flag.
My lob wedge approach shot to the green landed 15 feet to the left of the pen. Thomas had made good reads on the green with very few exceptions. I had just failed on execution. This opening hole on the Old MacDonald course would be no different. I hit my putt on line but left it six inches from the heart of the cup. A wasted birdie opportunity, but I did make the next putt for the first opening hole par of my rounds at Bandon.
The second hole is a 160 yard par three with a green guarded by a small but deep bunker on the right front and a large bunker that wraps around the left front and left side of the green. There is a third bunker on the back left side of the green. There was nothing but air and opportunity between the tee box and the front center of the green.
I hit my tee shot about a yard shorter than was needed to hold on the green. The ball rolled off the false front to just off the front of the green. I chipped back onto the green past the hole. I missed my first putt but made the comeback putt for a bogey.
The third hole was like no other hole I’d face on my quest to play the top 100 golf courses in the United States as rated by Golf Digest in one year. Standing on the tee box, there is no view of a fairway. There is a dead tree, a gravel cart path, a big hill and a steep cavernous bunker. These are the tools available to provide guidance on the line to take to land in the hidden fairway on the other side of the hill. Oh yeah, there was also Thomas. And Thomas said that I just had to trust him on this, our 57th hole together. He told me to aim to the left of the dead tree. He assured me that there was a big fairway on the other side of the hill and if I took the line he gave me, my ball would land right in the middle of it. I did as he had suggested and the result was exactly as he said it would be. My ball was in the middle of the fairway, 80 yards from the pin.
With the wind in my face I hit a sand wedge to 35 feet left of the flag. My birdie putt had good speed and rolled on the intended line. There was just a little more break then Thomas and I had anticipated and the balled rolled just below the cup and a foot past. I tapped in for my second par in three holes.
The fourth hole is the longest par four on all the courses that I played at Bandon. The hole measures 472 yards. Like the third hole, it was playing into the wind so it was playing longer than the 472 yards on the scorecard. Thomas did mention that the wind was usually helping on the hole. I hit my drive to the fescue on the right side of the fairway. My second shot was the first case during this round of a well struck ball ending up in a very bad place. I hit the shot on a straight line into the fairway bunker at 160 yards from the hole.
Not only was the ball in the bunker, it was so close to the left wall of the bunker that I had no stance. My choices were to either hit the ball back toward the tee or to sit on the edge of the bunker and try to advance the ball toward the green. I chose the latter and blasted the ball out of the bunker. I hit my fourth shot onto the green and two putted for a double bogey.
The fifth hole is a short par three that plays to a green that is about the size of Rhode Island. There is a bunker guarding the left side of it that is just as large. I hit my tee shot pin high onto the green, but about 40 feet to the left. I could not manage a two putt for par. I three putted for a bogey.
The sixth hole is the only par five on the front nine. It is shaped like a crouched tiger waiting to pounce on its prey and on this day, I was its prey. There is a cross bunker at what would be the right shoulder of the crouching tiger. I hit a pop up with my tee shot. Since my driver acted more like a pitching wedge on the shot, I joke that I hit my wedge for my drive, so still needed to hit a drive on the hole. I did so with my second shot and hit my driver off the fairway to the bunker in the crouching tiger’s right shoulder.
The bunker had a little of a Pete Dye design in that there were railroad ties lining the wall. I hit my third shot from the bunker to the right side of the green. I then pitched across the green and off its left side. I pitched back on to 18 feet. Thomas and I debated the line on the putt. I saw one ball out. He saw it as a straight putt. This was my first time playing the course. He had never played the course, but what he had done was prove that he could read putts. I took his line and putted the ball to the center of the cup. It dropped in and I saved bogey.
The 7th hole is laid out somewhat like the continent of Africa. You tee off from Mozambique and the green is somewhere around Algeria. I hit my drive 250 yards to Sudan, leaving me 110 yards to get to Algeria.
Unfortunately, my approach shot went long and landed in Morocco rather than Algeria. I had some problems getting across the Moroccan/Algerian border and ended up with a double bogey on a hole where I hit a great shot and struck the ball well on my approach shot.
The 8th hole is a simple and straightforward downhill par three. It is the third par three on the front nine. I made bogeys on the first two, but was determined to make par on this one. The green is sizable and for the most part it is defenseless. There are a couple of bunkers on the right and the green has multiple tiers. It also has a lot of undulation. I pushed my tee shot to the right and missed the green. My chip rolled 20 feet past the hole. David’s ball was farther from the hole, but on a similar line as mine. I got a great read from his putt and sank my 20 foot putt for par.
The ninth hole is a short par four of 350 yards. It is a bunker haven. There are probably fifteen bunkers on the right side of the fairway including one that is about 120 yards long. There is also a cluster of bunkers on the left side of the fairway as it makes a dogleg from left to right. I hit my drive to 110 yards from the green, but into a bunker on the right side of the fairway. With the line that my ball was on when it came off the face of my club, it would have taken a miracle for it not to have landed in a bunker.
I hit a wedge from the bunker to the front of the green, but left myself a very difficult putt. I three putted and made a disappointing bogey to close out the front nine with a score of 42. The score looked better than it was. The front nine plays to a par of 34. I had only three pars over the nine holes, but also had two double bogeys. This after missing only two fairways.
The back nine starts with a very long par four. All the par fours on the front nine except for the very long fourth hole, played less that 355 yards. The 10th hole measured 440 yards and was playing into the wind. I hit my drive in the fairway to 220 yards from the flag. I hit my driver off the deck for my second shot. The ball landed just short of the right side of the green, but rolled back down the slope.
I pitched on to 20 feet. Thomas gave me a good read for my putt. I hit the ball on line and sank the putt for par.
The 11th hole turns back downwind. It too is a long par four at 400 yards with one of the narrowest fairways on the Old MacDonald course. There are bunkers along the right at the beginning of the fairway, but they aren’t in play from the green tees. I hit my drive to the middle of the fairway.
The flag was on the back left portion of the green. I started my approach shot on a line left of the green expecting the ball to fade onto the green. The ball stayed left but landed pin high. I putted from off the green to within six feet of the flag. I missed by par putt and tapped in for a bogey.
The 12th hole is the only par three on the back nine and it’s a long one at 205 yards. It was also playing into the wind. I hit my tee shot to just short of the green. The ball rolled back down the slope. I putted back on the green, but left the ball 30 feet from the hole. From there I two putted for a bogey.
The thirteenth hole is rated as the easiest hole on the course. It is a 320 yard par four. The fairway is wide and the few bunkers around it are not in play. There are sand dunes surrounding the green. I hit my drive to just 60 yards from the flag, just off the right edge of the fairway. This was probably the worst place to hit my tee shot. Most of the 60 remaining yards to the flag were taken by bunkers.
The pin was tucked behind the bunkers. My highest priority on the shot was to clear the bunkers. I hit the ball a bit too far and it rolled off the back of the green. I pitched back on and two putted for another bogey.
The fourteenth hole is even shorter than the 13th hole, but it is all uphill. There was a lot of room on the right side of the fairway. This suited the normal ball flight of my driver so I decided to hit the driver even though this was a very short hole. My ball started on a line just right of the left fairway bunkers and landed to the right of the bunkers. It looked for a moment as if the ball would kick left into the bunker. It didn’t. The ball kept rolling to about 45 yards from the pin position on the green.
My pitch hit on the front of the green and rolled back off. I chipped on to five feet and made the putt for my second par on the back nine. I had par putts on all the previous four holes on the back nine, but only managed to convert one of them. The good news was that I’d not been in danger of making a double bogey on the back nine.
The fifteenth hole is the first of the two par fives on the back nine and the shortest of the three par fives on the course. It measures just over 480 yards. It is clearly the easiest of the par fives. There are only a few bunkers on the hole and the green is almost bunker free. There is one small bunker just off the right front of the green.
I hit a low drive into the wide fairway, that left 250 yards to the middle of the green. I hit my approach shot to the right side of the fairway. It cleared the one bunker on the hole that was in play. I hit my third shot onto the green and two putted for an easy par.
The sixteenth hole is the third of the four 400 plus yard par fours on the back nine. The hole measures almost 435 yards. It is an unusual hole. There is a huge mound about 100 yards from the green. The green is behind this mound and is not visible from the fairway. My drive was long and straight, leaving just 165 yards to the blind green.
To assist with the shot, there is an aiming pole aligned with the center of the green. This doesn’t help with identifying the flag position. I hit my approach shot straight over the aiming pole. The ball was pin high on the green. The only problem was that the flag with 75 feet to the left of the center of the green.
I took my time to read the putt with Thomas. We agreed on the line. I had good speed on my putt, but missed my line. The ball stopped even with the pin, but just over four feet above the hole. I made the putt for my third par in a row.
The seventeenth hole is the last of the par fives and looks like a minefield from the tee box. The right side of the fairway has a lot going on. There are bunkers in the middle of the fairway and sweeping undulation. The best thing to do off the tee was to just hit the ball to left side of the fairway. I was able to do that and leave 275 yards to the green. I then laid up to 120 yards.
My approach shot was uphill into the wind and over a pretty ugly bunker at the front of the green. The ball landed on the green but was 80 feet short of the pin. I again had good speed on my putt, leaving it just four feet to the right of the hole. I made the putt for my fourth par in a row.
As I approached my 72nd and final hole at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, I was feeling good about my swing. I’d made par on five of the eight holes on the back nine. I’d also hit every fairway. I’d two putted for par from 75 feet and from 80 feet. The only question now was could I finish the job with a round ending par on the 425 yard par four 18th hole.
The hole has three bunkers on the right side of the fairway in the landing zone and two bunkers on the left side of the fairway just up from that. I failed my first test on finishing strong when I missed the fairway to the right. I was fortunate that my ball stopped just short of the last fairway bunker on the right. I then failed my second test when my approach shot landed short of the green with a mound separating my ball from the green.
I pitched over the mound onto the green to 12 feet, but then missed my par putt to fail my fourth test of ending my Bandon golf experience with a par. The good news however was that I didn’t make a single double bogey on the back nine and only made two on the front nine. My back nine score was a 41, giving me a total score of 83 for the round. This matched my 83 earlier in the day on the Bandon Trails course.
Of the four courses at Bandon, this one was probably my least favorite. There are two C.B. MacDonald designed courses in the Top 100 Courses as ranked by Golf Digest, the National Golf Links of America and The Chicago Golf Club. I’ve not played either yet, so maybe I will appreciate my Old MacDonald experience more after playing those courses. With that said, I enjoyed playing all four courses at Bandon Dunes. I think it is a great golf resort.
Following the round, I bid David and Barbara a fond farewell and gave my best wishes to Thomas who now holds the record for most rounds caddied for me during my top 100 tour. Now its time to bid farewell to Bandon Dunes and make my way to Seattle to play Sahalee.