BANDON — Don Crowe was a part of the Bandon Dunes team when the resort first opened.
Back in 1999, he was the hotel operations manager, which meant he also oversaw the food and beverage operations.
It was a simpler time at Bandon Dunes then. The resort had just one golf course, just one restaurant and just 69 rooms for guests.
Crowe left after a year, bounced around at a number of other courses operated by Kemper Sports Management, which also runs Bandon Dunes, and saw the resort flourish and grow from afar.
“It was a lot of fun and very rewarding to watch it from the outside,” Crowe said.
But inside, he always hoped to return.
A year ago, Crowe got that chance, when he was hired as the new general manager at Bandon Dunes.
Last week, he reflected on his first year back at the resort and looked ahead to a bright future.
Bandon Dunes is a much different place now. There are four world-renowned 18-hole golf courses, as well as the 13-hole par-3 Bandon Preserve and the Shorty’s course at the resort’s practice facility.
There are four restaurants and 186 rooms for lodging in five different styles. The resort has gone from the 90 employees who worked there when it first opened to more than 500 now, not to mention 300 caddies, who are independent contractors rather than regular employees.
But at its core, the resort’s mission is still the same, and it’s what Crowe, a people person, thrives at.
“We have amazing people that create incredible experiences for our guests,” he said of the staff at the resort. “They are as happy as the guests.”
Several days after their stay at Bandon Dunes, golfers are sent an email asking for feedback on their visit. The majority of them are very similar, praising the golf courses, but especially the hospitality.
“Nine times out of 10, they say it’s a great place, but what makes a difference is the staff,” Crowe said. “We are just really fortunate to have that culture of hospitality.”
Crowe spent his whirlwind first year back at Bandon Dunes getting to know the employees and reacquainting himself with the people still on the staff from when the resort opened, and with the people in the community he knew nearly two decades ago.
“It’s great to be back in the community and rekindle those relationships,” he said. “It just simply feels good.”
As Crowe was discussing the resort, he was checking progress on a big winter project — revamping the kitchen at McKee’s Pub, one of the restaurants at Bandon Dunes, and updating the cafe there where the resort feeds its employees every day.
To Crowe, the meals are just part of taking care of the resort’s employees.
“(It’s good) knowing you can help make a lot of difference to our team and our staff — not just our guests,” he said.
Happy staff help add to the experience of the guests, who ultimately pay the bills.
And almost always, Crowe said, the golfers are pleased with their experience, even on those rainy days.
“When I really know people are super happy to be here, they are coming off the course, they’re soaked and they are smiling,” he said. “It’s amazing. It’s very contagious.”
“From the staff’s perspective, you want to complement that energy,” added Michael Chupka, the resort’s communications director. “We want to complement that and make it more special.”
Crowe started on Jan. 3, a day when snow covered the golf courses at Bandon Dunes. His first three months were among the wettest winters the resort has experienced.
It didn’t matter, as the resort’s popularity has grown with golfers far and near.
“We had a great year,” Crowe said.
Chupka described it as one of the best the resort has seen in terms of numbers of rounds played (the resort generally does not release the number of rounds played in a given year).
It wasn’t just the golf that made the year special. The end came with an unexpected, but good, announcement.
When Crowe arrived, he knew Bandon Dunes was planning to host the 2020 U.S. Amateur, which will be the biggest tournament to date at the resort. But during the fall, the United States Golf Association announced Bandon Dunes also will host the 2019 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship.
“I’m super excited, thrilled, honored,” Crowe said. “We have a great relationship with USGA. We’ve had great success with them over the years.”
The 2019 tournament had been slated for Chambers Bay in Washington, which Crowe sees as a sister facility of sorts since it is also managed by Kemper Sports and has a number of former Bandon Dunes employees in key positions. Chambers Bay is redoing its putting surfaces and officials there didn’t feel it would be ready for the 2019 event. Instead, it will host the U.S. Four-Ball Championship in 2020.
“I think it’s a win-win all the way around,” Crowe said. “It’s great for the community.”
The USGA events bring an extra level of anticipation and energy, Chupka said.
“It’s all hands on deck to get the job done,” he said.
That extends to the community, which Crowe loves to see.
“Community members are saying, ‘I can’t wait to sign up to volunteer,’” he said. “They want to help out.”
That’s part of what drew Crowe back to Bandon. He’s originally from Chicago, but fell in love with Bandon and Oregon back then.
“It was always my goal (to get back),” he said. “It was a quick, easy decision for my wife and I.”
Don and Nancy had little trouble selling their two sons, 14-year-old Griffin and 11-year-old Grayson, on moving to Bandon.
Crowe’s first year has affirmed the decision to return. He loves driving onto the resort property every day for work.
“When you’re happy, it’s easy,” he said. “There are amazing people here.”