My introduction to the concept of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort came a few years before construction actually started on the first course north of Bandon.
I was working on a story at the Coos County Planning Department and then-Planning Director Bill Grile pulled me aside to show me the initial application this Chicago businessman was making to turn some forest land into a resort site.
My first reaction was simple: This guy is nuts.
I had never heard of Mike Keiser. I didn’t know he had built a successful nine-hole course in Michigan. I had no idea about his passion for golf or his vision. Obviously my views have changed a lot over the past two decades.
Even with all I know now, it was refreshing to hear Mike say he knew he was nuts during a 20th-anniversary celebration event a few weeks back.
But that’s getting ahead of my story.
When it was clear the resort was going to be a reality, I got out to the site for the first time and stood on a ridge overlooking the scrub pine and gorse that eventually became the first course.
Bandon Preserve, Bandon Dunes' 13-hole, par-3 course, like all the resort's courses are, overlook the Pacific Ocean and offer spectacular views.
I was told I had to come back when some guy named Howard McKee would be in town. I came to learn Howard was the resort architect, in charge of planning how the different buildings and roads — the basic infrastructure — fit together.
He immediately became one of my favorite people with his infectious personality.
He bubbled over about the planned scenic drive to Highway 101 and insisted we take a look — and we take my little Honda Civic. So we drove along the grassy area until we were almost to the highway. Howard urged me on as I looked skeptically at a sandy area and sure enough, my wheels were soon spinning.
This was the era before cell phones were common, so Howard and I found ourselves walking the mile and a half back to the design center so we could get somebody on the construction crew to pull us out. Howard was completely unfazed and chatted happily the entire time. How could I not enjoy that experience?
Howard died several years ago and Mike Keiser paid perfect tribute with the labyrinth in the forest that has become one of my favorite destinations at the resort.
John Gunther's family poses for a photo at the Labyrinth, one of his favorite spots on the resort, in 2013.
But back then I still had doubts the resort could be a success, until the first time I walked the course.
We had done a summer golf series on all the South Coast courses in 1998 and we made Bandon Dunes the final stop, previewing the course that would open the following spring.
To this day I still have no bench mark to compare the resort courses to. I’ve never played any other highly ranked courses with national prestige.
But I knew immediately that Bandon Dunes was special, and the turn toward the ocean on No. 4 only cemented that feeling.
That day will always be special to me for a couple of other reasons, too. First, my grandfather from Connecticut, who grew up golfing and helped inspire my love for the sport, got to share the experience with me. And second, I met Shoe, who caddied for us that day. You can read more about him elsewhere in this section.
Over the two decades since then, I have had so many great experiences, and opportunities that would make some golf enthusiasts jealous.
I had a chance to walk parts of each of the final five courses (including the upcoming Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch) with the architects during the construction process.
I remember Tom Doak’s eyes glowing as he looked over what would become Pacific Dunes. I couldn’t envision what he saw, but he obviously was right, given the renown the course has.
From the moment I stepped up to that same spot, now the third tee, a year later and looked over the final product, Pacific Dunes has been my favorite course.
I had a chance to meet Bill Coore the first time while he was building Bandon Trails and immediately decided he must be one of the nicest gentlemen in golf. Walking with him while he worked on Bandon Preserve and Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch only reinforced that notion.
When we were walking Bandon Preserve, he apologized extensively after interrupting our discussion to take a phone call, but I couldn’t blame him. When Mike Keiser calls, you have to answer.
Bandon Dunes owner Mike Keiser, right, and architect Bill Coore, left, greet a family on the first tee for the Bandon Preserve on the opening …
The first day I met him, I also was being given a tour of what became the back part of Bandon Trails, a section of course unlike any other at the resort because it is in the forest. There, a huge dump truck came bouncing toward us carrying sand from what became the only true water hazard at the resort to the west half of the course.
I was happily surprised to find the driver was a woman who looked like she was having the time of her life, driving the huge construction truck and helping build a great golf course.
Several years later, I was walking with Tom Doak, Jim Urbina and Mike Keiser as they discussed the final holes being built at Old Macdonald.
It was a treasure listening to their debates about how steep the 13th green should be, whether a bunker off the 15th tee would be in play for what Mike refers to as the “retail golfer” (I said it was in play for me with my golfing ability), and whether two snags should be left in atop the ridge golfers send their balls soaring over from the third tee.
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My vote, which certainly didn’t matter, was for leaving at least one of them in. And they did and it’s become one of the iconic elements of the course.
It was fun watching the national renown for the resort and its courses grow. Most years, my page-a-day calendar back in the early 2000s featured great American golf holes, and holes from the resort were included every year. One year the fifth hole at Bandon Dunes was even on the box for the calendar.
I was appalled when somehow, if I remember right in that same calendar, the editors of the calendar somehow reversed an image of the same hole so that the ocean was to the east of the fairway and labeled it as hole No. 6. Oops. Even national publications sometimes make mistakes.
In the early days of the resort, I met a Cy Young Award winner at Bandon Dunes when I was working on a story about caddies.
Mike Scott, who won the award for the Astros in 1986, was playing for his home club in Southern California in a match against another club from the same area.
I complimented him on his skills hitting the ball in the wind and surmised he must have played a lot in the offseason.
He said he played every day he wasn’t pitching, successfully arguing with his manager that it was a good alternative to finding some way to get into trouble.
Without Bandon Dunes I never would have been introduced to speedgolf, now my favorite participation sport.
I played in several tournaments there, including in the amateur division of the first world championship for the sport, and even ended up on TV for three seconds when I made a putt for par from off the 15th green at Bandon Dunes while a camera happened to be rolling. Fortunately, they didn’t show viewers my tee shot on the next hole, which I didn’t hit well and never found.
By now I have played speedgolf rounds on every course at the resort and most of the others on the South Coast and I am grateful I learned about it.
It was also during the Speedgolf World Championships that I had a chance to interview distance running legends Nick Willis of New Zealand and Bernard Lagat. For a track junkie like me, it was a special treat to talk with them about speedgolf and, of course, track and field.
Bernard Lagat celebrates after finishing his round on Bandon Trails during the World Speedgolf Championships in 2013. Getting to meet and inte…
The first big tournament I covered was the Pacific Coast Amateur, won by Eugene-based Jeff Quinney, who later that summer won the U.S. Amateur — a tournament I suddenly had more interest in after watching him in the event at the resort.
I also watched future golf prodigies Monica Vaughn of Reedsport and Scotty Kennon of Bandon compete in junior events at the resort. And I had a chance to play practice rounds with Vaughn on three of the four courses right before she went off to play in the Curtis Cup in Ireland back in 2016, reminding me just how good a golfer she is.
Monica Vaughn poses for a quick photo with Ron Jackimowicz and John Gunther after a round at Bandon Trails prior to Vaughn playing for the Uni…
Without Bandon Dunes I would never have gotten to experience a USGA championship, much less a number of them. All five that I have covered have been special in their own way and I am sure the next two — this week’s U.S. Amateur Four-Ball and next summer’s U.S. Amateur — will be as well.
I remember Ada O’Sullivan, who was captain of the Great Britain & Ireland team for the 2006 Curtis Cup saying on the eve of the tournament that her team couldn’t lose given the stiff winds the resort had been blessed with that week. Unfortunately for O'Sullivan and her squad, starting the next morning there was just a whisper of breeze at Pacific Dunes, giving the American team an unexpected home-course advantage and a victory.
Then there was Tim Mickelson, younger brother of a relatively famous pro, sinking a bunker shot on the 18th hole to win a match in the 2007 U.S. Mid-Amateur and a University of Oregon golfer making a putt nobody could see drop into the hole in darkness on the 18th green at Bandon Trails to become the final woman into the match play portion of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship in 2011.
I unofficially adopted a pair of young ladies from Georgia during the inaugural U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball at Pacific Dunes when I met them practicing their putting at the Punchbowl while working on a preview story for the tournament. I followed Lauren Lightfritz and Megan Carter through a couple of their matches, but the polite 17-year-olds were just two of the many great and colorful people I met that week. In the column I wrote following the tournament, I said it would have been a blast just writing features about the different golfers, there were so many interesting ones.
I’m sure that will be the case again this week.
Local caddies Kyle Crawford and Kevin Rei will tee it up. Back at the 2007 U.S. Mid-Amateur, then-resort caddie Tim Tucker of Coos Bay, who now carries the bag for Bryson DeChambeau on the PGA Tour, was in the tournament.
I hope local residents come out to watch great golf. I am looking forward to it.
I wish all golfers could get a chance to play the resort's courses. From a golfer standpoint, they are fabulous and fun. The wind only adds to the experience. Over the years I've managed to break 100 on each of the courses (three of them only once). Also, perhaps because of the elements (more likely my golf swing), I've managed to shoot over 130 (probably 140) on all of them.
Playing The Preserve, I hit a ball that got caught in the wind and then held up by grass hanging over the edge of a bluff, the ball literally hanging with no turf under it and no stable spot for me to stand to try to hit it (it was an experience).
One round at Bandon Dunes I made an 89-foot birdie putt (that was the direct distance, with the slope of the green I had to use to get the ball on the right line, the rolling distance was a fair bit further) for birdie on No. 17, one of several greens on the resort big enough for a Wal-Mart. Another day I had a one-putt 11 on the previous hole after seven times failing to get my ball out of a pot bunker.
On my birthday one year, I took a 16 with no penalty strokes on my favorite hole in the world, the 11th at Pacific Dunes. I could have told everybody I made birdie, since there were no witnesses. My regular golfing partner Ron Jackimowicz can attest that I have birdied the same hole twice because he was there both times (and for me, birdies are a rarity at best).
As Bandon Dunes celebrates 20 years, I can’t imagine what the future holds, but I know it will be great.
If I seem a little too upbeat about the resort, that’s something I can’t avoid.
For the golf enthusiast, it’s an incredible Mecca right in our back yard. For the rest of the South Coast, it is one of the best employers and a boon to the area.
We are all lucky it is here and I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years brings.