BANDON — It was a 5 ½-mile walk I never wanted to end.
After months and months of anticipation, I finally got to see —and play — the full 18 holes of Sheep Ranch, the new course at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort that has its grand opening Monday.
Visually stunning would be an understatement, from the fairways with islands of fescue to the incredible views of the rocks on the beach below the many holes along the edge of the bluff.
My playing partner for the day, who has played the resort’s other courses many times, came away equally impressed, calling it the most visually appealing course on the resort property.
“I can’t imagine a more beautiful course anywhere,” he said. “The original Bandon Dunes course has been my favorite since I started coming out here in 2007. I have a new favorite.”
We had played nine of the holes last fall, a preview for the first holes that were built — they come in the middle of the final routing — but had only gotten a little bit of a teasing look at the other nine.
And when we got the chance to walk the entire course, we were mesmerized from the first swing.
You can’t see the green from the tee on the opening par-5 hole, but pro Nick Bonander told us the green was next to a tall snag, the first of several memorable trees on the site. And once we crested the hill and looked down at the green, we knew we were in for a great day.
The walk from the first green to the second tee provides the first of those amazing beach views, of the rocks below. Golfers get them again from various angles several more times.
Also stunning, though, is the appearance of the fairways, as well as the contours of the property — one of the things the architects praised when they were still in the design phase.
Like most of the other courses at the resort, the routing is continuous, rather than two sets of nine holes that both end near the clubhouse. Golfers walk by the new clubhouse after finishing the 11th hole before heading back out toward the ocean. They also pass by a snack shack with restrooms several times.
The front nine has three par-3 holes — the third, fifth and seventh — and plays to a par 34. The back nine, with three par-5s, is a par-38.
Sheep Ranch is the furthest north course on the property, sitting above the Whiskey Run beach. The landscape is more exposed than the other four courses, meaning on windy days the impact of the breeze is greater. To compensate, the fairways are more generous.
Also, due in part to the high winds, Sheep Ranch does not have sand bunkers, though several of the holes have grass depressions that look like bunkers.
Both sides include holes with stunning ocean views, perhaps the most popular in the future being the huge double green for the third and 16th holes on Fivemile Point that juts furthest into the beach.
When I finally had a chance to see the entire course, it made me want to go back to notes I took talking last spring on the site with Bill Coore, who designed Sheep Ranch with architect partner Ben Crenshaw.
At the time, he was excited about the potential for Sheep Ranch.
“It is a very interesting site,” he said. “It’s so different from the other sites (for the resort’s other courses). Inherently, it will look different. I no way to we mean it will be better — just different.”
It joins highly renowned Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails and Old Macdonald, all ranked among the best public courses in the country.
“Any of those courses, you can find advocates who say it’s the best course and who say it’s the worse,” Coore said. “I think this is going to fall right in the same category.”
That’s what makes Bandon Dunes unique compared to other resorts with multiple courses.
“Generally in a place with multiple courses, one or two are the engine that drives the train and the others are tagged on,” he said. “Here, any one of them could be the engine.”
Sheep Ranch is the third course at the resort designed by Coore and Crenshaw, who also designed Bandon Trails and later Bandon Preserve, the 13-hole par-3 course.
“Most people in this business never get this opportunity once, much less several times,” Coore said of working on a property as special as Bandon Dunes. “We’ve had, without question, more than our share of exceptional sites to work with.”
Before Coore and Crenshaw started their work, Sheep Ranch was a rustic course with 13 green complexes designed by Tom Doak when he designed Pacific Dunes. The property was co-owned by Bandon Dunes owner Mike Keiser and Phil Friedmann, his college roommate and then business partner in Recycled Paper Greetings.
Friedmann, who had managed the site since its inception, said last year that “It is now time to share the magic of Sheep Ranch with other lovers of the game.”
Coore spoke last spring about the pressure to create something memorable.
“Mike, and now Phil, have given us this opportunity,” he said. “If we don’t do something special, we fail.”
Based on my first 18-hole tour of Sheep Ranch, they haven’t failed.