If you've been following along, my life is one big buddies trip. Sure, I sacrifice the ideas of a wife, kids and a consistent zip code, but it's all worth it considering the places I get to go, people I get to meet and courses I get to play.
After seven years of traveling the world of golf, when I actually plan my buddies trip, I go to Bandon Dunes.
For this trip, it's the fourth annual "Uncle Tony Invitational." Tony Kielhofer is my mom's brother and he taught me the game of golf. Uncle Tony, who's in his 70s, hits the ceremonial tee shot to start the week.
This year, it's my buddy and colleague Damon Hack's first trip to the best pure golf experience in America. As he packs and preps his game, I thought I'd give him my 10 tips to Bandon Dunes.
I've been taking my annual buddies trip in July and August. We've never had to deal with rain, temperatures are in the mid-60s, but the summer winds are at least two clubs strong. They might not start the day that way, but by the afternoon, they will have an impact on your swing, ball-flight, scores and good time.
Locals will tell you September is the best month to go to Bandon, and the best-kept secret is February, which is also when you'll benefit from off-season rates.
2. What to pack
Even in the summer, I pack my best rain gear. I always bring two pairs of golf shoes (in case one gets wet or they're causing blisters). And never, ever, break in a new pair of shoes at Bandon Dunes.
With all the walking you'll be doing, there are secluded parts of your person that will appreciate the regular application of BodyGlide and Band-Aids. Some guys will force shorts, but I generally wear pants, golf shirt and a sweater, even in the summer.
3. How to get to Bandon Dunes
There are three options of getting to Bandon Dunes: by way of Portland, Eugene or Coos Bay/North Bend.
From Portland, it's a four to five-hour drive. From Eugene, it's two-to-three hours. From Southwest Oregon Regional Airport in Coos Bay, it's 30 to 40 minutes. I've only made the drive from Portland once, which is enough. The drive from Eugene isn't bad. You make your way west and then south on the scenic Highway 101.
Almost 90 percent of my trips to Bandon, I've flown into Coos Bay/North Bend airport (OTH). From the Coos Bay/North Bend airport, I use Aviation Transportation (aviationtransportation.com) as my shuttle service to and from the resort ($60 per person, round trip. Rates drop for groups of more than eight). They offer spacious shuttles, friendly drivers, and they have complimentary drinks on board. The problem with driving from Portland and Eugene, in addition to the time it takes, is that you use a rental car that you won't need again until you leave.
Watch: Ginella talks Bandon Dunes and planning an epic buddies trip
4. Lodging options
Beds and lob wedges have a lot in common at Bandon Dunes -- you use them only when absolutely necessary. All five lodging options at Bandon Dunes are spartan in the décor and amenities, but I find them to all be a perfect fit with the general aesthetics of the resort and the needs of the avid-golfing guests. You get a comfortable bed, spacious bathroom, good water pressure, a sizable flatscreen TV and free WiFi.
The Lodge is the original lodging when the resort opened in 1999. The benefit of staying here is being under the same roof as the Bunker Bar, so if you have a late night and a few too many drinks, stumbling to your room is easy. There are 17 single rooms (queen bed) and three four-bedroom suites. Ask for an ocean view. Rates for single rooms range from $100-220 per night. The four-bedroom suites range from $800-$1,700 per night.
The Inn is located along the right side of the 18th hole of the Bandon Dunes course. There are 21 single- and 18 double-occupancy rooms. Single-room rates range from $100 to $300 per night, depending on time of the year. Doubles range from $150 to $390 per night.
Lily Pond rooms all come with two queen beds, fireplace and private deck. Prices range between $160 and $390 per night and are generally split between two golfers.
The 21 buildings on Chrome Lake offer two beds in the rooms downstairs (Chrome Doubles), and upstairs, two golfers would get their own rooms with a common lounge area (Chrome Lofts). Doubles range in price from $170-420. Lofts start at $250 and go up to $640 in the summer.
The Grove Cottages are the envy of every foursome. Each cottage has four separate rooms with their own king bed, TV and bathroom. There's a spacious common area with a fireplace and an outdoor patio. The cottages are closed in November thru January, but range in price from $1,200-$1,900 per night.
I'm hearing of some groups renting nearby houses that cater to golf groups and the feedback has been nothing but positive. Go to BandonBeachRentals.com or VRBO.com for more details. But keep in mind staying off property will raise your green fees.
5. The golf courses
All green fees at the four big courses at Bandon Dunes range from $75 in November thru January, to $250 in September (Replay rates are $40 $125). If you have time for a third round in one day, it's always free.
The original golf course, Bandon Dunes, opened in 1999 and was designed by David McLay Kidd. It's the only course on property in which the ninth and the 18th greens are near the pro shop, so it's the best option if you're only looking to play nine holes. Even in the afternoon winds it can still be fun. The layout is the perfect mix of challenge and forgiveness and there are plenty of ocean views and memorable holes.
Beneath the iconic tree behind the 16th green and 17th tee -- where you enjoy a 180-degree view of the Oregon coastline -- is my favorite spot in golf.
Pacific Dunes opened in 2001 and was designed by Tom Doak. I often say that Bandon Dunes doesn't become the best pure golf destination in America without a course as fair and as challenging as Pacific Dunes. The fourth and 13th holes are in the conversation about the best par 4s in the country. The back-to-back par 3s to start the back nine are not nearly as quirky or strange as you might think by simply looking at the scorecard. Depending on the wind, you might have to start your 130-yard tee shot on the 11th hole several feet left of the treacherous hazard line.
Bandon Trails opened in 2005 and was built by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. For a design team with such an impressive portfolio, both Coore and Crenshaw aren't afraid to say Trails is one of their best. I weep for the visitor who gets all the way to Bandon, and because the course isn't on the coast, decides to skip Trails. The polarizing 14th hole has been softened several times. I encourage you to play for a par and you might make birdie. Play for a birdie by trying to overpower the little green with driver and a putter and you'll usually leave with a double bogey. The 16th and 18th have also been softened, which make those finishing holes, usually played into the wind, more fun and fair.
The Old Macdonald Course opened in 2010 and was built by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina. A tribute to Charles Blair Macdonald, the father of golf in the United States, Doak and Urbina were asked to use some of the design strategies made famous by Macdonald's template holes, which are 25 to 30 of what Macdonald considered the best of golf holes in Great Britain (and France). From double greens, "Hell Bunker," and a "Biarritz" (which is a large and deep swale intersecting the green), Old Mac is a mix of quirky, fun and extremely forgiving off the tee. Most people play an entire round with one ball and caddies will often suggest the putter from anywhere within 50 yards of the flagstick. (I'd listen to your looper.)
Bandon Preserve is a 13-hole, par-3 course that opened in 2012 and fills the void of golfers not willing and/or able to play 36 holes of championship golf every day. You can use one of the free carry bags at the Preserve "pro shop," and you won't need much more than a 6-iron as you roam around the undulating dunes in less than 90 minutes. If the course is open, eightsomes are not out of the question. There's a drink shack centrally located to several holes throughout the round. If fun, laughs, birdies and bets are what you're looking for, you'll find Preserve a few steps from the Trails Course. Green fees are $50-100.
Shorty's, located near Bandon's massive practice facility, is another par-3 course, but this one's free. Named for the former caretaker of the land that has been used to build the resort, you and your group can pick teeing areas and greens in which you can duplicate the same kind of fun being had at Preserve.
Punchbowl is the new, free putting course off the back deck of the Pacific Dunes clubhouse. It's a concentrated form of buddies, banter and betting that takes place on a golf course, but you'll never use more than one ball and a flatstick. Enthusiastic drink service and cup holders at the tee markers are a nice touch.
6. Tee time management
I always say that if I had 10 rounds at the resort, I'd play three at Bandon, three at Pacific, three at Trails and one at Old Mac. My friend might play four at Old Mac, three at Pacific, two at Bandon and one at Trails. The varied debate is just one of the reasons why Bandon Dunes is so popular.
I will say this, and especially during the summer months: Play Pacific and Old Mac in the morning, Bandon and Trails in the afternoon. There's no protection from the afternoon winds at Old Mac, and it can be bag-toppling brutal in July and August. On the contrary, the tree-lined fairways of Trails will provide more relief than any other course on property. I like to play Bandon in the late afternoon because there's nothing like playing the four finishing holes at sunset.
As for Preserve and Punchbowl, I use them for emergency holes and if there's still light out after 36. The Preserve is also always on the itinerary on the day I arrive, which is usually late in the afternoon, and those 13 holes of short-iron swings serve as a perfect links-golf warm up. Playing the Preserve is also perfect for a getaway day in which you don't have time for a full 18.
Given the walking only policy, the subtle breaks in the greens and some of the blind shots around and over those dunes, a caddie is often critical to a great score and a good time.
Caddies are $80-100 per bag, per round. I usually pay a great caddie $120 per round, or $220 per day. There's an ATM in the main Bandon clubhouse, across from the snack shack, but you can also get "caddie cash" at any pro shop counter. They'll put a charge on your room and give you cash to give to your caddie.
Caddies are usually available at the last minute, but call (541) 347-5909 to request a specific caddie in advance of your tee time. Sasha Duncan gets a lot of buzz for not just being a good caddie, but she's also hot. That being said, she's never carried my bag and I've only seen her from a distance. She's now also a certified massage therapist and a friend recently had her caddie his morning round then give him a massage in the afternoon.
That being said, I can't say I've ever had a bad caddie at Bandon Dunes. If you're looking for specific names, here are 15 worthy of ink: Bro Puckett, Scott Curry, Jay "Blue Jay" Ferrell, John "Baptist" McAllister, Jake Muldowney, P.K. Devereaux, Allison Clarke, Randy Gibson, Ciaran McMonagle, Riana Moore, Mitch Posh, Brooks Quinn, Joey Russell, James O'Donoghue, and Robert McNew.
If you're feeling strong or don't want to spend your money on a caddie, all five courses are very walkable and the pull carts are designed to take on the rolling terrain. Golf carts are frowned upon, but are available if you have medical justification. Only one player per cart and they are driven by a caddie. Same fee applies.
I eat most of my meals at the Tufted Puffin, which is the open and airy restaurant in the main lodge, and it's conducive to eating while watching sports or weary golfers chase the remaining light as they play the 18th at Bandon. Steaks, burgers and various forms of fish are all excellent regardless of where you eat. I hear so much about the meatloaf, but that's as far as I go (I don't eat meatloaf, eggplant or eel.
I love the south coast fish tacos for lunch at Bandon Trails and the onion rings at Pacific Dunes. Downstairs at McKee's Pub can be crowded and loud, but upstairs is a good option for a big group. The Gallery is the closest thing Bandon has to "formal." I've been once and it was good, but it's too quiet for my taste and there are no TVs. I'm sure married couples would disagree with my assessment.
The breakfast buffet isn't as extensive or famous as the one at Pinehurst, but there are just as many complaints -- which would be none.
9. Off the course
Off-course highlights include a massage center, extensive practice facility, small hot tub, gym and walking trails. There's also a labyrinth, but I'm not going to tell you where it is because finding it is part of the fun.
Shuttle services throughout the resort are some of the best in golf. Call from anywhere on property and you'll have a ride within three to five minutes. Drivers are helpful, happy and informative.
I end most nights in the Bunker Bar, which is on the bottom floor of the main lodge. I play pool, poker or dice. Some people smoke cigars, while others drink. The fire pit outside of McKee's Pub is a popular spot and so is the fire pit on the back deck of Pacific Dunes.
10. Off property
Once I finally get to Bandon Dunes, the very idea of leaving the property makes me itch. There's a casino near Coos Bay, but I've never been. I know there's a gentleman's club, but I've never been there either (and I've never heard a favorable review).
A lot of the caddies and locals play their golf at Bandon Crossings, located 20 minutes away and is $75 during the summer. Winter rates are $45. Bandon Golf Supplies is in the town of Bandon and it's a good spot for re-gripping clubs or buying balls in bulk.
Yes, I know about the Sheep Ranch, another course loosely affiliated with Bandon Dunes, but I've never been and never make it a priority. Again, when I get to Bandon Dunes, the last thing I want to do is leave.
What did I miss? Tweet me @MattGinellaGC.