Bandon Dunes Golf Resort debuts curvaceous Punchbowl putting course

BANDON, Ore. -- I'm not a putting course guy. I've been to St. Andrews five times and I could give you exactly four words on the Himalayas: I know it exists. I've played Thistle Dhu, the putting course at Pinehurst, and although I had a good time four-putting from 15 feet, I think I'd rather try to chip into the fireplace at the Pinecrest Inn, a local tradition that involves buddies, side bets and booze.

So cut to Tuesday at Bandon Dunes and the grand opening of the Punchbowl, where owner Mike Keiser used Himalayas and Thistle Dhu as inspiration for his own two-acre putting course with more curves than Kate Upton.

Keiser gets credit for being a "visionary," but one could argue he has had great success reinventing everything that makes sense. From courses along spectacular coastlines -- see Scotland and Ireland -- to partnering with thoughtful and passionate architects who not only design courses, they build them -- see Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw, Tom Doak and Jim Urbina, David McLay Kidd and soon to be Gil Hanse -- Keiser continues to accommodate all the needs and wants of what he calls "the retail golfer."

"It's one thing to get people here for the first time," Keiser said. "The hard thing is to get them to come back."

Which is why he continues to accent a resort with four critically acclaimed 18-hole courses with Bandon Preserve , a 13-hole par-3 course that opened in 2012, and now a 36-hole putting course.

Grand opening of the Punchbowl

More than 200 people showed up with a putter, a ball and a good attitude as they navigated Punchbowl's humps, bumps, breaks and snakes. There was the Langlois Scottish Fiddlers, a fire pit, free sliders and an ambitious wait staff delivering drinks from the bar at the clubhouse of Pacific Dunes.

In keeping with tradition, Mick "the barber" hit the ceremonial first shot. In this case, a putt. The local haircutter has done the same thing for the opening of every course at Bandon Dunes.

Chris Smith, the winner of the Speedgolf World Championship, putted both 18-hole routings in roughly eight minutes.

I overheard guests describe the Punchbowl as "super fun" and "good for golf." And as Rob McDougal of Seattle said, "A lot of money will exchange hands out here."

Watch: Ginella talks Bandon Dunes and Punchbowl on Morning Drive

The record will show Tom Doak and Jim Urbina designed the land used for the putting course, but I was told Doak made one visit and Urbina was on property for a total of 35 days. Urbina was back on site for the opening and he could be seen dropping the putter and celebrating a bet-winning ace as his ball went beyond the cup, caught a severe slope, and trickled in the backside of the hole.

"We need more of these things in golf," Urbina said. "If the social experience of the game has gone missing, it's here today. There's smack talk, challenging, betting and good fun. There's a lot happening in a small space."

A fair and accurate assessment of the day as the Punchbowl is now officially open to locals and guests of Bandon Dunes. For free. Which is only a small concern for the owner.

"The par-3 course and now the putting course are both compelling replacements for the second round of golf in one day," Keiser said. "But c'est la vie. I also provide free wireless. Believe it or not, I'm not trying to squeeze them for everything they've got. And as I look around, all I see is exclamation and laughter."

If Keiser's goal is to provide the kind of experience that gets people to come back, I'm in the camp of never wanting to leave. By the end of my day, I had won and I had lost. I had aced and chased my ball all over the Punchbowl. And admittedly, I changed my opinion on putting courses.

Matt Ginella is Golf Advisor's Editor-at-Large and host of Golf Advisor Round Trip travel series on Golf Channel. Matt serves as resident buddy trip expert and captains a collection of VIP trips called Golf Advisor Getaways.
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Bandon Dunes Golf Resort debuts curvaceous Punchbowl putting course
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