BANDON, Ore. - Already the top pure links retreat in America in just over 10 years of operation, Bandon Dunes Golf Resort attracts golfers with a special affinity for the game's history, especially the old sod.
Since Bandon Dunes can't turn the clock back 100 years, they've done the next best thing: building the Old Macdonald Course which was inspired by Charles Blair Macdonald, considered by many to be the "Father of American Golf Architecture."
Macdonald is credited with several of America's first golf course designs, including Chicago Golf Club, Yale University Golf Club and National Golf Links. He helped found the USGA in 1894 and won the first ever U.S. Amateur in 1895.
To build this tribute course, Bandon Dunes owner Mike Keiser called on a familiar team from Pacific Dunes: Tom Doak and his senior associate, Jim Urbina. Doak and Urbina would build the course not as Renaissance Golf Design, but as though they were C.B. Macdonald and his associate Seth Raynor.
The little twist is that Macdonald built his favorite holes based on those he visited while studying as a young man in St. Andrews and throughout Britain. So a C.B. Macdonald tribute course is predominantly a tribute to the golf links of the United Kingdom.
This best explains Old Macdonald's enormous greens, most notably the double green of the fifth and 10th holes, the fifth being inspired by the par-3 11th at St. Andrews (also a double).
"The greens at Old Macdonald are the biggest greens anyone has built in the last 30 years," Doak said.
Four holes are inspired by the Old Course in St. Andrews. This includes the "Road" hole, which has a very similar green complex to the original, with a collection area beyond the green rather than a fabricated road.
But this is not a simple "replica course." Instead, Doak and Urbina found certain spots on the land that can resemble a favorite MacDonald hole and gave it their own spin. This means there is no dominant style of bunkering like Pacific Dunes' wild bunkers - or Bandon Dunes' more traditional pots.
"The bunkers are eclectic," Doak said. "We've got a few blowout bunkers, sod bunkers and some big bunkers that we've boarded up with railroad ties."
One of those bunkers is on No. 6, a rendition of the famous "Long" hole, home to the "Hell" bunker at St. Andrews. Those who have played both Old MacDonald and the Old Course will note that Old Mac's bunker, while huge, is much different, featuring railroad ties on the front face, while the Hell Bunker is sod-walled all around.
Non-St. Andrews designs at Old Mac include a rendition of North Berwick's "Redan" green, a Biarritz-style green on the par-3 eighth, and "Hog's Back" from National Golf Links.
Many holes are entirely new, and the early favorite for the "signature hole" is the par-4 seventh. While the ocean frontage on Old Macdonald is limited compared to Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes, No. 7 requires an approach shot toward the coast (into prevailing summer breeze) uphill to a green overlooking the ocean.
Another original, the par-4 14th features the biggest dune on the property to the right of the drivable green, already earning the nickname found on dozens of U.K. links: "Sahara."
Bandon Dunes offering Old Macdonald preview play
Until Old MacDonald fully opens in the summer of 2010, the public is invited to preview a 10-hole loop currently open, and the public has been taking the resort up on this to the tune of about 24 golfers a day. The cost to play the loop is $110, plus a mandatory caddie fee of $50 a bag (because this is the same price as an 18-hole loop, tipping is optional). The caddies are necessary, though, because there are no yardage markers or pin placements yet, and you'll need a little direction.
The loop begins on the sixth hole, so a shuttle takes golfers and their caddies to the tee from Bandon's Practice Center. Once you walk off the 10th hole, the shuttle will pick you up - with souvenir Old Mac hats waiting on board.