BANDON, Ore. - It's become standard discourse to compare Pacific Dunes, one of three golf courses at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort on the Oregon coast, to the traditional links of the British Isles.
Course literature doesn't shy away from the comparison and offering that understated, old world links experience of the 19th century clubs in the British Isles is what resort founder Mike Keiser set out to do from the onset.
But in many ways, simply likening it to these overseas links is selling it a bit short. Pacific Dunes is worthy of its own sub-genre.
Sure, Pacific Dunes, opened in 2001, lacks the 19th century artifacts and black-and-white photos behind glass cases around the clubhouse. In fact, Pacific Dunes' permanent clubhouse isn't even open yet. But the golf course itself is set on arguably the best links land in the world, and architect Tom Doak found a course more than he built one.
The topography of the land on this stretch of southern Oregon coastline is in all likelihood the best stretch of links land that can be found in the U.S. It's as rugged and scenic as Royal County Down Golf Club, with flowering gorse more powerful in spots than Royal Dornoch Golf Club. There are many sandy, natural bunkers out here, like the intimidating giant one that guards the elevated par-5 third green in front - or the massive pot in front of the elevated sixth green that will be in the back of your mind both on your drive and delicate approach shot.
The sandy ground is especially firm, and greens are no exception. They are so firm, pull carts are allowed on them, so don't summon the course ranger if you see someone wheeling theirs across. Coupled with often fierce winds coming from the northwest, it makes it necessary to play the ground game around here.
The par-4 fourth hole, the longest on Pacific Dunes' front nine, plays right along the ocean from tee to green. With wind coming in off the coast, it's necessary to start your tee shot out over the beach before letting the wind bring it back if you want to catch the fairway.
The approach isn't easy either, as the green sits right along the edge of the cliff with little room on the left side. So, just how necessary is it to keep your approach out of the wind? Grant Rogers, director of instruction at the resort, has a unique way of doing it.
"I look for the 197-yard sprinkler," he says. "From there, I putt it."
Not a shot for everyone, sure. But low and simple is the right idea on most of the holes here - and don't expect much backspin.
Doak deserves credit not just for his minimalist design but for some ingenuity as well.
One of the more clever aspects is the back-to-back No. 9 and 10 holes that offer first alternate greens (one low and to the left, another uphill to the right) and subsequently alternate tees on the 11th (the short tee plays little more than 150 yards, while the back is well over 200 yards). It's a fine touch, so even if you play the course more than once during your trip, you'll play at least a slightly different golf course, especially once you discover just how different the holes play depending on the wind and pin locations.
The golf course also takes a unique routing. The front nine has seven par 4s and one par 5 and par 3 (ala the Old Course at St. Andrews). The back side, however, has three holes of each par, making the course, including back-to-back 3s on No. 10 and 11.
While the most photogenic holes are undoubtedly the coastal fourth and 13th, with its massive sand dune beside the green, the holes further inland are easily memorable in their own right. The up-and-down, snaking par-5 18th feels like it goes on forever at 591 yards from the back tees and full of deep, wild bunkers from tee to green.
Pacific Dunes: The Verdict
The best golf course in America? That's a claim that's sure to cause some Bunker Bar debate into the wee hours. Pacific Dunes is certainly unlike anything else you've played in the States.
It's definitely the top pure links creation in North America, and unlike the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort, Chambers Bay or Whistling Straits, this is all mother nature here - no land shaping needed.
The course's difficulty is debatable, as it was designed as a resort course over a major championship venue. On a calm day, its yardage at under 6,700 yards from the back tees might leave a little to be desired from scratch players thanks to generous fairways and modest yardage.
Next door, Bandon Dunes' championship rating is over 2.5 points higher (74.1 to 71.5). On a windy day, though, Pacific Dunes is all the golf course you need and more.
Green fees are $210 for resort guests, $265 for non-guests at all three Bandon Dunes Resort golf courses.