The Future of the Sheep Ranch Course at Bandon Dunes

Last week news broke about Bandon Dunes' plans to turn its mysterious "Sheep Ranch" into the resort's fifth golf course, with Gil Hanse the likely designer.

If you're not aware, the Sheep Ranch is a scruffy, free-form plot of cliffside links (just north of the main Bandon courses) that some say is the "purest" form of golf they've ever played.

Its 13 green sites were laid out by Tom Doak when he was building his Pacific Dunes course, but the Sheep Ranch has no real set "layout."

Instead, visitors (who pay $100 each for the privilege of playing it) are given a general trail map of sorts to follow...or not. The Sheep Ranch is delightfully devoid of rules.

If you're competing with friends, the tradition has been to play golf like a game of "Horse" on a basketball court. In other words, the team that wins the hole gets to pick the next target green.

Individuals and groups that have "wandered" around the Sheep Ranch this way are struck by the rustic nature of the experience, right down to the very minimally maintained off-green areas.

So, we must admit: while we're excited there will be a new "full size" course at Bandon, we're also a little bummed that this particular do-it-yourself golf experience may be going away in the next few years. (We're hoping it pops up someplace else on or near the Bandon property.)

If you're a fan of the Sheep Ranch concept and would like to experience it for yourself, make sure you get to Bandon sooner than later.

There are also other places where this sort of experience is available:

The Prairie Club (Horse Course) - Valentine, Neb.

Fittingly, this third course at the Prairie Club was designed by Gil Hanse, to complement the bigger, brawnier Pines and Dunes layouts. Unlike the Sheep Ranch, you won't need more than three or four clubs to play the Horse Course, as the holes all play as par 3s.

Origins Golf Club - WaterSound, Fla.

Though it takes up much less space than a full-size golf course, this Davis Love III-designed course is remarkably flexible. It can play as a six-hole regulation-length course, a 10-hole par-3 course, or something in between, due to its assortment of secondary greens ant tee boxes. It is mostly reserved for residents of the surrounding residential community, but it takes play from visitors as well.

Ballyneal - Holyoke, Colo.

Ballyneal is a national-scale private club with a fabulous Tom Doak-designed course, but its own traditions are worth mentioning. See, Ballyneal has no tee markers or tee boxes per se. Instead, there are free-form tee areas with some flat spots by every green, and the player or team that wins a given hole gets to pick the tee-off spot for the next hole.

Any golf course anywhere

If the members at Ballyneal can play around with the lengths of the holes they play by exporting the concept of the game of Horse to golf, so can you and your foursome, especially if you play most of your rounds at the same course.

Are your opponents shorter hitters? Exploit that weakness by moving back a set of tees after you win a hole.

Have you always wanted to add a couple drive-able par fours to your home course? Move up to the forward tees and make some more birdies!

No one is forcing you to use the same tee boxes time and again, after all.

What do you think about these more free-form golf concepts? Have you visited the Sheep Ranch at Bandon Dunes? Please read what others are saying and add your comments below!

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for Golf Advisor and the Managing Editor of the Golf Vacation Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
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I played the sheep rench with 7 friends in 2013. We played an elimination tournament with something very similar to the "horse" rules. When someone was eliminated, they picked up someone else's bag and caddied for the next round. We also bought a cheap grill, a bag of charcoal, some meat and a cooler of beer and ice in town. It was without a doubt the most fun I've ever had playing golf. If you have a chance, get there before it becomes a "normal" course.

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I played the Sheep Ranch last year with 3 friends, and we all agreed it was the most fun we had playing golf, but we also agreed that is wasn't something we would want to do every round.

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The cross-country golf of our youth was great! In winter we play "horse". The winner picks where to tee off on the next hole (e.g. the island in a nearby fairway bunker). Also, of course, 'stymies' on the greens.

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Terrific - golf needs this kind of innovation for us geriatrics's and the less skilled a la Gary player

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Sounds dangerous in the present set up

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As a teenager (that is a long, long time ago) we would play "cross country golf" usually late in the year when the course was nearly deserted because of cold weather. Like "horse" the winner of a hole would take us to the neighbouring tee where he/she would announce what green we would play to as the next hole. So you might go after finishing #3 green to #4 tee and then to #11 green (a hole of about 800 yards in length)and play through three fairways. Next, #12 tee to #6 green, about 310 yards, but requiring to play around or over a large group of trees, etc. It was a lot of fun! Usually playing seven or eight holes would make up a three hour game.

Commented on

Those holes really look to me a natural design of golf holes, Davis Love III deserves a award for his design.
Hawthorne Johnson.

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