BANDON, Ore. -- One of the ways that Bandon Dunes Golf Resort on the Oregon coast is much like Ireland and Scotland is that golfers who would normally balk at playing in the wind and rain always make an exception there. After all, these courses are built on huge sand dunes, so the courses are ever playable. And like Scotland and Ireland, if you’re not willing to play in the rain, you might not play golf. Plan a three-day trip to Bandon Dunes, and it could be raining every day. Or in our case, rain on day 1 followed by perfect conditions for days 2 and 3.
But, initially, conditions were especially gnarly. We started out in full rain gear on the first hole at Bandon Dunes, the resort's original course. A steady drizzle ensued for the next six holes, but with proper rain gear, we persevered. And we -- my 26-year-old son Austin and I -- were already sharing a Bucket List moment.
Austin is a caddie at a high-end club in the Houston area, so most of his time on the golf course is spent finding yardages and reading putts for other golfers. I travel half of the year, playing most of my golf on the road as part of this wonderful job. Austin and I rarely play golf together anymore, so when the opportunity to set up this father-son golf trip to Bandon Dunes came along, I jumped at the chance. After all, isn’t a father-son trip to a bucket-list destination the ultimate buddy trip?
So the early rain -- especially knowing the next two days would be sunny and calm -- didn't put a damper on anything. We were sharing an authentic links experience. Though he could barely see the ocean through the weather, he was already having awe-ful moments when the clouds broke on the seventh hole, and we could ditch the rain gear -- at least temporarily.
It gets worse and much better
By the time we made the turn, I was already in shorts and had stowed my wet rain pants. I was determined that if the rain returned, I was just going to get a little wet. Little did I know.
On the 12th hole, the skies opened up again. By the time we teed off on the par-5 13th, it was battering us sideways and gaining momentum. Somehow we both found the fairway, but by this time, it was raining so hard it hurt. And we could hardly see, especially me since I have to wear glasses when I play.
Austin then hit a three-wood that traveled about 30 yards. My subsequent hybrid was even shorter. We were laughing uncontrollably, not only at the shots but at our wet-dog appearances as well. We had shared a links-golf moment we would never forget and relived it a few times later that night in town over a Guinness or two.
My son had never gone with me to Ireland or Scotland, but now he understood what I had been talking about all those years. You have to experience this to get it. Our shoes were more than soaked, they now held a quart of water. Rain gear and umbrellas were useless at this point. But there we were, taking it all in -- together. As good as the next two days were -- and they were exceptional -- this was a moment we’d always remember.
Two perfect days
The next two days were, of course, memorable, because they were pretty much perfect: highs around 70, a slight breeze and hardly a cloud in the sky; shorts weather in mid-October on the Oregon coast. It made the courses easier, of course, but they aren't that easy to begin with, especially for mortal golfers.
Day 2 began with a round on a course neither one of us had played -- Bandon Trails (my last trip to Bandon came in 2002 before Trails, Old Macdonald or Bandon Preserve were built). It would be the warmup for Pacific Dunes in the afternoon. The nice part about all of these courses is it's pretty easy to keep the ball in play, especially if you're a mid-handicapper or better. High handicappers will struggle with the bunkers and the greens, but they can certainly play the ball on the ground, especially on the links courses.
We were impressed with Bandon Trails and played a friendly match on each course. I would win a close one on Trails, and we carried it over to Pacific. It was on Pacific where we stopped every so often to realize how lucky we were to share the same vantage point.
"I've never seen anything like this," Austin said as we teed off on the par-4 fourth with the Pacific Ocean glistening to our right. "I can't believe I'm here."
This feeling continued for the next two and a half hours. In the end, I won another close match, but neither one of us really cared who won. In reality, we had both won. And for the record, Austin pulled out the last match at Old Macdonald. But who's counting, right?
As many stories as there are father-sons (or daughters)
Later that week, I got a call from a recently retired friend of mine who wanted a scouting report from Bandon Dunes. Turns out he and his adult son were taking their first trip there together in a couple of weeks to play in the annual Fall Family Match Play tournament, open to twosomes from the same family.
"The weather forecast isn't that good," my friend told me, "but there's nothing like it. I can't wait to show it to him."
They'd been pointing to this trip all year.
Another father-son combo that had been anticipating this special journey was Brandon and Karl Engdahl. They work together in the auto parts supply business in Fremont, Neb., near Omaha, where the father is the parts manager at a local Chevy dealer, and the son works in the parts distribution business. A while back, Brandon won a $5,000 voucher for a trip in a work-related contest. He chose to use the credit on the Bandon Dunes trip, which included lodging, meals, rounds of golf and airfare into North Bend.
It was a no-brainer. Both Brandon and his father played golf, so that part was easy. So was the part about Brandon spending time with his father. Karl celebrated his 54th birthday on the trip, which is extra special. A few years earlier, Karl was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in his neck and jaw (similar to that of former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly). Fortunately, Karl underwent successful treatment and has been cancer free for more than three years. But he couldn't play golf until recently, because one of his pectoral muscles was transplanted to the site where the cancer was removed. The surgery has permanently affected his golf swing, but both were just happy to be playing golf together.
"It was going to be either here or Pinehurst," Brandon said. "But we had never been to the West Coast before, so we decided to come here."
"This has been awesome," Karl said, obviously moved by the whole experience. "Getting to do this together is hard to put into words."
On the day that we played with them, the Engdahls got another bonus. As fate would have it, they were both big fans of the Kansas City Royals (which was obvious from the Royals hat Brandon was wearing). The Royals were playing the Houston Astros in Game 4 of the American League Division Series that afternoon. The Astros, leading 2-1 in the series with a chance to eliminate the Royals, went up 6-2 going into the eighth inning. Austin and I are Astro fans (you can tell this from the Astros cap I wore), and all of us were checking the score from time to time on our phones, though we muted our zeal for our respective teams.
As it turned out, the Astros blew that four-run lead and then some. Right around the 12th hole, I saw Karl look across the fairway to his son and give him a fist pump. I knew it wasn't about the drive but about the final score: 9-6 Royals, who eventually went on to advance to the ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays. My son and I were a bit disappointed in the outcome of the baseball game, but we were genuinely happy for the Engdahls -- in more ways than we could have imagined.