Postcard from the Pacific Northwest

By Adam BarrJune 2, 2007, 4:00 pm
BANDON, Ore. -- Probably the first sign that I was onto something different came when I passed the herd of elk.
I was driving west on Oregon Route 38 on a brilliantly sunny May afternoon, dangling my hand out the window into the cool air rushing by. The broad Umpqua River, blown full of whitecaps by that stiff onshore wind, was on my right. About 200 yards of grassy valley floor was on the left, and above it rose a steep wall of enormous pines.
Bandon Dunes
The 12th hole at Bandon Dunes.
I travel to a lot of interesting places, but 'Elk Crossing' is not a road sign I see every day. I had seen five of them since setting out from the airport in Eugene. I had nearly wrecked the car that many times taking in the stunning, rustic beauty of southwest Oregon. Now another road sign, one of those brown here's-something-cool signs, informed me that an elk viewing area was coming up on the left. Sure enough, as advertised, here were about two dozen head, munching away at the fescue about halfway between the road and the piney valley wall.
As it turns out, I hadn't seen anything yet.
I don't know why people say it's hard to get to Bandon Dunes, the magnificent golf resort that hangs out over the Pacific Ocean about 25 miles south of Coos Bay. Sure, you might have to take an extra flight -- east coast to Seattle, then hops from Seattle to Portland and Portland to North Bend, plus a 40-minute drive. Or you could do what I did (I hate connecting even once, so three flights was out of the question), which was to fly to Salt Lake City, then to the college town of Eugene. That leaves a comfortable three-hour drive to Bandon. (Both Eugene and North Bend have wonderful airports, the kind with perhaps two baggage belts, no long walks to anywhere, and your rental car literally 50 yards outside the door.)
No, physically it's not that much of a hassle to get here. The real challenge is getting your mind and spirit, beleaguered as they are by the demands of the hurry-up, never-rest, gotta-have-it-yesterday world, to join you. But once you do, they'll never want to leave.
Bandon Dunes is Scotland's long-lost twin, a golf paradise for anyone who truly loves the game in all its windy, bouncy, random, invigorating fullness. Like Scotland, Bandon is one of those rare travel experiences that actually lives up to -- and sometimes exceeds -- the hype.
Coming south on U.S. 101, massive dunes rising as much as 80 feet block your view of the ocean. And it occurs to you that golf grasses, the hardy, salt-air-loving kind, would grow well in such an environment. That has been the turfgrass secret of Bandon, whose rolling terrain is covered in a fine, resilient fescue that hits firm, putts fast, and looks marvelous -- steady medium green with just a hint of tan. There are flat lies to be found here, but not often. The roll of the fairways pleases the eye and challenges the mind, adding to almost every shot the variable of ball height in relation to the player's feet.
And then there is the wind -- insistent, usually northerly, frightening those who left their fortitude at home into pressing too hard. You don't play the wind here; it plays you. Almost like putting, where you hit to a spot and let the fall of the green work with gravity to get your ball to the hole, at Bandon you get it up there and let the wind hammer your shot into shape, glorious or grotesque as luck and your predictive skills allow.
Bandon Dunes
The 16th hole at Bandon Dunes.
In short, Bandon is links golf at its finest. And this is real links, connecting the beach and inland agricultural fields with a vast ribbon of firm, sandy underlayment for all that magnificent fescue. Add the vegetation, the trees, the yellow broom and gorse, the violet heather and multitude of wildflowers -- if you look in certain directions, it is a Scottish scene straight out of Carnoustie and environs.
But instead of Firth or Sea, you have ocean, the biggest ocean, down a 60-foot bluff and aproned with a wide, driftwood-littered beach. While we played a shakedown nine the other day, a fogbank the size of Scottsdale loomed a few miles offshore. The north-northeast wind held it off.
'That adds another element,' said Skip Luke mildly. Skip is one of the rangers I met while walking the front nine of Bandon Dunes, the first of the three courses here. (Bandon Trails and Pacific Dunes are the others; a fourth is under construction.) Skip, a lightly grizzled fellow firmly in his fifties, is typical of the robust and helpful folks you'll find here -- ready to play golf, or help, any time, any weather.
'Hardly any wind Tuesday,' Skip said. 'Really picking up now. But still, it's pretty playable here.' He took a deep breath. 'Beautiful day.'
Beautiful indeed. If your cares don't fall away here, they are glued onto you too tightly. There are other things to do on the Oregon coast, excellent things -- fishing, hiking, horseback riding, lighthouse touring -- but if you have come to Bandon Dunes, you are here for the golf. Most of our fellow guests were of the 36-hole-a-day variety, no matter how much of a slog those last few exhausted holes might be. Gathered in the restaurants at night, wan smiles at the day's exploits and X-outs alternated with good-natured winces at the ache in one's thighs. But everyone sleeps well, and there is no shortage of enthusiasm over breakfast the next day.
Accommodations at Bandon are eminently comfortable, but not over the top in luxury. Many folks find that pleasing; there is never a sense that some needless ornament or ostentation is inflating the greens fees. My room had a gas fireplace and a brown leather chair that was perfect for reading or ruminating. A small veranda offered a view of an absolutely untouched lily pond, where a frog chorus nightly accompanied the dance of blue-backed swallows as they skimmed the surface in search of insects.
Restaurants on site offer pub-grub comfort or more upscale (but never stuck-up) dining. Once here, there's little reason to leave.
Except that eventually, you must. But if you're a golfer, your mind and spirit will stay.
Email your thoughts to Adam Barr
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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.