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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Davies not giving up on win, HOF after close call

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 3:06 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies knows the odds are long now, but she won’t let go of that dream of making the LPGA Hall of Fame.

At 54, she was emboldened by her weekend run at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. She tied for second, five shots behind Inbee Park.

“The more I get up there, I might have a chance of winning again,” Davies said. “I'm not saying I will ever win, but today was close. Maybe one day I can go closer.”

Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, but she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in 2001. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Over her career, she has won 20 LPGA titles, four of them major championships. She was the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996. She probably would have locked up Hall of Fame status if she hadn’t been so loyal to the Ladies European Tour, where she won 45 titles.

Though Davies didn’t win Sunday in Phoenix, there was more than consolation in her run into contention.

“Now people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

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Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”

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Rory almost channels Tiger with 72nd-hole celebration

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:11 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy’s final putt at the Arnold Palmer Invitational felt awfully familiar.

He rolled in the 25-footer for birdie and wildly pumped his fist, immediately calling to mind Woods’ heroics on Bay Hill’s 18th green.

Three times Woods holed a putt on the final green to win this event by a stroke.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy was just happy to provide a little extra cushion as the final group played the finishing hole.

“I’ve seen Tiger do that enough times to know what it does,” McIlroy said. “So I just wanted to try and emulate that. I didn’t quite give it the hat toss – I was thinking about doing that. But to be able to create my own little bit of history on the 18th green here is pretty special.”

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A performance fit for a King

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:08 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Five hundred and 40 days had passed since Rory McIlroy last won, and since golf lost one of its most iconic players.

So much has transpired in McIlroy’s life since then – marriage, injury, adversity – but even now he vividly recalls the awkward end to the 2016 Tour Championship. He had just captured the FedExCup and $11 million bonus, but afterward, in the scrum, he was asked instead to reflect on the passing earlier that day of Arnold Palmer, at age 87.

“Obviously I had a great win and it was a great day for me, but in the big scheme of things, that didn’t matter,” he said. “The game of golf had lost an icon, a legend, an inspiration to so many of us. I probably wasn’t as ecstatic as maybe I would have been if Arnie hadn’t passed away.”

But there was McIlroy on Sunday at Bay Hill, at Arnie’s Florida home, summoning the kind of charge that would have made the King proud. With five birdies in his last six holes, he broke away from a stacked leaderboard to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first victory on Tour in 18 months, since that bittersweet evening at East Lake.

“Kind of ironic,” he said Sunday.

But the connection between McIlroy and Palmer runs deeper than that.

Palmer and McIlroy’s wife, Erica, shared a birthday – Sept. 10.

Palmer wrote letters to McIlroy after each of his many victories.

Palmer had lobbied for years to get McIlroy to play this event, even threatening him. “If he doesn’t come and play Bay Hill,” Palmer said in 2012, “he might have a broken arm and he won’t have to worry about where he’s going to play next.”

McIlroy kept all of his limbs intact but didn’t add the event until 2015, when Palmer’s health was beginning to deteriorate. That week he sat for a two-hour dinner with Palmer in the Bay Hill clubhouse, and the memories still bring a smile to his face.

“I was mesmerized,” McIlroy said.

And entertained, of course.

Palmer ordered fish for dinner. “And I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A.1. Sauce?’” McIlroy said.

“And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ And he said, ‘No, for me!’"

McIlroy chuckled at the exchange, then added somberly: “I was very fortunate to spend that time with him.”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy has been telling anyone who will listen that he’s close to playing his best golf, but even he was surprised by the drastic turn of events over the past 10 days.

During that 18-month winless drought, he endured an onslaught of questions about his wedge play, his putting, his health and his motivation. Burnt out by the intense spotlight, and needing to rehab a nagging rib injury, he shut it down for four months last fall, a mental and physical reset.

But after an encouraging start to his 2018 campaign in the Middle East, McIlroy was a non-factor in each of his first four Tour starts. That included a missed cut last week in Tampa, where he was admittedly searching.

“The best missed cut I’ve ever had,” he said.

McIlroy grinded all last weekend, stumbling upon a swing thought, a feeling, like he was making a three-quarter swing. Then he met for a few hours Monday in South Florida with former PGA Tour winner and putting savant Brad Faxon. They focused on being more instinctive and reactionary over the ball.

“He just freed me up,” McIlroy said.

Freed up his stroke, which had gotten too rigid.

And freed up his mind, which was bogged down with technical thoughts and self-doubt.

“The objective is to get the ball in the hole,” he said, “and I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All McIlroy did at Bay Hill was produce the best putting week of his career.  

Starting the final round two shots back of Henrik Stenson, McIlroy made the turn in 33 and then grabbed a share of the lead on the 11th hole.

Tiger Woods was making a run, moving within a shot of the lead, but McIlroy answered with a charge of his own, rattling off four consecutive birdies – a 16-footer on 13, a 21-footer on 14, a chip-in on 15 and a two-putt birdie after a 373-yard drive on 16 – that left Woods and everyone else in the dust.

Then McIlroy finished it off in style, rolling in a 25-footer on the last that was eerily similar to the putt that Woods has holed so many times at his personal playground.

“I know what the putt does,” McIlroy said, “so it was nice to make my own little bit of history.”

Justin Rose has played plenty of meaningful golf with McIlroy over the years, but he’d never seen him roll it like he did Sunday.

“He turned on the burners on the back nine,” he said. “He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

It’s little wonder McIlroy pulled ahead of a star-studded leaderboard, closing with a bogey-free 64 and winning by three shots at 18-under 270 – he led the field in driving distance, proximity to the hole, scrambling and strokes gained-putting.

“It’s so nice that everything finally came together,” he said.

Over the next two weeks, there figures to be plenty of conversation about whether McIlroy can channel that fearlessness into the major he covets most. The Masters is the only piece missing from a career Grand Slam, and now, thanks to Faxon’s tips, he’s never been in a better position.

But after a turbulent 18 months, McIlroy needed no reminder to savor a victory that felt like a long time coming.

There was a hug for his parents, Gerry and Rosie.

A kiss for his wife, Erica.

A handshake for Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, and then a fitting into the champion’s alpaca cardigan.

The only thing missing was the King himself, waiting atop the hill behind 18 with his huge smile and vice-grip handshake.

“Hopefully he’s up there smiling,” McIlroy said, “and hopefully he’s proud of me with the way I played that back nine.”