Old Macdonald adds to legend at Bandon Dunes

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old macdonald hole 7
No. 7 at Old Macdonald is a short, uphill par 4 with the Pacific Ocean as the backdrop

BANDON, Ore. – The legend continues at Bandon Dunes.

In June America’s most iconic 21st-century golf resort unveiled its fourth course, Old Macdonald.

Contrary to the three previous courses at Bandon Dunes which are unique to its designer, Tom Doak and Jim Urbina approached “Old Mac” the way they believe Charles Blair Macdonald, the father of American golf, would have.

The result is a brawny links course characterized by wide fairways and massive greens. It’s modeled after Macdonald’s design of National Golf Links on Long Island, which in turn was inspired by the Old Course at St. Andrews.

Two degrees of separation from the world’s first golf course? So much for critics suggesting Bandon Dunes lacks history.

When Macdonald designed National Golf Links near the turn of the 20th century he did so with the intention of creating the finest golf course outside the British Isles. He borrowed the name and concept of several British favorites including the Alps hole at Prestwick, the Road and Eden holes at St. Andrews and the Redan hole at North Berwick.

Fittingly, Doak and Urbina used the same tactic at Old Mac.

“We had a palette of about 20 golf holes or features which were favorites of Macdonald's,” Doak said. “In the end, we managed to include 16 or 17 out of those 20 features.”

No. 11 is Old Mac’s Road Hole. Though this long par 4 doesn’t require a shot over a hotel like at St. Andrews, it does favor a tee shot down the right side, with a crescent green protected by a pot bunker that’s every bit as devilish as the original.

Old Mac’s characteristics
Though the ocean is visible from several holes, Old Mac doesn’t play along the cliffs like at Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes. The greatest defense here is the greens, which, according to Doak are “probably bigger than any set of greens anybody has built in 30 years.”

No. 8, for example, is a straightforward downhill par 3 guarded by a behemoth green that’s 216 feet from front to back. If the pin is back-right and you leave it short of the green, the longest putt of your life is a real possibility.

Two holes later you’re reintroduced to a double green that Nos. 5 and 10 share, which is the largest green surface in the world (it takes the maintenance crew an hour to mow). A shot that skips long-right past the hole could catch a slope and roll into No. 5’s portion of the green, leaving a putt that would cause even the most creative short game guru to have a conniption fit.

None of the 18 greens at Old Mac is fewer than 110 feet in depth.
 
But while the greens are tricky, the fairways are incredibly wide. Like any great links course, hitting your tee shot to the correct side of the fairway is paramount if you want to get your approach shot within birdie range.

Like the aforementioned 11th, No. 1 is also a prime example of this design trait, and for this reason it’s one of Doak’s favorite holes.

“I think the first hole is the perfect starting hole for this course,” Doak said. “There is an ocean of fairway to hit into, but a poor tee shot makes getting the second shot close to the hole much more risky.”

One of the true links characteristics of Old Mac is that it can be played a number of different ways. Planning on using the same “aim and fire” tactic you use at your weekend muni course? Good luck. If you leave it on the wrong side of the hole, four putts and pot bunkers beckon.

The verdict
Old Mac is much different from Pacific Dunes and Bandon Dunes. There aren’t any holes where the ocean is your water hazard – except No. 7 if you blade it over the green.

Though you’re not required to take a caddie at any of the courses at this walking-only resort, you should definitely get one at Old Mac because aim points are hard to find and there aren’t any hole signs.

The huge greens, many of which transition into the next tee box, are the biggest at the resort and are reminiscent of St. Andrews. The layout is hillier than the Old Course, and built on a larger piece of property with no out of bounds. Other than the gorse, there really isn’t a place where you can lose a ball.

In some ways Old Mac is the easiest of the four courses at Bandon Dunes, but it’s also the most tactically challenging. It’s by far the best match play course at the resort, and the Bandon Dunes staff says it’s likely the course will be used in the rotation of courses when the men’s and women’s U.S. Amateur Public Links visit simultaneously in 2011.

Big, brawny and a heck of a lot of fun to play. Just how Bandon Dunes drew it up. Old Mac would be proud.