Last week there was some news coming out of the No. 1 golf destination in the U.S., so I called Mike Keiser, owner of Bandon Dunes in Oregon, for an update.
Keiser said that after having a conversation with Pinehurst president Don Padgett about the popularity of Pinehurst’s new putting course, Thistle Dhu, Keiser wants one of his own. I was at Pinehurst two weeks ago and had the opportunity to play/putt Thistle Dhu, which is a 15,000-square foot chunk of crazy breaks. Think pinball meets labyrinth. (Padgett holds the 18-hole course record of 37. I think I had 40 through the first four holes.)
Before or after a round at Pinehurst, members and resort guests can putt Pinehurst’s Thistle Dhu for free.
Although it was reported that Tom Doak will build Keiser’s version of the Old Course’s Himalayas putting course, Keiser says the architect has not yet been decided: “We are talking to all of the usual suspects.” Which makes me think it will be either Doak or Jim Urbina, who used to work for Doak and was Doak’s co-designer of Bandon’s Old Macdonald.
Keiser says his putting course will be on 120,000-square feet of dunes between the Pacific Dunes clubhouse and the Pacific Ocean.
I’m ruling out Gil Hanse as a potential architect of Keiser’s new putting course because Hanse is busy designing the Olympic course in Brazil, and he will build Keiser’s next 27 holes, Bandon Muni, which will be on a piece of oceanside property just south of the town of Bandon. Keiser’s been waiting for the Oregon State Park’s Department to accept his offer of a $4 to $1 property swap to satisfy their demand for “an overwhelming public benefit.”
Keiser suspects this deal will be approved in the next four to six months. At that point, the gorse-chocked dunes will be cleared and Hanse will come back from Brazil to walk the land and create an official routing. Keiser anticipates shaping of holes to begin in 2014, with preview play in 2015 and an official opening in 2016. Bandon Muni will be offered at a reduced rate for locals and serve as a junior caddie program that will be a feeder system to his first five courses at Bandon Dunes.
I would also rule out Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw as potential builders of Keiser’s putting course because Coore is set to sign the contract to build Keiser’s and Ben Cowan-Dewar’s second course at Cabot Links – called Cabot Cliffs – in Nova Scotia. Keiser has always said it takes two courses to make a true golf getaway, and Cabot Cliffs, much like what Pacific Dunes did for Bandon Dunes, will be critical to the overall success of this remote Canadian destination.
Cabot Links offers several memorable holes and sweet scenery, which would include this look from the clubhouse and the 18th green.
I played Cabot Links in October. I thought designer and builder Rod Whitman did a good job with the property he had to work with, but Cabot Cliffs has the chance to be spectacular. I walked the property with Coore, who admitted that if he doesn’t build something special, he’ll have failed.
Bill Coore surveys the land that will be used for the Cabot Cliffs clubhouse.
Smart money is on Coore to come through for Keiser, Cowan-Dewar and what is Cabot Links.
Standing on what will be the 17th tee at Cabot Cliffs, you can look down the coastline to what will also be the 18th hole.
Coore confirmed that although his design partner, Ben Crenshaw, always said he never wanted to work on courses outside of the U.S., that in this particular case, given the property and the upside of the project, that he will be involved. To what degree, Coore can’t say, but Crenshaw has always simply served as top-dressing to their finished products, which includes the recent restoration of Pinehurst No. 2, Keiser’s Bandon Trails and Bandon’s new par 3 course, Bandon Preserve.
Bandon Preserve is 13 par 3s. The newest course at Bandon Dunes, which opened in 2012, is $100 in peak season.
Keiser says they will have seven to 10 holes at Cabot Cliffs built by August, with preview play starting in spring 2014. All 18 holes should be open by 2015.
While I had them on the phone, I also spoke to Keiser and Coore about the changes they’ve made to the 18th hole at Bandon Trails, which will reopen in March. The forward tee has been raised a few feet, the landing area in the fairway has been shaved down a bit and the false front of the elevated green has been softened.
“We’ve made it fair,” says Keiser.
Coming off a week of Bandon temperatures in the upper 50s, and hardly any wind, the offseason deal at Bandon Dunes still is one of the best in the world: Through April, you can stay three nights, play three rounds, eat three buffet breakfasts and two dinners off the menu for $650 per person. A la carte, you can play any one of the four 18-hole courses for $75, with a replay rate of $40. Play Bandon Preserve right now for $50.
Look for more updates on courses and resorts in upcoming episodes of Morning Drive and on this website.