As I walked (limped) off the 18th green at Old Macdonald, my body aching from the pains brought on by a marathon of golf, and my ego aching twice as much, I felt a juxtaposition of disappointment and euphoria. Euphoric from just finishing my 72nd hole of golf (85th if you count the Preserve, a short, 13-hole, par 3 course) in four days at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. My disappointment came from the realization that I would never again experience this golf paradise for the first time. I put my clubs in the car and sat in the driver’s seat, completely exhausted. I looked in the visor mirror and realized the golfer staring back at me was not the same golfer as the one who first teed off at Bandon Dunes three days earlier.
Let me start at the beginning. I emerged from the wooded Oregon Highway 42 shortly before 3 p.m., my heart thumping in my chest. The stoplight at the confluence of Hwy 101 seemed to take forever, somehow teasingly aware I was mere minutes from my destination. But, by 3:30 I was checked into my room at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. Small, but incredibly cozy, the room was packaged with everything a golfer needs. The mattress was soft to rest a weary back, natural stone flooring in the bathroom to massage the feet, two comfortable chairs, a TV, and of course, a fridge to store all manner of swing lubricant. I didn’t stay in my room for long. I had to see the ocean. I climbed up a little trail near the hotel. At the top, overlooking the land leading to the edge of the Pacific, I couldn’t help but weep tears of joy. I made it! After months of saving, I wasn’t a golfer on vacation, I was a pilgrim on a religious journey, ready to take on the Bandon Dunes experience. Mine eyes had seen the glory of what was in store for me over the next four days.
Day 1-Bandon Dunes
Nervous, and pretty much sleepless from the anticipation the night before, I teed off at the resort’s eponymous course at 8:20 a.m. sharp, launching a beautiful drive down the right side of the fairway, flirting with the rough. My second shot, a sky-high 9 iron, put me on the back of the green. After a two-putt I walked towards the 2nd hole, ego thoroughly massaged. From 8:20 to 8:35 I was the best golfer I’d ever been. I’d parred the first hole at Bandon Dunes. However, The lord giveth…and the lord taketh away. From 8:36 to 12:13, it was a struggle.
Bandon Dunes is a resort course, no question. The undulating fairways, follow the natural landscape of the Oregon coast, and like any high end resort course, they’re as tight as a table-top. Those of us who have a tendency to hit the big ball first are in for a long day. If you aren’t familiar with the bottom of your swing, your 4 iron is likely to get you a good six feet of ball flight. I had my fair share of frustrating results, but my passion for the game was uninhibited. As I finished the Bandon Dunes course with my tail was between my legs and butterflies in my stomach, I realized I was in love. The mysterious mistress of golf and Bandon Dunes had me under her spell, regardless of how I played.
Day 2–Pacific Dunes
As usual when one is in love, I couldn’t sleep from the anticipation of my second date. Promptly, again at 8:20, I launched my first drive into the middle of the fairway, I just wish it was the correct one! Day 2 at the Bandon Dunes Resort was a job-like test of my love for golf. I think I made one par, and lost about a trillion strokes on the fast greens and tight fairways. I got my first taste of the deep, numerous bunkers at Pacific Dunes as well, and it certainly wouldn’t be my last.
Pacific Dunes could be the most difficult course I played at the resort, but it was also the most beautiful. Nearly every hole is on the ocean, offering breathtaking sights. That’s why I played so poorly! The golf gods wanted me to spend more time taking in the course. At least, that’s what I told myself.
After the round, I left my clubs in the car (which is something I consider sacrilegious), went straight to my hotel room and collapsed on the bed. There’s something about golf where a dreadful performance completely takes the wind out of your sails. Later that evening, I resolved to get some pick-me-ups. I headed into the Bandon Dunes pro-shop near The Lodge. Souvenirs were aplenty in the building, with all manner of name brand logo merchandise from cigars, books, apparel, to golf equipment. You name it. They had it. All sporting the Bandon Dunes puffin logo. I walked out carrying a new shirt and a puffin head-cover, and went right into the bar. The Tufted Puffin is the Lodge’s restaurant, and was my haunt of choice when I wasn’t on the course. The food was great, the drinks were superb, and the staff was kind. After some retail and culinary therapy, I was feeling a little bit better as my head hit the pillow.
Day 3–Bandon Trails
My alarm blared at 6:30 the next morning. I lay in bed staring at the ceiling thinking, Do I really need to punish myself again adding insult to injury? Haven’t I had enough? Every golfer knows about the Herculean effort needed to go out and play after a particularly bad round. I walked onto the tees of Bandon Trails hesitant and untrusting of my game. Fortunately, I was able to keep it together. Trails is the most unique course at the resort. With 70% forest, only a handful of holes run along the ocean. It’s beautiful and my personal favorite. The grass in the fairways is tight, but seemed a little more forgiving. The forested layout and the surroundings are almost out-of-place. As I walked among the trees on the seventh hole (I admit it, looking for an errant ball), I couldn’t tell whether I was a quarter-mile away from the ocean-from the edge of the continent-or one thousand miles away. Numerous elevation changes throughout the track make each hole unique, inviting, and enjoyable. The logo of Trails is a butterfly, and it’s appropriate. I felt light as a feather the whole round, even more in love with the Bandon experience.
Day 4–Old Mac
Old Macdonald, is the wildcard, and the youngest of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort courses. I was joined by my friend/colleague/mentor Cliff, for a round of golf where every characteristic of the resort’s courses are distilled into an 18-hole endurance test. It truly was golf turned up to an eleven. Every fairway at the first three courses rolls and undulates. At Old Mac, they turn mounds into hills and dips into valleys. I was dwarfed in bunkers, and I’m not afraid to admit I broke out the hand-wedge a couple of times. The greens at Trails and both Dunes courses are fast, but Old Mac’s are downright sinister. If an outsider was watching us putt, they’d come to believe that “Oh my god, are you kidding me?” is a required utterance after each putt. After our handshake on the 18th green, we shared the mutual thought as we added up our scores, Cliff & Colin–0, Old Macdonald–1. We played golf, and golf won.
So, there I am sitting in my car staring at myself in the visor mirror. My shoulders hurt, my right hand had blisters, and my left hand was noticeably paler than its counterpart. I had to get on the road soon. I had a long drive ahead of me. I turned the key and my car sprang to life. After fastening my seat belt and choosing the right CD for the trip, my eyes returned to the mirror. I could see the fatigue in his eyes and feel it in mine. I smiled. He smiled. And then we said, in unison, “I love golf.”