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Bandon Dunes marks 25 years

by Steve Mims

On May 2nd, which was the 25th Anniversary of the opening of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Don Crowe – an original staffer who rose from Food and Beverage Manager to General Manager – recalled the initial idea of the resort’s founder.

“What was then the fulfillment of Mike Keiser’s dream to bring links golf to life on the rugged coast of Oregon has grown to be much more,” Crowe said. “A 25-year legacy of great golf, the way it was meant to be. Bandon Dunes has never strayed from its original intent, which was to welcome passionate, avid golfers who were willing to travel to this wonderful corner of the country to indulge in the pure joy of links golf with those closest to them.”

Keiser recalled his intentions as even simpler.

“To build a golf course that people want to come from all over the world to play,” he said.

Mission accomplished.

Crowe recalled the goal when the resort opened in 1999 was to host 10,000 rounds of golf that year. They exceeded expectations with 25,000 in the inaugural year. This year, that number will exceed 270,000 on the resort’s seven courses.

Pacific Dunes followed Bandon Dunes in 2001 before Bandon Trails opened in 2005. Old Macdonald was built in 2010 with Sheep Ranch opening in 2020. Bandon Preserve, a 13-hole, par-3 course, was created in 2012 while Shorty’s, another par-3 course that features 19 holes, became the latest addition in May.

“Keiser is undeniably the most influential developer of golf courses in the world during the last quarter-century,” said designer Bill Coore, who along with business partner Ben Crenshaw designed the resort’s Bandon Trails, Sheep Ranch and Bandon Preserve courses. “I think there is no question about that whatsoever.”

Bandon Dunes, the first course, had an unlikely architect in David McLay Kidd, who was just 26 when hired by Keiser to build what eventually became ranked among the top golf courses in the nation. Kidd’s father was a greenkeeper and course superintendent in Scotland.

During the four-day celebration of the resort’s 25th anniversary in early May, a panel of golf course architects spoke about their experiences in designing the resort’s courses. From left to right: Dave Axland, Rod Whitman, Keith Cutten (designers of the newly-opened par-3 course, Shorty’s); Matt Ginella, moderator; Bill Coore, designer (with Ben Crenshaw) of Bandon Trails, Bandon Preserve and Sheep Ranch; Jim Urbina, designer (with Tom Doak) of Pacific Dunes and Old Macdonald); and David McLay Kidd, designer of Bandon Dunes. Missing from the panel are Crenshaw and Doak.

“I was born and raised with the DNA of Scottish golf and links golf,” Kidd said. “I think as the son of a greenkeeper, Mike hoped that although I might not have had the knowledge and experience, hopefully it was burnt into my DNA. I didn’t really know exactly what I was doing. I knew what golf was, where I came from, and so I knew how I could paint that on the landscape that was out there. Even though I may not have been able to deconstruct it and explain it and articulate it the way I might be able to today, that’s how I felt.”

Kidd paused a moment before adding with a laugh, “The amazing thing is now I am two years older than Mike was when he hired me, and I wouldn’t have hired me back then.”

Pacific Dunes was completed two years later by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina.

“When Tom and I first came to this property, Mike showed us the land to build the second golf course and we were so lucky to get over 200 acres of land to work on,” Urbina said. “It was unbelievable, the property he gave us.”

Urbina and Doak teamed up again to build Old Macdonald.

“I totaled up the number of acres that Mike has allowed Tom and I to work on and it is over 350 acres of oceanfront land,” Urbina said. “People always come up to me and say, ‘What kind of land are you looking for?’ and I say, ‘If you found land like this, give us a call quickly and we’ll be over to see you’. Seventy-five percent of good golf is the land, and Mr. Keiser took the time to find that land.”

Keiser hired Coore and Crenshaw to design Bandon Trails.

“He called and said ‘Bill, I am thinking about doing a third course at Bandon Dunes and wanted to see if you and Ben were interested in designing it, but I must tell you that it is not on the ocean so you may prefer not to do that because it will probably always be known as the course that’s not on the ocean,’” Coore recalled. “It wasn’t the greatest sales job.

Coore had been at the resort not too long before that and walked Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes. “And I remember thinking, ‘This is really special.’ I went back to my room and thought, ‘We do good stuff, and we have talented people to work with, but at our best, can we do that?’ From that moment on, it was like, if Mike Keiser ever asks, we need to look at it. We came back and told Mike, we know it’s not on the ocean and we are not here to say that we have to have the best piece of property. We understand whatever we do is going to be perceived as the other course, but I remember saying that our goal was to create something that would be a complement to what David had done and what Tom and Jim did and if we can do that, we are going to be totally happy and we’ll leave the chips to fall however other people perceive it.”

After designing the resort’s Bandon Trails course (i.e. “the course not on the ocean”), Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were tabbed to renovate the resort’s Sheep Ranch, which has nine greens along the Pacific Ocean. Pictured is the first green (foreground) and 17th fairway on Sheep Ranch.

Later, Coore and Crenshaw got their oceanfront spot when Keiser brought them back to create Sheep Ranch, which features nine greens overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

“In the process of developing these golf courses, Mike has also become one of the most influential people in the world of golf course design and architecture,” Coore said. “The way he has worked with all of us is the most wonderful example of how to encourage people to be creative. Give them sights that are amazing naturally for golf and give them the freedom to work with those sites.”

The most recent addition is Shorty’s, named after Shorty Dow, the longtime caretaker of the property before it was purchased by Keiser. The team of Whitman, Axland & Cutten designed the par-3 course.

“It was a great opportunity presented to us, to be able to put our stamp on Bandon Dunes, the best golf resort in the world,” Rod Whitman said.

The resort has added enough lodging and restaurants that golfers can spend a week without ever having to leave the property. Add in a Practice Center and Punchbowl putting course, and Bandon Dunes has been ranked as the No. 1 golf resort in North America.

“Bandon Dunes has created a truly remarkable and unique golf experience,” Crowe said. “One that is widely sought after by the most enthusiastic golfers in the country and has built a reputation of excellence.”

Crowe announced during the 25th Anniversary celebration that he will leave after seven years as general manager to work at Dream Golf, which runs the collection of eight Keiser courses.

He will be replaced by assistant general manager Jeff Simonds while Ken Nice – who arrived at the resort when it opened in 1999, serving as its director of agronomy – will serve as managing director.

“The elevation of Ken and Jeff into these roles is well deserved and I am confident the resort is in great hands,” Crowe said.

The number of rounds each year will continue to grow along with the resort.

“The only knock against Bandon Dunes is that you can’t get a tee time for two years,” Kidd said.

Steve Mims spent 21 years as a sportswriter at The Eugene Register-Guard. He was a finalist for Oregon Sportswriter of the Year in 2017.