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Sheep Ranch Musings

Ron Bellamy’s article on the Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch in the February 2020 issue of Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine prompted some musings about the future.

Fast-forward a decade. A group of Bandon golfers sips their post-round beers at the resort, rehashing their round on the Sheep Ranch. An older man at the bar turns to listen.

During a lull in their conversation, he interjects his own opinion, “The Sheep Ranch is a great course, but I played the original.”

The now-signature par-3 16th at the new Sheep Ranch, which juts out onto the far reaches of Fivemile Point, used to be able to be played from the opposite angle on the old Sheep Ranch (from what is now the 17th tee). (all photos by TJC)

“The original?” comes the response.

The man smiles. “The original Sheep Ranch.”

“What was the big deal about that?” they ask.

“Solitude. Your group had the entire course. Nobody else. You played the course in any direction you wanted. Want an 800-yard hole? You got it.”

He continued. “Just getting on the course was the challenge. Asking someone behind a desk at the resort would get you a shrug and ‘I can’t help you.’ Finally, someone would point you to a clerk at the golf store in downtown Bandon.”

Food and beverage service at the old Sheep Ranch was strictly bring-your-own.

“At the time, my conversation with the clerk went something like this:

Me: You know how to get on the Sheep Ranch?

Clerk (Looking around to be sure no one was listening, then nodding): When? How many?

Me: Eight. Tuesday?

Clerk (checking a book): Okay. $100 each. Call this number, you will pay him.

Parking lot
The ‘parking lot’ at the old Sheep Ranch was a small sandy area behind some bushes, maybe 40 yards from the first tee.

A later phone call:

Me: Hi. Joe from the golf store said to call you about getting on the Sheep Ranch on Tuesday.

Him: Okay, that day’s open so you got it. From the Lodge at Bandon, start back to Highway 101. Turn left on Seven Devils Road, turn left again on Whiskey Run Road. Watch for a dirt road on your right with a locked gate. Go up to the gate. The lock isn’t locked. Open the gate, go through, close the gate, put the lock back but don’t lock it. Drive to the end of the road. I’ll meet you there.

“Following those instructions, we drove to the end of the sand road, with a sort of rudimentary golf course on our left. The voice on the phone met us at the end of the road, took our money, gave us some advisory routing scorecards. Pointing to a nearby teeing area and a green in the distance, he said, ‘Most folks start here and finish over there but where you go in between is up to you. Close the gate when you leave.’

At the entrance to the old Sheep Ranch, you had to close the gate behind you as you entered the property.

“So there we were, just us and the empty course for the rest of the day. Our two foursomes went off in different directions and didn’t see each other for a couple of hours. When our paths finally crossed, my son, playing in the other group, asked, ‘Have you seen the ocean hole?’ Our response: ‘There’s an ocean hole?’ We found it, today’s breathtaking par-3 16th.

“The condition of the course was 19th century Scottish. Sheep might have mowed the fairways, and the greens were a little shaggy, but when you’re playing on a course with only seven other players and can make up your own holes, don’t complain. The Sheep Ranch was a totally unique golf experience.”

Before turning back to his Scotch, the man muttered, “There’s lots of talk about the new course, but only a few of us can say ‘I played the original.’”

– Bill Collins, wizened golfer