Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bandon Trails

*** Now on the Tee has MOVED to our own domain!!! ***


Bandon Trails
Bandon, Oregon, USA

6765 YARDS (PAR 71)
COURSE ARCHITECT: Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw (2005)
LAST PLAYED: March 19, 2011.
LOW SCORE: 77 (+6)

- Golf Digest Top 100 in America 2015: #74
- Golf Digest Top 100 Public in America 2015: #14
- Golf Magazine Top 100 Golf Courses in America 2015: #50
- Golf Magazine Top 100 Courses You Can Play 2014: #13
- Golfweek Best Modern Courses 2016: #19

"In the profession of golf architecture all one can ask for is to be given an extraordinary site and the freedom to work with it. Mike Keiser has afforded both at Bandon Trails.

We have tried to tread softly on this spectacular landscape, laying out a golf course that required little alteration to the site while providing golf as diverse as the land itself. As its name implies, Bandon Trails will take you on a journey, a nature walk if you will, through windswept dunes, meadows of vegetation framed by indigenous shrubbery, and through woodlands of towering fir and spruce trees. Sometimes the journey and the golf will be wild and tumultuous, sometimes serene. Whichever, we hope it will always be interesting and enjoyable."

- Bill Coore, Golf Course Architect, Coore & Crenshaw

Mike Keiser hit a unique trifecta of sorts after announcing that the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw would be designing the third course at the Bandon Dunes Resort.

David McLay Kidd was unknown and completely untested when hired to build Bandon Dunes while Tom Doak was the young prodigy with brilliant potential just waiting for a great piece of land to solidify his spot among the top architects in the world. Meanwhile, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were established stars in the design game and after the success of Sand Hills GC in Mullen, Nebraska, they were right near the top of their profession.

Coore and Crenshaw are very well known for their thoughtful and methodical approach to finding golf holes and ultimately routing a course. At Sand Hills, they found over 130 natural golf holes and were meticulous about going through every possible routing before coming up with the best one for that particular site.

It was no different at Bandon Trails. The site was very rugged and unlike the first two courses at the resort, the Trails course would feature no holes on the ocean. In the end, the preferred routing would sprawl across over 350 acres of land, about the same as Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes combined and it would meander through three distinct environments: dunes, meadow and forest.

The forest holes would end up being the last ones built and there was some worry that those holes wouldn't capture the golfer's imagination like the ones in the dunes and in the meadow. As indicated in Stephen Goodwin's brilliant book on the making of Bandon Dunes, Dream Golf, Mike Keiser was intent on the holes in the forest to "sing" just as vibrantly as the holes in the dunes and the meadow.

And sing they did! Like the two previously designed courses at the resort, Bandon Trails was met with wide acclaim when it opened and it has taken a comfortable spot in the middle of most top 100 lists of American courses.

As mentioned in my previously written reviews of Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes, I took very few photographs during my time at Bandon due to inclimate weather. Again, I would like to express my gratitude and thanks to fellow Golf Club Atlas members Tim Bert and Kyle Henderson, both of whom have been kind enough to allow me to utilize their photographs of Bandon Trails as showcased in Kyle Henderson's photo tour at GCA. If you're looking for more commentary on BT, please check out the link below:

- Kyle Henderson Bandon Trails GCA Photo Tour

All yardages provided are from the back tees at Bandon Trails, which measure 6765 yards in length, with a course rating of 73.7 and a slope rating of 133.

1st Hole: 392 Yards Par 4

The vista on the opening tee here is quite gorgeous, as you sit elevated well above the fairway and have a view of the ocean in the distance on the right. Don't get used to seeing the Pacific though, as Bandon Trails is the only course at the resort that doesn't feature the ocean.

Driver isn't necessary here and there is more width than you think, especially since the fairway is shaped somewhat like a half-pipe, with balls funnelling back toward the centre of the short grass.

The approach is well uphill but usually will only require a mid to short iron. Lovely hole and a good opportunity to start with a par.

The clubhouse at Bandon Trails

The stunning par four 1st at Bandon Trails

Approach into the 1st

Looking back toward tee from behind 1st green

2nd Hole: 214 Yards Par 3

A lovely one-shotter again played from an elevated tee to a great greensite tucked in beside a large dune. Wind can be a major factor here but there is much more room than you think short of the green and pars can be had from there. However, misses to the right will either find the long grass in the dunes or some treacherous bunkers just off the green.

Tee shot on the downhill par three 2nd

3rd Hole: 549 Yards Par 5

You get another "wow" moment on the 3rd hole as you move from dunesland into the meadow. It's here where you start to gain a real appreciation for the artistry of the Coore/Crenshaw team, especially the bunkering, which is not only gorgeous to look at but brilliant in their placement throughout the course.

This par five meanders up the hill and features a number of centreline hazards that must be negotiated for a chance at birdie or the two-putt par.

Heading into the meadow on the gorgeous par five 3rd hole

Zoomed in view of landing area on the 3rd hole

4th Hole: 408 Yards Par 4

A tough driving hole for the first-timer, as you can't really see the green from the tee. You need a little baby fade here to carry a ridge which will give you a good look for the approach whereas a shot that's too straight or pulled left will likely end up in one of many bunkers that line the left side. Another spectacular greensite awaits.

Tee shot on the par four 4th hole

Approach shot into the 4th hole

Looking back down the fairway from behind the 4th green

5th Hole: 133 Yards Par 3

Picture postcard beautiful! This heroic short hole is only 133 yards at the most but it's all carry over a valley to a green protected in front by bunkers and framed by fir trees. The green is among the boldest at the resort - a natural Biarritz with the huge swale essentially dividing the green into tiers. A stunner that will get people in your group talking.

The stunning par three 5th at dawn

Looking back toward the tee from the undulating 5th green

6th Hole: 395 Yards Par 4

The par four 6th features another semi-blind tee shot, as you must decide whether to challenge the centreline bunker in order to access the "speed slot" slope that will propel balls up to 50 yards further down the fairway than those hit down the open left side.

The green is open in front and low, running shots work really well here. Don't go long though!

The tee shot on the par four 6th hole

Approach shot into the 6th green

A look from just in front of the 6th green

7th Hole: 440 Yards Par 4

At this point, the course moves from the meadow into a forest of spruce, pine and cedar. The 7th is an animal when played into the wind, with bunkering down the entire right side that are a slicer's worst nightmare. The second shot is played well uphill to a large, undulating green.

Tee shot at the par four 7th

Looking back from behind the 7th Green

8th Hole: 321 Yards Par 4

The 8th is a straightaway short par four that can be driven under the right circumstances and plays as a nice counterpoint to the long and difficult 7th. That said, trouble awaits at the green should accuracy be an issue, with heavy bunkering surrounding a large, undulating putting surface. False fronts and runoffs can turn a sure birdie into a bogey quicker than you can bat an eyelash.

Tee shot at the short par four 8th

9th Hole: 567 Yards Par 5

Perhaps the most claustrophobic hole at Trails, with tall trees lining both sides of the fairway and centreline bunkers adding to the stress off the tee. Still, there is plenty of width here.

Depending on wind, the green is reachable in two at times but the hole tightens considerably the closer you get to the putting surface, so layups are usually the smart play. The green is accessible in front and birdies can be had here.

Approach shot from left side of 9th hole

10th Hole: 418 Yards Par 4

A simple looking hole like this once again shows the brilliance of Coore and Crenshaw. By adding cross bunkering and fairway movement, they took a straightaway hole and turned it into something much more - almost a double dogleg. You need to hug the left side of the fairway to gain the best angle into the green but to do that, you need to skirt the 200 yard long bunker that crosses in front and down the entire left side of the landing area. From there, you need to hit a fade into a slightly elevated green with a long waste area short and to the right of the green. Strategy!

Tee shot on the par four 10th

Zoomed in look from the tee on the 10th hole

11th Hole: 445 Yards Par 4

Bill Coore famously said in Stephen Goodwin's Dream Golf that they "don't do water holes" but the natural water hazard that doubles as the course reservoir features prominently here at the 11th.

The tee shot can be hit well left of the waste bunkers running down the right side and well-hit shots will be rewarded with plenty of extra yards if they get over the crest of the hill. Anything hit down the middle will likely kick hard right into the bunkers or worse, the aforementioned water hazard.

The approach is a lovely downhill mid-to-long iron into a long green protected by water on the right and features plenty of short grass chipping options on the left.

The tee shot on the par four 11th

Approach shot into the 11th, with the irrigation pond on the right

12th Hole: 242 Yards Par 3

A long and very difficult par three that may require a fairway metal or even a driver if the wind is in your face. The green is receptive to shots running in but the player must navigate a large, short grass mound on the right side that can propel balls in every direction.

A par almost certainly will win the hole for you here!

Tee shot at the long par three 12th

13th Hole: 401 Yards Par 4

This is a wonderful golf hole. A mid-length par four with a wide landing area but you want to hug the left side to open up your angle to the green but avoid the bunker protecting that side.

The green sits up on a ridge and features one of the deepest bunkers you'll ever see short and right of the green. The putting surface itself is positively Ross-like and runs off in all directions from the middle like an upside down bowl.

This is definitely one of the highlights on the Trails course.

Approach shot into the par four 13th

A better look at the approach into the tough 13th, with the very deep bunker fronting the right side of the green

14th Hole: 325 Yards Par 4

You have a long hike from the 13th green up Back Ridge before you get to the stunning vista that is the 14th tee. Panoramic views of the entire resort are available here as you make the move back down to the meadow from the forest. This was pretty much the spot that sold Mike Keiser on the potential of the property.

The 14th is the most controversial hole at the resort in my opinion. It doesn't look menacing on the scorecard at 325 yards, especially when you consider that the tee shot is elevated way above fairway grade and that fairway looks a mile wide. But the difficulty hits you right in the face when you reach the green...or when you TRY to reach the green.

If you keep your drive well left, you have a fighting chance here but any shot right of center requires an exacting approach - anything less and you'll be fighting to avoid double bogey.

I'm completely serious.

It is a sliver of a green, relatively long but as narrow as you can imagine and also protected by a large bunker in the front right. Shots hit left of the green fall down a steep slope and now you must decide whether to putt the ball back up or try to flop a shot to a green with no margin for error.

You can easily get into a situation where you are ping-ponging your ball back and forth from one side to the other because of the falloffs and in my two rounds at the Trails, I saw some frustrated golfers!

This hole, at a measly 320 yards, may be too tough for resort players but is as interesting as anything I've seen in all my years of golf.

Tee shot on the short but treacherous par four 14th

15th Hole: 406 Yards Par 4

The par four 15th features a large cross bunker that can be cleared with a solid drive to set up a short iron or you can play short and leave a longer approach.

The green site here is one of the most aesthetically pleasing at the resort and just looks like it was there for decades. The green is pitched at a very severe level from back to front and features some interesting undulations. One of my favourite holes on the Trails.

Tee shot on the par four 15th

Approach shot on the 15th

A close view of the stunning site for the 15th green

16th Hole: 530 Yards Par 5

This hole features a hefty climb up the hill and plays much, much longer than the scorecard yardage. When played into the wind, well, this sucker is a brute.

There is plenty of room off the tee and shots hit right will usually kick back toward the fairway off a large hillside. The hole tightens considerably as you move up the hill toward the green and there are bunkers to avoid on both sides. Adding to the complexity is a green surface that is incredibly difficult to navigate, with false fronts and severe undulations that even propel balls back into the bunkers if improperly hit.

One of the rare mid-length par fives where a par is a great score. Hell, give me a bogey and I might move right onto the 17th!

The tee shot on the daunting uphill par five 16th

A look from just right of the 16th green, with the 17th hole in the distance

17th Hole: 180 Yards Par 3

Yet another gorgeous par three as you move back toward the dunes and the ocean. There is a massive false front that defines the strategy of the hole and imposing bunkers are ready to capture mishits in the front right and off to the left.

Tee shot on the glorious par three 17th

18th Hole: 399 Yards Par 4

The last hole features a semi-blind tee shot over a road to an elevated fairway hidden from view. The approach is uphill as well to a wildly undulating green that falls off sharply at the back. I've seen pitch shots from as far as forty yards behind the green down by the practice green.

Re-entering the dunes for the tee shot on the 18th

Approach shot into the 18th

A look at the 18th green from the clubhouse

Bandon Trails was easily the most polarizing course at the least until Old Macdonald was built!

It's the only course at the resort without ocean frontage and perhaps because of that, it's the course that gets the least amount of play. And that's by a wide margin.

It's also the toughest walk at the resort, without question. The routing takes you across many types of terrain and there are some tough green to tee transfers so I can see why some may be put off by the course. It doesn't get a lot of afternoon play, as few are interested in playing there for their second round of the day to avoid exhaustion.

To all that I each their own.

I loved Bandon Trails! Absolutely loved it.

The routing was very bold and I'm sure Coore and Crenshaw strongly considered something a bit "tighter", especially at a walking-only resort but the result, in my opinion, is beyond spectacular. The golf crosses three distinct environments but never feels forced and all of the holes blend beautifully with one another.

The bunkering is particularly unique and pleasing, with lacy edges reminiscent of those found in the Australian Sandbelt. The conditioning, without question, is the best at the resort by far. Perhaps that is due to the limited amount of play the course gets compared to the others and perhaps it's also due to the bentgrass they use on the greens. Everything was firm and fast from tee to green and the putting surfaces rolled quick and true.

I do realize this course isn't for everyone though. It is definitely the toughest course to score on at the resort and the one that rewards the aerial game the most at Bandon. Mind you, ground game options exist in spades but they might not be the best option on the Trails, something that is kind of similar to the Coore/Crenshaw masterpiece at Sand Hills.

The Trails is also the toughest walk of the four courses at Bandon. A caddy might be a good idea if you're playing here and it's most definitely the smartest plan if it is your second round of the day.

That all said, I think Bandon Trails is loads of fun and an architectural marvel. Many worried about how dynamic a course could be with no ocean holes at a resort featuring a boatload of them but Coore, Crenshaw and their talented team of builders have crafted a wonderfully unique golf course filled with strategy and temptation at every turn.

Pacific Dunes may be my favourite at the resort but Bandon Trails is a close second. It's just that good.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Sad Day - Richard Zokol Leaves Sagebrush

Richard Zokol (L) and yours truly at Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club in August 2009

News broke late last week that two-time PGA Tour winner Richard Zokol had broken off ties with the superlative Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club on Nicola Lake in British Columbia.

I first found out via text from a friend of mine on Thursday evening and got more details on Friday morning after reading Robert Thompson's blog post about the split.

There is a great story behind Sagebrush and it goes all the way back to the mid-1990s, when Zokol was a regular on the TOUR. He got the idea to build a "legacy" course of his own after hearing Ben Crenshaw talk about his brand new minimalist design in the middle of Nebraska called Sand Hills. SH would soon become known as one of the world's greatest golf courses and that just reinforced the idea that something similar could be sustainable in Canada.

Fast forward to 2002, when a partnership was formed with his friend Terry Donald and land started being acquired on an old ranch on the interior in British Columbia. Many thought a golf course couldn't be built on such a rugged site but Zokol's enthusiasm won over designer Rod Whitman and the two would team up with noted agronomist Armen Suny to find a workable routing.

The Whitman/Suny/Zokol designed Sagebrush opened to wide acclaim in late 2008. ScoreGolf and Golf Digest both named it the best new course in Canada for 2009 but the honour Zokol was most proud of came in 2010, when the USGA named Sagebrush as the preeminent example in North American golf for their use of leading-edge agronomy practices for firm and fast playing conditions.

One of the great moments in my life came in August 2009, when Richard invited me to become a member of his club.

Dick surprised me with a phone call to my office after hearing through Robert Thompson that I was interested in visiting Sagebrush. I had a business trip in Victoria and planned to spend a little time in the Kelowna area with my wife and infant son for a few days of R&R before heading back to Ontario.

We spoke on the phone for about a half hour and Dick invited me to visit Sagebrush as his guest. I fully expected to shake his hand when I arrived and then be sent on my way to play as a single.

That didn't happen...

Instead, Dick told me to hop in his pickup and he gave me the grand tour of the site, showing off the course, the incredible Hideout just off the 13th tee and also the land they intended to sell as real estate. We arrived back at the temporary pro shop and I was shocked even further when Dick told me to wait a couple of minutes.

"I'm just going to head inside to grab my clubs. I'll be right back."

The two of us would proceed to play about 21 holes and it was as grand a tour as you can imagine, as Dick showed me all of the options the player had available at Sagebrush. Low hooks, running shots, high fades, putter from 100+ yards away...every shot you could think of was an option here!

I was completely blown away by his course but mostly his hospitality and his incredible love and enthusiasm for what was built at Sagebrush. We finished off an incredible day with a glorious steak dinner at the Hideout, where I would ultimately get the invitation to join the club.

I accepted Dick's offer and would return to the club one time the next year, visiting with friends Cal, Ryan and Steve in July 2010 for three wonderful days. As usual, Richard's presence at the club was a constant, both during the day and at dinner in the evenings at the Hideout, as he was always entertaining members or guests of the club.

I decided to resign as a member last year - Sagebrush is all the way on the opposite coast and with a young family at home and a business to run, I just couldn't justify making the trip out there every year.

That said, I was stunned when I heard the news that Dick was no longer associated with the club. To many, Richard Zokol WAS Sagebrush. It was his dream, he helped in the routing and design phases, actively sought investors and had the ultimate say in building the membership, which was by invitation-only, with final say coming from Richard himself as chairman of the club.

I don't want to speculate on the reasons for the fallout. I'm sure this is a painful time for Richard but he will ultimately be fine - he's a remarkable person, extremely principled, passionate and perhaps the most driven individual I've ever met in the golf world. The cream always rises to the top...

In the end, I wish nothing but the best for my friend and also hope that Sagebrush is able to stay viable during a very difficult time in the golf industry. I can't think of another course in Canada that's as fun to play and it deserves its success.


Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club Review: Part One
Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club Review: Part Two
Sagebrush: 2010 Trip Review & Pictorial

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The TOUR Returns to Riviera; My Competitive Juices Return

It's been five years since I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California and since that time, I've always looked forward to watching the Northern Trust Open, which is held annually at this George C. Thomas Jr. masterpiece.

The gorgeous amphitheater setting on the 18th hole at Riviera

Most touring professionals rank it among the best courses in the world and that thought is validated by the wonderful field playing this week, easily the best of the year thus far.

My three-part review of Riviera is one of the most popular on this site, ranking sixth in page views over the past two years that I've been tracking hits at Now on the Tee.

I've gone and freshened up that review while also increasing the size of all the photos I took while at the club. If you're interested in a detailed look at one of the great golf courses in the world, check out the following posts:

The Riviera Country Club - Part One (Trip Recap)
The Riviera Country Club - Part Two (Front Nine Review)
The Riviera Country Club - Part Three (Back Nine Review)

In other news, after a one-year absence, I decided to enter the qualifying tournament for the 2012 Ontario Better Ball Championship.

I played in four straight qualifiers with my good friend Harris from 2006 to 2010 - we never made it through any of those four years, making a habit of finishing either one or two shots out almost every one of those years.

I wasn't able to find the time to play in the event in 2011 due to my three golf trips but since I'll be taking it easy with the travelling in 2012, I felt it was time to get back on the horse in a provincial competition.

I'll have a new partner this year, as Harris actually resigned his membership late last year and I certainly wasn't interested in playing with someone who wasn't committed to playing golf in 2012. Of course, one day after signing up with another good friend Ryan, Harris texts me to say that he's reconsidered his irrational decision to quit golf and will once again be at the club come April.

Sorry buddy! You can always sign up with someone else and maybe have a chance of finishing second this year! Wink, wink!

We'll be playing at the Highland Country Club qualifier in London. I've never had the pleasure of playing the Stanley Thompson design before but I hear it's a pretty decent track. Hopefully, we can get out there for a practice round before the event, which takes place on April 30th.

My review of Bandon Trails will be coming sometime tomorrow! Posts two days in a row at Now on the Tee?!

Come on man!