Top 10 Essentials for a Bandon Dunes Golf Trip
From the sound of waves breaking in your backswing at Pacific Dunes to the smell of cedars and pines as you traverse Bandon Trails, the whole Bandon Dunes experience is a one-of-a-kind links challenge on American soil.
Your trip to the Pacific Coast's hidden gem will be enhanced with knowledge of the essentials. You'll be glad to know beforehand that the mornings can be so frigidly cold that you can barely grip your club; that thick, prickly gorse protects fairways and greens; that pot bunkers swallow golf balls like magnets; and that afternoon golf means howling winds that affect every tee shot, approach and putt.
After my three-day golf marathon of 105 holes across every hole Bandon Dunes offers, I've compiled the top 10 essentials for your trip!
Also, take a look at the rest of the series about Bandon Dunes:
Golf Balls: Better Safe Than Sorry
Nobody wants to assume they're going to lose golf balls, but when you're at Bandon—where there’s wind, ocean, gorse, forests and a still-dizzying number of hazards lurking around the courses—it's better to be safe with a surplus of golf balls than sorry.
From my many conversations with Bandon caddies, losing your first golf ball at Bandon is sort of a coming-of-age. It happens to (just about) everybody, and ultimately it’s how you respond that will impact your ball count by the end of the trip.
Precision can be a hard thing to come by when the wind is blowing 30 mph and your ball is well below your feet. But these are the conditions that make Bandon as challenging as it is enjoyable, and a few extra sleeves of balls are simply a safe bet.
A Reliable Mobile Device to Snap Photos, Shoot Videos and Jot Down Notes
I've never been so happy to own an iPhone as when I was at Bandon Dunes. The land gushes with rugged beauty from start to finish, urging you to take photos, shoot videos and even jot down notes or memories in between shots.
If you have an Android, iPhone or some kind of mobile device that you trust to take and share photos, you'll be happy you charged it overnight once you feast your eyes on Bandon.
Course Management: Embrace the Links Style
Bobby Jones once said of Jack Nicklaus, "He plays a game with which I'm not familiar."
That's sort of how I felt at Bandon Dunes, where there's no such thing as a flat lie, where the wind is relentless, where pot bunkers are preferable to gorse and where greens are commonly more than 50 yards in length.
If you plan on going to Bandon Dunes and hitting sky-high iron shots or chipping with a sand wedge from the thinly cut grass in front of greens, guess again. Bandon is a true test of links golf and, as a result, golfers looking to score need to adapt to the links style and emphasize course management, which caddies can be especially helpful with.
For example, never try to overpower the wind; it wins nine times out of 10. The conservative, safer route is typically smart—whether it's more club into the wind or choosing to putt from 40 yards off the green.
Adjusting your game to fit the demands of seaside links golf is an exhilarating challenge. Bandon will take you out of your comfort zone from tee to green, but it's how you adapt that will make all the difference.
Tips Directly from a Caddie: Comfortable Shoes and Extra Socks
On the first tee of my first round on my first day at Bandon Dunes, my caddie asked me one question. To my surprise, it had nothing to do with the my golf game, where I was from or perhaps what club I should hit on the first hole.
Instead he asked, “How many pairs of socks did you bring?”
You don't quite "walk" Bandon Dunes as much as you "traverse" it. The terrain moves up and down constantly, making extra pairs of socks and comfortable shoes important investments for both protecting your feet and for endurance.
Warm Layers for Chilly Mornings
The mornings at Bandon have a biting chill to them.
Between the fog and cool air blowing off the Pacific Ocean, layers are absolutely crucial to combating the brutally cold conditions of the morning. If you're an early riser and like to be the first tee time out on the links, expect temperatures in the high 30s to low 40s (Or at the very least, consult the weather conditions the night before or morning of your round). Sunlight is a privilege at Bandon because it's so rare, but if and when it does shine, it will definitely improve the conditions of your round.
Going to Bandon makes it worth investing in warm layers: long, thick socks; a beanie; a golf-specific Under Armour and a fleece.
Lastly, before your round, I highly recommend a practice session at the driving range, where you can not only get a feel for your clubs and the shots you'll need on the course, but also can defrost a bit from the arctic chill of the morning.
Read "Dream Golf: The Making of Bandon Dunes" Before Round 1
I don't regret a single thing from my time at Bandon Dunes, but I do regret not reading Dream Golf: The Making of Bandon Dunes before my trip.
The book's author, Stephen Goodwin, dissects the key figures who brought the Bandon vision to fruition, as well as the history of links golf. It's an excellent resource before playing each course, mainly because you will grasp how Bandon ultimately represents a pioneering feat in the U.S. of an ancient Scottish tradition.
It's also a unique glimpse into everything from the arguments among course designers to the elation among the first golf writers to play at Bandon's inception. The book would've served as a comprehensive foundation for my experience, which is why I highly recommend it for every golfer headed to Bandon.
Even if you grew up in Scotland playing links golf, could hit piercing low shots into the wind and felt like putting from 50 yards away was second nature, the trip to Bandon Dunes warrants at least one round with a caddie.
The hazards at Bandon Dunes are punishing, which is why having somebody to steer you through the trouble is extremely helpful.
Playing with a caddie acts as both a lesson in how to navigate the seaside links as well as an in-depth, captivating history lesson of the Bandon property and mission. I was lucky enough to have a caddy in four of my five rounds, and each round got progressively better as I embraced the caddie's advice.
They are wizards in the blustery winds and guided my club choice in some dicey situations where the coast looked like it was just waiting to devour my ball. Caddies are an integral part of the Bandon experience and are worth every penny.
I got lucky the winds only reached 25 mph.
Beware and prepare for the fierce winds of the Pacific Coast with a comfortable, flexible windbreaker. Three of Bandon's four courses line the coast, and while the winds are relatively calm in the mornings, they're a constant, aggressive presence in the afternoons.
Like the extra golf balls and pairs of socks, the windbreaker represents a worthwhile investment at Bandon.
A Hearty Appetite
The relentless attention to detail seen across the Bandon Dunes courses are reflected in all aspects of the property, none more so than the food.
Crab po'boys at the Lodge. Grandma's meatloaf at McKee's. Freshly caught fish at Pacific Grill. Food is an important and delicious component of the Bandon experience.
And did you know that three of the four courses feature their own restaurants? That doesn't even include perhaps Bandon's best bar, McKee's, a Scottish-style pub just north of the Lodge.
From restaurant to restaurant, they're serving food you'll want to eat after 18 or 36 strenuous holes of golf—food that's rich with flavor and comes in a hefty portions—and there's always a bar close by to pair your meal with a delicious local micro-brew or classic single malt scotch.
Whether it's a family member, college roommate or your local muni partner from back home, Bandon was built to foster a shared, memorable experience.
Playing with a buddy enhances the best and worst of times. I remember clubbing up on the par-three 12th hole at Bandon Trails, which was 242 yards into the wind, and when I still came up 30 yards short of the green, I found my incredulous facial expression mirrored in my playing partners, which we laughed about later that night.
Bandon Dunes was never meant to be a solitary experience, which is why it's best appreciated with good company.