While Bandon Dunes was reimagining and reinventing the concept of world-class resort golf in North America, it was also creating a sanctuary for a colorful segment of the culture that has nearly disappeared: the professional caddie.
Visionary Bandon founder Mike Keiser’s unrivaled execution of this walking-only, pure links golf experience on a wind-swept, remote coast of Oregon is an improbable game-changer. Bandon has captured the imagination—and discretionary income—of the world’s savviest golfers, who during the summer high season are ponying up roughly $1,000 a day for the privilege (lodging, greens fees for 36 holes, caddies, meals and miscellaneous). It begins, of course, with the four acclaimed and distinct golf courses (Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails and Old McDonald), all of which have soared into the top 10 of various resort golf course ranking lists. As Bandon’s legacy has grown to make it the definitive “must-play” golf destination, the sub-story is what it’s done to boost the caddie business—and how important those caddies are in this back-to-the-future experience.
With an estimated 70 percent of rounds played with a cart in the U.S., and with most resort courses requiring carts for all play, the once-proud caddie profession has battled to stay relevant over the past 50 years. Enter Bandon Dunes, which now employs 300 caddies in the summer and does it in the style expected from Keiser, starting with a clean, modern caddie yard featuring its own putting green. The caddie HQ includes plenty of parking for the staff, an excellent cafeteria, lockers, massage chairs, internet access and a media room with a big-screen TV. Caddies enjoy free playing privileges when there are open tee times (as do all Bandon employees), with the idea that playing the courses only makes them more knowledgeable in guiding guests.
At courses around the country, caddies sit and wait anxiously for a loop. The veterans at Bandon can usually count on a pre-scheduled “dub-dub,” which means double-bagging two rounds a day, usually for the same players and for the length of their stay, which is the Bandon way (unless you request a change). The fee is $100 per round per player, plus tip. With a $25 gratuity per round, caddies can pull in $500 a day for a “dub-dub.” One of our caddies, a 25-year veteran who has looped in major championships, splits his time equally between Bandon and a premier, old money country club in the south. He happily earns two-thirds of his six-figure income in Oregon.
On a visit to Bandon last June, our group of eight found the friendship, camaraderie and insight of the caddies to be an invaluable, core part of the Bandon experience. Here’s what we gleaned from our professional loopers:
Book Wisely: Go in with a plan when booking your tee times, and make sure you play all four courses. A typical four-day visit is 18 on arrival day, 36-36, and then 18 on departure. Summer tee times begin at 7 a.m., when it may be overcast but is also calm. Playing Bandon Trails and Old Macdonald on the same day is the toughest walk. Book Bandon Trails, which is more inland and protected, for the afternoon, when the wind is up on the other three, more coastal courses. Find time for an evening round at the 13-hole, par-3 Preserve (it’s adjacent to the Bandon Trails clubhouse); the $100 greens fee goes to support the Wild River Coast Alliance, which protects Oregon’s south coast. Plan a cocktail hour at the Punchbowl, the diabolical putting-green course next to the first hole at Pacific Dunes.
Arrive In Shape: It’s normal to train for marathons and mountain climbs, not golf outings. Ditch the cart and walk several rounds in the leadup to your Bandon trip, while also increasing your fitness regime in general, and it will pay dividends.
Take A Caddie: What did you expect? Unless you’ve been here before, took copious notes, and are a green-reading savant, you’d be foolish to play without one. Relax and embrace the on-course partnership; there is no need to be nervous or self-conscious—your caddie has witnessed golf games that are much worse (and much better) than yours. Inquire about the caddies with the best reps; you can request them when you make your tee times.
Layer-up: Every day seems to have three different climates, and you’ll want a base and mid-layer as well as a waterproof rain jacket and pants. Most days range between 45 and 65 degrees, but as the day progresses the wind picks up and the shell comes out of the bag. Bandon’s coastline has a marine layer, which dampens the air, so be ready and dress accordingly.
Feet First: Don’t try to break in new golf shoes on this trip. Instead, bring two pair of comfortable, walking golf shoes, and change your shoes and socks between rounds. The firm ground is nice for long drives, but tough on the feet.
Forget the Score: Set your bar at a reasonable level. Only about 10 percent of golfers will play to their handicap. Tight lies, no two bunkers alike, heavy air and swirling winds will add to the challenges. Play a best-ball game in your foursome and focus on that, rather than on your gross score.
Play the Bump-and-Run: Bandon’s greens are more receptive to low-running shots than ones with higher trajectories, so spend time practicing your run-up shots before the trip. Find a patch of hardpan at your home course and hit a few hundred balls to get in the groove.
Bring the Right Tools: Thick-flanged irons and high-bounce wedges are tough to hit cleanly off Bandon’s tight lies. Lower-lofted drivers can bore through the strong winds and the ball will run forever. There are plenty of holes where you can use a 3-wood or hybrid off the tee. Follow your caddie’s lead, even when he tells you to aim 30 yards left of the green—or to hit a 3-iron from 100 yards and a 9-iron from 190.
Smell the Roses: One golf pro called Bandon a “golf prison;” this is not the place to bring a non-golfer spouse or children. It’s easy to spend a week here and only see the golf courses, the interior of Bandon’s restaurants and the ceiling of your lodge room. If you don’t want to be that person, treat yourself to a tour of the nearby seaside town of Bandon, just 10 minutes south of the resort. Chartered fishing trips, hiking, cycling, horseback rides and four-wheeling are among the attractions, along with local restaurants. Enjoy the Alloro Wine Bar & Restaurant for fine dining, Tony’s Crab Shack for less formal, and Arcade Tavern for a shot and a beer. For photo opps, cruise Bandon’s Beach Loop drive. Bandon Crossings, a top-rated public course (with carts!), is located just 10 minutes south of town.
Don’t Smell the Roses: After each day’s first round, you pay the half-priced “replay” rate for as much golf as you can handle for the remainder of the day. Some golf-obsessed visitors will go 54 holes, and during the Summer Solstice, a group of very fit golfers plays 72. A more achievable and economical goal is to play 36 and then take advantage of the replay freebie on the par-3 Preserve.
Contributor Andy Bigford is the editor of Warren Miller’s forthcoming autobiography, Freedom Found, My Life Story. For more on Bandon Dunes Resort, go to bandondunesgolf.com.
Photography by Wood Sabold, courtesy of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort
As the saying goes, playing golf at Bandon Dunes is just like Ireland, except it’s easier to get to Ireland.
That’s no longer the case for Colorado golfers, who can now take advantage of a United Airlines direct flight between Denver International Airport and Southwest Oregon Regional Airport (OTH) in North Bend, Oregon, about 30 minutes from Bandon.
The twice-a-week round-trip flights, which allow time for an afternoon round on arrival and a morning round on departure, run from June 12 to October 5. Call 855-417-1854 for more information.
The other lengthier options are to fly into Portland and drive about 4.5 hours, or into Eugene, roughly 2.5 hours by car.
This article appeared in the April 2016 issue of Colorado AvidGolfer.
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