Bandon Dunes at 25: Lessons for Rodeo Dunes

Dream Golf hopes to bring their Oregon success to the Colorado plains

By Jim Bebbington

On May 2, the operators of Bandon Dunes Resort invited hundreds of guests to their isolated enclave on Oregon’s southwest coast to celebrate 25 years of unique golf.

In 1999 the resort’s first and most-famous course – Bandon Dunes – opened. Developer Mike Keiser had created a home for quiet, remote, beautiful golf in the style of the great links courses of the UK and Ireland. The first year they had a goal of serving 10,000 rounds of golf and ended up with more than 25,000.

As word spread golfers from across the globe made sojourns to North Bend, Ore. More courses were built – and more golfers came. Last year they hosted 270,000 rounds.

The complex now houses five par 70+ 18-hole courses, two par-3 courses of wild variety, and a putting complex large enough to host hundreds players at one time. The courses wind through the dunes and forests near North Bend, Ore., and are bordered by dozens of cabins, two modest hotel-style buildings, and restaurants and bars tucked among the pine forests.

Photo Courtesy of Bandon Dunes

Founder Michael Keiser made a rare and unannounced visit on the night of the celebration, and over the course of three days patrons played the great courses and were hosted by engaging and energetic staff. They celebrated too the opening of the complexes newest addition, a short-course named Shorty’s that adds still more reasons to visit.

Tee times are routinely booked up more than a year in advance, and greens fees in 2024 top out at $400 a round for people who are not staying at the resort.

The grounds are nearly silent. There is no spa – although there are massage tables. All the courses are walked – golf carts are only rarely seen and then used only by marshals. Caddies, carry-bags and push-carts prevail, and all the guests hoof it up and down the dunes and hills themselves.

“Mike Keiser is undeniably the most influential developer of golf courses in the world over the past 25 years,” golf course architect Bill Coore told a crowd of several hundred at the 25th anniversary celebration.

Coore said the complex today is the result of hundreds of people and thousands of decisions – but all guided by the clear vision that began with Keiser.

“Mike Keiser encouraged people to be creative (when building his courses), gave us sites that were amazingly gifted naturally for golf and gave us them the freedom to work with those sites,” Coore said.

Mike Keiser’s sons, Michael and Chris, are now on their own, taking the lessons of Bandon and applying them to their Dream Golf developments. They have brought the recipe of quiet, complex and creative golf first to Cabot Cape Breton in Canada, then Wisconsin’s Sand Valley Golf Resort. If their plans for Colorado come fully to fruition – they have acquired enough land for up to six courses near Roggen, about 45 minutes from downtown Denver – it would create a magnet that could draw players from around the world.

The Keiser brothers are not their father – their projects already have unique differences from Bandon. But there is a strong philosophy undernearth them all and which Colorado will experience first-hand if the project comes to fruition.

When Bandon Dunes’ developers build courses they seek to give players something unique. As the complexes have grown and new courses have been added, they have attempted to add variety so that visits can be longer and players can still find something new. The Bandon formula includes several aspects that would make a complex in Colorado something special:

There is magic in the details: Throughout the Bandon complex there are thousands of small details that add up to the full experience. It is nearly silent – no carts and few cars ply the grounds. Small signs, special trees, a tweak on a tee box and another on a green, all provide an overwhelming and unique experience.

Signs are some of the few man-made objects visitors see on the courses. Photo by Michael Colander

One example: next to the clubhouse for the Pacific Dunes course, lies the Punchbowl putting course. It is simply enormous – 100,000 square feet. Players can use any corner of it to work on their game, but the fun is trying to ‘play’ it from hole 1 to 18. The green carpet is filled with giant rolling hills and dips and walking it is alone a workout. It can take a half hour, and if you keep score your number at the end of No. 18 will be something that will bring you back.

At Rodeo Dunes the early vision is for a Punchbowl-style putting complex adjacent to the first tee and the initial clubhouse. The size remains to be determined, but early visitors are being shown a penciled-in area that is larger than Bandon’s Punchbowl.

The Staff: Bandon staff know that they are a big part of the experience. Beautiful grass and wonderful golf challenges are what bring people here, but the overall experience is defined by the hundreds of resort staff who visitors encounter along the way.

Van drivers who shuttle players around the enormous grounds are quick, helpful and encouraging. The cabin rooms are tidy and cleaned. The post-round dinners are served with as much – or as little – conversation as the players seem to want. (Bad round = very little talking.) The best caddies do what all caddies do – combine course knowledge and competence with the right mix of encouragement, fun and sometimes needling that make a round of golf a full experience. The people of Oregon who run Bandon are world-class at making visitors feel welcome.

For the Rodeo Dunes project the template and expectations are going to be similar. Clubs all over Colorado deploy a helpful, fun and welcoming experience, and the people who work at Rodeo Dunes will ultimately be asked to provide the same.

The courses: Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat – Rodeo Dunes golf courses will be very different from those at Bandon. The Oregon coast is essentially Scotland – lush green trees, regular rains, cool-ish temperatures year-round and stunning cliff-top views of the ocean. Northeast Colorado this is not.

Bandon Trails. Photo by Jim Bebbington

The template for Bandon Dunes courses is clearly the Scottish greats. The look and feel of the fairways is nearly identical to the St. Andrews and Carnousties of the world.

The original 18 – Bandon Dunes – plays out over gently rolling ocean-front acreage. Next came Pacific Dunes, which is even more adventurous and routes some holes so close to the water that erosion is a regular issue to combat. Bandon Trails came next, with the holes heading away from the coast and up and down steep, forest-lined hills. Old Macdonald and Sheep Ranch extended the grounds even further along the coast. The Preserve was added – a 13-hole par-3 course with its own traditions, including most players hitting putter off the tee on the final hole. The newest, Shorty’s, is named after the complex’s original caretaker, Shorty Dow, who showed Keiser the land during his tour in the 1990s.

But the 3,500 acres that Michael and Chris Keiser have acquired or leased near Roggen, provides an almost infinite amount of possibilities. The undulating dunes have to be seen to be believed.

Two early courses are expected first – one from architects Coore and Crenshaw and the second from their associate Jim Craig.

Early visitors to the grounds for the proposed Rodeo Dunes walk among sand dunes that tower overhead. Photo by Brian Krehbiel, Courtesy Rodeo Dunes

Routings at Rodeo Dunes are still in the works, but the dune-scape provides possibilities for 20-foot deep waste bunkers, blind shots on nearly every hole, and golf on undulating terrain that is currently only available at the ultra-exclusive Ballyneal Golf and Hunt Club in Holyoke on the state’s eastern edge.

But as golf architect Coore pointed out, the baseline for Dream Golf is giving course designers and builders latitude to make something great.

“(Rodeo Dunes) will be a continuation of what happened here (at Bandon), and what has happened in Sand Valley,” he said.

Related Coverage:
Rodeo Dunes: New Sheriff in Town
Rodeo Dunes Founders Gather for First Look
New Dunes Course Slated for Northeast Colorado

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Jim Bebbington is the Director of Content at Colorado AvidGolfer. Contact him at [email protected]

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