Courses and Travel

Will New Sheep Ranch Course Be Bandon Dunes' Best?

The Bandon Course You've Never Heard Of

Just up the road from Bandon Dunes is one of the game’s hidden treasures: the Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch. The no-frills layout has 13 greens on a raw, rolling plot, and chances are you'll have the place to yourself.

Bandon Dunes founder Mike Keiser doesn’t get mad. He gets even. Exactly one year after announcing that his new Gil Hanse-designed Bandon-area project couldn’t go through as planned, blocked by environmentalists, Keiser has returned with a bold, positive move toward more golf at coastal Oregon’s Bandon Dunes Resort. As first reported by Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella, Keiser is looking to redevelop the Sheep Ranch into a championship layout. Hyperbole aside, this course could top them all.

"It should happen in the next two years," Kaiser told Ginella. "The site is spectacular. Approval is easy because we already own the land. Irrigation shouldn’t be an issue. But we’re not in any rush."

Keiser and Bandon already boast the greatest quartet of public courses in existence, with all four, Pacific Dunes (No. 2), Bandon Dunes (No. 8), Old Macdonald (No. 11) and Bandon Trails (No. 12) ranked in the top dozen of GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 Courses You Can Play. How could the Sheep Ranch possibly rise above? Simple. Location, location, location.

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Bandon Dunes was ranked GOLF magazine's No. 8 Course You Can Play in 2014.

The mysterious Sheep Ranch spread sits adjacent to Old Macdonald, just to the north of the Bandon Dunes resort. Pacific Dunes’ architect Tom Doak created the layout 15 years ago, but it’s never been traditional golf. It’s currently comprised of 13 greens that can be approached from a variety of directions. Keiser co-owns the property with his original partner in the greeting cards business, Phil Friedmann, and the project has been ultra-mysterious since Day 1. Not many have played it, as it’s not affiliated with the resort, and few even know of its existence. You don’t access via the resort; rather, you contact someone in town, who contacts a caretaker, who opens a locked gate, collects your funds and lets you aboard.

MORE: Bandon's Sheep Ranch Course Is Old-Fashioned Fun

You play cross-country golf, or semi-traditional golf or whatever you want, playing from point A to any green you wish. Several of the putting surfaces hug the cliff edge, making for some of the most dramatic golf to be found in the Bandon area.

It’s not quite real golf, but it’s pure fun. The non-irrigated, cement-firm fairways allow for your golf ball to respond like a super-ball, the hard rubber toy we played with as kids. Drives bound forever, nearly uncontrolled by traditional friction that comes from softer turf and coarser grass blades. Yet, the experienced is a joy—and unforgettable—due to the setting and the lack of formality.

Keiser and Friedmann have their sights on Gil Hanse to be the architect to transform the track, but both Keiser and Hanse say nothing is official yet.

"When Jim Wagner and I were asked to look at the Sheep Ranch as a site for the next course at Bandon we eagerly set out to explore the property," Hanse said. "What we saw was a site that has the potential to be one of the truly remarkable golf courses in the world. With an amazing stretch of coastline, perfect elevation changes, varied vegetation and the opportunity to route holes in every direction, it should yield a course that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the other great courses already at Bandon Dunes."

The prospects are salivating. Turn Keiser and Hanse loose on possibly Bandon Dunes' most scenic, spectacular terrain, and it could be the resort's finest course yet.

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