For longer than his peers care to remember, Tom Doak, the enfant terrible of the design business, has been an outspoken critic of all that he has surveyed in the world of golf course architecture. But now he's got the goods to back up his bare-knuckled opinions. On what he calls "one of the 20 best pieces of property anybody has ever worked on" -- a stunning expanse of sandy ridges and dunes on a windswept headlands 100 feet above the Pacific on the southern Oregon coast -- Doak and his able band of shapers have coaxed an epic links from the tumbling duneland. Opened in July, Pacific Dunes compares favorably to the finest courses ever evolved by nature and refined by man. Yes, it's that good.
If Bandon Dunes, the resort's first course, approximates Scotland, Pacific Dunes, which lies due north of the original, is all about Ireland. It delivers "the kind of golf that people play in their most ecstatic dreams," as Bernard Darwin once remarked of Royal County Down, the Ulster links that Pacific Dunes most closely resembles.
Drawing upon his encyclopedic knowledge of great courses worldwide, the 40-year-old dirt artist allowed the U-shaped valleys spread among the broom-covered dunes to dictate the routing. Alister Mackenzie, the legendary Scottish designer and Doak's biggest influence, once wrote: "On a seaside course...little construction work is necessary; the most important thing is to make the fullest possible use of existing features." Doak has done just that, harnessing undulations large and small while "imitating the beauties of nature so closely as to make his work indistinguishable from nature itself," as Mackenzie advised.
"Most of it [the links] was laying there for us to find," Doak says, though a few holes required modest earthworks. "We made it hard for you to pick out which ones are natural and which ones we built." Doak's take on the opportunity of a lifetime: "If you're lucky enough to get a job like this, you feel the weight of the world to not mess it up."
Honoring the land gave Doak the freedom to build a 6,623-yard, par-71 anomaly with non-returning nines, back-to-back par threes (at 10 and 11), and only two par fours on the back nine. This walkers-only links may appear short on the scorecard, but the lumpy fairways, perched greens, fringed "blow-out" bunkers, and brisk coastal breezes provide ample defense. The journey from heaving dunes to open plain to cliff's edge and back again is as memorable as any in the sport.
A match-play-style course intended to delight amateurs, Pacific Dunes is a throwback, an adventurous track that rewards creative play -- specifically, low, punched shots that cheat the wind. Each hole is unique and presents an appealing problem to solve. Clever tactics are required to score. Built for a scant $2.5 million, this splendid newcomer manages to be what many new courses aren't: fun to play.
Judging by its primeval appearance, its lack of cart paths and housing, Pacific Dunes could pass for a links circa 1900. In 99 years, it may be eulogized as the best course built in the 21st century. Yes, it's that good.
Through October 1, green fee is $120 for hotel guests, $150 for non-guests. Rates drop in late fall and winter. Lodge room rates start at $165, double occupancy. Caddies are $35 plus tip. Details: 888-345-6008; www.bandondunesgolf.com.