Sneak Preview: Old Macdonald at Bandon Dunes

Wednesday May 19th, 2010
 briefly held the lead, but he made three bogeys coming in.
William West/AFP/Getty Images

My eyes are tearing, my nose is running non-stop and there's a four-club wind, strong enough to blow golf bags over and hats off heads. I'm playing Old Macdonald at Bandon Dunes (888-345-6008, bandondunesgolf.com) for the first time — and I'm loving every minute.

Perhaps 2010's most anticipated course opening is the Old Macdonald layout, the fourth course at coastal Oregon's Bandon Dunes Resort. Designed by Tom Doak/Jim Urbina and a cast of consultants — with inspiration from America's pioneering golf course architect, Charles Blair Macdonald, Old Macdonald attempts to answer the question, "What would C.B. Macdonald have done today if he were given this piece of land?"

I'll tell you my answer: He done good. Old Macdonald is a joyous romp from start to finish.

Old Macdonald doesn't open to the public until June 1, but four GOLF Magazine editors were fortunate enough to play a preview round today. What a blast! I mean that both in wind velocity and in pure enjoyment.

As you approach the first tee, you encounter a converted stable that will soon be the pro shop — perfectly appropriate for a course named Old Macdonald. You then see an enormous putting green — also perfectly appropriate. You begin on what Tom Doak calls "My favorite opening hole we've ever built." It's called "Double Plateau," a tribute to Macdonald masterworks such as the 11th at National Golf Links and the 17th at Yale. The driving zone is gigantic, which sets the tone for the rest of the round. There's a ton of room to accommodate strategic driving, as well as the gale-force winds that frequently blow through this exposed site. Your tee shots may sail well off target, but it's going to be hard to lose a ball.

The first wow! moment comes at No. 3, called "Sahara," which demands a blind drive over a towering dune ridge, where you must avoid a tall, lone snag, a pine tree no longer among the living. I won't spoil the surprise of how it unfolds from there, but suffice it to say, you haven't seen much like it.

In fact, that was the thinking of Bandon Dunes' poobah Mike Keiser: Show off the cool Charley Macdonald stuff to a public that's never gotten a glimpse of the ultra-private National Golf Links of America, the Long Island gem that was considered the first truly great course in the United States. At the National, Macdonald paid homage to the best holes he had encountered in Scotland and England and this collection of all-star holes laid the groundwork for generations of intriguing holes to come. Many of the familiar favorites are here, from a "Biarritz," to an "Alps," to a "Cape" to a "Redan," but there are some lesser known gems as well, including the "Leven" and the "Littlestone." One daring original, the 377-yard, par-4 7th, features an uphill approach to a green plopped down atop a dune ridge, with the ocean in full glory below.

Old Macdonald sports more ocean views than its sibling, Bandon Trails, but fewer than Pacific and Bandon Dunes. It also boasts surprising elevation change — some huge ups and downs — yet it's so skillfully routed, it's a comfortable walk. The massive dune ridges, dotted with the most incredible gorse collection I've ever seen, blazing a brilliant sea of yellow in late April, are remarkable, as are the formalized bunkers. Of course, what may stick with you the most are some of the largest greens in creation, complete with rolls and plateaus and backstops of every description. Again, like the rest of the course, they're wild, but manageable — and relentlessly interesting.

Some have already compared Old Macdonald to Pacific Dunes, GOLF Magazine's top-rated course you can play in the U.S. I'll stop just shy of that. Pacific Dunes definitely has more drama, more pulse-quickening moments, more compelling features and more imagination in its shot demands and strategies. I'll say this, however: Old Macdonald might very well be more fun. You just can't help but grinning in amazement, all the way to the "Punchbowl" finale. While it doesn't open for another six weeks, Old Macdonald is already destined for greatness.

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