Though they are linked in the public imagination, Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes are different experiences. Bandon is a stouter test than Pacific but not quite as much fun. The terrain from tee to green at Bandon is a little less spectacular, but with six greens perched on the cliffs, the ocean is in play more often and you get the opportunity to execute some unforgettable shots. "You can spend all day debating which course is better or which one you prefer," said Kevin. "Bottom line: They're both amazing."
Changing shoes at the halfway mark, I discovered blood on my left sock, thanks to a cracked toenail. (We were up to 10.6 miles on the pedometer.) I felt strangely jolly; there needed to be a little suffering on this day, and I knew the close-ups of my damaged digit would make great television. By the time our third round began, at Old Macdonald at 1:20 p.m., Kevin and I had grown pretty relaxed about the TV presence. We had each felt as if we were swinging a little too fast whenever the cameras were close by, but on Old Mac the Golf Channel guys made the artistic decision to shoot mostly panoramic scenes from a distance, so Kevin and I had more breathing room. The energy was also altered by pair of perky new caddies, Dave Hill and Daniel Vagnino Jr. (Rich Peterson and Joey Hines had powered us through the first 36 holes.)
Kevin and I were stoked to see what all the buzz was about at Old Mac, and we both got off to hot starts. Alas, I lost my mojo with a ghastly four-putt on the endless par-5 6th hole, which plays 555 yards, uphill, into the fan. Right around then the biggest wind of the day began blowing, with gusts up to 30 mph. Old Macdonald an homage to the work and influences of Charles Blair Macdonald, the father of American golf-course architecture has a number of scintillating holes and subtle design features. I particularly loved the 3rd hole, with its blind Sahara drive. Number 3 is 375 yards (we played all four courses from the tips) but downwind, and with all the roll we both nearly drove the green. But beginning on number 9 there is a stretch of really-good-but-not-quite-great holes, and as I struggled in the wind, my legs were getting awfully heavy. Thankfully, Kevin kept me going with his endless enthusiasm and rock-solid play. On the 15th tee I finally got a little rest, as for first time all day we had to wait on a group in front of us. (Because of prescheduled maintenance at Bandon Dunes there were no tee times before 10 o'clock, so for the first two rounds we enjoyed empty courses.) For five or six minutes I lay flat on my back, eyes closed, while everything around me was spinning. This respite gave me the juice needed for the rousing final four holes, two par-5s and a pair of meaty par-4s that measure more than 450 yards, including the wonderful 16th hole with its completely blind approach over a towering Alps dune.
After finishing off our rounds 79 for Kev, 84 for me I took inventory: 16.8 miles on the pedometer and another bloody sock, though my feet actually felt pretty good after having just spent 18 holes in a pair of Freddy Couples's favorite shoes.
We got to Bandon Trails at 5:20 p.m. It was an interesting way to finish the day. Trails begins and ends among the dunes but otherwise is the only Bandon course to play through the forest. It is the course that seems to engender the most diverse opinions. Kevin and I both fell hard for the place. "The holes sit so naturally on the land," he said at one point. "It's as if you can't wait to get to the next tee simply to see how the hole will unfold."
I parred number 1 and then played the next five holes in seven over. As I dragged my sorry self up the steep 7th fairway, my caddie, Dave, got in my grill and challenged me to show him a little something. I smoked a five-iron pin high, the start of a surge in which I closed the front nine by making consecutive pars and my first birdie in about eight hours.
I couldn't keep it up on the back nine. Trails is by far the hilliest of the four courses. I was still loving the place, but over the closing holes my fatigued body simply wouldn't do what I wanted it to. Still, I had long since stopped caring about the bogeys and was floating along in a kind of blissed-out endorphin high. With a few holes left Kevin said to me, "It's crazy, I know, but I'm kind of sad this is ending." I knew exactly how he felt.
It was 8:15 p.m. when we reached our 72nd hole. Sunset was still a half hour away, but I strapped on my headlamp anyway, just because the poor caddies had toted it all day. Facing a tap-in for one last double bogey, I stood over my ball as Kevin lined up his five-footer for a sand save. We had decided in advance to hole our final putts at the same instant. After all, who got to the top of Everest first, Hillary or Norgay? We didn't want that kind of controversy.
After the putts dropped, Kevin and I shared a sloppy hug. Then a couple of Bandon executives materialized, carrying large wrapped presents. Kev and I tore off the paper to find a framed poster of the four courses, a perfect way to commemorate our achievement. Playing all 72 at Bandon had begun as a personal quest, but a number of people were invested in the outcome.
The Golf in America segment recently aired, and Kevin and I got to relive the experience. I keep the scorecards on my desk for regular perusals, and the poster is on a wall in my office, but Bandon is with me everywhere I go. All I have to do is look down. One toenail is missing, and another is still black.