The Links course purist is the developer of the Bandon (Ore.) Dunes Golf Resort.
What is a true links course?
George Peper, the former editor-in-chief of Golf magazine, is the ultimate authority on links courses. I believe in his definition, which is sandy soil with little or no agricultural value, close to the ocean and relatively few to zero trees and fescue grass. The trees part is the most debatable because you get into whether or not Shinnecock and National Golf Links are true links courses. George would eliminate them because they are covered with trees.
Are there any impostors?
Impostors is a little bit strong because there are many definitions of a links course. Pebble Beach is not an impostor but it’s named the Pebble Beach Golf Links because it’s on the ocean and very much like a links course. But I don’t think they are trying to fool anyone. Basically the American usage of the word links is equivalent to golf course. Many people don’t know the difference between a true links golf course and a parkland course.
Are golfers getting an authentic links course experience at Bandon?
Yes. Although we claim Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes and Old Macdonald as links courses, we do not say that Bandon Trails is a complete links course because some of its holes are in the woods.
Why the love affair with links courses?
It’s golf as it’s meant to be. I know that sounds arrogant, but it goes back to St. Andrews, the first Links course, where they have been playing golf since 1200. It’s the perfect Links course. It’s the way golf should be played.
In today’s dollars how much would it cost to build St. Andrews?
It would probably cost $5 million. A lot of it would go to irrigate it. Slowly the golf courses in Scotland and Ireland have put in irrigation systems, but if you took that away you knock off $1.2 million from the price tag.
What was the first Links course that you played?
Ballybunion, which is on the southwest coast of Ireland. It is something. From the first round at Ballybunion I was hooked on links golf. That was the late 1970s.
How did you find Bandon?
It was all luck. It took me four years during the late 1980s to find the land. I was looking in the southern part of Oregon, which isn’t links land. I was frustrated, and out of the blue a broker called and said I got sand dunes, a mile and a half of ocean line, gorse and Scottish broom. It was perfect for links golf. I didn’t know at the time that Oregon has 50 miles of sand dunes-covered coast. That 50-mile stretch down to Bandon is America’s links land.
How many acres did you buy for the first course, Bandon Dunes, which opened in 1999?
The first course only needed 400 acres but I bought 1200. Later on I bought another 1200 acres on the site.
If you could have any piece of Links land property in America where would it be?
The best links land is on Long Island in New York where Shinnecock Hills, the National Golf Links, Sebonack, Friar’s Head and Garden City are all generally located. Long Island is entirely sand. You couldn’t build much there now because it’s too populated. But the most affordable place to build is probably the Oregon coast.
Why do you think it took so long for someone like you to come along with the money and the desire to build links courses in the U.S.?
Augusta National has had a great impact on golf architecture in the United States, and it’s a parkland golf course. It and Baltusrol and Winged Foot were early and huge influences in American designs because it’s much easier to find farmland than it is links land. The mindset in the U.S. was that if we want to play links golf we can go to Scotland and Ireland.
You recently opened a fourth course at Bandon Dunes, a Tom Doak-design, that you named Old Macdonald as a homage to Charles Blair Macdonald, America’s first practicing golf architect, who designed the National Golf Links in 1911.
What Tom Doak built is very St. Andrews like. It feels like St. Andrews. It has the hard fescue grass, the tight lies, wide fairways and a number of ways to get to the big greens. St. Andrews greens total 6.1 acres. At Old Macdonald the greens total 6.3 acres.
With Old Macdonald are you also after that brown, dry look of St. Andrews?
Yes. The word we use for brown is tawny, which is a cross between brown and green. I’ve played here the last two days and our greens are on the brown side of tawny. We starve them of water.
If it’s a true Links couldn’t you putt your way around the course?
Yes. We have a pro here named Grant Rogers who can hit a 200-yard baby draw with a putter. And he can get it to within two feet consistently of the hole with a putter from 100 yards.
You have four courses that comprise the Bandon Dunes Resort. What’s next?
I have a project in Nova Scotia called Cabot Links. It will be a links course on the ocean. Ten holes will be ready in the summer of 2011 and the full 18-hole course will be ready in 2012.
Do you have any intentions of ever building anything other than a links course?
No. I’m the Johnny Appleseed of links golf.
What was the initial reception to Bandon when it opened in 1999?
It was two and half times better than I thought it would be. And once we built the second course, Pacific Dunes, and certainly now that we have four, we’ve become a destination much like going to Scotland or Ireland.
How many times have you played St. Andrews?
I have played it 15 times and I can’t get enough of it. It’s the world’s best golf course. There is nothing I would change about it.
Would you have a hotel to carry off the 17th tee, the Road Hole?
No. But they’ve been hitting over something there for 400 years. At Old Macdonald we have a road hole that plays like the original hole except we don’t force you to hit over a building.
Is it cheaper to maintain the rustic looking links courses than it is a parkland course?
Because fescue is a natural grass we use less chemicals and fertilizers on it. So it’s a little cheaper. But you still have to mow the grass and the irrigation is automatic.
How did you make your money before you decided to build golf courses?
I had a greetings card business that I co-founded in 1971 and sold in 2005.
Your first course was a nine-hole private club in New Buffalo, Mich. that was inspired by Pine Valley. That’s probably the greatest course in the world that no one has ever seen.
It is unbelievable. It has 18 great holes. It should be No. 1 on your list of courses to play after you come to Bandon.
What are the links courses that should be on a golfer’s bucket list?
National Golf Links, St. Andrews, Ballybunion, Royal County Down. If you’re in the U.S. try to get to National Golf Links because it’s convenient, but if you can make the trip, go play St. Andrews because it was the first.
Will you be watching the Open this weekend?
Absolutely. It’s a treat for anybody who likes golf.
What’s your favorite hole on the Old course?
I like the 18th hole because it arrives in the town of St. Andrews, which is so unique because the town basically grew up around the course. Hitting your tee shot over that little swell and then walking over the Swilcan Bridge and then trying to two-putt that enormous green. It’s the history of golf.