Bandon Dunes grappling with tragic death of young club pro

March 12, 2017

If you’ve been to Bandon Dunes, you know what it’s about: big-time golf, small-town feel, every visitor united by a love of the game and a willingness to travel long distances to play it.

Bandon employees—all 550 of them, plus several hundred caddies, depending on the season—share a similar bond, living and working in a sleepy swatch of southern Oregon where paths intersect at nearly every turn.

“The entire population of the city of Bandon is only about 3,000 people,” said Michael Chupka, Bandon Dunes’ director of communications. “So almost anywhere you go, whether it’s dinner or the grocery store, there’s a good chance you’ll bump into someone from the Bandon family.”

Like most families, the staff at Bandon Dunes laughs and celebrates together.

They also grieve together.

In recent days, they’ve been grappling with the death of one of their own.

On the morning of Feb. 25, Robert McVicker, 28, an assistant golf pro at the resort who had just been promoted to a head pro position, was killed in a car wreck, just north of his workplace, when the Nissan he was driving spun out on an icy patch of U.S. Highway 101, crossed the center line and collided with a vehicle heading in the other direction.

At the time of his death, McVicker was set to become the head professional at Old Macdonald, one of the resort’s four 18-hole tracks.

“It’s been a really tough time for all of us here,” said Chad Turner, retail manager at Bandon Dunes and one of McVicker’s former housemates. “Luckily, we’ve had each other to lean on.”

In the days since the devastating news, conversations around Bandon Dunes have brimmed with recollections of McVicker and his tenure at the resort. Like many of his coworkers, he was not a local. Born in Cincinnati, he moved with his family, at age 10, to Chapel Hill, N.C., where he fell for golf a few years later. He went on to college at Campbell University, just north of Fayetteville, and worked internships at courses in North Carolina and New York before landing at Bandon Dunes in 2010. Starting as an intern, he rose through the ranks, getting hired back as an assistant pro at the Bandon Trails course before moving to Old Mac.

“He always had a smile and a warm greeting for everyone, no matter who you were,” says Jeff Simonds, Bandon Dunes’ director of golf. “Sometimes I’d try to slip in to the shop without getting noticed, but there was no doing that when Rob was around.”

Five-foot-nine and slender, McVicker did not cut an imposing figure on the course, but he more than compensated with consistency and competitive fire. “He played a buttery little draw, tee to green,” Simonds said. “In all the matches we played, somehow I never managed to beat him once.”

He charged every putt like a young Tom Watson. “When he made it, you knew it was going to hit the back of the cup,” Chupka said. “There was none of this dying it in on the final roll kind of stuff.”

McVicker preferred playing golf to watching it. But even a round on a world-class course could hardly compete with his interest in college basketball. North Carolina was his team, and he rarely missed a tip-off. When his vehicle crashed, McVicker was driving home from his girlfriend’s house to watch the Tar Heels play.

“He’d record all the games, but he always wanted to be there for the very beginning,” Turner said. “He would actually talk to the players on TV, like ‘Good shot, man!’ ‘Quick. He’s open.’ ‘No. Why’d you pass it there?’ I’d say, Rob, do you really think they can hear you or that it’s doing them any good? He’d say, Oh, yeah. Absolutely.”

After the accident, Turner and several of McVicker’s closest Bandon friends, including Patrick McMullen, Tyler Mulkey, Cody Nutsch and Dane Byers, built a cross and painted it Tar Heel blue, then placed it beside the highway near the site of the crash. A message on it reads, “Rob McVicker. Forever with us.”

On Sunday, the resort held a memorial. McVicker’s parents, John and Myra, flew out from North Carolina, joining Rob’s Bandon family in a tribute to their eldest son (Rob’s two younger brothers, Drew, 26 and Brad, 24, were unable to make the trip) that began in the clubhouse then moved onto the links. Near the 6th hole at Bandon Dunes, a par-3 set hard along the water, the McVickers scattered some of Rob’s ashes.

Amid the shattering loss, John McVicker said that there was comfort in knowing that his son had been doing what he loved. “Rob didn’t like pretentiousness of any kind, and Bandon Dunes has none of that,” he said. “Rob admired the resort. He saw it as a destination for people who truly loved golf.”

Myra McVicker shared a memory from her son in middle school, when he was asked to write a paper depicting his vision of utopia. She’d found a copy of it while looking through his keepsakes.

“The title was My Perfect World, and he was supposed to describe three things,” she said. “He said there was a golf course, and he was living on it, and he had all the golf equipment he could ever want. When you think about it, that perfect world he wrote about and the life he wound up living, they aren’t so very different after all.”