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Old MacDonald: A Links Homage

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Old MacDonald is the fourth course constructed at Oregon’s renowned Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. The course opened in 2010 and was designed by acclaimed architects Tom Doak and Jim Urbina to pay homage to the “father of American golf architecture,” Charles Blair (C.B.) MacDonald. Bandon founder Mike Keiser says of MacDonald, “I don’t think golf in this country would exist in its current form if it weren’t for what he brought to the game.” 

A pioneer in American golf course design, MacDonald built famous courses such as National Golf Links of America, Yale Golf Course, and Chicago Golf Club in the early 1900s, drawing inspiration from classic designs he studied in Scotland, seeking to bring those principles to America.

The course features massive greens, bold interior contours, and artfully placed bunkers that echo MacDonald’s ideals while offering plenty of risk-reward options. The routing features modern renditions of famous templates like the Punchbowl, Sahara, and Alps, along with spectacular oceanfront holes, many of which take on the names of their templates.

In this post, we’ll get to know Old MacDonald, its origins, history, and what makes it a can’t-miss experience. We’ll learn the course routing and layout, inspired templates, and the characteristics they honor. Finally, we’ll suggest further reading from many of the principals involved in this story and show some videos to bring the course to life. As always, the images are simulated to provide context and set the scene.

If you enjoy these course writeups, consider subscribing to our weekly newsletter to receive updates on new posts, partners, and discount codes. For more information, check out the other courses featured in our Legendary Links series, which will soon be published in a book, “Links Around the World.”

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Pacific Dunes in Bandon Oregon USA - The Greenside Gallery

Origins of Old Mac

Bandon Dunes founder Mike Keiser was intrigued by MacDonald’s style and vision, specifically at Lido, the heralded but short-lived Long Island links that closed in 1942 due to World War II. After enormous success with the links-style Pacific Dunes, Keiser brought Doak back for an encore, this time with Urbina, to design a modern course that captured MacDonald’s spirit. They studied MacDonald’s work and the classic British links he admired to incorporate his strategic concepts while crafting holes fit for Bandon’s rugged, sandy seaside terrain. One thing I couldn’t help but notice was the use of hole names from the original Lido, which the team of Keiser and Doak have now reproduced at Sand Valley in Wisconsin.

While paying tribute to golf’s early innovators, Old MacDonald offers a thoroughly original and contemporary take on links golf. Its expansive scale, firm/fast conditions, and wealth of risk-reward options have made it a favorite at the renowned Bandon Dunes complex.

The course routing weaves dramatically along the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean before heading inland through massive dunes, garnering praise for the mystery and intrigue created by the way holes are revealed and then hidden again. The scale of the course is described as “deliciously bordering on the obscene and overwhelming,” with very wide fairways and massive greens with imaginative contours.

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Reception

Old MacDonald is considered less picturesque than the other Bandon courses but provides more freedom of play, allowing golfers to be creative in navigating the rugged, untamed landscape. It has been called Bandon’s “most love-it-or-hate-it” course due to its difficulty, but those who love it rank it among their favorites for its unique character and embodiment of the spirit of C.B. MacDonald’s design style.

Tom Doak calls it “a wonderfully playable walking course with the full panoply of Scottish links elements,” while owner Mike Keiser describes it as “a course that celebrates the best of the British Isles.”

In “True Links,” George Peper lists three courses at the Bandon Dunes resort – the original Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, and Old MacDonald among the short list of authentic (lack of proximity to the sea eliminated many worthy candidates) links-style courses in the United States (Highland Links being the fourth). Golf Digest stated that Old MacDonald “looks like it was lifted, cleaned and placed from the West of Scotland.”

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Did You Know?

Charles Blair (C.B.) MacDonald (1855-1939) was an influential figure who made major contributions as a player, architect, administrator, and writer. He was born in Canada to a Scottish father and part-Mohawk mother but grew up in Chicago. As a teenager, MacDonald was sent to study at St Andrews University, where he learned golf under Old Tom Morris on the legendary Old Course. He returned to Chicago in 1874, became a successful stockbroker, and hardly played golf for the next 20 years.

In the early 1890s, MacDonald rekindled his passion for golf. He established the Chicago Golf Club in 1892, laying out a rudimentary 6-hole course that he soon expanded to 9 holes, and then America’s first 18-hole course in 1893. This kicked off an illustrious career in golf course architecture, though he only designed about two dozen courses. His masterpiece was the National Golf Links of America on Long Island, which opened in 1911 after a meticulous design process of studying classic British links. MacDonald pioneered the concept of “template holes” – iconic hole designs like the Redan, Biarritz, and Eden that could be adapted to different sites.

Beyond design, MacDonald helped organize the first US Amateur Championship in 1894 and won the inaugural event in 1895. He was also a key figure in founding the United States Golf Association, serving as its first vice president. Later in life, he captured his philosophy and passion for golf in his acclaimed book “Scotland’s Gift: Golf.” MacDonald was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2007, securing his legacy as a central figure in golf history.

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The Course

Playing to a par 71 at just under 7,000 yards from the back tees, Old MacDonald is laid out on a sprawling plot of land framed by dunes and sea on one side and more inland, forested sections of the property on the other. The routing offers some of the widest panoramas of any Bandon Dunes course. Keeping with tradition and policy at Bandon Dunes, Old MacDonald is a walking course.

The course differs from the others at Bandon Dunes, having been seeded solely with fescue, resulting in that browner look along the edges. Old MacDonald also has the largest greens of any course at Bandon, with some stretching over 60 yards long, allowing for creativity in hole locations. A lone, dead cedar tree stands prominently atop a dune that juts out along the 3rd hole, “Sahara.” The so-called “ghost tree” has become one of the most photographed landmarks at Bandon Dunes Resort, and the logo is featured on much of the course’s merchandise.

The holes themselves practically tell you what’s to come, with names like “Biarritz,” “Eden,” “Cape,” “Ocean,” and “Hog’s Back.” The influence of St. Andrews can be felt throughout, not just with the large greens and familiar hole names but with their signature characteristics. The cross-bunker on the “Long” 6th is reminiscent of “Hell,” and the 11th hole, “Road,” doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a model of its namesake 17th, minus the hotel. North Berwick’s “Redan” and Prestwick’s “Alps,” with its blind approach, are represented, as they were at the National Golf Links, right down to the inclusion of the bell you’ll need to ring, indicating that you’ve cleared the green.

Visit Old MacDonald online at https://www.bandondunesgolf.com/golf/golf-courses/old-macdonald-golf-course/.

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PuttView Golf Books

PuttView Books are detailed yardage and green maps designed to help golfers save strokes, especially under tournament conditions. They offer precise visual representations of courses, including topographic slope percentages, fairway arrows for slopes over 4%, and a dual view of greens accurate to the millimeter. The books are printed on high-quality waterproof paper, sized to fit traditional yardage book covers, and are USGA legal. 

Customers praise PuttView Books for their stunning detail, stylish presentation, and the confidence they instill in decision-making on the course. With 30,000 courses represented, your home course is bound to be available, as is Old MacDonald.

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Further Reading

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Scotland’s Gift, Golf
by Charles Blair MacDonald

Summary: Scotland’s Gift, Golf is a masterpiece of early golf literature, written by the Father of American Golf Course Architecture, C.B. MacDonald. Considered by historians to be the most important book ever written on early American golf, this book details the birth of golf in the United States in the late nineteenth century and the formation of the U.S.G.A. in 1894.

In addition to a detailed summary of the characteristics of an ideal golf course, this guide provides rare insight into the methods and philosophies that MacDonald used to design some of the world’s most renowned courses, including the National Golf Links of America, Mid-Ocean Club, Lido, and Yale Golf Club. It also includes personal anecdotes and correspondence describing the development of the rules of golf, as well as the evolution of the modern golf ball and golf club.

Written in 1928, this book features 56 black-and-white photographs from the author’s personal collection, including rare photos of Bobby Jones, Young Tom Morris, and Francis Ouimet. Also included is an appendix which highlights the oldest surviving rules of golf from 1754, as well as the amended version from 1858.

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The Nature of the Game
by Mike Keiser

Summary: The Nature of the Game chronicles how businessman and avid golfer Mike Keiser discovered his passion for authentic links golf in Scotland and Ireland and embarked on a mission to bring that pure golf experience to America through Bandon Dunes.  Keiser details his philosophy of “dream golf” – walking-only courses routed naturally through windswept landscapes that embrace the origins of the game.  The book provides an inside look at how Keiser partnered with architects like Tom Doak to make the dream golf vision a reality at Bandon and other sites, pioneering a back-to-basics movement in course design.  At its core, The Nature of the Game shares one man’s journey to recapture golf’s essence by creating minimalist, natural links-style courses focused on fun and camaraderie.

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Sand and Golf
by George Waters

Summary: “Sand and Golf” explores how sandy terrain uniquely suits golf, studying similarities and differences between courses worldwide with sandy features. It examines all aspects of the relationship between sand and golf, from the sport’s origins in Scottish coastal dunes to its global spread onto sandy sites. Written by golf architect George Waters with a preface by renowned designer Tom Doak, it details through examples and illustrations why firm, rugged, windy sandy terrain makes creative shot-making integral to the game. The book appeals to knowledgeable golfers interested in course design and architecture, analyzing the art and science behind why golf belongs on sand.

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Anatomy of a Golf Course
by Tom Doak

Summary: The book explains the thought process and strategies used by golf course architects in designing courses, including factors like hole length, placement of hazards, and routing. It aims to help golfers understand why certain design choices are made so they can better approach playing the course. Written by acclaimed golf architect Tom Doak, it appeals to both knowledgeable golfers and beginners interested in course design and architecture. The book also includes an appendix with examples of noteworthy golf courses that are worth studying.


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The Making of Pacific Dunes
by Tom Doak

Summary: Tom Doak, the architect of Pacific Dunes, recounts the history of the course, how he and his team routed it and the decisions they made doing so, and other details about the course. The book is full of color pictures of Pacific Dunes, a course ranked in the top 25 in the world located in Bandon, Oregon. If you have played Pacific Dunes – this book will enhance your memories of it. If you are going to play Pacific Dunes, you need this book to heighten your awareness and insight of how to play it. The first half of the book looks at the big picture design issues: the decisions on routing, construction, challenges, and so forth, and the second half of the book dedicates 5-6 pages to each hole (with a copious amount of color photographs) and specifically focuses on their design and construction.


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True Links
by  Malcolm Campbell & George Peper

Summary: True Links by Malcolm Campbell and George Peper profiles over 240 of the world’s top links golf courses across the British Isles and beyond, examining their history, design features, and status as an authentic “true links.” Organized geographically, the book offers photos, maps, scorecards and playing tips for renowned seaside tests like Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Cabot Links, Barnbougle Dunes and others that meet the authors’ criteria.  For links golf aficionados, True Links serves as an illustrated guidebook for experiencing the unique joys and challenges of the game’s most revered coastal courses.

Videos

Every Hole at Old MacDonald
Old MacDonald – No Laying Up
Fried Egg – Old Mac Roundtable

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