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Pacific Dunes: True Links on the Oregon Coast

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Tucked away on the rugged Oregon coastline, Pacific Dunes at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort has earned a reputation as one of the world’s premier golf destinations. Designed by Tom Doak, the course features rippling fairways that emerge from shore pines to spectacular 60-foot sand dunes overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Since opening in 2001, Pacific Dunes has dazzled golfers with its natural beauty, unique design, and challenging yet enjoyable layout. In this post, we’ll examine the history and origins of Pacific Dunes and hear from the architects and developers who brought it to life. We’ll provide a walkthrough of each nine, showcasing the aesthetic highlights and strategic choices facing players.

Beyond the course, we’ll explore the reception and ratings it has received from golfers and critics alike. We’ll also provide resources for further reading (including books written by the principals) and videos, offering a comprehensive guide for those planning a visit or simply wishing to learn more.

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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Explore their collection of over 1,000 courses or order a custom map of any course in the world and celebrate your golfing passion with a truly unique piece of art.

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Pacific Dunes in Bandon Oregon USA - The Greenside Gallery

Origins of Pacific Dunes

Pacific Dunes, the second course at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, was the brainchild of golf course architect Tom Doak and resort owner Mike Keiser. The course’s inception was rooted in Keiser’s vision of creating a British-style links course on the Oregon coast, reminiscent of the sport’s origins in Scotland. Keiser’s passion for golf and entrepreneurial spirit led him to the untamed gorse and rugged terrain of southern Oregon, where he would eventually build one of the world’s most revered golf destinations.

Known for his minimalist approach to golf course design, Doak was given a rugged, untamed stretch of land just north of the original Bandon Dunes overlooking the Pacific. He was tasked with sculpting the land into a course that felt more discovered than built. Doak’s experience and the decisions made during the routing process are well-documented, including the challenges and changes that arose, such as the alteration of the original design when Keiser allocated part of the land to David McLay Kidd to develop the first course. Doak’s dedication to the project is evident in the course’s seamless integration with its environment.

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Design

From the first day on the site, Doak envisioned routing a links-style course through the natural landscape. His design philosophy was to leave the land untouched as much as possible, allowing the existing terrain to dictate the course’s layout. Fairways and bunkers emerged seamlessly from the native dunes and shore pines, and Doak carefully routed each hole to maximize ocean views and strategic choices. His team used minimal machinery, hand-raking the bunkers and greens complexes to preserve the rugged beauty of the terrain.

Doak has expressed that Pacific Dunes was the course he was “born to build,” finding the site unique, particularly the bowl of dunes further inland, and he designed a routing that returns to that area at several different points in the round. Doak feels that the seaside setting contributes to the aura of Pacific Dunes and stated that it has a few more “knock-your-socks-off holes” than Sand Hills does, just because they’re right along the Pacific Ocean.

In his book “The Making of Pacific Dunes,” Doak shares his experience building the course from the first day, explaining how he found each hole and put the routing together. He also discusses what his crew did and didn’t do to build this “distractingly beautiful and unfailingly challenging golf course.”

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Reception

Pacific Dunes’ opened on July 1, 2001, and quickly became a standout, surpassing its predecessor, Bandon Dunes, in acclaim. The opening marked a significant moment in modern golf course design, showcasing how a new course could receive immediate critical acclaim and be considered among the best in the world.

Gaining plaudits for its breathtaking views and Doak’s unique minimalist design, Pacific Dunes cemented Bandon Dunes as a world-class golf destination. It has consistently ranked highly on lists of America’s greatest golf courses, with Golf Magazine describing the experience at Pacific Dunes as “man against course – and weather.”  The course is not a championship layout by length, measuring 6,673 yards from the tips, but its par 71 setup is tough enough to challenge most golfers, especially when the coastal weather comes into play. The course was rated the world’s second-best course of the last 50 years, topped only by Sand Hills.

In his book “Sand and Golf: How Terrain Shapes the Game,” George Waters celebrates the unique relationship between sandy terrain and the game of golf. Waters states that Pacific Dunes showcases the best that golf on sandy terrain offers, highlighting the course’s clever routing, memorable and distinctive holes, and the firm and fast links conditions. He also notes the dramatic coastal setting of Pacific Dunes as one of the most beautiful he has visited, underscoring the course’s integration with its sandy coastal environment.

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Did You Know?

At Pacific Dunes, Bandon Dunes, and Old MacDonald, the primary mode of transportation is walking – to preserve the game’s traditions and minimize the ecological footprint. Mike Keiser has stated the resort is dedicated to creating “golf as it was meant to be.” This sentiment is echoed by The Walking Golfers Society, which believes that walking enhances the physical, social, and experiential aspects of the game.

The resort does make exceptions for anyone with a permanent disability that prevents them from walking around. These guests can arrange for a golf cart with documentation before arrival. For those who prefer not to carry their clubs, complimentary pull/push carts are available, or guests may bring their own. These carts have wide wheels that do no harm to the greens.

If you follow this site at all, you know doubt have picked up on the theme – a love of the traditions of the game, natural terrain, minimalist designs, and walking the course – see our post “Fairways and Footsteps” for more on this. In other words, the game as it was created is in its natural state. This is a preference, and there are always exceptions to every rule, but it’s refreshing to see Mike Keiser’s philosophy as espoused in his book “The Nature of the Game.”

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The Course

While its predecessor, Bandon Dunes, has been compared to Scottish links, Pacific Dunes draws parallels with the dramatic links of Ireland, its natural and rugged character blending seamlessly with the coastal dunescape. The fairways, rippled by the natural terrain, are framed by dunes and native vegetation, while the greens are well-guarded by bunkers and gorse.

Pacific Dunes is a par 71 that stretches 6,673 yards from the championship tees.  A captivating blend of strategic holes, the scenic front nine meanders through the terrain with seven par-4s. The opening short par-4 has a generous landing area, but a large sandy mound sits in wait to the right, while a tee shot left of the center provides a better angle to this green nestled into the sand dunes.

The intimidating yet beautiful short par-5 3rd and long par-4 4th hole could vie for the title of “signature” at Pacific Dunes. At 463 yards, the 4th takes you over the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean, where you obviously can’t miss right, with ever-present coastal winds complicating matters. The firm, fescue fairway makes the ground game a real option when the wind is up. The quirky 9th starts with a blind tee shot up to a ridge where you will approach one of two possible greens.

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The Back Nine

After a steady dose of two-shot holes on the front, the back nine contains an even mix of one, two, and three-shot holes, starting with back-to-back par-3s. The epic downhill 10th provides a stunning ocean view, while the 11th is a demanding short hole with a narrow green protected by bunkers, the ocean, and the hillside. The 13th is a visually stunning par-4 played between the ocean cliffs and the dunes, with little room for error.

The closing stretch starts with a challenging par-4 that requires a precise tee shot to avoid the large blowout bunker on the inside corner of the dogleg left. The final short hole comes at 17, featuring a hillside redan-style green that slopes from right to left, making for delicate recovery shots. Pacific Dunes’ home hole is its longest at 591 yards, starting from the highest point on the course. The tee shot requires careful navigation to avoid the cliffs to the left, high dunes to the right, and a blowout bunker in the middle of the fairway.

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Pacific Dunes Today

Today, Pacific Dunes is a testament to the timeless allure of links golf, with its generous fairways and strategic bunkering demanding precision and creativity. The course’s rugged beauty matches its reputation for testing every aspect of a player’s skill set, from tee shots shaped by the coastal winds to the intricate reads required on its undulating greens. As Pacific Dunes matures, it offers a pure golfing experience that harks back to the sport’s origins, where the interplay between golfer, course, and nature takes center stage.

Visit Pacific Dunes online at https://www.bandondunesgolf.com/golf/golf-courses/pacific-dunes-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 Pacific Dunes!

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Further Reading

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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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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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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.

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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.

Videos

Pacific Dunes
Pacific Dunes – No Laying Up
Pacific Dunes – Roundtable Discussion

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