Jeff Simonds might have the best job in golf. The TaylorMade staff pro and advisory board member is the senior director of operations at the renowned Bandon Dunes Golf Resort on the rugged coast of Southern Oregon. Annually, thousands of golfers from around the world make the pilgrimage to this American links mecca. Those fortunate enough to make the trip leave with a lifetime of memories and a new tribe. So, whenever you encounter another "I've been to Bandon" team member, there's always one burning question: What's your ranking?
There are five dynamic 18-hole courses on the property, an unforgettable 13-hole par 3 loop, a putting course and a new 19-hole par 3 track that's under construction. Everyone has their favorite, which often depends on where you played the best and the hand Mother Nature dealt you.
We went straight to the source and got the rankings from Simonds. When ranking the Bandon Dunes courses, he approaches the task from different angles, considering factors such as fairness, visual appeal, playability and the overall experience. According to Simonds, who's been at Bandon for 20 years, each course holds its own charm, making it challenging to pick a clear favorite. However, he offered his rankings and shared his thoughts on each course.
I consider Bandon Dunes the fairest course on property; it's a layout where the best golfer usually wins. You can get going on a bogey train easily. Still, you're less likely to get the unlucky bounces you can find at Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails or Old Mac. If you're coming here on a four- or five-day trip, Bandon is the course I'd choose to play multiple times.
Pacific is our most visually stunning, blow-your-mind-away course. It sits along the Pacific Ocean, and the massive body of water is visible on virtually every shot. As if the wind and elements weren't enough, the routing makes it tough to find a rhythm. You don't see a par 3 until the fifth hole, and then the back nine starts par 3, 3, and then a 5. You can see crazy swings out there.
At first, I had a difficult time figuring out how Sheep fit into the rotation and ranking. Then it hit me. It's the course where you turn to your buddy on the 8th or 9th tee and say: "What hole are we on?" There's the constant distraction of beautiful vistas and dramatic holes. You think the course can't get any better, and then the beauty of the next hole one-ups the last. You lose the grind of trying to make birdie and start appreciating where you're at – being in the moment. It's the course that makes you forget you're there to play golf.
Over time, Bandon Trails tends to elevate itself to become many golfers' favorite. If you move past the initial awe of the Pacific Ocean and the shoreside views, Trails might offer the best shock value. It's tree-lined, providing you a little protection from the wind and presenting a starkly different playing experience than the others. It's also secretly loved by many of our caddies, who appreciate its playability. It sees fewer rounds than the others, which helps with conditions and accessibility for those eager to scoop a tee time.
This is the closest thing to traditional links golf. If you blindfolded a golfer and dropped them there, they might get confused and actually think they're in Scotland. It's exposed, windswept and the elements can play havoc with your game – especially if you play in the afternoon when the wind picks up. Control your trajectory, keep the ball on the ground and embrace the challenge.
There's only one way to find out if Simonds is right. You have to experience Bandon for yourself! For first-timers, he offers this bit of advice:
"There's no wrong way to do Bandon Dunes; it all depends on what you're looking for. You can play 54 holes in a day if you're looking to put yourself to the test, or you can set up 10am tee times across multiple days to let yourself rest, enjoy breakfast and take a more relaxed approach. My best advice is to come with a close group of friends and have a fun format. Most groups will do a Ryder Cup style. Match play is definitely the way to go because the wind and elements can wreck a scorecard – match play keeps you engaged on every shot and ensures that you're never out of it."
Oh, and on the equipment side, Simonds recommends ensuring you have the proper setup. Because lies around the greens are so tight, he suggests taking a wedge or two out of the bag and replacing it with driving irons such as the Stealth Bomber or Stealth UDI for tee balls and second shots into heavy wind. He's also found success adding BRNR Mini Driver to the bag as an alternative option off the tee that helps keep the flight lower and more running.
Bandon Dunes course rankings, equipment recommendations and a bonus tip for first-timers, straight from the source.
Jeff Simonds' Quick Rankings of Bandon Dunes Course
- Bandon Dunes Golf Courses: Offering fairness and a true test of skills.
- Pacific Dunes: A visually stunning course with breathtaking blowout bunkers and varied hole designs.
- Sheep Ranch: Serene beauty and a more relaxed golfing experience.
- Bandon Trails: A hidden gem that gradually becomes a favorite among golfers for its playability.
- Old Mac: Transporting players to the essence of Scottish links golf, offering a unique and memorable experience.
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