Joe Bentham, aka PacDunesLooper on Twitter, may have the best job in golf. On a daily basis, year-round, he walks the fairways of paradise. He loops at Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails, Old MacDonald and Bandon Preserve, the five courses built by western New York’s Mike Keiser. We cornered Mr. Bentham for a quick nine…questions, that is (no bags to carry.)
1. Tell us about yourself and how you got started in golf.
My Name is Joe Bentham and I’ve been a caddie at Bandon Dunes Golf resort for the last 8 years. I grew up on the Northern Oregon Coast and thank my lucky stars that I found my way down the coast to Bandon everyday. The differences between the North Coast and the South Coast in terms of weather and terrain is quite different. Neither is superior, just different and it speaks to just how special a place the Oregon Coast is.
Every golfer has somebody in their lives that got them into the game. For most it is a family member, for me it was my best friend.
My best friend Keith played on the high school team all fours years in school and had always been on me to play. There where probably several reasons I didn’t but the biggest was that I was left handed and had no clubs or access to a lefty who’d share.
I came home one day my senior year and sitting on the front porch was the prettiest bag of 1960’s era blade irons you’d ever seen and they where left-handed. Keith’s dad was the athletic director when we where in high school so Keith had access to an old store room at the high school that was filled with old stuff including this bag of wrenches. I struggled with those old clubs (who am I kidding, I struggle with my new stuff now) for a couple of years but the hook was set and I have my best friend to thank for the passion and love I have for the greatest game ever invented.
2. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen on a golf course; i.e. something that changed for the better the way you view the game.
People wonder if walking around one of the prettiest places in the world ever gets old. The answer for me is of course no and if it ever does I’ll find something else to do with my self. The golf course is different every single day. I love looping for first timers and showing them a place that is so special to me but to single out one thing and say it was the most interesting thing I’ve ever seen would be tough.
Groups come to Bandon on an annual or semi-annual basis and insist it is their favorite golf they play all year. What I find interesting is that how few of them will take what they enjoy about their rounds at Bandon and apply them to their regular game back home. From walking to not really keeping score or taking a caddie. They just don’t. So to answer the question I think it is a good thing that golfers obviously GET Bandon when they get here.
3. In contrast, what’s the most bizarre thing you’ve seen on a golf course; i.e. something that made you shake your head and say “good thing that doesn’t happen too often!”
Resort golf can lead to some interesting parings on the first tee. Twosomes get paired with outer twosomes, singles get thrown in with threesomes. So on and so forth. It is almost always cool. People are on vacation at a place that they really want to be at and they are in a good mood, open to meeting new people and having a good time. And most golfers are a social lot anyway.
Occasionally though you’ll have a pairing not work out. I was in a group several years ago now when two players who who didn’t know each other almost go into a fist fight on the first tee over Barry Bonds and his alleged use of steroids. Luckily for us one of our bigger caddies was in the group and he got in between them before it could get to where it was obviously heading.
So now there are three things you shouldn’t t talk about on the golf course: Politics, religion and steroids.
4. You are based in Bandon, Oregon, home of Bandon Dunes. Do you loop all year out there or do you move around the country?
I’m a year round looper at Bandon Dunes. I’m an Oregonian who looks forward to a little down time in the winter anyway so it works perfect for me. I have been to the Palm Springs area for a winter to caddie and I hated it. Riding or casing carts is for the birds.
5. Regarding Bandon, do you loop at one course primarily, or do you move between the four 18-hole courses?
We loop all 5 golf courses. Guests are assigned a looper at the beginning of a trip and will have the same caddie for the duration of their trip for the most part. A golfer isn’t going to want to meet a new face on the bag every day and we as caddies don’t want to meet and figure out a new player or players everyday.
6. What can a caddy teach his player during a round and how should the player listen (we know that sounds stupid, but we don’t always listen the proper way.)
The most helpful thing a caddie can teach an amateur is course management. Instead of hitting your fairway wood on your second shot on every par 5 why not hit a couple of 6 irons? Or your in the junk, don’t make it worse by trying to hit the hero shot, pitch out. Stuff like that.
Players should understand that we aren’t challenging your man hood by telling you to lay up. We don’t think your terrible because we don’t think you should try to hit a fairway wood off a hanging lie from 230 yards away or because we think you should hit pitching wedge out of the bunker instead of your 7 iron. We want to see you play well almost as much as you want to play well. But by playing smart players will always shoot better numbers. Every golfer likes shooting lower numbers.
7. 2012 sees the opening of The Preserve, the 13-hole par three course between Bandon Trails and the Pacific Ocean. How will that course impact the resort?
Standing on 17 tee at Bandon Dunes I heard Mr Keiser tell a group that he thought the Preserve could be the best par 3 course in the world and that was before it was grassed in and looking like the piece of art it is.
The immediate impact of the Preserve is a busy month of May coming up and a lot of general excitement about what it’ll play like now that it is faster and firmer. The greens at the Preserve where cut and holed for the first time yesterday (4-14-2012).
There has been a lot of speculation about how the Preserve will fit into the rotation at the resort and honestly your guess is as good as mine. I think a lot of groups will want to play it the day the arrive or early on the day they leave. I also think some of the groups that go 36 holes in the summer might (to the detriment of their feet) try and squeeze a loop at the Preserve in late.
I do think there will be some groups that won’t play it. The won’t want to ‘give up’ a round on the big courses in order to play a Par 3. Of course I think that is a mistake but people get to do what they want on vacation, that is why it is called a vacation.
Alternative forms of the game are crucial to growing golf. Par 3 courses or short 9 hole courses are great for families and beginners as well as those of use who consider ourselves hardened veterans. There is no rule that says golf has to be 18 holes on a regulation course.
We hear it all the time from players. “I don’t have time for much golf”, or “It is hard to spend 6 hours on a saturday playing golf away from the family”. Why do you need 6 hours to play golf? Can’t you play golf for an hour? Golfers would play more golf if they’d adhere to the principal that ‘any golf is better then no golf’.
8. Real golf addicts have heard about Area 51, the fairways and greens north of the resort, where a few foursome per day can get on and experience Nirvana. What’s the skinny on that acreage?
As alternative a form of the game as your going to get is ‘area 51’ more commonly referred to as the sheep ranch. There are 7 greens out there that where shaped by the Renaissance golf design team when they where doing Pacific Dunes, about 100 acres of fairway grass and several bunkers in ‘random’ places.
It isn’t part of the resort in any way. Instead Philip Friedmann, Mr. K’s business partner in Recycled Paper Greetings owns it. As far as how exclusive it is, well it isn’t really. There isn’t any irrigation so in the summer time it gets baked out and next to dead so they basically close it down, which is the main reason you don’t see people out there much.
One of my favorite golf days of all time was a going away party for a buddy. We went to the sheep ranch equipped with a couple of coolers, and a BBQ. We played as a couple of eightsomes and did alternate shot in the morning. Stopped for lunch and then went back out for matches in the afternoon. The cool thing about it is the winner of the last hole picked the next flag to play to. Great golf day.
The few guests that I’ve worked for out there have a split reaction to the place. Half of them love it and think it is the best part of the whole trip and the other half hate it and wonder why they gave up another round at the resort to come out to an actual ‘sheep ranch’ to play golf.
9. What question haven’t we asked that you’d love to answer? Ask the question and answer it, please.
The premise of Old Macdonald is a great story. Tom Doak and Jim Urbina where hired to work as CB Macdonald and Seth Raynor to build the course that they would’ve built if they where presented with the property that Old Macdonald now sits on. The history and story of CB Macdonald is one of the most interesting ones in the history of our game. I wish the resort would try and educate resort guests a little better on the story. An information sheet in their rooms, a plaque at the golf course or a speech from the starter would go a long way. If just one person a day who plays Old Macdonald is intrigued by the information and decides to find out more for themselves then I think that would be a win for the resort and golf in general.