As golf season winds down in Buffalo-Niagara, our attention turns to domes, trips and television. You have domes and your remote control device within reach, so leave the rest to me. I’m going to give offer up a nine-part series (this is part three) on eclectic eighteens across the USA. The only thread tying them together is my having played them. That, and the fact that all of the courses are worthwhile. You’ll never play them all in one sweep, as I once did, but when you find yourself in these regions, know that these courses are worth your money and your best game.
Astoria Golf and Country Club
Before there was Bandon Dunes, there was only Astoria along the Oregon coast. A golf course was laid out by R.C. Asbury, but it played principally across the dunes. The brain trust decided to head in another direction, so club president George Haldermann and superintendent George Junior laid out the fairways between the dunes, in a north-south direction. Only the 2nd, 4th and 17th holes play across the dunes, but they do so in a wonderful way. As for the rest, some words and many pictures will tell the story. Astoria is one in a million and is the fortunate home for a privileged membership.
I played the back nine before the front, in order to get as many shots of an uninhabited course as possible. Beginning with the ridgeline tenth, a brief (135 yards at most) par three that falls off on either side, I became aware of the dunes that would captivate me all day long. Partly resembling a skaters half-pipe, these dunes don’t reach as high as others along the coast, but they contain and restrict in a way unlike any other course. The absolute narrowness of the fairway bottoms has no match. The bunkering on the course alternates between rounded and carved, but fortunately there’s more of the latter than the former.
Tom Doak was on the upswing in the late 1990s when Mike Keiser hired him to design Pacific Dunes, the second course at an impossible resort along the coast in southern Oregon. Pacific Dunes was something of a microcosm for what the entire resort attempted to create: an outside-the-traditional-box effort at creating a haven for golfers in the USA who loved traditional golf. Bandon Dunes, the original 18, had opened in 1998. It was built on sand, amid gorse plants, at the edge of the Pacific. It couldn’t have been more of a linksland, plus it had the cliff views to seal the deal. When the second course was completed, three years later, the resort had established itself as a legitimate destination.
Pacific Dunes did unique things that hadn’t found favor in the USA since the 1920s. Consecutive par-three holes were built at 10 and 11. Number 9 had upper and lower greens because both sites were irresistible. The back nine has only two par four holes, unlike the usual five or more on a typical, nine-hole stretch. In other words, Pac Dunes (as it came to be known) was traditional and non-traditional in one remarkable breath. Nearly fifteen years later, Pacific Dunes continues to be a remarkable layout, a cornerstone of a remarkable golfing destination.