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 five) 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.
Once upon a time, an English surgeon named Alister MacKenzie served tours of duty in the English army in the Boer War and World War I. What he learned from the first and utilized in the second, was an absolute respect for the ability of the home side to camouflage its way to an advantage. MacKenzie utilized this principal of masking elements on the ground when he took up a career as a golf course architect. His work is sadly lacking in the eastern USA, with only one, well-known, course in Augusta, Georgia bearing his name. His nearest courses to Buffalo are the Scarlet and Grey course at the Ohio State University, with the majority of his American work laying on the coast of California, at places like Cypress Point, Montecito, and Pasatiempo.
What is difficult to find with MacKenzie, at least in the western hemisphere, is access. His courses, as with many of the great, golden-age architects (Raynor, Ross, Macdonald, et al.) belong to private clubs and are off-limits to the public golfer. Pasatiempo is one of the few public MacKenzie tracks, and is found in Santa Cruz, California. It served as MacKenzie’s baby, the course to which he retired, where he lived, which received the greatest amount of attention from the architect in his final years.
There are four courses at Bandon Dunes, five if you count (and you should) the 13-hole Preserve par-three course. The tendency among writers and aficionados was to hail the first course at its opening, then lower it little by little in estimation as additional courses opened. In support of this notion, one might say that “of course, future courses should be better/tougher/more memorable, since much was learned with each additional build.” That’s fine, but what often happens is a cycle-back to a recognition of just how good the original course was/is. For me, ten years after I first played Bandon Dunes, that is the case. David Kidd and his superintendent father, Jimmy, were entrusted with the first piece of land used for golf by Mike Keiser, north of Bandon, Oregon. The course they etched over the dunes and amid the gorse was memorable then, memorable today, and will likely be memorable (and fun) tomorrow. As you leave town, that’s all you could ask.
Since my first trip west to Bandon, in 2005, a fair amount of gorse has been cleared from the original course. Delusional miscreants criticize this maneuver, arguing that it takes away from the natural authenticity of the property. From my perspective, it does nothing of the sort. Instead, it clears away blockage for the wind and sun to do what they do to help grass grow. From the photographer’s eye, the vistas opened up by the removal of the oily bush are many and stunning. As one should with a links, you may now see the entire course from new vantage points.