The Ten Ace-iest Par-3s at Bandon Dunes
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
Bandon Dunes has established itself as a breeding ground for great par-threes. 54 of them dot the resort’s six courses, including all thirteen holes at its short track, Bandon Preserve. You get every flavor of par-three at Bandon: flip wedges into crashing waves of undulating mounds, low trundling long shots, narrowly avoiding gnarled bunkers to find the green. It’s a fool’s errand to stack each par-three at Bandon up against each other. But here we are.
I'm a recently-turned Bandon addict, and have been fortunate enough to walk each course a few times. So here’s a purely subjective, counts-for-nothing, top-ten ranking of the “Ace Cam” opportunities at Bandon Dunes. Get your cameras rolling on these holes—I’ve got a good feeling we’ll see a dunk or two.
#10: 17th at Bandon Trails
We begin toward the end at Bandon Trails. The walk through coastal forest and meadowland culminates in a parting handshake before spitting you back out to the open air and rolling sand dunes that players expect throughout the resort. The tee shot from this medium-length par-three carries to a small patch of fairway before slamming up to the green’s false front. Texas wedges and funky flop shots are well in play to save par from short of the green. The bunkering on this hole makes every pin placement interesting, and demands that you’re dialed in with yardages—all the more difficult with a strong prevailing crosswind.
#9: 12th at Old Macdonald
I’m a sucker for template holes—the list of 20-or-so “model” golf hole designs popularized by C.B. Macdonald, Old Mac’s namesake—and nearly every hole at this course fits the category. The 12th at Old Macdonald is a “Redan,” an homage to well-defended military fortifications. A Redan’s narrow green will typically be offset by about 45 degrees from the tee box, sloping from front-right to back-left, and the green is traced by a deep bunker along the same angle. Shots pitched front-right on Redans will funnel down to the back of the green, so this template hole is the perfect reminder that getting close to the cup doesn’t always mean aiming for the flagstick. This hole is great for throwing a few balls down and playing around with low punch shots and high slinging hooks.
#8: 15th at Bandon Dunes
The 15th at Bandon could be a dark horse, as it’s surrounded by several other architectural gems. But one person’s “ho-hum” par-three is another person’s bucket list hole. A manageable yardage on the rangefinder plays right into the fan, which can leave you with 5-iron in hand—and that’s not made any easier by staring down the deepest bunker on the course, protecting the front of the green. Take a second and queue up some anthemic music for the walk up the slope to the green—the Pacific Ocean explodes from behind a wall of dunes, as if you’d forgotten it was right there waiting.
#7: 5th at Bandon Trails
A dog’s paw of pot bunkers surrounds the long green on Bandon Trails’ 5th hole. Despite playing just 133 yards from the back tees, the undulations on this green complex punish you for being on the wrong tier as the pin. If you’ve got some extra time, this is the perfect hole for a side-bet putting contest from a few different spots. The walk from this green to the next tee box gives you a glimpse at the 17th hole, and lets you trade war stories with players limping off of the grueling 16th.
#6: 3rd at Sheep Ranch
This visually intimidating par-three is the first you encounter at Sheep Ranch, and is a softer score than it looks. I think that’s called a “Sheep in wolves’ clothing.” It’s a shorty: just 120 yards from the back tees, and typically rides a helping wind off the right. Despite a sand dune blocking the view from the tee, this green is massive and is shared with the 16th hole (foreshadowing). We need more shared greens around the world—they’re fun to play, open up a big ol’ box of creativity for pin locations, and they are simply stunning to look at. This green complex that hits the doorstep of the Pacific Ocean may be the most intriguing on Bandon’s sprawling property.
#5: 8th at Old Macdonald
The 8th at Old Macdonald is another template hole, and this one’s unique: it’s called a “Biarritz.” The long Biarritz hole reaches a long green with a four-foot bisecting chasm. The catch here—as if the chasm wasn’t catchy enough—is that the pin is always placed in the back of the green. This automatically brings the swale into play for each tee ball: do you sky one out and fly it all the way back, risking a kick long off the green? Or do you hit a low runner that uses the chasm to kill some of the pace? One thing’s for sure: it’s not fun to be on the short side of the Biarritz—it leaves one of the trickiest two-putts out there. Biarritz holes are rare in modern golf architecture, and the 8th at Old Mac is a perfect tribute to this relic design.
#4: 11th at Pacific Dunes
The back-nine at Pacific Dunes starts with a rare back-to-back par-threes, and the short 11th—made much longer by a strong prevailing summer wind—is a memorable test. First off, it’s a visual stunner: Pacific coastline stretches out from the tee box and disappears into the distance, and the hole is framed by grotesque and mangled sand bunkers, lined with tall native beach grass. Despite often wielding no more than a mid-iron, the play is for the center of the green—a miss is too costly, and can compound a rough score from the difficult 10th. A little local knowledge goes a long way here, though: a mound short-right will filter shots to the center of the green and open up a potential par.
#3: 6th at Bandon Preserve
Bandon Preserve was originally slated to be composed of 12 holes. That was until Bill Coore “discovered” the potential of this hole right behind the 5th green. The 130-yard hole can play four clubs longer into the summer wind, and finding the putting surface will come down to the shot’s trajectory. Shaggy native grass and sloping bunkers work their way toward what looks more like a Tetris piece than a green. This hole can punish you, but can also reward misses right of the green by kicking down and making a bid for a dramatic ace.
#2: 12th at Bandon Dunes
Bandon Dunes’ 12th hole was famously the first to be conceptualized on the resort’s property. You can understand why. The 200-yard hole plays to a pistol-shaped infinity green protected by a devilish bunker short-left. This green can be super challenging to hold, with the backside running away onto the beach below, but a miss short offers the chance to save a par. I can’t decide whether to compare this hole to a delicate filet of halibut or a greasy leg of mutton—but maybe that’s why I like this hole so much. It’s a beautiful conundrum.
#1: 16th at Sheep Ranch
The final ace cam opportunity at Bandon’s new course is the finest on property, in my book. With endless miles of Pacific ocean stretching from behind the green and down the left-hand side, this hole is framed by a parallel dune that narrows into the putting surface, seemingly trying to edge you off the continent. Marked 151 from the back tees, you can end up with either a gap wedge, or a 2-iron in-hand, depending on wind direction and strength, or where the pin is dropped on this giant green shared by the third hole. Two grassy greenside bunkers can catch wayward shots from players caught in a trance by crashing waves and howling wind. The walk from tee to green could be one of the most awe striking in the world. @ me.
That’s my ten, done and dusted. Which holes do you think were missed? What’s your top-ten list?