My wife does not play golf on a regular basis. Alaska golf can be intimidating. The season is short and courses can be crowded. She doesn’t appreciate the feeling of a group breathing down her neck despite keeping pace with the group ahead. To add difficulty to an already stressful scenario the fairways are narrow, lined with thick woods that swallow golf balls whole. All that being said she is not opposed to playing while we are on vacation. Twilight rounds in warmer climates without stress or the expectation of playing a full round have proven to be an excellent recipe for success and enjoyment.
This year my wife and I had planned a trip for just the two of us, something we had not done since 2015. We contemplated escaping to warmer weather but opted for the coast of Oregon instead (still a 30 degree improvement over Anchorage). Our itinerary included two days at Cannon Beach, two days driving the coast, and two days in wine country. As luck would have it, one of my favorite places in the world happens to be on the coast of Oregon: Bandon Dunes. We decided to drive the coast in one day and spend two nights at Bandon. I was excited to introduce my wife to “Dream Golf.”
I have been to Bandon on four previous occasions. I have experienced Bandon in the winds of summer, the sun of spring, and the rain/hail of winter. I did not know what version of Bandon we were going to experience this trip but I knew that we needed to prepare for anything.
After driving down the coast and enjoying a few stops (shout out Tillamook factory and Cape Perpetua) we arrived after dark. We checked in and made our way over to McKee’s Pub. We were seated next to a father and his teenage son. As a proponent of playing Golf With Your Kids I couldn’t help but strike up a conversation with them. The son was 16 and they had driven down from Seattle. Already several days into their experience they were both eager to share what had transpired, what weather they’d encountered, and of course what course was their favorite. Something about Bandon makes people want to share their stories.
My wife and I talked about the forecast for the next day: 100% chance of rain with 10-25 mph wind. We came prepared but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. Determined to make the most of it we went back to our room and prepared for the next day.
The night before Bandon is analogous to Christmas Eve. I couldn’t sleep.
I woke up before sunrise to the aggressive pitter patter of rain on the roof of the inn. I let my wife sleep in and slipped out in search of hot caffeine. I procured coffee and walked to the lodge. In the dim light of dawn I stood on the first tee anxiously awaiting my opportunity to play in 3 ½ hours.
Once the doors to the pro shop opened I organized my wife’s rental clubs and perused the logo laden clothing options. I returned to the room with coffee, tea, and clubs. Jessica and I walked up to the Trails End restaurant for breakfast. Aside from the pro shop at Old Mac it’s one of the quietest places on property and the views are spectacular no matter the weather. We enjoyed a nice breakfast as we watched rain, wind, and a few glimpses of sun roll past the window.
We returned to our room to “gear up” for the round. These conditions require layers and we brought a few. Rainproof shoes and hats were a must, as were hand warmers.
We arrived at the course early and the starter informed us that the only group ahead of us teed off 20 minutes prior and the tee sheet was open up to and beyond our original tee time. The rain had subsided so we opted to get out a little early. Jessica had been fretting about the opening tee shot for a while. She wasn’t excited about having an audience even if it was just me and the starter. I managed to make matters worse by wanting to capture the image of her first shot at Bandon. Despite her concerns she did exactly what you want to do at Bandon. She kept it low and let it go. Having never played this style of golf before she was happy to watch her ball continue to bound down the generous fairway. And with that we were off…
It didn’t take long for Mother Nature to ask if she could join our twosome. On the second tee box it started to hail. Jessica’s bucket hat kept her safe but my ears were getting pelted with ice. I looked at her and shrugged, hitting my ball while the hail came down. By the time we both walked to the green it had stopped. Pellets of ice coated the course but it didn’t last very long.
By the 4th hole the sun was shining, just in time for the dramatic reveal of the ocean as we rounded the dogleg. It was glorious. The wind was out of the north, an oddity for this time of year, making the 5th hole a brute. While we both found the fairway we were 60 yards apart. Jessica is not a golf course architecture connoisseur but that didn’t stop her from remarking how wonderful it was to play on such wide fairways. Sure, she didn’t always have the easiest shot into the green but she could find her ball and advance it, something she was unfamiliar with in from the tree lined fairways of Alaska.
She embraced links golf, letting the club and the ground do all the work. I taught her how to bump and run a hybrid, putt from way downtown, and bunt a driver into the wind. Her appreciation for this style of play cemented within me the belief that links golf is for the masses, from the high handicapper to the single digit.
We made the turn in a little under 2 hours. The weather cooperated enough for me to remove my rain jacket. As we played the back 9 I noticed Jessica was becoming more comfortable with club selection. She was in the flow of the round and appreciating the simplicity of links golf. On 12 she played a punch driver into the par 3. If it weren’t for an unfortunate puddle she would have been staring down a birdie putt. I asked her how many clubs she had used up to this point and she said about 6. How great is that?! Club selection can be one of the more mentally challenging and intimidating aspects of the game. The fact that my wife was able to navigate the course with so few clubs says a lot about the accessibility of links golf. I had pulled four clubs from my bag (5i, 7i, 9i, and 60 degree) for the round and enjoyed the experience that much more.
Reaching the 15th was a realization that the round was coming to an end, an unfortunate inevitability. Saying goodbye to the ocean at 16 was bittersweet. I hit my drive on 17 and as we walked to Jessica’s tee box I noticed I dropped my scorecard near the 16th green. I raced back to retrieve it, not because I was going to post my score but because I wanted something to remember this round by. Jessica went ahead to her tee box framed by the “Bandon Tree” and I as I watched her hit the best drive of the day I realized the scorecard was never going to capture what this round meant to me. Seeing her, the woman I love, playing the game I love, on a course that I love was all I could ever ask for.
As we walked side by side up the 18th fairway the weather started to ramp back up. We picked up our pace and finished in a flurry. The customary removed hat hand shake on the 18th green was replaced by a wonderful hug. I had tears in my eyes.
Only steps away from the 18th green I saw a man walking toward the lodge. I was starstruck. It was the architect of the course my wife and I had just played. I couldn’t help myself, I called out to David McLay Kidd and he kindly responded. I simply thanked him. I thanked him for the course, the experience, the memories.
I knew before we arrived the male to female ratio on property was going to be very skewed. Men outnumber the women 10:1. However, I was pleased to see a group of women preparing to play at Pacific Dunes and young couple eating in the Pub while we were there. Hopefully by sharing my experiences I can encourage more couples and to travel to courses like Bandon Dunes or Sand Valley because links golf is for lovers.