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Sit on Every Bench at Bandon Dunes (DAY 1 - Punch Bowl & Sheep Ranch)

Updated: Apr 7, 2023

On my second day at Bandon Dunes, I was outside guest services waiting for a shuttle when I looked out west and saw one lone bench sitting atop the hill facing back toward the Lodge. “I have to remember that one for the very last day,” I told myself. This was my first trip to Bandon Dunes. My husband Chris and I had this trip planned for a year, and I had spent the entirety of that year gathering insight from veteran patrons into the “musts” of this place. Some folks told me their favorite hole, favorite meal, or favorite bar; and then one very good friend told me one very simple thing: “Sit on every bench”. So, I sat on every single bench I could find at Bandon Dunes…and just like that, the trip was over.

The drive down from the Seattle area is long; 7 hours long to be exact, but I felt like a kid on Christmas so each passing hour grew longer with every small town we passed, and bridge we crossed, and river we forded… (louder for all my Oregon Trail people ion the back!). We arrived at Bandon Dunes on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. We decided we were going to go straight to the Punch Bowl and have a cocktail, and just "get into the vibe". Pulling into the complex I see the big sign with that signature puffin “Bandon Dunes Golf Resort” and start basically jumping in my seat. Well, that didn’t take long. We grab drinks and walk out onto the patio at the Pacific Grill. It's partly cloudy, the sun is gleaming through, and illuminating before me probably the coolest putting green I’ve ever seen. Fully set up as an 18-hole course, complete with drink holders and ample opportunities for betting, stimies, and a guaranteed good time. We indulged in all 3.

The energy here combined with the infinite attention paid to detail is intoxicating, and no it wasn’t [just] the 3 old fashioned’s I had at the punch bowl, it’s just that…how does one even begin to describe the magnetism place? With no better time than the present, I’ll do my best. I give you: 'Bandon through the eyes of a newbie.’

Our first round was at the Sheep Ranch, and it was early; 8:40 am. Okay not that early, but in early spring on the Oregon coast, 8:40 am means dressing in multiple layers and praying the sun comes up before you tee off so you actually feel your hands gripping your driver. Sheep Ranch is the only course on the property with its own driving range. Trying to act cool while barely containing my excitement (and likely failing miserably), I begin the walk along the brush-lined pathway to the range. It's chilly out, but even before I begin my warm-up, I quickly forget how cold it is outside. The range faces east and there is a soft blanket of low fog traipsing along the horizon as the sun is coming up. (I mean come on, it's like being in a movie, good lord). I grab an iron and hit a few shots. I lose each one as they disappear into the rising sun, and it suddenly registers that I really don’t care, because it’s not really going to matter where the ball goes today. I’m at Bandon Fucking Dunes and I’m just stoked to be here. I smile, pack it in, and walk over to the putting green where Chris and I introduce ourselves to our caddies.

Golf has a lot of rules, and most of them are courtesy minded, which means you typically learn them by breaking them first – which is not ideally conducive to a situation where you would like to remain mentally focused in the present, and not worried about navigating a social conundrum (lol, introverted much?). But, Chris knows his caddie. They have a rapport built on many-a-round from previous trips. Me? I have only played 1 other round with a caddie before, and though I loved it, I was admittedly nervous about learning the social ropes of this relationship. We have had this trip planned for a year, we have traveled all this way, and we signed up for 5 rounds with this caddie; what If I don’t like them? What if they don’t like me? Chris reassures me that everything will be fine and that this person came recommended by his own caddie. I would in a very short period of time, build a very special relationship with my caddie, and this relationship became all but salient in my enjoyment of the rounds to follow. We all shake hands and it’s off to the races. The first hole faces west and downhill towards the ocean, with just a glimmer of the water in view, hinting at what's to come. It’s open and inviting enough. We tee off. The walk begins; the walk that would not be isolated to this singular course, but connect this entire experience from beginning to end.

Each course here has a vibe, color, and personality, and although they are geographically close in proximity, it is undeniable the stark contrast that each one holds against the others. Sheep Ranch was the perfect place to start this adventure. Green, gray, pale blue, and soft gold are the colors here; slightly muted and phasing in and out of one another like watercolor. She is easy on the eyes and easy to talk to. Here, bad shots are rewarded alongside good shots, and the forgiveness off the tee and developing greens allow the course to meet you at the level of your game, and not the other way around. It is a polite and well-spoken introduction to golf at Bandon Dunes. I duffed my second and third shots. I cannot stress enough how little I cared at this point which pales in comparison to my typical home course grind. Excitement is vibrating through me throughout the entire round, I just can’t help it. Slowly the fog burns away and I began to see the course in its entirety – that sensational cosmic connection kicks in. Links-style golf is spiritual; there are fairways, and coastlines as far as the eye can see, and I’m literally seeing and feeling how I am just a small part of something much bigger. We played this round through the morning and finished midafternoon enjoying cocktails around the fire pit at the pro shop at the top of the hill. Sitting by the crackling fire, the brisk gales of wind are whisked away by the warm hazy sky melting into the ocean, and the afterglow of the morning round. There is a permanent smile plastered on my face, powered by the marquee running through my brain: “Pay attention, you are somewhere very special”. It is undeniable. If this is just a taste of what is to come, then it's time to buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Chris getting his ass kicked at the Punch Bowl. Okay fine there was mutual ass-kickery

Fire Pit at the Proshop Sheep Ranch

Awkward selfie of me on the course at Sheep Ranch. Damn look at those sweet boulders!

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