The following morning we arrived at Old Mac, and so did the wind. It was colder today and the wind only made it colder. The first 3 holes at Old Mac are a stark contrast to the other courses I had seen thus far. You start out moving north along the back side of a single massive dune to the west, and for the first 3 holes you are pinned between this dune and a vast clearing of trees to the east. I say pinned because this area of the course has what I can only assume to be deliberately induced liminal vibes, and the feeling of an impending “something” is palpable. My senses start vying for definition and control here; the course to this point looks open, but it doesn’t feel open. In fact, the landscape here seems deafeningly quiet. Too quiet. The pressure in the air and in my awareness builds, whipping over the hill into my body. I find myself leaning into it to stay upright, a would-be theme for this entire experience. Eyes watering, ears burning, and anxieties intensifying, I step on the to 3rd tee box that faces me directly into the impending fray; a massive “extra-club” incline to reach the fairway, and atop sits the omnipresent (or rather omniscient) Ghost Tree: Gatekeeper to the West. It’s hard not to feel like I’m being watched while I stew in the anticipation of what lies just beyond that hill. I think of the stories that tree could tell, hit my shot, climb the hill, and in reaching the top I take my first full breath of the day.
The build-up does not disappoint, and my fight or flight is instantly gratified with one glorious view. Amber, gold, green, and gray roll out like one giant comforter draping over the land in almost every direction as far as the eye can see, which happens to be nearly the entirety of the property. Old Mac is carved into a giant bowl between the forest and the ocean and offers the feeling of playing in a variety of settings from meadows and canyons to deserts and oceanside. I’ll leave the mixed reviews I have received about this course aside, and simply state that at face value - as far as golf courses go, it’s a lot of bang for your buck. The dynamic style of this course is born out of necessity where form meets function in its conceptualization, and although it flows nicely, true to Bandon form it did catch me off guard on holes 6-10 when the wind and rain made their appearance in a big way.
We went from cool breezes with sun breaks to full rain gear and “I can’t feel my hands” in 5 minutes flat at the turn. I was told that the elements can pass as quickly as they arrive, so I battled my blow-up holes with great gusto (all puns intended), and it paid off. The clouds broke, and we cranked up the tunes and carried on.
Sometimes the wide-open forgiveness of a space can make me feel like an unruly toddler, and after a while, I feel myself starting to crave the safety of boundaries on the course. This happened at just the right moment on the back 9 of Old Mac when you start nestling back into the hillside your sense of security kicks back in. The landscape gives your eyes a natural backstop and something to hold onto; it naturally relieves you from the at-times overwhelming sense of shot options and just picks out an easy one for you. I loved the back 9 on Old Mac, it was where I felt the most connection to this course, just in time to turn the proverbial corner and dogleg left to the green on 16. Ringing the bell and coming full circle back to the east side of the dune for the last two holes, is a well-timed point of reflection. Between the architecture, and the weather, there is a lot to take in on this course and if you’re not paying attention, attention pays you.
Even with a core-rattling 5 blow-up hole streak (I would say this was the ONE TIME I was adequately whiny, I just couldn't feel my hands in the freezing rain), I still managed to break 100 at Old Mac. This course seems to get a lot of guff, or, inversely minimal praise from the folks I talk to that have played it. But honestly, I think it's a great knock-around course because you get a little bit of everything here! It's like food at the fair. You want corn dogs? We got corn dogs. You like crazy big railroad tie-laden bunkers? We got those too. And knowing this, it makes for the perfect even playing field to take on a match, or just as easily party it up with no agenda. In my experience, it was the palette cleanser of the trip, and every trip needs that! Embrace the Mac, I say.
Old Mac, Bandon Dunes
Chris and I on the 3rd tee box waiting to tee off with the signature Ghost Tree looming in the background