Friday, June 02, 2006

What Beyond the Scenery Made Pacific Dunes Great?

The second of the back to back par threes, the wonderful short 11th

There is no question the setting is unparalleled. The beautiful sand dunes and jaw dropping views up and down the coast make Pacific Dunes one of the most beautiful locations in golf. It bears a striking resemblance to the holes east of 17 Mile Drive at Cypress Point. It was undoubtedly one of the great sites to be given to any architect in recent memory. As Bill Coore said, “He was the right architect on the right site at the right time in his career”. He went on to suggest that he could not do a better job and since Bill Coore is the top architect in golf, this would be the ultimate compliment.

But it’s not just the site that makes the course great. The architecture is very provocative, and many of Tom’s decisions took courage to go against convention. While I really like Bandon Dunes, there is no question in my mind that Pacific Dunes is a superior golf course on an equal site. So why is that?

Well the best thing to do is give you a list of the unconventional ideas he used to make the course great. Number one is he designed a modest length golf course that would be called short by modern standards. Why would he do this you ask? Because that was what the best routing the site would yield according to Doak. He also pointed out that Bandon Dunes was plenty long so building a shorter course was not a big issue. So big deal it’s a little short. Well what this allowed Doak to do was build more short and interesting par fours than most modern courses. There are a couple of real classics in the 6th and 16th.

Looking down the coastline, over the blow out bunkers, on the spectacular 13th

Now I mentioned the routing, and that was where Tom took the largest risk and opened himself up to criticism by designing an unconventional distribution of holes. He used back to back par threes to open the back nine. They fit perfectly and placed two dramatic holes looking out and then along the ocean. These are two very memorable holes to play. He ended up with a routing on the back nine that had two (yes two!) par fours, since that was the best routing for the holes. Imagine a course with one three and one five on the front; then four threes, two fours and three fives on the back. Yet it was the right thing to do.

The final ideas are the details of the course. Tom also used alternate greens on the ninth and alternate tees on the tenth rather than choosing between two equally good options on the holes. Rather than bunkers he has blow outs that fit beautifully into the natural dune areas. He created very wide fairways for playability in high winds and then bunkered inside the fairway lines to preserve the width while providing some strategic challenge to each of the holes. He built wonderfully rolling greens that flow naturally out into the fairway of chipping areas so naturally that you don’t notice the transitions.

Finally Tom never worried about people finding the course not challenging enough and concentrated on making it the most beautiful and interesting place you may ever play. Playing it makes me think of my round at Cypress Point. What architect wouldn’t like that comparison?


Guy said...

I played Pacific Dunes, Bandon Dunes and Bandon Trails last fall and heartily agree that Pacific is the best of the three. The incredible wind coming off the ocean makes the length issue almost moot, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

i've always questioned the "alternate greens" on the 9th... on the surface seems a bit gimmicky to me, but i assume they were built to bring both an upper and lower tee into play on the 10th. (personally, i prefer the lower green and lower 10th tee)

any thoughts, comments ian?

and a quick thanks for all your blogging efforts. i read every morning.


Ian Andrew said...

I like the lower green and lower tee too. Tom has mentioned that Mike Keiser really likes the upper green, so there was a chance without the alternate greens he may have had only the upper tee upper green.

Anonymous said...

Super color scheme, I like it! Good job. Go on.

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Anonymous said...

I'm a Caddie at Bandon Dunes, although a relatively new one, starting last fall. After taking the winter off, I returned in May and went on Bandon, then Trails, then did Pac (our name for it.)

Well, all I can tell you is, it gave me goosebumps to be out there again... a truly magical course with every hole an excellent one. Just a fantastic adventure in the grand game. Many of us would rank them, Pac, Trails, then Bandon. But keep in mind, Bandon has been "resorted" a bit and use to play much more difficult from what I hear.

Now, if we could PLEASE only do something about the ridiculous hole #14 at Trails... it certainly does not belong at this great world-class triad! All they would have to do is fill in the collection area on the left about 2 feet and I would be saying it is a great hole. But meanwhile, I am tired of so many golfers blowing up on that hole around the green and effectively ruining their experience. Back and forth, back and forth. And hey, the next four holes into the wind are such a tough test, who needs that bizzare blip on your card? C'mon Coore, get it right!

Thanks for the chat, PAC RULES! (See Curtis Cup on TV this weekend!!!)

Anonymous said...

I totally agree about the 14th at Trails. It really needs to be rebuilt. Challenging golf holes should be fun to play...this Mickey Mouse hole is anything but fun and not even an interesting challenge. Reminded me of a putt-putt hole

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