By Ian Critser
While on a recent trip to Bandon Dunes, we had an unusual resort guest sit next to us at breakfast one morning—Ben Crenshaw. While listeners of the LINKS Golf Podcast will have already heard about this encounter in Part 1 of our Bandon Dunes episode, most won’t know the actual reason he was on property. As it turns out, he was there on business.
The Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch course has long been part of the Bandon Dunes story, but unless golfers knew who to ask, it was unlikely they would know the property existed. Sitting just north of the rest of the resort, the Sheep Ranch has been owned and operated since 2000 by Phil Friedmann, Mike Keiser’s former business partner. Since then, Friedmann has used the property as a sort of personal golf playground, occasionally allowing access to friends and those in-the-know.
The original course was designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina and contained 13 green sites, but no numbered holes or an actual routing. Golfers picked targets from any point on the property and hit to it, creating a wide array of playing opportunities on what many consider to be the best piece of land for golf in the area.
While Friedmann admittedly relished the solitude at Sheep Ranch, he believed it was time to share the breathtaking property with the general golfing public.
“It was wonderful to have this incredibly special golf experience early on,” Friedmann said. “It is now time to share the magic of the Sheep Ranch with other lovers of the game.”
Once the news was announced that the Sheep Ranch was to become part of the resort, there was immediately speculation about its fate. Some surmised that it would stay the way it was, while others insisted a big name design firm would step in and design a completely new course. If it were the latter, then who would it be?
This is where our fortuitous breakfast encounter starts to make a lot more sense.
In mid-April of this year, Bandon Dunes officially announced that the design duo of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were going to design a completely new course on the site of the Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch. Keeping the same name for the new course, it will be converted to an 18-hole layout occupying a full mile of coastline. The biggest challenge was always how to fit 18 holes on the relatively small piece of property at the Sheep Ranch, but Coore & Crenshaw found a way.
Maximizing every inch of that mile, the new course will boast a staggering nine green sites perched on cliffs above the Pacific. For reference, the other four full courses at the resort have a total of six clifftop greens put together and sit on just over a mile and a half of coastline.
The centerpiece of the property is Five Mile Point, which dramatically juts out into the Pacific and was already a green on the original Sheep Ranch. In the new routing, it will be home to a massive double green.
In addition to the dramatic cliffs, the new Sheep Ranch will have another unique feature—or lack thereof. Coore & Crenshaw chose to not include a single bunker on the new Sheep Ranch, arguing that the course’s defense will be its massive undulations as well as the heavy wind that is ever present at Bandon. While the idea might shock some initially, Coore argues that replacing bunkers with fescue will enhance the property visually as well as help keep balls from tumbling down the cliffs.
The course will open for public play in 2020, and the resort has confirmed that the Sheep Ranch will be the last course ever built at Bandon Dunes. Despite that fact, it’s safe to say that Bandonistas will continue to flock to the Oregon coast for years to come.
What do you think of this new course at Bandon Dunes? Let us know in the comments below!