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Bandon Dunes vs. Pacific Dunes: The showdown between America's top two links golf courses

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor
Bandon Dunes golf course - hole 4
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Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes are both pure links along the ocean, but play on them can be strikingly different. (Brandon Tucker/WorldGolf.com)

Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes at Oregon's Bandon Dunes Resort are two of America's best golf courses. The Tom Doak and David Mclay Kidd links are side by side on the coast, but they're hardly alike.

To fully appreciate the intricacies of any good links golf course, it's essential to play them a few times, and in different wind direction and force, in order to discover their many secrets and subtleties.

Having played two relatively new, but classically designed links in Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes four times each since the spring of 2008, I've pinpointed several key factors that make them different from one another.

While slightly newer, Pacific Dunes often gets higher marks in most publication rankings. But it's not necessarily the favorite course for everyone who plays at the Bandon Dunes Resort.

If you're simply looking for the one that has more ocean views, you can't go wrong, as they're both awash with beach frontage on each nine. Here's the lowdown on their differences, which may help you decide which one to book for your group.

The architecture of Bandon Dunes vs. Pacific Dunes

The single biggest difference between these two courses, both aesthetically and strategically, lies in the bunkers. Bandon's features mostly traditional, sod-faced pots like you'd find on most Open Championship courses. Pacific's are wild and rugged, like you might have played at Prestwick back in the 19th century during the first Open Championship.

While Bandon's can be deep, Pacific's are usually downright vicious. I've never been in a bunker on Bandon I couldn't put a full swing on, towards my target, even if it was a pitch out or layup. On Pacific, I've splashed out backwards and sideways - and often unsuccessfully.

That leads me to an even bigger point: I've seen fewer people make horses bums out of themselves on Bandon compared to Pacific, where just about anyone who has played it has as at least one or two very high numbers on their card by round's end.

Simply put: Bandon Dunes is a little more forgiving to really, really bad shots, and probably an overall friendlier golf course to the mid-handicapper.

Tale of the tape: Routing yardage and tee box options

Bandon Dunes has a daily back set of tee boxes that can play over 7,000 yards. At Pacific Dunes, the back set is listed at only about 6,600 yards. Every time I've played it, some of the back tees were moved up to the middle-back yardage. I can't say I've ever seen a course longer than about 6,400 yards. This just makes sense from a pace-of-play perspective (which has always been good on every round of mine at the resort). Most golfers probably couldn't handle much more golf course than Pacific's daily routing.

For that reason, lower handicappers don't like Pacific as much as Bandon, because in calm wind it can yield some low scores, most notably on the par 5s, none of which are dreadfully long.

That said, there are many hidden tee boxes scattered throughout the course that go back, way back, and that aren't used. Ask someone in the pro shop sometime to show you the far back tee box on the first hole - it's insanity. Or have a look at the 660-yard back tee box on the 18th.

While Bandon Dunes' routing is a conventional two par 3s and two par 5s on each nine, Pacific Dunes has seven par 4s on the front side and just two on the back nine, with three par 3s and par 5s. The ninth hole utilizes alternate greens and the 10th uses alternate tee boxes, which can account for a difference of about 50-70 yards.

Pacific Dunes vs. Bandon Dunes: Greens

Both links have pretty large greens, and they're both of the firm, fescue variety, so don't expect a ton of backspin, unless you've got a pretty hefty headwind. That said, Bandon's look entirely different because they've got a little more poa grass in them. Pacific Dunes' are a little easier to read - and are probably a touch slower and truer.

Bandon Dunes vs. Pacific Dunes: The verdict

So which do I prefer? Tough call, but I'm going with Pacific Dunes by a nose, even though I always score better and make more birdies on Bandon Dunes. Some of the holes I've yet to solve and they can drive me absolutely up the wall, but it leaves me itching to get back and conquer this masterpiece.

Bandon Trails: Into the woods but similarities in style

Often the forgotten course of the bunch here, Bandon Trails plays mostly through thick forest, though the first two holes and final hole are on open, wild links land. The greens on trails average a bit larger than those at Bandon and Pacific Dunes, and if you took a caddie poll of which course they prefer to play the most, it's Trails.

Old Macdonald: Where does Bandon's newest links fit in?

When Old Macdonald opens in 2010, it's going to offer a different links style of it's own. The bunkers will not have one style but several, from sod pots to railroad ties to splashed, wild bunkering. The course will have less ocean frontage than it's neighbors, but will feature a couple of green sites overlooking the coast.

While a championship yardage has yet to be set, some reports call for Old MacDonald to be the longest of the bunch, which should ease any concerns about the resort not boasting a tough enough course for the scratch player.

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Pacific Dunes Golf Course - hole 16Bandon Trails golf course - hole 5Bandon Dunes' Old Macdonald course

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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