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Dunes Swoon

Perfect golf destination. Perfect weather. Perfect rates.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? Individually, any of these occurrences would tickle the avid golfer to no end and be reason to make tee reservations. Collectively, it becomes nirvana. A convergence of three of the most critical elements players consider before hoisting bags over their shoulders. It's the perfect storm minus, of course, the storm.

And as Oregonians, we're in the midst of it all.

Destination: Bandon Dunes Resort and its three world-class courses — Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails. Players come from all over the globe to tour these 18s dressed to the nines and etched into the rugged, stunning Pacific coastline. Essentially, golfers open the gate to our backyard in search of one of life's rare adventures.

The venue needs no more introduction.

Weather: Hit-and-miss, to be sure. We're talking here about Oregon in the winter. But it's far better than one might think, especially as it relates to "golfable" climes. Prepare for the worst and bask in the best, because there are as many stories of clear, calm, sunny weather as there are for opposite conditions.

To wit, the man colorfully known as "Q" — a former caddie who now helps oversee the loopers — can tell you about the Christmas Day when it was 70 degrees just as surely as he can recall the out-of-staters bent on playing 36 holes in a downpour even as the caddies tried tactfully, yet unsuccessfully, to get them to stop at 18.

"They were troopers," Vince Quattrocchi says with a sigh, "but for the most part, the weather's pretty nice."

Rates: Never better. From mid-November through January, state residents pay $75 to play either of the three courses. The rate applies regardless of whether they stay at the resort. Fees gradually increase in February ($90), March ($120) and April ($165) before peak-season costs kick in. Then, from May to October, the only way for anyone, including Oregonians, to get the best greens-fee rate of $210 is to stay at the resort. Otherwise, it costs $265 to play.

Suffice to say, given the right conditions, Bandon Dunes can be a golfer's winter wonderland.

And really, the courses might never have been built if weather was going to keep players away.

Ashland real estate agent Bob Johnson is an avid golfer who knows a little about Bandon Dunes and the region. He serves as resort owner Mike Keiser's realtor and helped acquire much of the resort's property. Johnson, who also has an office in Bandon, recalls the installation of a weather station on what is now the 16th green at Bandon Dunes.

For "three or four years," he says, beginning in the early 1990s, data on temperature, precipitation, wind and the like was collected to ensure conditions would be conducive for golf before even a spoonful of dirt was moved. What Keiser discovered, says Johnson, is there are typically more than 300 golfable days a year "by whatever parameters they plugged in there. That was interesting and a major factor when he decided to move forward. He said, 'Hey, this area has a worse reputation for weather than what is really happening.' "

Matt Allen, operations manager and assistant general manager of the resort, says more and more people are realizing February, in particular, is surprisingly pleasant.

"You get wonderful stretches of what can be 60-, 65-degree days," Allen says.

The caddies do their best to enhance the euphoric feeling of those who get wonderful weather. "You feed into it and remind them how great it is as they play the round," says Q. "When you expect wind and rain and you get sunshine and no wind, it's gonna be a good time. You want to keep reminding them of that."

Not every day from November to April is sunny, or even playable. But that's the beauty of having a golfing paradise nearby. With 10-day forecasts available, it's easy to determine if the weather warrants a trip to the coast.

Securing a tee time on short notice won't likely be a problem. The resort gets only 35 percent of its annual play during the off and shoulder seasons, November to April, says Allen. In the winter, 90 percent of the play is by drive-in golfers, more than double what it is during the peak season. Weekends tend to fill up first, but those who are able to play weekdays can usually line up tee times on shorter notice.

With any luck, the forces will come together to ensure a memorable experience. If not, it could still be memorable.

"That's what we call a story to tell when you get back home," says Q of playing in nasty weather.

Even in the worst weather, play goes on. The courses handle the rain because they're built on sand and drain extreme-ly well.

"We've never had a situation where we've had to close a course or bring people off the course because the conditions weren't playable," says Allen, a scratch golfer who grew up in Portland.

"I know what winter golf is like in Portland," he says. "People buy their mudders and the ball is plugging everywhere and that sort of thing. The ball rolls year round here, and that's one of the things that keeps people coming back."

If the weather is so severe that players choose not to go out, they'll be issued a voucher. However, once they tee it up on the first tee, that offer is no longer available. Allen realizes the policy is stricter than at most Oregon courses, but says it's seldom an issue because most players view their trip to Bandon as an adventure.

If one of three critical elements, like beautiful weather, is missing, that makes it only slightly less than perfect.

Dunes Swoon