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Bandon's Old Mac is on track

BANDON — Robin Hill tapped in a short putt, then wandered, as if in a trance, to the back of the green, which was the back of the golf property, which was the back of the continent. He gazed over the ledge to an undisturbed beach that loped lazily to the surf.

He took a deep breath. It reminded him of a movie scene.

"I'm already in love with this course," said Hill, a rules official with the Oregon Golf Association.

He'd played all of two holes.

That's the reaction that is coming in about the fourth course at renowned Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.

Old Macdonald, which pays homage at every turn to famed architect Charles Blair, or C.B., Macdonald, is rapidly taking shape. There are 10 holes open and available for play on a limited basis through Oct. 1, and the other eight are growing in and will be ready for the opening June 1, 2010.

By all indications, Old Mac's blend of playability and aesthetics may quickly push it to the fore or, at least, prompt golfers from all walks to re-rank the cluster of gems on the southern Oregon Coast.

That's bound to happen when you take the best design principles of the man revered as the grandfather of American golf architecture and use them to shape an entire layout.

Macdonald built the first 18-hole course in America, the Chicago Golf Club in 1892, and the National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y., which is his most famous work.

Mike Keiser, the owner of Bandon Dunes, hails from Chicago and rates the National Golf Links as his favorite course.

It was only fitting, then, that when the time came to add another course, he chose to mimic his favorite designer. Keiser built a team around architects Tom Doak and Jim Urbina and asked it to create as Macdonald would.

Some wonder why another course in a relatively remote locale.

Keiser has said while it's true the resort doesn't need another course, he just likes to build them.

Indeed, Old Macdonald is the tail end of the resort's Phase I, said head pro Jeff Brinegar, which puts the resort right on schedule. Plans call for a fifth course, and that could be in the works in another "five or six years," he said.

For now, they're eager to get Old Mac open.

Unlike the tracks at Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes, which have a number of holes along the ocean, Old Mac sits in a bowl to the north and east of Pacific Dunes. It has several holes with spectacular seaside vistas, and when the course is finished, four holes on the east side of a giant dune will abut a forest, providing a feel and look similar to the inland Bandon Trails.

Unlike the other courses, where each hole is an experience unto itself, Old Mac is open and inviting. There's lots of room to swing away with confidence because there aren't many places to lose a ball, and there are sweeping views of much of the course no matter what hole you're on.

During a preview round Friday, the spirit of Macdonald was evident.

There's a "hell bunker" and a "road hole," both characteristics of St. Andrews that were borrowed by Macdonald and used at National Golf Links.

The bunker stretches across the first of the 10 preview holes. It's wide and deep, with wooden planks lording over the poor soul who winds up in it. The yardage book caddies carry describes the bunker as a "moderate representation" of the real thing.

My caddie, Matt, noted that the only things missing from the "road hole" are the landmark road and hotel. He said a St. Andrews worker was brought here to do the green, and those who have played both have trouble telling the difference.

In the yardage book, the hole, which plays 440 yards from the regular tees and is into the wind, is described as the best 41/2; hole, and it's OK to play it as a par 5.

There's a hole with a Biarritz green, named for a French design, which has a deep gully across the middle of it, and a Redan green, with a dramatic right-to-left and front-to-back slope.

There's a "long hole" and a "short hole," taken again from St. Andrews, and there will be an "Alps" hole featuring a blind shot.

Chief among the course's appeal is that no two holes are alike and the greens are unique: extremely large and undulating. One is 22,000 square feet, another 18,000.

The former is on the third preview hole, which will actually be No. 8 when the course is done. It's also the Biarritz green.

"When the wind blows in from the north in the afternoon," said Matt the caddie, pointing to his left, "aim at that fairway."

On the green, he likened the ravine that split it to a snowboard chute.

Many people might not play it well the first time, said the caddie, but the measure of a good course is that it makes people want to turn around and play it again.

That's what they believe will happen here.

Have a local golf story idea? Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com