Course architect Tom Doak rarely watches golf on television, but he may make an exception on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. That’s when coverage of the inaugural U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship will air on Fox Sports 1, on Doak’s renowned 2001 design, Pacific Dunes.
Not usually given to hyperbole, Doak has said that the Pacific Dunes course at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort “may well have been the best site for a golf course that any designer has been given since the 1920s.” But what factors made it such an ideal location?
“Three-quarters of a mile of ocean frontage was a good start, but it was really all the dunes on the inland holes that made it such a great site,” Doak said in an email. “The most dramatic section of dunes encompasses the first green, the second hole, the seventh and eighth, and then the short par-4 16th, all of which are among the best holes on the course. The other great thing about the site was the palette of vegetation we had … tawny fescue grasses, yellowish beach grass, dark shore pines and dark green gorse bushes that bloom bright yellow in the spring. It’s a beautiful, colorful setting.”
In addition to the distracting scenery, the layout offers a few design rarities, including consecutive par 3s to open the inward nine.
“I never thought I would build back-to-back par 3s on one of my golf courses,” said Doak, 54, who co-designed Sebonack Golf Club on Long Island, venue for the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open, with Jack Nicklaus. “When I started laying out holes on a topographical map before my first visit to the site, I found the 11th hole and routed the 10th as a short par 4. But when we got to Bandon, we discovered that David McLay Kidd’s layout for Bandon Dunes came further north than I’d thought, and the tee for my short par 4 was already his seventh fairway. It didn’t make sense to try to combine the two holes into one, because the dunes were so tight to the cliff, so my recommendation was to build the back-to-back par 3s. It took a while for everyone to get comfortable with it, but they’re both such beautiful holes that we didn’t want to omit one or the other. We tried our best to make them as different from each other as possible.”
Although the yardage varies daily, No. 10 is playing at 163 yards this week and No. 11 is listed at 117 yards. Those two holes are preceded immediately by something Doak has done only once thus far in his career: build alternate greens on a hole.
“That came about by serendipity,” he said. “At the start of the project, we figured the upper tee on the par-3 10th was going to be the main tee, and there was a good green site for the ninth right there, so we planned on that one. But we had to clear a lot of gorse out of the ninth fairway in case people pulled their tee shots to the left, and as we kept clearing, the [potential] lower green site started to look attractive to me, because of the view down toward the rocks in Bandon. I like it because it's a cool, natural green site with lots of undulation, but also because depending on which green is in use, you want to hit two very differently-shaped tee shots off the same tee.”
Those greens are being rotated during the championship for both safety and playability reasons.
“With the ninth hole typically playing downwind and with firm greens, if the 10th gets backed up, you’ve got a crowd standing right behind the upper green,” said Rachel Graves, championship director of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball. “I wanted to try to avoid that, so when we use the larger upper green, which has more options for hole locations, we are using the lower tee on the par-3 10th. When we use the lower green, which tends to be easier because it’s a bit more protected from the wind and usually requires a shorter shot in, we’ll use the upper tee on the 10th.”
Doak was curious to see what match-play tactics the players will employ, especially given another rare routing situation: the inward nine on Pacific Dunes has four par 3s, three of which are followed by par 5s. There are only two par 4s (Nos. 13 and 16) on the inward nine.
“When you lose a hole in match play, there’s always an urgency to get it right back, so I think that will lead to some very aggressive play on the par 5s,” said Doak, who with Jim Urbina co-designed Old Macdonald, another acclaimed Bandon Dunes layout that opened in 2010 adjacent to Pacific Dunes. “The 12th hole invites that, but the 15th and 18th can both come up to bite you if you try to force the second shot too far down the hole.
“There are also lots of ‘half-par’ holes [short par 4s, long par 4s and short par 5s] where there is a slim line between birdie and par, or par and bogey, so you’re not going to see a long string of halved holes,” Doak predicted. “The matches will go back and forth. There are also some fierce hazards that can cost the players more than one shot, and it will be interesting to see how much they affect the players’ strategy once an opponent has made a mistake.”
Players will also encounter a handful of risk/reward holes that could instantly change the rhythm of a match.
“For men, it’s the short par-4 6th, where they are tempted to go for the green; but that turned out to be the easiest hole in the 2006 Curtis Cup Match (won by the USA 11½-6½) , because the women weren’t stupid enough to go for it,” said Doak. “For the women, I’d say the second and ninth holes are the ones where you can take a risk with the driver or lay back for safety and leave yourself a longer approach shot. The second shots at the [par-4] seventh and eighth are also ones where you are taking a real risk trying to get near the hole.”
One element the players can’t control is the wind. Any side that can take advantage of it, or at least neutralize it, will clearly enhance their chances.
“I think Pacific Dunes is a second-shot golf course – there are places around many of the greens where you just can’t afford to miss in a match,” he said. “Finally, the ability to putt from long range comes in handy even from well off the green, while players who are more comfortable with their 60-degree wedge for recovery shots may struggle with the tight lies and firm surfaces.”
Tom Mackin is an Arizona-based golf writer and a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.