It had been clear sailing for Robynn Ree 18, of Redondo Beach, Calif., and Hannah O’Sullivan, 17, of Chandler, Ariz. during four rounds of match play at the 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort’s Pacific Dunes course. The side had been so dominating – losing only six of the 54 holes they completed during match play – that they seemed unbeatable.
Their closest match – a 3 and 2 victory over Madelein Herr and Brynn Walker – came in the semifinal round Wednesday morning
“That was a good experience to have but we were still confident that we could do it,” said O’Sullivan after that win. “We’ve been playing great all week so we just need to keep focusing on doing what we need to do. If we trust each other and ourselves, it will work out.”
But the opponents they faced there, Mika Liu, 16, of Bradenton, Fla., and Rinka Mitsunaga, 18, of Roswell, Ga., were equally prepared.
“We grew up with them playing golf,” said Ree before the match. “We know their game. We’re pretty confident that we’ll do well.”
They did early on, finishing the first eight holes at 3-under. The problem? Liu and Mitsunaga were 6-under during the same stretch, building a daunting 3-up lead. An eagle by Mitsunaga on the 12th hole, when she holed out from 88 yards, increased the lead to 4 up, and the match ended three holes later.
“We just got an opponent that was much better than our girls and got all the breaks,” said Kenneth Ree, Robynn’s father and caddie. “It wasn’t like our girls were playing bad, it was just that we had a few lipouts. If it wasn’t for those we would have been just 1 down or even. The putting was the difference.”
Ree, who has caddied for his daughter since she was 7 years old, said that despite the loss, they would take many positive thoughts. “They have played in this (match-play) format before at the American Junior Golf Association’s Wyndham Cup and other junior tournaments, but this one really exemplifies friendship and what golf is all about as partners. They learned a lot. I think going forward they are going to cherish this experience and it will only help them become better people.”
A Winning Loop
A total of 69 Bandon Dunes caddies carried bags during this championship, but only one helped his player win the title. And Gerard Percy didn’t even meet his player – Mika Liu, who won the inaugural championship with Rinko Mitsunaga – until right before the first round of stroke play on Saturday.
“We had no rapport [starting out] obviously,” said Percy. “I think I gave her four sweet reads in the first five holes and I don’t think she believed any of them, but my clubbing was good. And dealing with the wind, well, you can’t beat a Bandon caddie at that.”
Despite the initial lack of familiarity, the pair eventually clicked. “I told her mom we were going to shoot 65 on Sunday,” said Percy, who is in his 11th season at Bandon Dunes. “But we made just the stupidest double bogey on the second hole and then had a three-putt bogey on 17 or we would have shot 65 (they shot 68). I still said to her mom afterward, ‘We are going to win this thing.’”
Percy had never heard of Bandon Dunes until he caddied for the resort’s owner Mike Keiser in late 2004 during an event at Cape Kidnappers Golf Course in New Zealand. Shortly thereafter, Percy retired from an information technology job and decided to become, in his own words, a “golf bum.”
Now in his 11th season at Bandon Dunes, he typically works here from May through November and caddies at Whisper Rock Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., each winter. He also caddied for Eamonn “Stiggy” Hodgson on the Great Britain & Ireland team during the 2009 Walker Cup at Merion Golf Club.
Other than meeting Keiser, this week was the most serendipitous pairing of his caddie career. “We were dialed in on numbers all week, really,” he said. “When you have a player and instead of saying 132 yards, you say 3 feet left of the hole, and they do it, that’s pretty fun.”
Much to his regret, Percy will have little time to celebrate. “I’ve got to carry for 36 holes tomorrow and that starts early.”
Color Bandon Dunes Green, as in Sustainable
Larry Gilhuly, the director of the Northwest Region for the USGA Green Section, likes to say that to make a course green, you’ve got to spend more green. The problem with that philosophy is that it just isn’t sustainable.
Thanks to a confluence of climate and careful stewardship, Bandon Dunes has been able to maintain championship conditions without massive investments of time and money.
“The climate here is almost identical to Scotand and Ireland, and also New Zealand,” said Gilhuly. “Those are the only three places in the world with this type of weather, and they can replicate what is done in those areas for golf courses. Over there, they have staff sizes of five or six, and in the U.S., we typically have 15 or 16 and up. What’s the main difference? The main one is that they don’t fertilize and we do – except that here, they don’t.”
Fertilizing a golf course makes it more appealing to the eye, while increasing maintenance costs such as labor and fuel for mowing, higher water bills, etc.
“Water is absolutely the biggest issue, and this course is way ahead of that curve,” said Gilhuly. “They’ve done it with the fescue grass, which does extremely well in this area of the country, thanks to the climate and the low humidity. Unfortunately, you can’t take it to a lot of other regions because it won’t work; disease will take it out.”
The five courses at Bandon Dunes – four 18-hole layouts and a 13-hole par-3 – are a mix of fescue and other grass varieties, with only Old Macdonald, the newest 18-hole layout that opened in 2010, a pure fescue layout. The others have Poa annua and bentgrass in the mix as well. Pacific Dunes, host for this week’s championship, has been gradually transitioned to the mix of grasses.
“They went from 2 pounds of nitrogen a year to 3 pounds, which is still not much [fertilizer],” said Gilhuly. “They brought the green mowing heights down a bit, because fescue likes a higher height and Poa likes a lower height. As it is, they are achieving Stimpmeter readings in the low 11s with a single mow and a roll, at mowing heights that are higher than you will find just about anywhere – 0.140 of an inch.”
Bandon Dunes is doing more with less, because by fertilizing less, the grass develops less thatch. The combination of sand and a lack of thatch means firm conditions and outstanding drainage. This cycle also allows the maintenance staff, led by Jeff Nice and Jeff Sutherland, to use fewer pesticides and other inputs.
A final success story involves the fifth course here, the Bandon Preserve, a 13-hole, par-3 layout that opened in 2012. All net proceeds that the resort earns from the Preserve go directly to the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance, an organization that funds projects and initiatives along Oregon’s South Coast that include habitat restoration, a regional land trust and sustainable fishing practices.
Tom Mackin is an Arizona-based golf writer and a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at email@example.com. Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.