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U.S. AMATEUR
Bandon Dunes a Breeze? Depends on Time of Day August 13, 2020 | Bandon, Ore. By Tom Mackin

Gusty afternoon winds create significant challenges for the competitors in the U.S. Amateur. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)

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Playing 36 holes in a single day is a common practice for visitors to Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. But playing a couple of rounds with friends versus competing for a national championship in a tension-filled match-play format against the world’s best amateurs is quite another thing, especially on a layout that can change dramatically from morning to afternoon. 

That will be the case from Thursday forward on the resort’s namesake layout at Bandon Dunes for the 120th U.S. Amateur Championship. For those 32 golfers who have survived stroke play and the Round of 64, a potential marathon day of match play takes place on Aug. 13 (Round of 32/Round of 16). Afternoon matches are also scheduled for the quarterfinals on Friday and Saturday's semifinals.

And the two finalists are scheduled for a 36-hole match on Sunday (although the 36th hole has been reached in just five of the last 20 U.S. Amateur finals). While the hole locations won’t change between rounds, competitors will need to adjust to a substantial increase in wind.

No one knows just how different the course can play in a single day more than David McLay Kidd, who designed Bandon Dunes in 1999.

“You tee off at 8 in the morning and it can be flat calm,” he said. “There can even be a gentle breeze coming out of the south. By 10:30 a.m., the wind will have transitioned round and it should start to blow just softly out of the north. By noon it may be a reasonable breeze. By 1 p.m. you might not be able to hear someone standing six feet away. The great thing is that it’s reliable. It will come from the north, not anywhere else.”

A typical summer afternoon at Bandon Dunes sees sustained winds from 10 to 20 mph, with unpredictable gusts of more than 25 mph. The change in conditions will affect strategy, particularly on the final five holes.

Take the dogleg-right, par-4 14th hole. “With no wind, it’s darn near drivable if you’re willing to cut across the corner,” said Kidd. Last year he transformed a tiny pot bunker at the right corner of that green into a giant swath of open sand, making that choice a far riskier proposition.

“If there’s no wind, I would try and blow it past the green, aiming for the front left corner and come into that green sideways and backwards,” he said. “That’s a far higher percentage shot. It’s a bit like the 17th at the Old Course in St Andrews, where one of the best plays is to hit your second shot onto 18 tee and then chip backwards onto the green.”

When the wind kicks up in the afternoon, the safe play is straight ahead over the middle bunker, leaving a mid-iron into the green. “It’s possible that someone might consider playing back up 13 fairway and play blind into the green, but I wouldn’t recommend it the green runs away from you from that angle,” said Kidd.

A deep right-greenside bunker on the par-3 15th encourages play to the left side, where a bank can be used to funnel balls onto the green. “If you come here 1-up in the match, I would play for the back of the green no matter where the hole is located,” said Kidd. “If you miss left, the green is very narrow on the chip shot coming back. By 1 p.m. in a 20-30 mph headwind, a bunt driver becomes a real option! Anything that lofts the ball is dangerous at that point.” 

If the wind is gusting hard downwind, the par-4 16th is another hole that potentially could be reached from the tee.

“I might put a 3-wood in my guy’s hands and tell him to go for it,” said Kidd. “The worse that can happen is he bounces through the green and ends up on 17 tee. That’s not a bad thing because you can chip back for a birdie putt. If you’re feeling confident, aim for the left edge of the green and go for it. I wouldn’t go driver, though. If there’s enough wind, flight it with a 3-wood which will land a bit softer.”

There’s much more risk with the tee shot on the par-4 17th hole. “I would really chew my fingernails if the match was all square here,” said Kidd. “I would rather my opponent goes first, but if I have the tee, I’m probably going to use a 3-wood and hit it way left. The reward for hitting driver isn’t big enough. The wind out of the north will blow the ball right. Hit it left and bounce it down the fairway and have maybe a 6-iron in to the green.”

On the dogleg-right par-5 closing hole, Kidd encourages cutting loose with the driver, albeit to one side of the fairway. “Aim out way left at the top of the golf shop building, not the clubhouse. Putting it down the right side is a mistake. You can’t see the green from there and can’t go for it [in two] meaningfully. You also can’t bounce it [on to the green] from the right side because there are two bunkers in the way.” 

Arizona resident Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at temackinjr@gmail.com.