Cannot say enough about Bandon

Reflecting on our four days at Bandon Dunes, I can’t say enough about the quality of the operation and the level of service.  A couple of further thoughts/observations since my earlier post about this.

Visit any hotel during the day and one of the prominent, inescapable things is the housekeeping staff and their carts in the hallways.  At Bandon Dunes, since it’s centered entirely around golf, housekeeping knows when your tee times are… so they clean your room when you’re on the golf course.  I had to look hard to find any housekeeping staff at all.  They used nondescript gray vans similar to the shuttle vehicles, and hurried from the van into the cottages as if trying to stay out of sight.  Good service is when it happens and you don’t even know it.

Good service is when it happens and you don’t even know it…

Same thing on the golf course, in fact.  We saw very little maintenance activity on the courses.  Other than spray-hawking on the first day, a very occasional maintenance vehicle, one guy on a triplex mowing the practice green one morning and another guy out divoting fairways, I didn’t see ANY maintenance staff at all. And of course the maintenance facilities are well screened to the point where one had to look hard to find them.

The guy filling divots had an interesting setup. He used a pull trolley with two five gallon buckets, one with sand and the other empty, for collecting pelts.  He used a long-handled trash picker to pick up the pelts, grabbed a scoop of sand and smoothed it out with his foot. Quick and clean.

The shuttle service was worthy of note.  They have eight vans running 24 hours a day. Simply call the customer service number, tell ‘em where you are and where you’re going, and they’re there within minutes.  Occasionally they would swing by to pick up someone else along the way, but never really detoured very far.  One morning as I was still groggy in bed, my roomie  – Jerry Matthews 25-year CGCS — was up and ready to go out the door for his tee time.  He called for a shuttle and before he could walk the five feet to pick up his clubs, the driver was knocking on the door.  He must have been right in our loop since it wasn’t more than five seconds.  Jerry and I just looked at each other, shook our heads and grinned.

Several of the guys on the trip had been on one or more of the Ireland trips, so there were a lot of comparison conversations.

Travel to each place — Bandon or Ireland/Scotland — is about a wash for most.  Plane tickets are more expensive to Ireland, but then you have to get from either San Francisco or Portland to Bandon at extra cost.  You have to plan for an entire day either way, in both directions.

Once you get to Bandon, you’re there for the duration.  Unpack and settle in.  After the rounds, there was no rush to do anything other than have a casual lunch and a few beers.  Some guys hustled out to play another 18.  Some had a nap and then played the par-3 Preserve later in the afternoon.

Some guys hustled out to play another 18.  Some had a nap and then played the par-3 Preserve later in the afternoon.

Overseas, there’s hotel hopping and plenty of bus time.  The schedule is more rushed at times, but bus rides are conducive to camaraderie, beer and naps as well.

Obviously, the international cultural differences of traveling abroad are a big part of those trips.  Different towns, sights, pubs, hotels and side attractions, like the Cliffs of Moher or the Guinness Storehouse.  The Irish people in particular are very friendly and a lot of fun. We had several wives on each Ireland trip; not much for them to do in Bandon.

Since we visited five different operations on each trip to Ireland, we did more visiting with the course managers and touring their maintenance facilities over there.  It was fun to see the different methodologies and equipment they used.  Some of the Bandon staff played golf with us, but for some reason we didn’t do a maintenance facility tour.  Maybe next time.

The Tufted Puffin lounge in the main Lodge

I thought I might get bored of eating in the same places at Bandon.  Not so!  In fact, the outstanding Tufted Puffin lounge in the main Lodge and the grille at Bandon Trails were the only places I ate more than once… and even then, there were ten things on the menu I would have liked to try.  No boredom there; the food was great. Other than one breakfast, I didn’t eat in the main dining room, and never made it to McKee’s Pub or the Bunker Bar. And the prices were very reasonable.  A GREAT cheeseburger was $9, a turkey club you could barely get your mouth around was $8; bottled beers were $4, $5 for drafts, including some great local microbrews.

Golf?  You can’t lose either place.

So, in the end, it’s a toss-up.  There are arguments to be made for both destinations, so we’ll likely mix and match in the future.

Ya gotta have a day like today to get the total experience

Our fourth and final day had the Pacific Dunes course on the schedule, and another low ceiling and intermittent mist/drizzle greeted us.  But hey, life isn’t all sunshine (particularly on the Oregon coast in October), and golf courses can display some particular charms on a gray and misty day.  So was it with Pacific Dunes, designed by Tom Doak and the second of the four courses built at Bandon Dunes, opening in 2001.

One obvious difference between Pacific Dunes and the other three regulation courses (plus the Preserve short course) is the amount of gorse present.  The town of Bandon was founded in 1873 by an Irishman, Lord George Bennett, who brought gorse plants over from Ireland for use as sheep “fencing”.  The highly invasive plant soon took over most of the area.  Due to the amount of oils in the plant, gorse is highly flammable and contributed to the town of Bandon burning down in 1936.

Much of the original 1200 acre property at Bandon Dunes was covered in gorse when first obtained by Michael Keiser, and walls and hillsides of it remain on Pacific Dunes.

Photos from Pacific Dunes:

It’s not ALL about golf…

There’s football, and the World Series, and pizza and beer.  One of the most enjoyable things for me in hosting a gathering or trip like this is seeing the friendships develop among people who very few days ago didn’t even know one another.  The ballbusting and the bullsh*tting are a pretty good gauge of a group of guys having fun together.

The planners of Bandon Dunes knew there would be groups of golfers traveling together, so provided nice sitting rooms in some of the cottages.  We took advantage of that Saturday night to get together in Jon Kiger and Matt Crowther’s suite for pizza and beer while watching the last of the football games and onto the World Series game 3.  I ducked out early but heard the hooting and hollering from my cottage next door well into the wee hours.  Good stuff.

Three was not a charm, weather-wise

Bucking the weather odds and weather gods three days in a row seemed like a long shot, and Mother Nature had her say today with a low ceiling, mist and occasional showers.  The group played Old Macdonald — the most recent of the four regulation courses here — and again came in all smiles, some noting that this was their favorite so far.

Yours truly opted for the warmth and comfort of the Lodge, so didn’t experience it first-hand.  Opened in 2010, the layout is a tribute to C. B. Macdonald and was designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina.  Greens are huge, fairways wide and open, and bunkers something to stay out of.

After lunch, some guys went back out to play another 18, others to play the 13-hole Preserve course before pizza and beer for dinner.

Photos below courtesy of our Superintendent of the Year, Paul Carter, CGCS:

Friendly match at The Preserve

The group getting instructions from the starter prior to our North/South Match.

It was dark when our two eightsomes finished up the 13th and final hole of our North/South “Battle of Bandon” match at the new Preserve par-3 course at the Bandon Dunes resort.

Not “getting dark”. It was dark.

As we walked up the hill — many tired and sore but happy — to the grille room at the adjacent Bandon Trails facility, there was eager anticipation of which team won the coveted honor of “Best of Bandon”.

But first, I heard Frank Tichenor (hobbling with a bad knee) say almost to himself, “This place is magnificent. Incredible. This was the best golf day of my life.”

This place is magnificent. Incredible. This was the best golf day of my life…” — Frank Tichenor, Forest Hill Field Club

Coming from someone from New Jersey, most of whom don’t typically gush with compliments, that said it all.

The Preserve is a fun place.  In fact, it SHOUTS FUN. Thirteen magnificent golf holes crafted (or not) into a very small 20-acre footprint.  Rules are relaxed regarding number of golfers in groups (hence our two 8-somes), but the starter simply asks that everyone respect traditional decorum while on the course.

Even with other groups in close proximity, there was no tripping over anybody or errant golf balls causing problems.  In fact, other than the occasional roar of good-natured competition (fueled perhaps by a few beers and cigars toward the end of the day), we scarcely knew we weren’t alone.

At the end of the day, the South team prevailed over the North by a score of 151 to 158, counting the best three scores on each hole (par 156 total).  South Team captain Jon Kiger awarded the gold chocolate bar MVP prize to Jerry Matthews 25-year CGCS who plays out of Brookfield Country Club in Roswell, GA.  Jerry tallied four birdies on the short track.

Silver chocolate bar for the MVP on the North Team went to Geoff Montross, PGA pro and son of Walter Montross, CGCS retired, from Virginia.  The North team drafted Geoff to split up the two PGA pros in the group (including Robin Boyer from The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay, guest of Superintendent of the Year Paul Carter, CGCS), who otherwise would both have both been on the South team.

Some photos from The Preserve:

They make it seem so easy…

I’ve always been an armchair student of business, making a habit of observing the business operations of any place I visit that strikes me as either particularly good or particularly bad.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort was to be a case study in what to do right.

Immediately, and I mean IMMEDIATELY upon being greeted by “Shoe” (the maestro of the arrival area by the main lodge and the first person hired as an employee of Bandon Dunes back in 1999), I knew this was someplace special.

Smiles.  Understated elegance.  Absence of flash. Courtesy. The staff is there when you need them and not in your face when you don’t.  They have thought of what you need before you realize you need it, and it’s readily available. I quickly realized this pervades the operation, from front desk to food service to golf operations to caddies.  The anti-Trump experience.

 They make great customer service seem so easy, it makes we wonder what’s wrong with the other 90% of the world that just doesn’t get it…”

I asked the manager of the grille at Bandon Trails last evening how much training each employee goes through.  ”You mean food service, or in general?” she wanted to know.  ”I mean simple customer service with a smile,” I replied.

“Not too much,” she said, “although Oregonians in general tend to be pretty happy people.”  Must be the fact that there’s no sales tax on anything, I thought with my jaded East Coast outlook, although I’ve been trying to get the last vestiges of that New Jersey attitude out of me.

The Lodge behind the 18th green on the Bandon Dunes course.

This is a wonderful place.  Reminds me very much — service-wise — of the American Club in Kohler, WI. Same type of thing.  They make great customer service seem so easy, it makes we wonder what’s wrong with the other 90% of the world that just doesn’t get it.

Smiles are free. Employees who are well taken care of and work in an operation that functions smoothly are free to smile a lot.  It shows, and makes visitors feel good and smile a lot in return.

Our accommodations in the Chrome Lake cottages. Two huge king beds, fireplace, widescreen TV, icemaker… first class comfort.  Not to mention shuttle service on a moment’s notice.

Day 2: Bandon Dunes course, and more sunshine

Against all odds and the weather gods, overnight showers and a gray early morning cleared for another sunny day at Bandon Dunes.  The group today played the original Bandon Dunes course, and all were in awe of the course and the surrounding scenery.

They did it again

Fritz McMullen won’t take no for an answer. He’s the one always goading me into picking up a club, offering to be my caddy, etc in order to get me into embarrassment mode again.  He started it at Dooks Golf Club, over in Ireland… with me  mic’d and with a video camera recording the whole thing. This trip, he wasted no time by laying it on the line on the first tee at Bandon Trails.

“Here we are,” he said, “first day, first tee, you might as well break the ice and get it over with.”

So I caved in.  He handed me his driver with a head on it about 6″ x 8″, and I gulped hard.  Bearing down, focusing my concentration in the face of all the eyes upon me (all 12 of them), I teed it up, did my half-backswing (my slapshot) and banged right down the fairway, in the air, right side as always.  Landed on the short grass, in fact.

The pressure is off.

Except now, today, after the morning round on the Bandon Dunes course, lunch and a nap, we’re regrouping at 4:00 for a match at the new Preserve par-3 course. North vs South a’ la’ the Ryder Cup Matches.  Jon Kiger is captain of the South team, I’m the captain of the North. Fritz wants me to play.

Who knows, maybe I will.