Exquisite golf at Bandon Dunes tees up the perfect Oregon adventure.
Written byMary Herne
So as not to be a “golf widow,” I reluctantly took up the sport. Thinking golf didn’t involve real fitness or athleticism, I didn’t take it too seriously. And those white bucks and plaid pants? Pu-lease!
Quickly I came to realize that golf has a number of good things going for it: long walks with friends in dramatically stunning locales; a smooth glass of Scotch at the end of the day; and, surprise, surprise, I discovered golf actually is an athletic sport.
That’s how I became a newly initiated golf enthusiast. Not over-the-top … but gently hooked. My husband, Dave, plotted to ramp up my enthusiasm for the game with a trip to the Oregon coast’s Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, the platinum standard for breathtaking links courses in the U.S.
We chose to make an Oregon road trip around our Bandon Dunes holiday, adding other scenic, gastronomic and cultural adventures to our vacation. Note to self: You don’t have to travel halfway around the world to have a great holiday with amazing scenery, great eats, exercise, the arts, fun shopping and new discoveries.
Days 1 & 2: PORTLAND
Natural beauty combined with an energetic arts, cultural, contemporary music and food scene has earned Portland its position as one of America’s most livable cities. And with no sales tax, there is much room for retail creativity.
Our short visit allowed us only to scratch the surface of what Portland has to offer … but we made the most of its reputation as a great foodie town! (Travel + Leisure ranked Portland’s food and bar scene as #5 in the nation last year, ahead of New York and LA.)
Fresh off the plane from LA, we stopped at the Portland City Grill atop the U.S. Bancorp Tower for happy hour. With unrivaled views of the city and Cascade Mountains, this was the perfect spot to catch the sunset, whet our whistle and start our trip with cousins Perry and Robyn.
Portland may be known as “the city of roses,” but it might as well be called “the city of food carts.” Any respectable foodie will know this, but I was still living in the Dark Ages—so the thriving food cart scene of more than 500 variations—including Thai, Czech, Indian, Greek, Vietnamese, German, vegetarian, etc.—was all new to me.
Clustered in pods around the city, we sampled our way through some Korean and Cajun delectables for a refreshingly low-priced and satisfying dinner. These were chased with a sampling of Oregon’s celebrated craft beers. Who knew that Portland has the most breweries (52) than any other city in the world? (foodcartsportland.com)
No trip to Portland is worth its salt without a trip to Salt & Straw, Portland’s “farm-to-cone” organic ice cream shops with totally out-of-the box flavors. Grandma Malek’s Almond Brittle with Salted Chocolate Ganache put me over the moon, and I loved the boldness of Pear with Blue Cheese and Cinnamon Snickerdoodle. (2035 NE Alberta Street, saltandstraw.com)
Still lusting for distinctive Oregonian treats, we waddled over to the world-renowned Voodoo “The Magic is in the Hole” Doughnut, open 24-7. You have to be dedicated to brave that constant line around the block … but clearly Voodoo loyalists will sacrifice to chew those visually imaginative morsels with memorable names such as Old Dirty Bastard (chocolate frosting, Oreos and peanut butter), the popular Bacon Maple Bar and their namesake Voodoo Doll doughnut. (22 SW 3rd Avenue, voodoodoughnut.com)
And delivering on already high expectations, we made a mandatory stop at The Original Pancake House, not to be confused with any other pancake house. Sixty years old and still fresh, this house of scrumptious delights holds a cherished spot on the list of Oregon’s greatest culinary contributions. Nothing puts my husband in a great mood like their signature Dutch Baby specialty, which is big enough to swallow your children. (8601 SW 24th Avenue, originalpancakehouse.com)
Day 3: PORTLAND TO BANDON
We could easily have spent several more days exploring Portland and its surrounding attractions, but Bandon Dunes beckoned. So with a car loaded with golf clubs and suitcases, the four of us took off on our journey to this mecca of golf. We cruised down Interstate 5 and took the mountain pass road (126) over the Coast Range and into Florence on the Pacific Ocean and then on to Coos Bay.
Along the way we were treated to the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America. With dunes averaging 250 feet in height and stretching 40 miles down the coast to North Bend, the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area offers rich opportunities for photography, off-road vehicle use, hiking, horseback riding and camping. It is definitely worth a stop.
The drive from Portland to Bandon was a total joy, but be prepared to spend about six hours doing it. If golf is your one and only focus, Bandon Dunes Golf Resort can be reached by plane. The Southwest Oregon Regional Airport in North Bend is just 25 minutes away and is served daily by flights from Portland and San Francisco.
Days 4 & 5: BANDON DUNES
“Golf as it was meant to be.” That was the inspiration for Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, entrepreneur Mike Keiser’s idea to create a series of dramatic and rugged links courses in the tradition of those in the British Isles.
Built on a remote stretch of the Pacific coast, Mike and his dream team of golf architects carved out dazzling courses on the bluffs of this magic strip of the southern Oregon coastline. The windswept terrain, gnarly bunkers and natural dunes that define these thrilling and authentic, award-winning courses are made from the land’s original soil and sand.
Speaking of award-winning, both Golf Magazine and Golf Digest (2013-2014) rank all four Bandon Dunes courses in the top 20 of America’s Greatest Public Courses, with Pacific Dunes perennially garnering the #1 spot of Golf Magazine’s Top 100 You Can Play.
Each course possesses its own character. Bandon Dunes is pure links, the original course on the property. Pacific Dunes was the second course to be built and the highest ranked of the courses by both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine.
Bandon Trails is the only course on the property that is considered inland and in the trees—a favorite of the caddies. And Old MacDonald, with its large, undulating greens, is a tribute to C.B. MacDonald—one of the fathers of American golf course architecture.
Last but not least is Bandon Preserve, the 13-hole (yes, 13), par-3 course with stunning ocean views from every hole and a pro social mission: to fund community projects on the South Coast of Oregon that are committed to conservation and the economy.
We eventually found our way to this legendary golf outpost where you can immerse yourself in the sport, burning muscle on hole-to-hole treks, dining on great food and taking in out-of-this-world scenery. And we lucked out on the mid-August weather, which was sunny and warm, not hot, with continuous afternoon breezes.
It is worth noting that most of the guests at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort are guys who are on a golf outing. There was a smattering of couples too, and it certainly would be an appealing destination for a ladies golf jaunt.
However, there is plenty to do of a non-golf nature if you are being a good sport while your partner is teeing it up. In addition to golf clinics for junior golfers, beginners and even caddies, there are more than six miles of walking trails at the resort.
A diverse trail system crosses through sand dunes, forest groves of rhododendron, manzanita and huckleberry, and along the beach. Or you can challenge yourself by following a meditative labyrinth that is an outdoor replica of a maze on the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France.
The resort also has a fitness center. And for those whose muscles need a little “kneading” at the end of the day after walking these undulating courses (no carts allowed), licensed massage therapists offer Swedish and deep tissue massage. (57744 Round Lake Drive in Bandon, bandondunesgolf.com)
And the charming seacoast town of Bandon-by-the-Sea, with a population of 3,100, is a delightful place to visit with access to horseback riding, sea kayaking, fishing, wind surfing, wildlife viewing and bird watching.
Day 6: GOLD BEACH
Before heading further south along the coast to Gold Beach and the Rogue River, Dave and I said bon voyage to Perry and Robyn and dashed over to Bandon Preserve. Don’t be fooled by the par-3 … this course is challenging, especially in the wind. I forgot all about the wind when the starter handed us homemade cranberry and chocolate chip cookies at the first tee. Nice touch!
Although the drive down the coast from Bandon to Gold Beach on route 101 is only 54 miles (slightly more than an hour), add extra time to linger, checking out the most stunning vistas imaginable. Within one hour, the weather shifted from bright and clear to foggy, perfect to capture the ever-changing moods of this bold Pacific seascape.
A don’t-miss spot along this drive is Humbug Mountain (if only for its name!), six miles south of Port Orford and located within Humbug Mountain State Park. At 1,756 feet, it is one of the highest mountains in Oregon to rise directly from the ocean.
We arrived at Tu Tu’ Tun Lodge, nestled on the banks of the Rogue River in Gold Beach, just in time to enjoy their complimentary afternoon tea and take in the radiant wildflowers and Rogue’s serene whisper. This place has perfection written all over it—a delicious communal dinner of roasted Sterling Creek steelhead and pecan fig pie overlooking the river.
Acute attention to detail has earned Tu Tu’ Tun Lodge its place as Travel + Leisure’s 2013 #2 Inn in the U.S. I wanted to stay longer and wrap myself in the comfortable, rustic elegance, hike, fish, kayak, spend time in the spa or just sit under a tree redefining reality, but another Rogue experience was calling. (96550 North Bank Rogue River Road in Gold Beach, tututun.com)
Day 7: THE ROGUE RIVER’S PARADISE LODGE
Some 25 years ago I went on a five-day white water rafting trip down the Rogue River. Along the way, my long-haired, river-rat of a guide pointed out Paradise Lodge, situated high above the water level some 52 miles upriver from Gold Beach. The place grabbed my imagination the moment I learned the only access to this secluded lodge was by foot, boat, horse or helicopter.
The decision to stay one night at Paradise Lodge was a no-brainer now that we could easily take a “Mail Boat Hydro Jet” (still delivering mail AND serving as an excursion craft). It is three hours up Oregon’s Lower Rogue River—Congressionally designated a “Wild and Scenic River”—to this remote lodge. Along the way we saw black bear, bald eagles, vultures, otters, Canadian geese, various ducks and large turtles.
Originally built in 1959, Paradise Lodge was a bit more basic than my fantasy of a Ralph Lauren-esque lodge. After a little attitude adjustment, I fell in love. This was wilderness the way I wanted it to be.
If you feel inclined to take advantage of what nature has to offer in this spiritual paradise, there is salmon and steelhead fishing and hiking among the fir tree forests that hug the Rogue River Trail. At the end of the day, our family-style dinner consisted of barbecued ribs, chicken, rice, marinated veggies from their own organic garden, and carrot cake for desert.
Lucky for us, we were at Paradise Lodge on the night of a blue moon. I woke up in the middle of the night to savor the moonlight streaming through our window while turning the Rogue into a spectacle of dancing lights. Perfection. (paradise-lodge.com)
Days 8 & 9: ASHLAND
After our three-hour jet boat return trip down the Rogue to Gold Beach, we set out for Ashland—home of the celebrated Oregon Shakespeare Festival, America’s oldest Elizabethan theatre. To get there we continued down America’s Wild Rivers Coast south on route 101, where every few miles we came upon another show-stopping scenic viewpoint. Huge rock formations dot the shoreline … magically ethereal when shrouded in the thick mist.
A note of interest: Oregon’s seaside towns are approximately 25 to 30 miles apart. According to a local, covered wagons could go about that distance in a day. Our motor vehicle covered 166 miles in about three hours and 15 minutes. What a difference a century makes.
Ashland is a delightful town. It is located off Interstate 5 just north of the California border. Set within the foothills of the Siskiyou and Cascade ranges, it is easily walkable and hits all the high points of great cuisine, a strong arts community, world-class theatre, accessible outdoor activities, Southern Oregon University and a robust brewery and wine culture.
We took advantage of a fascinating self-guided walking tour to get familiarized with Ashland and its rich historical heritage. (ashlandaudiowalks.org)
After some serious shopping in nearby Jacksonville, a perfect gold rush town and National Historic Landmark, we returned to the Winchester Inn, our cozy B & B straight out of a Victorian novel and one of Ashland’s premiere historic inns. Following our aperitif in their inviting bar, we stepped over to Alchemy, the inn’s award-winning restaurant with a reputation for exquisite meals and an enviable collection of “Excellence” awards from Wine Spectator. (35 South 2nd Street, winchesterinn.com)
We capped the day with a searing production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, just one of 11 productions included in the 2013 season of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The 2014 season runs about eight months, from February 14 to November 2, and presents an enticing variety of productions including Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods, a 50th-anniversary production of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, a Marx Brothers romp and four Shakespearean plays. (osfashland.org)
Day 10: CRATER LAKE
Photographed by Hugh Siegman
Our road trip had one more important stop: the incomparable, brilliant blue Crater Lake in Crater Lake National Park, just a two-hour drive from Ashland. The starting point of the Rogue River, the lake was created when a 12,000-foot volcano erupted, causing it to collapse on itself. The resulting caldera now holds the nearly 2,000-foot-deep lake.
If you book early enough, you can reserve a lakeview room at the historic (1915) Crater Lake Lodge, listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Here you can hike, go trout or salmon fishing, shoot photos and feel grateful to be alive. (565 Rim Drive, craterlakelodges.com)