When Bandon Dunes Golf Resort opened its first course in 1999, Scottish architect David McLay Kidd’s design was appropriately named Bandon Dunes. No one knew what would become of this course that sat on the remote southern Oregon coastline.
Around the same time, Bandon Dunes founder Mike Keiser and Phil Friedman, a former business partner and Amherst College roommate, decided to buy an intriguing parcel of land that was not part of the 1,200 acres that Keiser had originally purchased to develop the Bandon resort.
The working title for the purchased land was Sheep Ranch and its size was minuscule relative to what was being developed at Bandon Dunes, located just south of Sheep Ranch.
In 2001, as golf course architect Tom Doak was designing Pacific Dunes, he ventured over to Sheep Ranch. Doak declared the site not large enough for an 18-hole course, but was persuaded to put in some bunkers, along with some greens, so that the scruffy and unkept land could be used as an extremely minimalist course that took on a mysterious quality.
As Bandon began to flourish, Friedman remained content with the 13 holes he had at Sheep Ranch, which had a very rustic look along 1 mile of ocean coastline.
The land, which is visible from Bandon’s Pacific Dunes and Old Macdonald courses, appeared to be a perfect piece of ground to all the amateur architects who saw it from a distance.
“Mike and I walked around Sheep Ranch with [Doak and Jim Urbina, his Renaissance Golf Design partner Jim Urbina] them and basically identified where we thought there would be terrific green sites,” Friedman said. “Then they came in as they were wrapping it up at Pacific and basically maintained the integrity of those green sites. They created some of the forms, and that was pretty much it.
“We really didn't build tees, we didn't do any kind of an amendment on the fairways. We had those green sites and then it started to rain like crazy and Tom and Jim and their whole crew left the area, so Pacific was finished, and we had our 13 green sites.”
Bandon Dunes has grown to become one of the country’s premier golf resorts, offering 85 holes of golf. As a result, Friedman and Keiser have collectively turned their focus on what could be the masterpiece of the Bandon area. They brought in the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to expand the course to a par-71, 7,000-yard 18-hole facility.
Friedman believes Sheep Ranch, which is scheduled to open in its new form in mid-2020, could actually be the best course in the area. Nine greens sit along the Pacific Ocean, compared to six among the 85 holes at Bandon Dunes.
One of the other interesting features of Sheep Ranch is that the course will be void of bunkers. Friedman was told by Coore that Robert Hunter wrote in his 1926 book, “The Links,” that “there would one day be a site with such interesting undulations, sand bunkers wouldn’t be necessary.”
“The greens had to get shaped, but the land itself we are leaving as is and it's got natural contours and rolls that would be reminiscent of well I guess what you, you could see now, but what you would imagine Scotland and Ireland were looking like 200 years ago,” Friedman said. “The real wow factor was that Bill was able to create a routing that kept us on the western portion of the land that we own. By doing that it meant that the ocean was always in view from every green, I believe from every tee, and that we were able to configure a couple of route things where the greens could be right on the edge of the cliffs over the Pacific.”
A preview of as many as nine holes is expected this fall, but much still needs to be figured out. The course has its name, but no logo as of yet. While lodging and a restaurant seem like a given, their size and shape are still under discussion.
What is very clear is that Sheep Ranch will be another masterpiece and it will more than hold its own with the other five courses at Bandon Dunes. Where it will fall in the pecking order differs depending on who you ask, but Friedman is very clear on his preference — Sheep Ranch as No. 1.
Over time he may be right, but for now there is only a lot of hype for a course with a tremendous amount of potential.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read, which also publishes Where To Golf Next and The Equipment Insider.