Old Macdonald is truly the completion of Charles Blair Macdonald’s dream. It brings to life for the everyman golfer his Gift : Golf. National Golf Links of America on the remote east end of Long Island was intended to show Americans what a proper golf course was – but in its first 100 years only a privileged few were able to do so. Access to America’s finest golf courses is so much more restricted than it is in Scotland, golf’s birthplace as we know the game today. Old Macdonald change all that. The exposure is now available – what the golfer makes of it is yet to be determined. One approaches Old Macdonald with an open mind, hopefully a completely blank slate as it will be for most, unlike anything they have ever seen.
Old Macdonald is the newest course at the arguably best destination golf resort in America. It is best because it is openly available and Bandon is all about the celebration of golf. It is the last piece of the puzzle in so many ways. Unless something extraordinary happens, it is the final course in the collection at Bandon Dunes – a revolutionary resort in America. More importantly it finally makes whole Charles Blair Macdonald’s original intent. Charlie Macdonald was from Chicago, was sent to St. Andrews to receive a proper education at St. Andrews University and became infected by golf in the process. Charlie called his years after St. Andrews the dark years as he was so removed from his beloved golf. In 1911 he opened his gift to America – The National Golf Links of America commonly known by cognoscenti simply as NGLA. It is truly THE National.
With the opening of Old Macdonald this upcoming Tuesday June 1, 2010, Old Macdonald will do for the American player what Charlie originally hoped NGLA would do for American golf – introduce the concepts, the features, the interpretive ideals of the great holes of the British Isles. NGLA managed to expose the wealthy, privileged, country club golfer to these strategies and replica holes – Old Macdonald will now expose to anyone willing to make the somewhat arduous trek to the remote coast of Southern Oregon to what NGLA intended to do 100 years ago.
Old Macdonald will make available to the everyman golfer in America the wonderful nature of strategic and truly classic golf as NGLA was meant to do. Due to its exclusivity this unfortunately never happened. NGLA even today with a new appreciation for its magnificent architecture recognized by American Magazine’s Top 100 lists, it remains a name mostly unfamiliar to the retail golfer (as Owner Mike Keiser has labeled the daily player) not fortunate enough to have received a coveted invitation to NGLA.
Old Macdonald is a true collaboration of many minds. Tom Doak and his assistant Jim Urbina are the official architects of record but an even more unfamiliar name – George Bahto – plays a pertinent part. He is Charlie Macdonald's biographer in The Evangelist of Golf. After a successful career as an owner of a dry cleaning business, George Bahto has become a sought after consultant by courses designed by Macdonald and his protégées Seth Raynor and Charles Banks. Noted author Bradley S. Klein has also had a significant consultant’s role, but George Bahto is the real go-to guy anyone could want for encyclopedic knowledge of Macdonald. The definitive tome on NGLA and Charles Blair Macdonald’s so-called template holes, George’s basement is a candyland for the golf course architecture student. He has hand drawn nearly all of their routings and holes and has archived materials unlike anything outside the Tufts Collection at Pinehurst and the USGA Museum itself. George is a modest man who has greatly played down his role; however he has been on site for much of two years and will continue to be there for the first month of opening.
A lot of site wandering and conversation has gone on in the process of giving birth to Old Macdonald. Jim Urbina, a warm and friendly bear of a man who admits that he never really intended to become an architect has spent so much time and effort on the project meeting with Tom Doak and processing the suggestions and implementing them on an ongoing process that has been non-stop. The large original plain bisected by a tall ridge situated north of Pacific Dunes and south of the legendary Sheep Ranch that was to become Old Macdonald was originally deeply covered in gorse. Routing or the laying of the footprints that are to become golf holes was the first step in creation. A routing map was finalized and drawn. Then the final details took place in the proverbial dirt constantly shaping and arranging features to yield the course you will find today. Mr. Keiser is to be given so much credit first for creating Bandon Dunes and having it exceed all expectations. The, especially for the freedom allowed at Old Macdonald. Every step of the way everyone involved has nothing but praise for his foresight and the opportunity given.
Those familiar with Scottish and English will recognize the names of the holes. Eden, Redan, Biarritz and Short comprise the par 3’s. Long, Littlestone (perhaps better known as its Lido iteration), Westward Ho! and Hogback are the fives. Double Plateau as the opening hole introduces wild features, perhaps unlike any ever seen by many a golfer new to Macdonald and the links inspiration. In fact, the holes rather than being based upon the NGLA or other American templates are inspired by the original holes themselves, George Bahto having been dispatched to the U.K. by owner Mike Keiser to see the originals for himself, otherwise having seen virtually every version Macdonald and partners ever constructed. Sahara, the third hole, is an inspiration and is most unlike its namesake at NGLA. It has a very wild fairway and a very large green with even more intense contours and slopes. I think it is fair to say that at Old Macdonald one generally finds more undulations, dips and hollows on one green than one usually encounters at any complete American Golf Course.
Familiar hole names Cape, Road, Punchbowl, Alps, Maiden, perhaps less so Leven and Bottle coupled with the unique hole (a la CBM’s original the “Cape”) “Ocean” are there to relentlessly engage you. The scale, the massive nature of this project is overwhelming. First seen when one crosses the spine on the Sahara hole, there are at least four other spots where one can see nearly three hundred acres of golf ground in a single sweeping view – something nearly unparalleled in golf – and it does not encompass the entire course. Even Pacific Dunes fourteenth hole affords such a view giving one a tantalizing preview or recollection depending on whether or not one has yet to play Old Macdonald.
On the one hand if you are completely unfamiliar with the strategies, concepts and features of these iconic holes, I won’t spoil the discovery for you, but will comment on architectural specifics elsewhere. Suffice it to say, educated or not, you are likely unprepared for the assault on your perception of golf by Old Macdonald. I think Charlie would wholeheartedly approve.
What NGLA was to do -Old Macdonald will do precisely what Charles Blair Macdonald hoped that NGLA would do – expose American golfers to the great holes of the U.K.
It is done by Doak, Urbina, Bahto and others, but it is their doing what Charlie intended for the 21st century retail golfer.
Additionally, some random and directed thoughts all off the top to expand on my original thoughts.
The "Edges of greens" are very indistinct from the surrounds in many places, I like that.
One thing that really stands out again: Ocean strikes me as a wonderful golf hole, perhaps the hole I most look forward to playing at Bandon, at least today. An original hole, no "Template", no "Replica" - a complete original. All of the holes are pretty much originals based on classic holes and features - actually the sort of design I champion. Strategic over "random".
Going off the specifics of Old Macdonald, I feel overall that par 5's are the least interesting, hardest to build, most overall repetitive strategies in golf. Tillinghast died before writing his "Par 5 Treatise" as he did for 3's and 4's. Most of the fives at OM and at Bandon are the least interesting holes of respective hole types. Hog's Back, Long, Westward Ho!, Littlestone they are at Old Macdonald.
Overall opinions of holes at OM (being extremely critical - as not particularly given to throwing around superlatives am I)
1-good starter, interesting (Double Plateau)
5-rather decent, if perhaps over-done (short)
6-fair, decent green, the new fresh Hell (High(in))
7-outstanding for the view alone, a feel-good hole (Ocean)
8-nice take (Biarritz)
9-meh (Cape) didn't translate well to property
10-very! good (Bottle)
11-OK hole. great evocation of green (Road) corner not at all fearsome (Road)
12-nice take (Redan) bunkerless front right pretty cool
13-very good to superior; not very close to orig. hole - doesn't matter, it's just super tee to green! (Leven)
14-very! good (Maiden)
15-left me a bit cold, least interesting hole to me with Cape (Westward Ho!) - inspired by 18 NGLA - little resemblance, should be more engaging
16-quite good with a slight reservation - 2 alternate routes around bunker (Alps)
17-very! good to superior (Littlestone/Lido) easily most vexing five, demanding!
18-nice! take! (Punchbowl [modified]) would love to hang around and play shots into and around THIS green
I put it solidly into the top 10 GolfWeek Modern class.
But ... the fives as a whole aren't the outstanding hole type.
Also Fives at the rest of the resort:
Bandon Dunes #9 & 18 are steps down from #3 and #12 (I love that one)
Bandon Trails #16 love it!, #3 is a real yawn (done x3 (var.) at Pac Dunes!), #9 extremely, sadly just dull.
Pacific Dunes #3, #12, #15 v.similar play tee to green, varied greens from #3 - excellent, #12- kinda blah to blah +, #15 good to rather good. #18 is a loads of fun 3-shotter (never played in North wind ...)
Doing good fives is just tough, I think. But this is everywhere. I'll do a bit on par fives perhaps this summer.
p.s. Keep checking in as these articles on Bandon are works in progress.