Changes To Bandon Dunes Pt. 2, An Interview With David Mclay Kidd


David McLay Kidd and Bandon Dunes will always be inseparable. Perhaps that is why the famed architect seems to find his way back to the Oregon Coast so often ... mostly for pleasure, but sometimes for work. David has been a fixture this year at Bandon Dunes, commuting via his Piper M500 from his home in Bend, Ore., for the one-hour flight to Bandon to oversee a second round of changes that strive to restore the original strategic intent of each golf hole.

Last year, David made adjustments to the 11th, 15th, and 17th holes. This year, he has been hard at work making improvements to the second, eighth, ninth and sixteenth holes. This in addition to rehabbing every bunker — all 70 or so — on Bandon Dunes. We once again caught up with David, along with his longtime DMK Golf Design associate, Nick Schaan, in a Bend restaurant a few steps from DMK headquarters. As always, he had much to say:

Last year, you made some pretty significant changes to the back nine. What are the most significant changes this year?
On No. 2, there was a little bunker in the front and one middle-left, and a big slope on the front. Most players hit up short of the green, and it rolls 30 yards away. It’s so early in the round that they don’t think to putt it or bump-and-run it. So they try to get their flop wedges out, take a giant divot and knock it 20 feet in front of them where it typically rolls back to their feet.

So we took the opportunity to lift the front so the front-right-hand corner is raised. Now when the ball rolls back it doesn’t roll as far away, and you can see the bottom of the pin. And that makes it much easier to imagine yourself putting it. In addition, we added a bunker on the left-hand side, and both little bunkers are now gone.

*Changes were still in progress when this photo was taken.

What will Bandonistas notice most about the changes on No. 2?
It’s making the hole visually dramatic, which it had kind of lost over the last 20 years. And then we’re making changes around the green to encourage options. You can still flop it if you want. But probably now you will think more about putting it, bump-and-running it, or using a rescue club.

The bunker work is extensive, impacting all 70 or so bunkers on the course. What had happened?
A lot of them had grown in and had gotten deeper. The sand had blown out. So the grass had encroached in but the wind had scoured them out, the worst of all combinations. If they had gotten bigger and shallower I might have been willing to live with that.

It’s the Oregon Coast. The erosion is ongoing, so this is necessary from time to time. St. Andrews is constantly defending itself from nature and it’s been there for 600 years. Bandon has been here for 20 years, but I’d say an Oregon winter is every bit as severe, if not more.

What is the difference between designing a course from scratch, as you did with Bandon Dunes 20 years ago, and returning to the course to make strategic changes?
Over 20 years, the course is so popular that you can see trends. I can see 20 years worth of play and see that what I thought was going to happen didn’t really happen. And the equipment has changed.

Is this what led to the changes you are making on the eighth hole?
The eighth hole would be another example. There was a ridgeline of bunkers in front of you from the tee and that was a hazard on opening day in 1999. Now it’s not a hazard at all, except for the slower swing speed golfers. So I took out half of the bunkers in that ridge and left a gap in it so the slower swing speeds could get through. And I moved one of the bunkers to a spot where most of the divots were in the approach.

So what’s going to happen now?

The cool thing is there is no debate when you can see all the divots and you stick a bunker right there. You know that you just tighten Position A for the vast majority of reasonably good players. The hole was relatively benign off the tee. Players were all hitting it to the same spot, and then they were hitting a wedge into the green with no real defense. So now there is a bunker there, and that bunker you can roll into it, you could fly into it, or you can bounce into it. Now you have to make a decision: Over it, short of it, left or right of it. You’ve got to do something.

Are there any more changes coming that will have a similar effect? We’re about to start No. 9, and we are doing a similar change there. The bunkers that are in the fairway have been severely weathered and they’re not terribly effective strategically. So we’re going to adjust them and make them more visual and more strategic.

Is making them more strategic and visually dramatic a general theme of the bunker changes across the course, too? A lot of the bunker rehabbing is about making them playable and making them visually interesting. More appealing. More ooh and ah.

Where else on the course are you trying to bring back your original strategic intent? The best example out there is the 16th hole, which is probably the best-known hole at the Resort. There is a gulch in front of you and then a ridge. That ridge on opening day was almost all open sand. And now that ridge is almost all grass, the entire thing. So it’s not really much of a hazard. You can probably bounce through it a lot of the time if you hit into it. So we’re going to go back and scab that out and create some randomness, so it looks intimidating and beautiful — beautifully mean — and is again a real hazard if you hit into it.

Would you characterize the changes this year any differently than last year? The changes we made last year were about allowing recovery. On the holes we’re addressing this year, they’re about challenging a score and forcing a decision. But everywhere we are taking something away, we’re giving something to someone who misses a shot.

Number 8 is a good example. We’re creating an avenue through the ridge that was previously blocked off, but we’re taking Position A out of play. If you want to play short and hit a 7-iron into that green, it’s easy. If you want to try to drive the green, which people were doing, there is something in the way now.

Why do this now? Change is inevitable. It is going to occur whether I do it, somebody else does it, or nature does it. I would rather make those changes while Mike Keiser and I are still relatively fit and healthy, and we can make those changes together. Those days won’t last forever. Bandon is coming to an end of its embryonic stage. The people who gave birth to it won’t be around in another 20 years, which is a blink of an eye in the life of a classic golf course. So I saw it as a really important thing to be able to make these alterations while Mike and I could collaborate on it and do it together.

Do you see any more adjustments after these are complete? I can’t imagine we would be doing a lot more.

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