Ocean Dunes GL
Florence, OR (3.5 hours SW of Portland, 1.75 hours N of Bandon)
1961, Bill Robinson
Back Tees 6100 70.0 124 71
Middle Tees 5700 68.0 119 71
Fees: ~$35 plus cart?
Fat Guy Note: Looks very much like a true Irish or Scottish links on the golf calendar
Golf Digest Review:
By Ron Whitten
Golf Digest's Ron Whitten, the preeminent golf course architecture critic, will review a course each week for GolfDigest.com.
I first visited Ocean Dunes Golf Links on the coastal Oregon town of Florence back in 1993. At the time, I viewed it as a missed opportunity, a noble effort in a spectacular setting of glistening white sand dunes that was simply too short (just 5,670 yards, par 70 from the back tees) and too tight (some fairways were literally as narrow as their tee boxes) with greens that were too small. Even though it could be played with nothing but irons, it seemed unplayable in high crosswinds.
At the time, Ocean Dunes was being overshadowed by the new kid on the block, Sandpines, another sand dunes course, a mile or so south and closer to the Pacific Ocean. Sandpines had several holes edged by exposed sand dunes, plus a backdrop of gigantic ones, and was longer, wider, more playable and ended up being selected as Golf Digest's Best New Public Course of the year.
That irked golf architect Bill Robinson, who lives in Florence and designed, built and owns Ocean Dunes. (A quick history: The course actually dates from 1960, when golf architect Fred Federspiel created a little 9-hole course in the dunes called Rhodo Dunes. Robinson and a partner bought it in 1989, added another 9 and renamed it Ocean Dunes.) Bill, long an advocate of affordable, enjoyable golf, felt Sandpines was too expensive for that local market, and he didn't like the fact that a national publication was heaping praise on his main competitor.
I returned to Florence last month and revisited both Sandpines and Ocean Dunes. Sandpines still has a modest clubhouse but a new putting course (called The Wee Links) next to the parking lot and some new, extremely unorthodox bunkers, deep-dish things that look patterned after something Pete Dye might create. (Those bunkers, I've heard, were installed by the owner without the approval of Sandpines' original designer Rees Jones.) Although the attendant in the clubhouse told me the course was in the best shape it's been in all year, I thought it looked rather shabby. I saw almost none of the exposed sand dunes along Sandpines' fairways that I'd seen eight years before. Except for the ninth, tucked beneath a long lateral dune with dead pines poking from it, most of the dunes along holes had been grassed over. It just seems like a collection of parallel holes now, with the best now being the stretch from four through six deep in Monterey pines. The long walk from six green to seven tee is still pristine. The planned residential development in that area still hasn't occurred.
Ocean Dunes, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise. Back in 1997, Robinson had extensively remodeled the course, and it now measures 6,055 yards, par 71 from the tips. Still too short to be considered a championship course, but the new holes he added in adjacent dunes are first-rate. He combined the old par-4 second and par-3 third to create the 524-yard second, added a new par-3 third (a short, cute one) and stout dogleg par 4s at four and five. Other greens seem bigger now, and there are a lot of new bunkers on many holes. The attractive sand dunes setting still exists, although there are far too many evergreen trees planted along the edges of some holes, spoiling some views. If there is a negative in this latest renovation, it's that the driving range was abandoned.
Condominiums now occupy its spot. I'm guessing more homes will eventually be built on land where the old fourth and fifth holes were. That's progress, I guess, and if it's providing the revenue for continual upgrading of the course, I'm all for it.
Neither Ocean Dunes or Sandpines can compete with the drama and authenticity of the two linksland courses at Bandon Dunes Resort, some two hours farther south down the coastline. But neither costs even half of what it takes to play at Bandon. If you visit Oregon, the Florence twosome make a nice tune-up for Bandon, or an inexpensive decompression after it. Each has moments of genuine links feel and play, Ocean Dunes far more than Sandpines these days, and both are worth playing.
Ocean Dunes supports my theory that every course with "dunes" in its name is worth playing. On Golf Digest's 10 point scale (1 being Unacceptable, 5 being Good, 10 being Absolutely Perfect), I give its newly-revised design a 6.1. Sandpines has seen better days. On Golf Digest's 10 point scale, I give it a 5.8.
Ocean Dunes Golf Links
3345 Munsel Lake Rd., Florence, Ore. 97439
For tee times: 541-997-3232
Green fees: $28 daily
Walking allowed anytime
1201 35th St., Florence, Ore. 97439
For tee times: 541-997-1940
Green fees: $50 daily
Walking allowed anytime
Golfcourse.com Review, Ocean Dunes: This course was built on sand and it has several hills that can cause uneven lies. The wind is definitely a factor, so selecting the right club may make the difference between a par and a bogey. There are very plush greens on the course, and the terrain is rolling. The club renovated three holes in 1997.
Avg Golfcourse.com Player Review: 4.0/5.0. "A great find at the price, well kept, hard course, a STEAL, hundreds of acres of sand dunes masquerading as rough, frequent blind shots, narrow fairways, pushed me to the limit, tough in the wind. . . Four very good par 3's, great twilight deal. . . Great food, great service . . . Don't automatically hit the big stick, a fair course for the thinking golfer, a great and unusual experience, staff was fun . . . VERY BAD SERVICE, go to Sandpines instead . . . Awful service from grumpy old men . . . Must Play, but the wind will have you pulling your hair out, great views . . . DO NOT MISS PLAYING OCEAN DUNES! A real treat at a great price."
Where To Grub: Hickory 9th Saint Bbq Grill Florence, OR 97439 (541) 997-9739.