Story and Images by Jeff Marsh
If you enjoy hitting golf balls, there is a good chance you have heard of the widely anticipated new Dream Golf links course at Bandon Dunes Resort in Southwest Oregon. It’s name: Sheep Ranch. The name alone made us want to make the 7 hour drive from Tacoma to see what the madness was all about. We didn’t care if there were actual sheep (or is it ‘sheeps’?), or whether it was on a real ranch, it had to be good. Bandon has yet to open up a course that is anything but magical, but was it possible to create a course that could top the likes of Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails, Bandon Dunes and Old Macdonald?
Our thoughts were all the wrongs.
“Meet at the clubhouse at 7”, read a text from Michael Chupka, Bandon’s Director of Comms.
That text alone made us giddier than preschoolers the night before Christmas.
It was our first morning at Bandon on what would be a 5 day golf trip with a group of 50 men’s club members from the Tacoma area. Given that it was February, we were prepared to golf in the dead of PNW winter madness. Sideways rain, wind, power outages, flooding, 94 consecutive days without sun – true story – set a record – not proud of it.
When our alarms called out and we flew out the door, we knew we were in for a treat. Not a cloud in site. After a quick handshake in the clubhouse, we piled into Chupka’s grandmother’s farm truck and buzzed north to set eyes on the Sheep. We were about to leave that first roundabout in front of the lodge and I asked if we could make a quick stop at the car – I dove headfirst into the back of a packed Tahoe and came flailing out with a 7-iron and a vintage Scotty. We started rolling and Cody asked, “did you grab a sleeve?”
Chupka whipped around the shuttle circle again, because taking a couple clubs to Sheep Ranch without a ball to hit would be a world-class fail.
“I am quite certain this is going to be the best part of the trip”, Cody Knudsen said, from the back seat of the GMC long-bed as we head to a part of the resort we had never seen before.
The infrastructure of the Sheep Ranch amenities were still entirely under-construction. The road had been paved only a couple days before we arrive, the clubhouse was a mere shell of 2x4s and sheeting. Construction workers buzzed around getting ready for the day, dirt was piled everywhere, as we maneuvered around the crew just to get ourselves out to the course. The anticipation was brewing as we began to catch glimpses of freshly grown and cut grass. Chupka drove us out a dirt maintenance road towards the center of the property and we hopped out to views of wide-open space with nothing but heaven in site. The ocean was just out of site, but the massive roar and energy was immediately overwhelming. We walked out towards the 5th green and instantly became speechless. Completely without words.
“What in the world” – our words repeated over and over again, muffled by the endless movement of the Pacific Ocean. Looking south, we caught glimpse of Old Mac, Pacific, Bandon AND The Preserve. Nothing but golf and coastline as far as one could see. We were literally frozen in time – stuck in a live-action painting of one of the most fascinating pieces of golf property in the world. We have seen a lot of golf – the feelings we felt in those moments were certainly one-of-a-kind.
It took what seemed like a hour before we could even get ourselves to snap a photo or drop a ball to stripe – or shank. It didn’t matter. We didn’t really know what we came for, but we got all we needed before we knew it. The creativity, magic, energy, rumbling roar of the ocean, utter silence from the outside world – it brought a piece and a joy that is so rarely experienced on a golf course, without ever hitting a single shot. I don’t think any of us wanted to mess up the moment by trying to strip a tee shot. Eventually we did knock a couple putts, bumped a few chips over some incredible slopes on the 16 / 3 combo green, and Chupka showed us how to play the downhill par-3 7th while using the only club available to him.
Golf really is a perplexing happenstance of play and war. Each shot on every hole across every course yields newness. New success, new yips, new fury, new memories, new personal-bests, new wind direction, new thoughts, new distractions, new goals. There is no game more rewarding and infuriating all at once. I have had a life-long journey of ADD and Depression, and nothing can be so simply relatable to that journey than the game of golf. Hit a career putt for eagle on one green, pull-hook a ball out-of-bounds on the next tee. What gives? Golf is often a relentless pursuit of joy, peace, success, quiet, camaraderie. I didn’t think those things could be found on a golf course without a club in my hand. But somehow, Sheep Ranch did that. Pure and utter JOY was felt, as we looked around at the imagination at play, catches glimpses of each other, all with ear to ear grins on our faces – Chupka included, and he has seen the property hundreds of times.
Everything was given at Sheep Ranch. And we didn’t play a single hole. Sometimes golf is meant to be admired, not conquered. Enjoyed, not defeated. Experienced, not owned. This place is already special. Sure, the anticipation is mounting, but the AWE simply won’t ever leave this place. It isn’t hype you are seeing on all the socials and in every publication and blog. It’s not merely the name of the architect (though they need to be bought all the beers for what they pulled off here), that NINE holes are on the water. The sand-less bunkers. The fact that it it at Bandon Dunes.
It is golf as it was meant to be understood.
If you haven’t yet, book your tee time to play Sheep Ranch after it opens June 1, 2020. Why? So you can breathe in the air and listen to the silence of a place unlike anywhere you have ever been before.
– Jeff Marsh
Special thanks to: