GET INTO GOLF: ‘Golf as it was meant to be’
Waves roll on top of each other and break gently against a sandy beach. The air is fresh, yet carries a hint of ocean spray and the sky is blue with a low lying mist that remains from the morning fog.
Folks aren’t looking for some good rays, they’re looking for clams. Those with more ambition might grab a pot and catch a few crabs. Sheep, and many other four-legged creatures, call this home; deer forage through wild flowers, rabbits burrow to find protection, and hosts of birds perch throughout countless coastal trees.
OK, maybe this is a little (or a lot) sappy … but, this how golf began. While golf’s original “developers,” along the coastline of St. Andrews, Scotland, were simply using the lie of the land and topography for borders.
The course was called ‘links’, because it linked the sea with the land. It couldn’t be used for anything else. Crops won’t grow on it and, when bricks are your primary building block, it may not be best to put your house on the sand.
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What if the sheep used the bunker as their home? Or, the grass on the putting greens and fairways were only shorter than surrounding grasses, because the sheep chose to eat there. Bad lies and misfortune ruled the day. This was golf for the first few centuries. A manicured course is recent, modern convenience.
Today, we complain when our ball runs into an unkempt bunker. Somebody left a footprint, and, naturally, our ball has found the heel. The putting green has a patch that is too dry or too wet. The ball has landed in a divot, this is so unfair.
We have grown accustomed to a relatively antiseptic version of the game. As 21st century golfers, we still enjoy the interaction with nature, but we are insulated from a battle with the elements.
Approximately 25 years ago a few golf enthusiasts, with a deep appreciation of history, embarked on an adventure to develop a property that would provide modern players with a sense of golf’s origin.
The seaside region of Bandon, Oregon features a number of golf courses with the golf purist in mind. By design these majestic courses are a throwback to the early days. The greens will be mowed, but the layout and appearance is as close as you can get to the original without going there.
Putting greens are shared by more than one hole (just like the original) and some bunkers are so deep, a good shot is required just to get the ball out. Sometimes it’s difficult to know where the fairway ends and the putting green begins. It’s not perfect … and that’s why it may be perfect.
Each course is ranked in the in the top 20 of the nation’s best courses and their names harken back to a day gone by. Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails, and Old MacDonald (an homage to Charles Blair (C.B.) Macdonald, the pioneer of American Golf).
During our last visit there, a partial design of another golf course was visible up the coast. It had only seven completed holes and the rumor was that it was to be a truly raw, historical golf endeavor.
Entitled Sheep Ranch, it was not available to the public and only the owners had access to it. The story was that sheep lived on the property and rather than machines, the animals would be caretakers.
The mystique was intriguing. What would it be like play in very similar conditions to the grounds our first golfers tracked? Would we even care about a score? Perhaps this would become an almost spiritual experience, walking down the fairways like the 15th century Scots.
After several years of waiting, the Sheep Ranch will be open to the public June 1. It seems the original rumor of sheep keeping the fairways has been altered to allow machines, but the goal to take us back to a simpler time remains.
The owners of Bandon Dunes and the Sheep Ranch earnestly want us to play “golf as it was meant to be” and present a layout “true to the spirit of Scotland’s ancient links”.
So, rather than a couple of costly flights to Scotland, plan a drive up to Oregon and play the next best thing. Shoot, you can do it on a long weekend. You won’t have to worry about jet lag and you will have the time of your life.
John Renslow is a PGA professional, VP of Yugi Golf Management, and provides golf instruction at local courses.
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