The Sheep Ranch

Once again this year, I had the good fortune to be able to travel to Bandon, Oregon to meet good friends for a long weekend of “playing” golf at Bandon Dunes Resort, perched out on the Pacific Ocean in southwestern Oregon. They have a neat website: It’s a “Wow” kind of place with the feel and smell of Ireland, no passport required.  It’s a place where rough sand dune land connects the ocean to land usable for civilization.  On all 4 courses, less than 1/10 the amount of soil was moved in construction than was moved at Whistling Straights. It’s simply the land saying, “come use me for golf”, just like the land where the game was invented.

Don’t get me wrong, the Professional Golf Association’s Championship was held a 2nd time at Whistling Straights. It’s a beautiful golf venue perched on the cliffs overlooking Lake Michigan.  It’s called Linksland, but in truth it’s linked closer to a big bull dozer than it is to big water.  It’s a true engineering marvel that was carved from glacier stripped soil and equipped with enough drain pipe to empty the Mississippi.   Bandon Dunes is not the same.

Actually, there is a 5th venue at Bandon Dunes, one where little dirt got moved. On their website they don’t mention it, locally it’s called the Sheep Ranch. I think its life began in the last days of the 20th Century when the owner of Bandon Dunes wanted to experience golf in its original form. For that he chose a plot of land on the far northern edge of his large sea coast purchase. A special place for him to play.   Today, it’s open for others to enjoy, by arrangement.

My first view was around 2002 when the leader of our Safari, a certain Mr. Seelig, insisted he take me to see it. Bwana, we call him, drove out of the primary Resort along twisting north coast public roads, finally pulling up to a steel farm gate. I got out, opened the gate, and down a gorse lined, gravel road we bumped. We came upon an open area of rolling open land, looking west to the ocean, upon which 6, links faithful, greens had been shaped.  That day the sun dove into the Pacific marking the experience something not easy to forget.

Today the same gravel road leads to a sandy parking area surrounded by high gorse, open to the west.  My eye says the tract is perhaps 200 acres of gently rolling linksland stretching along the cliff that falls into the Pacific. One can count from this vantage 12 flags fluttering out across the landscape marking simple greens spread one end to the other, all of which use nature’s humps and bumps, and contours left by the wind and sea.  Thick, evil gorse bounds the inland perimeter and the coastline drop-off. To spark some romance, a number of twisted pines remain along the cliff’s edge, smacking of Cyprus Point.

There are no teeing grounds, that’s right, no teeing grounds. Only closely mown areas, thicker seaside grasses, and 12 imaginative greens exist. There are no visible routes that define any particular hole to play.  There is no suggested par, in fact, there are no suggestions. One is encouraged that it’s a game, so go play!

This year our gang consisted of 24 golfers eager to get started.  We had the entire place to ourselves. Six foursomes, each one taking off in a different direction toward their chosen distant flagged pin. The questions for most were “where to?”; “what’s par?”; “how far is it?”  Grasshopper, the answer and lesson is: “Who cares?”

Off the groups bumped, each person shouldering his own sticks, clanking step by step. One could hear that clank as we played, all crossing each other’s paths numerous times, a wave, a shout, a wisecrack every time.  We played holes with lengths less than 100 yards, we played one hole over 1,000 yards. I am not sure how many holes we played, only that after each one, there was a winner and a loser and some snarling or laughter each time. Along the way we talked over old departed friends, places for dinner, the best Irish whisky, accompanied by a scratch here and a tug there.

I don’t remember why we stopped playing.  The place was ours until dark.  I do remember looking forward to dinner with the guys in town, a treat that begins with a ‘toot’ at the motel overlooking oldtown Bandon on the harbor. From there everyone moved by foot to dinner in some remembered stop down below.

The truth I took away is that the Sheep Ranch proves that GOLF is a game. Get it? It’s a game, not work; and there is no life or death or consuming horror that will take us over when we fail.  Really, it is not about totaling up a score card at all.

Here is what I am sure golf really IS about:

  1. Friends taking a wonderful walk
  2. Friends talking with friends about stuff
  3. Hitting a little ball far enough to have to go look for it
  4. Hitting it again
  5. Repeating the process until that little balls gets in a hole in the ground
  6. Friends adding up the number of times the ball got hit along the waY
  7. Honorably telling the friends about that sum total
  8. Have the pride to gracefully accept a win or a loss
  9. Friends retiring to the bar for a “wee snoodle” and more talk about stuff.

That’s Golf!

The experience of playing at the Sheep Ranch changed my thinking about golf, a game I have played for over 50 years.  Maybe I shall learn more one day.

2 Responses to The Sheep Ranch

  1. Jimmy the Skunk

    Great memories and good times.

  2. Mikey

    You old dog. Thanx for repeating this share. We have had some magic times together and surely several of those were on the Sheep Ranch. Hope all is going well for you and yours. Say Hey to Robbie and squeeze the little man.

    Looking for to the next shared adventure.


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