Ocean Dunes is rugged and intimidating. It asks players to make difficult, high-risk high-reward decisions. On many of the tee boxes your heart will beat a bit faster than you may be used to while playing golf, and the result of your shot will be either heartbreaking or exhilarating.
Ocean Dunes was built in 1961. In 1992, Bill Robinson, famous for redesigning courses in the Northwest like Salishan, Shadow Hills and Bear Lakes, purchased Ocean Dunes and transformed it into an eighteen-hole spectacle. “He found ways to put the spice in the course.” Says Bob Rannow, Head of Golf Operations and Head Professional at Ocean Dunes.
“At a lot of courses you don’t begin to pucker until you get near the green. At Ocean Dunes you’re puckered as soon as you step on the tee box.” Golf at Ocean Dunes is not for the faint of heart. Narrow fairways, jaw dropping carries and rugged landscaping makes Ocean Dunes a test of skill and mettle. If you enjoy golf that is thrilling and adrenaline inducing, you will enjoy Ocean Dunes.
For me, the most exciting holes at this thrill ride of a course were two of the par 3’s: numbers eight and twelve.
The eighth tee towers over the green; really it feels more like you’re sending your ball over the edge of a cliff. The tee shot requires the player to accurately judge vertical and horizontal distance and wind into a green protected by trees on the left and sand on the right. The shot, which without the imposing visuals would really be nothing more than a simple pitching wedge, demands a confident stroke. If the player can remain composed a good score is very obtainable. If, however, the player succumbs to intimidation, the shortest hole on the course can quickly become one of the most disastrous.
Similarly, twelve requires a massive carry over what can only be called a ravine onto a comically small green clinging to the side of a cliff. I wasn’t sure if I was more terrified of the shot or amazed by the beauty of the hole.
Both holes made me laugh in an “Are you serious? You want me to do what?” sort of way. Although eight and twelve may be a bit more overt than the rest of the course, in retrospect there were many shots where one simply had to pick a club and pray that you had correctly judged the distance.
Though Bob loves the thrill-ride aspect of the course, he also acknowledged a need for the course to be more accessible to the lay golfer. “We’re in the process of adding forward tees to every hole, to make the game more fun, more enjoyable for the average golfer. We want to give people the opportunity to make a few more birdies.”
Bob has only been on the job now for a little more than a year. For those who may not have visited Ocean Dunes recently, Bob and his crew have done a lot to make it more playable. “We have had guys on our crew out with chainsaws clearing out the underbrush and reclaiming some recovery shots. We’ve rebuilt four tees and we’re in the process of performing some large tine aeration to make the course more agronomic.”
Ocean Dunes, as the name suggests, is built on sand. Sand is the substance of traditional golf as it provides for excellent drainage and a consistent roll. However, as grass is fertilized and grows over time a heavy layer of dirt can build up. This build up of dirt can impede the natural benefits sand bestows on a course. Over the years, as Ocean Dunes was not maintained at a peak level, dirt build up harmed the quality of golf at the course. Bob and his crew are working diligently to bring the dunes, and the course, back to life. “We want the course to have more of a linksy feel, for it to play like a links course, like a course built on sand should.”
So, how did Bob get the opportunity to improve Ocean Dunes?
In March of 2012 the tribal owners of the Three Rivers Casino and Resort (the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians) finally took advantage of what they viewed as an excellent opportunity to improve their customer experience and purchased Ocean Dunes. When it opened in 2004, Three Rivers was only a casino. The adjoining hotel was built in 2007. Even though Ocean Dunes was literally operating in the Casino’s backyard, the Tribe had no ties to it. The Tribe felt that adding the course would provide for a richer “full resort” experience. Variety makes a guest’s stay more fun, and the Casino wants its guests to have fun.
After purchasing the course for resort last year the Tribe took their first step towards improving the course when they hired Bob in July of 2012 and gave him autonomy over all golf operations.
Course improvement is really just the first step in much larger plan to integrate the course with the Casino. Over the past year several steps have been taken to connect golf and Casino operations, including drawing up long-term master plans which will alter the layout of the course slightly, calling for a new clubhouse adjoining the Casino, a driving range and turning the thirteenth hole into the first.
Although none of these changes need to be made for the sake of the course, and most of these changes may still be several years away, Bob acknowledges the impact a change to the course flow could have in connecting the Casino to the course. “It will increase visibility for the course, improve access by having the course and Casino share a parking lot, and it [the course] will be a big draw for the Casino.”
Ocean Dunes is unique, fun and exciting. The emotions evoked by the course are a perfect compliment to what guests staying at the resort will feel while at the gaming tables. It’s different from many of the “park” style of courses found in much of the valley, and that uniqueness makes it a fun retreat. Regardless of how well you shoot, you get your money’s worth at Ocean Dunes. For the thrill-seeker it’s a must, and for the more casual golfer it’s an incredibly fun round different from anything else you’ll ever play.