Inspired by memorable rounds of golf played at Royal Dornoch, Ballybunion, and other courses in the British Isles, Mike Keiser set out decades ago to build a championship-caliber 18-hole layout on the windswept shores of southwestern Oregon. As he embarked on that venture, Keiser had a single objective: to create an honest and pure golfing experience, one rooted in authenticity and reflective of his experiences traversing the sand-based fairways and greens of heralded links courses throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland.
As the premiere (and eponymous) course at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort neared its completion during the first few months of 1999, everyone involved in the project made their predictions for the total number of rounds that it would see that year. Keiser settled on 10,000, a number that would keep the project out of the red. “My prayer was to break even,” he says. “Everyone I knew—plus me—thought it was a crazy idea. A links golf course in Bandon, Oregon … it made no sense.”
By the end of that first year, however, the total number of rounds played at the resort flirted with 25,000. Just like that, a property that would grow to become a bucket-list golfing destination took root. “It’s quite amazing that Bandon Dunes is a hit,” Keiser says earnestly. “Who knew?”
This May, the resort will welcome a select number of guests for a series of events celebrating its 25th anniversary. Spread out over three nights and four days, those festivities will include six rounds of golf—including an opportunity to play the new 19-hole short course, Shorty’s, during its grand opening—skills competitions, concerts, and fireside chats with the celebrated architects who have created Bandon Dunes’ heralded courses. (Those interested in attending can enter the resort’s lottery, which closes on January 21.)
Bandon Dunes isn’t the only notable golf destination celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2024. Here, we spotlight six other courses, clubs, and resorts that have thrilled golfers for the last quarter of a century.
Chiricahua at Desert Mountain Club—Scottsdale, Ariz.
Desert Mountain was already well established as a prominent private golf club in Scottsdale by the time the Nicklaus-designed Chiricahua course opened in 1999. When that 7,347-yard masterpiece debuted, however, it immediately stood out for its dramatic views of the city. Set at an elevation of 3,000 feet, the fifth Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course at the club (now home to six such layouts) delivers 300 feet of elevation change and is a classic desert design for the lush plants and shrubs that line its fairways and almost always swallow balls that fly, bounce, or roll too far off-line. With a balanced mix of downhill and uphill holes, the course is one that rewards precision over power. Fortunately, when players encounter forced carries over canyons, washes, or bunkers—and there are many instances of them during a round—they’ll discover that the landing areas for those shots are wider than they appear. The shots may be demanding on Chiricahua, but the dramatic vistas that the course delivers across its routing provide a welcome distraction.
CordeValle—San Martin, Calif.
The late 1990s ushered in a new philosophy of golf course architecture, specifically as it pertained to resort courses. Gone was the notion that these layouts couldn’t be intricate and inherently difficult. In many respects, this movement first took root in Wisconsin with the opening of The Straits course at Destination Kohler, but only a year later it had reached the West Coast—more specifically, the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains just south of San Jose, Calif.—where Robert Trent Jones Jr. carved out a 7,360-yard masterpiece that winds through an oak-studded valley and delivers a stout test of golf. Playing around and across meandering creeks, not to mention sycamore trees, canyons, and broad meadows, CordeValle’s championship golf course soon attracted the attention of elite-level professional golf; from 2010 to 2013, the site hosted the PGA Tour’s Frys.com Open, and in 2016 it served as the venue for the U.S. Women’s Open. Since then, the club has bolstered its resident caddie program and recently unveiled a golf butler service, where resort guests are pampered with concierge-like services. Both amenities enhance CordeValle’s on-course experience, one that has shone brightly for 25 years thanks to the property’s stunning architectural features.
El Dorado Golf & Beach Club—San Jose del Cabo, B.C.S., Mexico
Founded in 1994, the Discovery Land Company developed its first members-only, golf-focused residential clubs in Arizona and Montana, though it wasn’t long before the firm ventured south of the border, opening the El Dorado Golf & Beach Club in Los Cabos, Mexico, in 1999. While most Discovery Land developments feature courses designed by Tom Fazio, this Mexican jewel was crafted by the Golden Bear. Throughout a round, golfers will play a dozen holes that carve their way through a pair of canyons dotted with striking trees, cacti, and stunning rock formations; however, four lakes also come into play and a few holes offer great vistas of the Sea of Cortez. When asked about the significance of the course, Nicklaus described it as an “ever-increasing knockout.” Using that analogy, the biggest punch lands on the 16th, a one-shot hole that stretches only 160 yards from the back tees and plays to a green complex that is often sprayed with ocean mist, thanks to waves crashing onto shore only a few yards away.
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Lost Dunes Golf Club—Bridgman, Mich.
Tom Doak’s prowess as a course router earned him plenty of accolades when the second course at Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, opened for play a few years after the now-famous resort debuted. However, Doak tapped into that skillset during the late 1990s when he routed a 6,900-yard course across the site of a former sand quarry—one engulfed by towering dunes that climb as high as 60 feet. Although teeming with potential, the site that would become the Lost Dunes Golf Club introduced a handful of obstacles, not the least of which was an Interstate highway that crossed through the middle of the property. In the end, the course that Doak created is dynamically characterized by elevated tees and vast, undulating putting surfaces. Equally significant, it flows across the land in a way that suggests the course grew out of the terrain itself. Perhaps best of all, Doak took advantage of the club’s private status, creating a course that requires local knowledge and one that presents a playing experience that fluctuates greatly based on the weather, pin locations, even the time of day.
Olde Stonewall Golf Club—Ellwood City, Pa.
The identity of this course, branded Olde Stonewall, is one that both reflects and belies that name. Yes, stone walls are a defining feature of the property; they line tee boxes, cart paths, and water hazards. But their appearance is deceiving. While it’s conceivable that the 269-acre site set along the Connoquenessing Creek in western Pennsylvania could be home to the remnants of several ancient stone walls, those edifices are, in fact, quite young. More specifically, course designers Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry trucked in about 750,000 tons of stone and built those walls at the same time they were designing the 7,100-yard golf course—a layout that trundles across defunct tracts of farmland and wooded hills. The club defines the course’s layout as an “adventure in modern golf,” though I liken it more to turbo-charged parkland golf. The outgoing stretch of holes is fairly benign, at least in comparison to the back nine, which introduces significant elevation changes, plenty of sloping fairways, and a collection of holes that will offer a stern test of your shot making abilities.
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Pacifico Course at Punta Mita Golf Club—Nayarit, Mexico
In many respects the Pacifico course at Punta Mita paved the way for high-quality golf in the greater Puerto Vallarta region of Mexico. While one semi-private and one resort course pre-dated the opening of Pacifico in December 1999, it was the debut of the Nicklaus-designed course that led to an influx of other notable course architects to the area—namely Robert von Hagge, Tom Weiskopf, and Greg Norman. Set on a natural rock outcropping known for offering great whale watching, Pacifico is famous for its bonus hole—designated 3b on the scorecard—which plays to a natural island green some 200 yards from shore (and one that can only be reached when the tide is out). Given the island’s unique shape, the hole is affectionately called the “Tail of the Whale.” The 7,104-yard Pacifico course also shines for its generously wide fairways; large, inviting greens; and seven holes that either face or play directly alongside the Pacific Ocean. “The Pacifico course provides all of the challenge and exhilaration that players expect at a world-class resort,” Nicklaus says, “with the sheer magic of ocean views, varied landscapes, and a unique environment.”
Have you played any of the courses on our list that turn 25 years old in 2024? Tell us about your experience in the comment section.