For almost two decades, the Sheep Ranch was a relatively unknown golf course shrouded in mystery along the Oregon coast, among the most unconventional experiences in the game. It’s only fitting that its official opening as the newest course at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort was a bit unorthodox.
The Sheep Ranch not only is among a limited number of new courses to open in the U.S. this year, but made its debut amid a pandemic that contributed to more than half of the nation’s courses being temporarily closed just two months ago. Of the now six courses at Bandon Dunes, the June 1 official opening day of the Sheep Ranch was the only opening ceremony that owner Mike Keiser has missed.
“It’s a bit of a shame, but understandable that there are people who wouldn’t come or travel,” said Keiser’s partner, Phil Friedmann, who co-owns the dramatic coastline property upon which the Sheep Ranch is built. “Mike was among them.”
Friedmann was in attendance, as was half of the design team in Bill Coore, who teamed with Ben Crenshaw in reimagining the Sheep Ranch. Friedmann and Coore were on the first tee as more than 260 guests teed off on the windy and sun-splashed opening day. As ever, the golf at Bandon Dunes is an escape, even if it’s not business as usual at the KemperSports-managed facility; all employees wear face coverings and operations at the resort remain significantly limited. Standing on the back deck of the clubhouse later that afternoon, Friedmann shared his reasoning for not being overly concerned about contracting the coronavirus during his travels to remote Bandon: he already had it, as did his wife.
“I got it in March from my daughter at her birthday in New York. It was very sweet of her,” he said with a chuckle. “For both of us, it was like a mild flu for a week. At the end, (my wife) was fine and I got cramps in the neck, shoulder and back for a while that they said were virus-related. That hung around for a while. My daughter was actually the worst off, but she’s better now.”
The Sheep Ranch joins Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails and the 13-hole, par-3 Bandon Preserve in the resort’s deep lineup of courses.
“The whole place is so special because of its individual parts,” Coore said. “What Mike Keiser and the folks at Bandon have done is not just create a golf resort, they’ve created a place where every single course out here could be argued as the best of the bunch. That’s what makes it so special.”
For years, the Sheep Ranch was behind the curtains, a minimalist 13-green layout built by Tom Doak and his crew that was a playground for Friedmann and his friends as well as a limited number of golfers privy to the secrets of how to access the remote layout. While the contours and the quality of the property – a full mile of coastline – were conducive to a truly special product, Coore acknowledged that the expectations were daunting given the “almost mystical reputation” that the Sheep Ranch had developed through the years.
At dinner after the opening, Friedmann and Coore talked about those expectations and the positive feedback from those who had experienced both incarnations of the Sheep Ranch.
“I pointed out to Bill that in terms of golfers, it was a really, really small number of people that ever experienced that,” said Friedmann. “So, he didn’t have to win that many over. They all could have said, ‘I never wanted it to change,’ and it wouldn’t have mattered because it was a minute number of golfers. Now it’s something anybody can enjoy.”
The Sheep Ranch isn’t the only new course to open during the Covid-19 era.
On the west side of Florida, about an hour south of Tampa, the Esplanade at Azario Lakewood Ranch community opened a new 18-hole course that open to residents only.
Meanwhile, the Pfau Course at Indiana University officially opened for play on June 15 after about 2 ½ years of work and a $12 million investment. The completely new course, which is open to the public, is built on the same 265-acre property in southern Indiana home to the university’s previous course that originally opened in 1957.
“The old course was a bit antiquated, and the conditions had dropped,” said Jim St. John, the head golf professional and manager of business development at The Pfau Course. “It was time to make a world-class facility.
Erik is the Editorial Director for the NGF. Before joining the National Golf Foundation, he spent more than two decades with Bloomberg News, both as a writer and editor, with a focus on sports business and the golf industry. The New Jersey resident has also written about golf for outlets that include Forbes, LINKS and the Met Golfer.