(First of two parts)
FLORENCE, Or. – The original game plan was to play 103 holes over a five-day period on the Oregon coast, preferably under various weather conditions – from sunny skies and comfortable temperatures, to miserable rain and gusty winds.
But not that much rain and wind.
It was the middle of March, after all, and whether you want it or not, the weather patterns in this part of the world at this time of year are about as predictable as another bizarre tweet from the president.
And so, armed with sunscreen and rain gear, a small group of golfers from the Northwest Golf Media Association embarked on a journey that would include an 18-hole round at Sandpines Golf Links in Florence, Ore., and 85 more at the world-renowned Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, which includes four 18-hole courses, numerous scenic holes that hug the Pacific Ocean, and a unique 13-hole par-3 layout.
It didn’t take Mother Nature long to alter the game plan. After driving through a driving rainstorm from Seattle to Salem, the skies cleared a bit in Eugene, giving the three us in the van high hopes of playing Sandpines for the first time.
Tom Cade, the trip organizer, editor of the Pacific Northwest Golfer Magazine and most recent recipient of the NWGMA’s coveted Distinguished Service Award, is a two-handicap golfer (really good); Blaine Newnham, a 70-something-year-old, smooth-swinging veteran of some 40-plus years as a reporter, columnist and sports editor with stints in the San Francisco Bay Area, Eugene and Seattle; and me, a decent golfer only when dreaming.
Sandpines, an 18-hole, 7,200 yard, par-72 course designed by noted golf course architect Rees Jones, opened in 1993. It was immediately lavished with praise, being selected by Golf Digest as the “Best New Public Course in America”.
Day One did not go as planned.
We arrived in the early afternoon, prepared to bring the Florence course to its knees. But all was quiet on the golfing front.
As (bad) luck would have it, the wettest fall/winter in memory had turned Sandpines fairways into marshes, bunkers into mud, and a plethora of frustrated would-be golfers waiting for a decent weather day.
But “keeping our heads above water,” has taken on new meaning throughout the Northwest and the words “rain checks” have been uttered far too many times heading into the spring of ’17.
The swanky, 9,000-square foot Sandpines clubhouse was basically vacant, but general manager Rick Reed has tried his best to cope with unusual circumstances.
“I came from the snow country in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and kind of traded my snowshoes in for some rubber boots with all this water we’ve been getting,” Reed said.
The Florence area is coming off a February dousing, receiving more than 20 inches of rain, shattering a 56-year-old record for the that month. Not only that, higher than usual rain totals in October (17 inches), November (13 inches), December (15 inches), and January (8 inches) made things worse. The March totals are not yet in, but it also could wind up in double-digits.
The drought years seem so long ago.
The coastal Sandpines course averages about 16,000 rounds per year, “but (since the end of September) we are about down about 500 rounds for each month, literally cutting our play in half,” he added.
And how do they make up for that loss?
“That’s the $100 question,” he said. “Once we get over this hump, we’ll get busy with our regular play. But to get those 2,500 rounds back, we’re probably not going to be able to make them up.”
One of the issues is that the water table has risen so much — eight or nine feet — that the excess water has had no place to go. Instead of seeping into the sand, the water sits on top of fairways and greens.
Fingers are crossed that the lousy weather will soon end and things will get back to normal.
“In reality,” Reed said, “if we had about a week of straight sun and wind we would be in pretty decent shape, but when you have one nice day and then two inches of rain the next day, we are just kind of chasing our tail.”
Under normal circumstances, October is one of the busiest months of the year because of warm temperatures and slight winds. Golfers come from near and far to test the diverse golf course.
Groups of 8- to 24 golfers are common during a normal golf season.
“What helps us is Sandpines is 24-years-old with a great reputation as a ‘must-play Rees Jones-designed course on the coast’,” Reed said. “So those groups from the northwest and British Columbia know about Sandpines’ reputation and they’ll come down and play here, either on the way down, or on the way back, from Bandon.”
The Bandon Dunes Golf Resort is just 70 miles south on Highway 101 from Florence.
Reed, in his second year at Sandpines, said the two layouts are good for each other, “more so for us because they are considered the No. 1 resort in the country so they have the ability to stand up on their own reputation.”
And what a terrific reputation it is.
(Next: Five courses at one amazing location — Bandon Dunes)