Mike Keiser, owner of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, has long been on a mission to introduce American amateur golfers to links golf. Given that goal – and the overwhelming success of his iconic resort on the Oregon coast – it’s a bit surprising that Keiser felt, well, surprise when Bandon Dunes first appeared on the USGA championship schedule as host site of the 2006 Curtis Cup and players raved about the experience. Keiser looked at that week as a trial. Would players want to make the trek? Would they like the venue?
“The contestants wanting to come is quite a pleasant surprise for (recently retired USGA CEO) Mike Davis, the USGA and us,” he said. “We didn’t know that early on.”
Fifteen years later, Bandon Dunes’ dedication to amateur golf aligns even closer with the USGA’s. Golf’s governing body announced Tuesday it will bring 13 of its amateur championships to the iconic resort over the next 24 years. That starts with the U.S. Junior in 2022 and runs through 2045, when Bandon Dunes will again host the U.S. Junior plus the U.S. Girls’ Junior.
The full list looks like this:
2022: U.S. Junior Amateur
2025: U.S. Women’s Amateur
2029: Walker Cup
2032: U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur
2035: U.S. Girls’ Junior
2037: U.S. Amateur Four-Ball and U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball
2038: Curtis Cup
2041: U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur
2045: U.S. Junior Amateur and U.S. Girls’ Junior
Bandon Dunes at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon (Courtesy of Evan Schiller)
Since the 2006 Curtis Cup, Bandon Dunes – home to five of the top 10 resort courses in the U.S. – has hosted six other USGA championships, including the 2020 U.S. Amateur. John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s senior managing director of championships, goes back to Keiser’s often-expressed support of USGA amateur championships and his comment that he’d host one every year.
Eventually, Bodenhamer decided to explore that sentiment a little further.
“We came together on a list of championships that were important to him and to us – all of our championships are important but there are some reasons we chose the current rota that we have and it just all came together,” Bodenhamer said.
To announce a single site as host of such a large chunk of championships – and extend that schedule so far into the future – is an unprecedented move by the USGA. The organization did something similar in 2020 by announcing Pinehurst as a U.S. Open anchor site (with championships scheduled for 2029, 2035, 2041 and 2047) and home to a second, smaller USGA headquarters.
The USGA’s big-picture thinking with Bandon Dunes encompassed several elements, not the least of which is player experience. Bodenhamer echoed a thought that has crossed many USGA champions’ lips through the years: It matters where you win your USGA title.
It’s also not a coincidence that Bandon’s long list of championships starts with the U.S. Junior in 2022. It’s the start of a player’s journey through the USGA.
“Jordan Spieth won two Juniors and the next Jordan Spieth, to be able to say that he or she won at Bandon Dunes will be pretty special,” Bodenhamer said. “We think that elevates our relationship with the players.”
Keiser is particularly excited at the prospect of introducing junior players to links golf.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” he said, calling Bandon an educational tool in this sense.
A venue with all the magic (not to mention the name recognition) of Bandon Dunes and its seaside green complexes, golden gorse and expansive views has the power to elevate a championship that doesn’t end with the word “open.”
After Bandon Dunes appeared on Golf Channel in primetime as host of the 2020 U.S. Amateur, Keiser said resort phones rang off the hook for a month. Keiser hopes to see the junior events as well as future U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur broadcasts treated the same.
Aman Gupta plays his tee shot at the 16th hole during the semifinal round at the 2020 U.S. Amateur at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Ore. on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)
Bodenhamer confirmed it’s too early to know what kind of network coverage future championships might receive (on NBC, say, versus Golf Channel in an NBC television contract that runs through 2026). In any event, viewers who remember watching the U.S. Amateur unfold last summer are likely to tune in to see juniors against that same backdrop.
“It will be nice to know that they will be televised with the ocean and the dunes and the links golf story as part of it,” Keiser said.
The upcoming Bandon championship schedule brings the U.S. Amateur back twice and the U.S. Women’s Amateur to the resort three times. Both will be played there in 2032 and 2041. Yet to be determined is whether those championships will run concurrently (as the now-retired U.S. Amateur Public Links and U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links did in 2011), or back-to-back, as the USGA treated the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst in 2014. Either way, both demographics are elevated.
“We think that’s a very positive message for the game, men and women being together, boys and girls being together – juniors,” Bodenhamer said. “We’ve done that before and we think this can carry that forward too.”
For many USGA championship venues, hosting an amateur championship starts a relationship that may eventually lead to a U.S. Open or a U.S. Women’s Open. Chambers Bay hosted the U.S. Amateur in 2010 before the U.S. Open arrived in 2015, and Erin Hills hosted two amateur championships before debuting as an Open venue in 2017.
Bandon Dunes’ remote location presents an entirely unique set of obstacles for the USGA’s largest events, not to mention the fact that Keiser’s priority remains amateur golf.
“I would never say never but I think for the next 25 years, we’re going to be focused on amateur golf,” Bodenhamer said. “The next set of decision makers will talk about Opens.”
For his part, Keiser, 76, doesn’t think it will happen in his lifetime.
Last summer, Bandon Dunes, the resort’s original 18-hole course, shone on a U.S. Amateur broadcast that came at the end of a summer light on televised golf. Bodenhamer expects to see several, if not all, of the other four courses – Pacific Dunes, Old Macdonald, Bandon Trails and Sheep Ranch – used in future championships depending on the demographic of the event. In all, the resorts’ courses are ranked Nos. 1-5 as the best public-access layouts in Oregon, and each of them is in the top 15 on Golfweek’s Best ranking of modern courses built since 1960 in the U.S.
Asked his opinion on which course sets up best for match play, Keiser went right to Bandon Dunes’ closing stretch on the ocean.
“We have to give David Kidd credit for the 16th hole, the drivable par 4, with 15 being a very tough par 3, usually into the wind, being the warm-up,” he said. “You play this really long par 3 and then you have a short par 4 – those two right there, because that’s where most match-play competitions are concluded on the 15th, 16th before they get to the 18th. David Kidd, it’s as if he knew that he would be hosting the U.S. Amateur etc., when he designed the 16th hole.”
But Keiser is confident the Sheep Ranch, the newest course opened in 2020 and one that features nine greens on the ocean, will figure prominently for future championships.
“Have to say it’s a tie which is more photogenic, Sheep Ranch or Bandon Dunes,” Keiser said. “Let’s call it a tie.”
He could also easily call it a can’t-lose.
Sheep Ranch at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon (Courtesy of Bandon Dunes)