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Golf the coast

In the Pits at Bandon Dunes

My golf ball is smack up against a looming six-foot wall of sand. I am in a pit and it feels like there's no way out. I saw it at least 250 yards away and could have avoided it, but I have gravitated to it as though predestined.

I am mentally counting the strokes it may take me to lift my golf ball out of this bunker and onto the green. I consider picking the ball up and throwing it. Then, a glimmer of hope:

"Why don't you hit it sideways onto the fairway? You’ve got plenty of room."

Duh. Why didn't I think of that? I was so overwhelmed with the wall that I didn't look around. And that's what Monty is there for. Monty is my caddy. Yeah, I know. Someone to carry my golf bag? OK, yes, if you want to know. I have a caddy. But first of all, it wasn't my idea.

I am staying at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort lodge and at breakfast, over smoked salmon scrambled eggs, I started visiting with the manager, a nice young man named Matt Allen. Matt turned out to be not so very nice, coercing me into playing their world-class golf Scottish-links course, which I was not going to attempt. I was not going to embarrass myself with all those guys out there – the ones who fly in from all over the country and Europe, or drive down to Bandon with a van full of buddies to try their skill and luck on this challenging course. I am not a golfer. I like to golf, but liking something does not necessarily mean one can do it well. Or reasonably well. Sure, once in a while I can connect and really drive the ball. And yes, sometimes I make amazing putts, but the problem is getting those infrequencies to occur consistently, like on the same hole. Or on the same day.

As much as I'd like to have enjoyed my stay in the beautiful lodge and retreat unnoticed, Matt talked me into not only playing, but using a caddy. Before I knew it, Matt was on his cell phone getting me a tee time and reserving a caddy. He'd persuaded me by telling me encouraging things like not everyone is a pro who plays here, and it doesn't matter how you play, just so you enjoy yourself. And how using a caddy, besides directing you to the correct sequence of holes, usually helps lower your score – this, more than anything goaded me into proving Matt wrong.

Now, moderately excited, I go to my car to retrieve my clubs and golf shoes. A friend gave me the advice years ago never to drive anywhere without my golf clubs, to which I still adhere. Like the tennis rackets — unused for more than three years, and fishing pole unused for four, that reside permanently in my trunk, just in case.

I lace up my shoes and don't even consider that I haven't switched my spikes after playing on a course near home. Naturally, every golfer within a hundred miles can hear my click clatter walk on the asphalt across the parking lot to the pro shop. When I get to the desk, the pro asks if I have spikes. He knows very well I do, but discreetly and cheerfully suggests that he whisk my shoes over to the maintenance shop for a quick switch to plastic lower impact replacements.

Fine. So I wander around the pro shop in my stocking feet looking at sweaters and shirts and golf clubs. Thank heavens I accidentally have on regulation wear — slacks and a decent lightweight sweater. I look at hats with the Bandon Dunes puffin logo, and see that for decoration the shop has ancient little leather weekend bags with a few antique clubs. I examine the clubs and am certain I have a few identical ones in my bag, inherited from my mom and other friends — 1960s & 1970s classics. "Classics" sounds better than outdated rejects.

My shoes are ready and my caddy, Monty, arrives. He does not ridicule me or even laugh when he picks up my small canvas bag with my motley collection of clubs, only one of which, the driver, is new — another cast-off from an ex-boyfriend. We head to the first tee and the beginning of my memorable round.

I am discouraged with my play, but exhilarated with the course. We hike up and over dunes, and meander around scrawny native wind-blown pines, beach grasses, and yellow blooming gorse that's spread everywhere – an early gift to Bandon from Lord Bennett, who apparently was homesick for his homeland Irish flora. Matt had informed me earlier that Bandon Dunes designers took pains to protect native flora and fauna, and a Scottish links style course is less intrusive on the natural landscape. Every hole has an ocean view, and this day the view is more impressive with erratic weather. Clouds move in quickly, at one moment scudding in dark and ominous, drenching us in a squall, then fleeting in retreat leaving blue skies and sunshine.

I appreciate Monty, and find like so many others who are employed at Bandon Dunes, that he is a local. And happy. Relieved to be retired and liberated from a steel manufacturing plant in Coos Bay. In fact, everyone I talked to at Bandon Dunes was remarkably upbeat.

After nine holes and a black horizon promising more than a friendly squall, I return to the lodge and my room to take a shower, then head down for lunch before I head home. It’s so friendly here, that one golfer asks another guy if he has reading glasses. Nope. I offer mine and before I know it, my glasses have rotated around the room from table to table, golfer to golfer.

I really don't want to leave the great food, the Spartan yet luxurious surroundings, and best of all, the friendly people and staff, even though Matt may talk me into another excellent misadventure which most likely will include an unwelcome visit to a sand pit.

(Bandon Dunes Golf Resort www.bandondunesgolf.com has expanded since this was written with more links and lodging.)

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