David McLay Kidd was just 27 years old when he designed Bandon Dunes along the Oregon coastline. To this day, he still doesn’t know why he was chosen for the job, as he had little experience as a golf course architect and the property’s owner, Mike Keiser, was conducting interviews for the project with several others.
Kidd was from Scotland, the son of Jimmy Kidd, the course superintendent at Glasgow Golf Club, the ninth-oldest golf club in the world which has hosted many prestigious events over the years.
“I was born and raised around golf from my earliest memories,” said Kidd. “I was at Turnberry or at St. Andrews, hanging out with the superintendents. Those superintendents in Scotland are generally good golfers. They love the game and they love the golf courses they play on.”
In a meeting with Keiser, Kidd expressed what he truly believed. He was firm in his belief that Bandon Dunes needed to be a real links course, not a links-style course, and should be walking-only with golf holes that were situated on the best areas that the land had to offer.
“I’d never done anything of any note,” Kidd said. “I wasn’t a conventionally-trained architect in any regard. To this day, I’m still not entirely sure why Mike Keiser chose me and not any number of better qualified people. I scratch my head and thank my lucky stars.
“I totally believed that this land was a great golf course. It wasn’t some golf amenity to real estate or anything else. Little did I know, that was exactly what Mike was thinking.”
Today, 12 years after it first opened, Bandon Dunes continues to get recognition and great reviews. The Bandon Dunes Golf Resort is a complex of four courses, built on sand dunes overlooking the Pacific Ocean, that is located north of the seaside town of Bandon, Ore., just off Highway 101.
There is Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails and Old Macdonald. Golfweek lists Bandon Dunes No. 6 among the Top 100 Resort Courses for 2012. Pacific Dunes is No. 1 and Old Macdonald No. 2, making it one of the premier golf destinations in the country.
“Obviously, I’m proud of it,” Kidd said. “It’s humbling when I get congratulated on it. The land was exceptional.”
Kidd was at Silverado Resort and Spa last week for the California Chapter of the Golf Course Superintendents Association’s annual conference. The multi-day educational conference drew superintendents, vendors and golf industry leaders, with Kidd as the keynote speaker.
He was named as the “Hottest Architect in Golf” by Golf World and ranks on Golfweek’s list of “40 most influential people in golf” (under the age of 40). He is also well known for his award-winning course design at The Castle Course-St. Andrews in Scotland and TPC Stonebrae in Hayward.
Over the years, Bandon Dunes has been highly ranked:
• No. 1, Best New Upscale Public Course, 1999, Golf Digest.
• No. 3, Top 100 Courses You Can Play, 2000, GOLF Magazine.
• No. 3, America’s Best Modern Courses, 2004, Golfweek.
• No. 5, Top 100 Courses You Can Play, 2006, GOLF Magazine.
• No. 6, 100 Greatest Public Courses, 2005, Golf Digest.
“The creation of a golf course is a very hands on thing, it’s a bit like sculpture,” Kidd said. “It’s not like conventional architecture. You can’t draw a set of blue prints, hand it to a contractor, and come back and say, ‘Oh yeah, this is what I dreamt up. This is what I wanted.’”
Kidd, 43, said his work at Bandon Dunes gave him a giant jump into the design business, opening doors to other projects. His designs include Tetherow (Oregon), Powerscourt (County Wicklow, Ireland), Nanea (Hawaii), Queenwood (Surrey, England), Fancourt (South Africa), Machrihanish Dunes (Scotland), and Huntsman Springs (Idaho).
Kidd attended Writtle College, the largest Land Sciences college in the UK. He completed an internship with Southern Golf, a leading golf construction company, then joined a small architectural firm called Swan Golf Designs as a designer/project manager. In 1991, he returned home to work as director of design for Gleneagles Golf Developments, a post he would hold until 1999.
He heads up DMK Golf Design, which is based in Bend, Ore. The company employs designers, shapers, agronomists and computer-aided design (CAD) experts.
Kidd first went to Bandon in the summer of 1994. He walked the land numerous times, from 1994 to 1997. He wanted to get a feel, an understanding of the property, which at the time was covered in overgrown pine trees and gorse.
“I knew it intimately, every lump and bump,” he said. “It wasn’t until we actually pulled the gorse out that we could see what was there and really get a feel for how these holes would work.”
Bandon Dunes, the first course at the resort, opened in 1999. It features spectacular golf holes, gorse-lined fairways, several pot bunkers, large fairways and large greens. The views are stunning and the challenge is great.
“In general, you’re playing in a landscape that is relatively easy to find your golf ball,” Kidd said. “Because the fairways are so wide, because the fairways in many ways are so recoverable, it gives golfers a sense of freedom to play and not be intimidated by the roughs.”
Bandon Dunes has already hosted two U.S. Golf Association events: the 2006 Curtis Cup and the 2007 U.S. Mid-Amateur Golf Championship.
“I’d like to think that when someone plays a golf course that I’ve done, they have a sense of the golf course fitting into that natural landscape,” said Kidd. “It doesn’t feel like it was engineered into it. Bandon looks and feels like it belongs, that it fits into that landscape.
“I would like to think the same is true of every course I’ve done. I want the golfer to feel like it’s natural. I’ve spent my career trying to observe nature and what nature does, the randomness and irregularity of nature and then trying to replicate that in some regard into my golf courses.”
Kidd has a few recommendations if you’re playing Bandon for the first time.
Make sure to take a caddie with you. “If you have no caddie, you’re kind of lost. The caddie knows the golf course far better than you ever will and he’s going to understand your game by the time you get to the first green. He’s going to be your guide for the day. It’s not the cheapest thing in the world. But trust me, it’s well, well worth it.”
Playing Bandon, he said, is all about the short game — in particular putting. You can putt from 100 yards off the green.
“Those are the key shots. It’s all about running the ball along the ground,” he said. “It’s not just what happens through the air.”