Designed by the renowned Crenshaw Coore tandem, Brandon Trails is a worthy compliment to the stunning seaside beauty of the other Brandon Dunes courses located on the property. In fact, if this course was located in any other location, it would probably be noted as the best course there. Because of the other courses at Bandon Dunes Golf resort this design tends to get overlooked. Besides the first tee, this course does not offer the views of the Pacific for which the resort and the other courses are so well known. While players may not be able to see the ocean, its presence is felt throughout the round. The cool breeze through the trees and constant background noise remind you that the ocean is not far, but after beginning the journey through the dunes and into the forest, it is not really missed. Brandon Trails is happy to offer its own unique challenge and beauty.
The course is located on the southern end of the property and shares a clubhouse with The Preserve, a par three course that offers some of the most dramatic views found at the resort. We will save that course review for a different time. This write up is about Trails.
A gentle par four opens the journey and shows the players what to expect the rest of the round. The fairway is generous as is the opening to the green, but subtle mounding and bunkering will penalize and test those who do not put the ball in the right position.
The par three second is a unique downhill shot deep into the dunes. It offers quite a bit of elevation change, something not overly common at Brandon. Crenshaw and Coore use this change in elevation throughout the round challenging players to trust their numbers and judge the swirling wind correctly.
The par 5s at Brandon Trails are all different and all challenging. The third hole is a great example of making players hit a good shot in order to be rewarded. A centerline bunker is located right in the heart of the landing area. Off the tee, you will have to decide whether to try and carry the trap, or fit it in the left side or right side of the fairway. A shorter club off the tee will lead to much more room and space, but obviously a challenging second shot from a lengthier spot. If a good tee shot is played, the hole can be birdied. However, missing the fairway or finding the bunker will make par a great score.
That theme plays itself out throughout the round at Trails. There are certainly some very difficult and challenging holes, but this course gives you options. The fairways are generous and open. If you choose to play conservatively off the tee, you could very well hit almost every fairway comfortably. However, if you choose to try and get a little closer to the hole, that is where the risk comes in and the angles get more challenging. The eighth hole is a classic short par four begging long hitters to go for the green. For a right handed player, a little draw would be perfect. However, if that draw does not happen, a couple of deep bunkers and long grass await just right of the green. Flying the ball to the green is not possible, so while the number on the scorecard seems short, the target area makes this little par four quite the challenge. A tee shot short and right of the green is the prudent play, leaving an open angle to the green from about 100 yards away, but it is awfully tempting to go for that green. And that speaks to the genius of this particular design. The safe play on almost every hole is obvious. However, the idea of making a birdie seems possible on nearly every hole with a little aggression. If players can pull it off, as is the case on the eighth hole, birdies are available. However the result of not executing the shot could and often does result in big numbers. Speaking of driving the green.
The fourteenth hole is somewhat controversial. Ask anybody who has ventured to Brandon Trails and they will tell you about this short par 4. It is certainly a unique hole as a cart is required to take players and caddies up to the tee. The tee shot is dramatically down hill and the green is driveable for the longest hitters. However, the target itself is very small and missing the green will result in a near impossible bunker shot or a chipping hollow located just to the left of the green. OB lines the fairway well left and trees are located on the right. The only problem I had with this hole was the slope of the fairway for those who chose to lay up. Shots landed on the left side of the fairway to the middle all ended up in the right rough leaving a blind approach shot uphill and over a bunker. For shots that landed on the left side of the fairway, I thought the rollout to the right was too severe. As for the green, it is a small target with dramatic fall offs, but I did not find it too small or to sloping. It is a tricky par four that is the definition of risk reward.
While the fourteenth may not be for everyone, the rest of the course is very playable for players of all skill level.
Some visitors to Brandon will not make the journey to the Trails course because it does not have the views that the resort is known for. I certainly understand the thinking, but if possible, I feel this course should be on the rotation. In my opinion, the course itself might be the best on the property. It is challenging, but very fair. It will require a lot of creative thinking and test players in ways the other courses do not. The walk is fun and the course seems to blend very well from hole to hole. It is a course that I can vividly remember every hole and shot, and I think, that speaks volumes. If you are lucky enough to head to Bandon Trails, do not overlook this gem. It is worth the trip.