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March 20, 2003 - Bandon Dunes

By: Jeff Shelley


Five years ago today I was barreling down the West Coast on my way from Seattle to Bandon, Ore. During most of the 450-mile jaunt, I received radio reports on America's new war, which started the night before with George W. Bush's blustery "Shock and Awe" assault on Saddam Hussein's autocracy. The war is still going on, and it's now stretched longer than World Wars I and II and the Korean War. As of today, 3,992 American soldiers have been killed (with 4,300 coalition forces killed), over 29,300 injured, and 145 American personnel have committed suicide, while an untold number of military families are permanently affected by the war. Recent estimates by political and military officials indicate it could be at least another three years before our troops can be extricated from Iraq and Afghanistan. When I returned home a couple of days later from that trip in 2003, here's what I wrote about my sense of that momentous period in American history.

In mid-March 2003, I took a whirlwind trip to Bandon Dunes, now arguably America's golf mecca. Featuring 36 holes of sublime true links right beside the Pacific Ocean, the resort boasts two of the top four courses in Golfweek's list of the nation's top-100 modern courses. All the way down Interstate 5 from Seattle to the Highway 38 (Drain) exit about 30 miles south of Eugene, I was plugged into local AM stations getting updates on "Operation Iraq Freedom."

Pacific Dunes (No. 2) and Bandon Dunes (No. 4) are the draws for golfers, who flock to this remote outpost on Oregon's southern coast from around the world. Besides a pair of wonderfully different types of links, the resort has a hundred or so cottages, a fine-dining restaurant, a lounge, a great room for bigger gatherings, a small workout room, and other guest amenities. The hospitable staff is trained well by veteran general manager, Hank Hickock.

I drove down to Bandon from my Seattle home to join a gathering of Golfweek's course raters. About 60 raters came from all parts of the U.S. There were even a couple from Great Britain. Getting to Bandon isn't easy, even if your home is in the Northwest. Two days of the four-day outing were spent in my car. From Seattle the driving distance is about 450 miles and the riding time (for this faster-than-normal driver) is seven hours.

All the way down Interstate 5 from Seattle to the Highway 38 (Drain) exit about 30 miles south of Eugene, I was plugged into local AM stations getting updates on "Operation Iraq Freedom."

Before departing Seattle I was concerned about whether Golfweek's "Spring Retreat" would be canceled in light of the uncertainties at hand. I sent an email to Jonathan Cummings, a coordinator for the event, and Brad Klein, the rating group's leader and the architectural writer for Golfweek and editor of Superintendent News. Jonathan said it was on.

I also placed a call to Armand Cimaroli, the likeable fellow who coordinates Golfweek's amateur tournaments. I got Armand's secretary, who said he'd already left for Oregon and that the only problems were a bunch of pissed-off raters who couldn't get out of Denver because a storm there had dumped 6 feet of snow and closed the airport.

So the trip was on. I left at 8:30 Thursday morning, managing to sneak through Seattle's typically ridiculous rush-hour traffic and head toward the neighboring state to the south.

The trip was one of the strangest I've ever taken, and I've taken a bundle in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere. It was just me roaring down the highway with my radar detector and a disembodied commentator's voice giving a play-by-play of the war.

The coverage was pretty much all I could find on the radio, other than an occasional Christian channel. I'd drive 50 or 100 miles and wouldn't miss a beat. Instead of a station lapsing into inaudible static once out of range as typically happens, I simply hit Scan and soon found the same voice, the same mind-wracking news somewhere else on the dial.

By the time I got to Bandon, I knew what the rest of America knew: that our president and his cronies - despite fierce opposition from millions of Americans, long-time allies and the United Nations - had put our nation at risk. Our troops were officially in harm's way, and the drumbeats of war were being heard loud and clear even in the wet and windy wilds of Oregon.

Postscript: I'm a veteran, serving my time in the Army during the Vietnam War, and fully support America's soldiers. I know what they're up against. Yet I can't for the life of me figure out why we ever ventured into the Middle East rat's nest - beyond the quest for oil, nor do I have a clue why we're still there four years later. Now the biggest question is: When are we going to leave?