While in Oregon, stop in Florence for golf and more

April 12, 2011 

FLORENCE, Ore. - He had to go inland a few miles to find it, but Sandpines Golf Links head professional Bob Rannow is resting easier now that he's reclaimed that one piece of equipment he's been searching for.

An old Hogan-autographed spoon? A Bobby Jones hickory-shafted putter? Neither.

Back in high school, Rannow owned a vintage Fender tube amplifier. He kicked himself for years that he let it go. Recently, he found one, in Springfield, Ore., and he’s got that big warm bass sound back.

The distinction between a modern tubeless amp and the late-50s to early-60s Fender is not lost on the people of Florence, where the golf is awfully good, but it’s not the only game in town.

If all you know about central-southern Oregon coastal golf is the Bandon Dunes Resort, well, that’s where the conversation starts, and properly so.

If the two things you know about Florence, are 1) the local sand dunes and 2) that it’s on the way to Bandon, well, the dunes are reason enough to visit in the first place, and in the second place you might plan to linger for a day or so before you hurry on to Mecca, 70-some miles south on Highway 101.

Dudes, the dunes … They’re so cool that Rannow says visitors owe it to themselves to get out on ’em.

For night-lifers, foodies and Shopping Nation, Florence and its Old Town offer an unexpected worldly experience that is something wholly other than beach-town kitsch.

“I don’t know of a better Old Town on the coast than Florence, Oregon,” Rannow says. “The setting, the great old restaurants , really neat music scene, wonderful shopping. … My family and I ride bikes there … you can grab an ice cream, walk across the river over an historic bridge …”

Rock hounds will find the area to be Agate Heaven, Rannow says.

The golf pro doesn’t mind talking up off-course Florence, at least partly because he lives there with his family. He’s a part of the town’s music scene – he sits in on bass with a local blues band called Kush, which you might catch some evening at the Traveler’s Cove in Old Town.

But it’s also because he knows Sandpines, the course where he’s been the pro for a decade, is enough to pull back the person who finds it inconceivable to travel anywhere without a bag of sticks.

The course, designed by the esteemed Rees Jones, opened in 1993.

“The more you play the course, the more you see the things Rees did, some of the strategic elements,” Rannow says. “I’ve been here 10 years, and I think I still have things to learn about the way the holes play.”

The front nine has the open feel of a pure links course, while the back nine may remind players of the classic courses of the Monterey Peninsula, Rannow says.

No. 18 is probably Sandpines’ signature hole, the pro says.

“It’s a great risk-reward par-5,” he said. “Water on the left, great view of the clubhouse, nice panorama of the character of the golf course.”

“It’s a hole that can play so many different ways, based on where you tee off from and where the wind pattern is.”

Wind: it was in full blustery evidence on Sunday afternoon. We had the course to ourselves, while the rest of the golf world stayed in, presumably watching the Masters tournament.

The gusts reached 45 mph, which meant keeping the ball low to bore through the wind. That’s a good way to play any day, Rannow says.

Golfers of very low handicaps get a stern challenge from the gold tees, the farthest back of Sandpines’ five sets of tees, while golfers of higher handicaps are more than adequately tested from the white tees.

“It’s the right amount of landing area for them,” Rannow says. “Just about every green you can run a ball up.”

The greens are, in a word, wicked. Breaks you didn’t see pop up from nowhere, and even as wet as it’s been in Florence this winter and spring – and it has been unusually rainy – Rannow says even by the standards of a coastal region, the putting surfaces are fast.

The course has a rugged beauty, but it is very well-groomed around the greens and tee boxes. The wind rippling through the dune grasses on Sandpines’ back nine is something to see.

The view back from a green to the tee you came from is a great way to see a golf course, and the backward sightlines on No. 7, a stunningly long par-5 (nearly 600 yards from the back tees) and No. 12, framed by dunes on both sides, are particularly rewarding.

It may not be the only game in town, but for golf around here, it stands on its own merits and as a worthy warm-up before turning to points south.

Yes, Florence is on the way to Bandon, which, like the town itself, is a nice place to be.

(Next week: The Bandon experience.)

Olympia freelance writer Bart Potter can be reached at greygoatee06@comcast.net

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