“I warmed up for The Uncle Tony by spending the holiday weekend camping in Santa Cruz. I drank until 2am, woke up at 7am. Then I did it again the next day. And again the next day.”
That’s a recent email from my college roommate, who’s in training for our annual buddies trip to Bandon Dunes.
Forget about where we go, I judge a buddies trip by who I go with. And on this trip, I’ve assembled family, best friends and some of their best friends.
It’s called the Uncle Tony Invitational in honor of my uncle, who helped teach and cultivate my love of golf. From the grip to the grind of never giving up, my mom’s only sibling has always been there to breakdown the swing or reflect on memorable moments covering such things as major championships. We talk three or four times a week and we always talk golf.
Uncle Tony Kielhofer, 75, is still grinding it out on and off the course at Bandon. He might have to take a cart and he goes to bed a little earlier than the rest, but he’s always up first, leading the weary walk to the breakfast buffet.
And to dine out on the details of another man’s buddies trip is common practice amongst avid amateurs. Where do you go? Haw many? How much do you spend?
We all share because we all care. We want the next group to have as much fun as we did.
And so, having covered over 60 buddies trips having been on more than 60 of my own, I offer the details of the Uncle Tony Invitational. (Yes, the UTI. No, not the urinary tract infection.)
At the end of select sections, I’ve also included some of your responses to a recent Instagram post in which I solicited your feedback on your buddies trips to Bandon Dunes (@matt_ginella). As always, appreciate your thoughtful feedback.
Why do I go to Bandon?
A version of this trip started as an extension of another buddies trip that I’ve been taking since I was 18. Every year I’d meet Uncle Tony and friends at Baywood Golf & Country Club in Arcata, CA., which is four hours south of Bandon, OR.
About ten years ago, after the Baywood Pro-Am, which always ends on a Tuesday, a few of us drove up to play at Bandon through the weekend.
A concept that caught on. Over time, more friends started just making the Bandon portion of the trip. Now it’s as if Bandon devoured Baywood. The torturous short course amongst the redwoods has lost out to the greatest pure golf destination in America. From eight guys, we grew to 12, and then 20. This year there will be 24, which will be the max. And the only way we can consider that group size is due to the ease of the logistics at a stay-and-play destination like Bandon Dunes.
Yes, the resort itself is not easy to get to, but unlike any trip to Scotland or Ireland, once you’re at Bandon, you’ll never need a rental car. You’re walking or shuttling to four championship courses, two short courses, a massive driving range, a two-acre putting course, multiple dining options, massage rooms and fire pits. Not to mention a solid wine menu and service with a smile.
I take personal trips to several other destinations in any given year, but the UTI, as we like to refer to it, is a major. And for this group, Bandon is the perfect fit.
Why do you go to Bandon Dunes?
@fisherjemail: “Bandon is a special place because it’s as close to going to Scotland/Ireland as you will get in the U.S. You have four championship courses that every player in your group will pick a different one as their favorite.”
@andrewpienovi: “Because it’s Disneyland for grown men. We go in January every year for the least amount of wind, best weather and best pricing.”
@cliff_robbins: “Best golf destination in the U.S. Don’t ever have to leave the property. We go end of January for best rates and weather has been spectacular three years in a row.”
@meireisj: “One of the best things about Bandon is the people who work there. You see the same people year after year and somehow they remember you every time you come back.”
How many days and how many rounds do we play?
The UTI is a five- or six-day event. Some of us arrive on Tuesday, but the official start to the tournament is on Wednesday evening. Everyone reports to the first tee of Bandon Preserve, the 13-hole par-3 course, at 5 o’clock pm. The tournament ends on Saturday night, but everyone is asked to stay until Sunday afternoon. We watch the conclusion of The Open on Sunday morning while having breakfast and bloody marys at the Tufted Puffin, the bar and grill in the main Bandon clubhouse.
If you arrive on Tuesday afternoon, which I do, the first round is late-afternoon on Bandon Dunes. We time the round so that we catch the sunset on the 16th tee. We’ll also play Wednesday morning before the first official round at Preserve later that day. We play another two rounds on Thursday. One round in the morning on Friday, and then a competitive event at the Punchbowl putting green on Friday evening. We finish with two more rounds on Saturday, which makes seven rounds on the big courses, one round on Preserve and at least one session at Punchbowl.
How many rounds do you play?
@a1excohen: “Just celebrated dad’s retirement last month…8 guys, 6 rounds in 5 days. Couldn’t ask for a better experience.”
@pechorin3: “I went to med school – very small budget. Drove from Klamath and played four rounds in one day because they get exceptionally cheaper the more you play. Last round was free but I could barely walk.”
A closer look at our itinerary
Tuesday PM: Bandon Dunes (practice round)
Wednesday AM: Pacific Dunes (practice round)
Wednesday PM: Bandon Preserve (4-man scramble teams, we play as three eightsomes).
Wednesday night: Opening ceremony, introductions and dinner in a private room.
Wednesday late night: Dice tournament in the Bunker Bar.
Thursday AM: Bandon Dunes
Thursday PM: Old Mac (optional and not included in any sidebets).
Thursday night: Upstairs at McKee’s Pub
Thursday late night: Dice tournament in the Bunker Bar.
Friday AM: Pacific Dunes
Friday PM: Uncle Bill Punchbowl Classic
Friday dinner: Tufted Puffin
Friday late night: Dice tournament at the Bunker Bar.
Saturday AM: Bandon Dunes
Saturday PM: Bandon Trails
Saturday night: Trails for food and trophy ceremony.
Saturday late night: Fire pit.
Sunday AM: Tufted Puffin for bloodies and final round of The Open.
Sunday late morning: A reflective walk to the labyrinth.
Every man owes Uncle Bill (the treasurer) $350 (“cash only!”) when they get to the first tee at Bandon Preserve, which covers all the day bets and the big bet:
- $20 for scramble game at Preserve.
- $50 for first competitive round at Bandon Dunes.
- $50 for second competitive round at Pacific Dunes.
- $20 for Uncle Bill Punchbowl Classic.
- $50 for third competitive round at Bandon Dunes.
- $50 for fourth competitive round at Bandon Trails.
- $100 for overall bet of four competitive rounds.
- $10 for trophy costs.
A few years ago, as the UTI became bigger, more organized and a lot more competitive, I started treating this buddies trip as a member-guest. I’ve designated 11 of the core group as members, but I refer to them as “franchise owners.” Each owner gets one invite and that’s his partner for the week. After I invite my partner, and they invite their partners, we are 24 strong.
The UTI is four rounds of best ball of the twosome, full handicaps. As you can see above, the opening scramble at Preserve is competitive, but it’s not part of the official tournament. It serves as a warm up and a group ice-breaker. The Thursday afternoon round is set, but optional. (I usually sub out the round at Old Mac for an extra round at Trails, especially on a windy summer afternoon, when you benefit from being amongst the trees.) On Friday afternoon, we leave a long break between rounds for naps or massages (or both). And then we reconvene at Pacific Dunes for the Uncle Bill Punchbowl Classic. Uncle Bill Salmina is Uncle Tony’s brother-in-law. (They married twins.) And on Friday at 5:00, we all meet as Uncle Bill hosts another side competition at the putting course. Based on handicaps, we divide the group into 12 A-players and 12 B-players. The A players pick their putting partners out of a hat. We putt 18 holes, best ball of the twosome, which often results in a wild and ridiculous playoff. And on Saturday, there are two more competitive rounds. The final round is at Bandon Trails where the 18th green provides an insular setting for a raucous finish. From there, and assuming we have a winner, we roll right into the restaurant at Trails for a championship dinner and more debauchery.
What formats do you play?
@roderix_ig: “Tournament services at Bandon make any format or event very special with scorecards, timing and daily match updates.”
@moosestache35: “We’re going Ryder Cup format this year (6 on 6) where the team draw will be Sunday of this year’s actual Ryder Cup.”
@mulcahben: “Started with four, now bringing 48. Ryder Cup based on daily adjusted quota. Tournament services is fantastic and the only way you can pull off a group this size.”
Preserve’s 4-man scramble (pay two teams)
$400 to winning 4-man team
$80 to second place team
All four competitive rounds (pay four teams per round)
$500 to winning 2-man team of the day
$350 to second best score of the day
$250 to third best score of the day
$100 to fourth best score of the day
Uncle Bill Punchbowl Classic (pay two teams)
$400 for winning 2-man team
$80 to second place team
$1,000 to winning 2-man team
$500 to second place
$400 to third place
$300 to fourth place
$200 for fifth place
My franchise owners run the gamut. From the uncles to best friends to business associates, it’s the perfect cross section of lasting intersections of life.
We try to get at least one group in a Grove Cottage, which we use as a central staging area for some of the social activities. (Cards, dice or watching golf.)
We also utilize the Chrome Lake rooms and lofts. (The Lily Pond rooms are the more affordable option.)
The Bunker Bar and the fire pits outside of the Grove is where we do a bulk of our evening activities.
Most UTIers take caddies for the competitive rounds and either push or carry for the short course and optional rounds.
There are so many good caddies at Bandon, but I always ask for Bro Puckett. He’s the perfect mix of expertise and quiet energy. I usually give him between $125 and $150 per round.
Your favorite caddies
@mikebrady22: “John the Baptist is our favorite caddy!”
@jfishmna61: “Baptist McAllister, Jake Muldowney, Neil Leeser and Jason Castles are all solid guys.”
@cliff_robbins: “Joey Russell has been our looper for years and he is the best!”
@jamiewalkerartist: “I highly recommend the Clayton brothers for caddies. Danny has been there since 2006, full tie, and his brother, Andy, started in 2011.”
@jpgreen3uga: “Best caddie is Michael Green!”
@oaktownsilverbullet: “I pity the fool who decides not to take a caddie. It’s an important part of the experience. The resort can help you find a caddie based on your golf style.”
Full disclosure, I get media rates for golf and lodging, which is essentially Bandon’s winter rates. I pay for food, drinks and caddies. I’ve never paid more than $2,000 for the week, which doesn’t include airfare. Most non-golf media on the trip budget $550 per day for golf, food, lodging and drinks. Utilizing the Punchbowl and Preserve helps keep costs down. So does a push cart over caddies and lodging in the Lily Pond.
@esqcbo: “July for the wind (nae wind, nae golf); 4 golfers. Minimum $1,000 per day per golfer. 36 a day for 6.5 days (walked 85 miles last trip).”
@kielbasasausage: “Around $2,000 with all expenses accounted for. Play all five courses.”
@btews22: “I enjoy the challenge of links golf. It’s surprisingly affordable in the winter months. I would love to play in the summer but pricing (understandably so) keeps me away for now.
Uncle Tony has always been called “Tone Dog,” or, “The Dog.” And thus, the logo on the trophy, which gets updated and remains at Bandon Dunes throughout the year. (Each individual winner also takes home their own slab of glass which is engraved with the year and logo.)
Uncle Bill will soon unveil the trophy for this year’s Punchbowl Classic. It has been his side project and I expect great things.
In addition to decent money, winners also get bottles from Trecini and Kosta Browne wineries.
Franchise owners and guests are encouraged to bring small gifts for the group, but it’s not mandatory. From headcovers, mugs and Linksoul gift cards, group gifts have also run the gamut.
2014: Damon Hack/Shane Bacon
2015: Josh Lesnik/Tom Pashley
(We didn’t make it official and start calling it the Uncle Tony Invitational until 2014.)
Handicaps and sandbagging
We play full handicaps and the committee of me and the uncles frown upon sandbaggers. That being said, in the spirit of this group, and given the emphasis on camaraderie over competition, it’s not something we’ve had to worry about. And if there are any clear sandbaggers in the future, they won’t be asked back. A good buddies trip isn’t afraid to cut someone for any form of grave misconduct.
- At the opening dinner/ceremony, I remind the group of why we’re all together: To honor the uncles, play great golf courses and to enjoy each other’s company. Then I introduce each franchise owner, who then introduces their partner. Although it’s “my” buddies trip, I will be meeting four new friends this year. I find the member-guest format keeps the trip fresh, especially if the new friend has never seen Bandon Dunes. It’s like meeting someone who hasn’t seen Braveheart—Can I watch you watch it?
- The opening dinner is followed by a video of clips and pictures from the previous year(s) of the UTI.
- For the first competitive round at Bandon Dunes the group gathers around the first tee for rules clarifications, scorecards and ceremonial tee shots by Uncle Tony and Uncle Bill. Three years ago, Uncle Tony shocked the crowd—and especially Bandon’s first-tee webcam—by dropping his drawers before taking his inaugural hack.
- We’re all north of our 40s now, so leaving the time gap on Friday between the competitive round and the putting tournament at the Punchowl has been wildly popular.
- The uncles are aging. Tony and Bill can only play the Preserve, the Punchbowl and one competitive round each. This year they’ve called in Uncle Lew to play the other two competitive rounds. The uncles always partner with either Jeff Simonds, Bandon’s Head Pro, or Mike Chupka, Bandon’s Director of Communications.
- Every meal check is divided by total number of people at the table. No exceptions. Most charges go to each person’s room, which keeps things simple.
- “If you don’t like it, start your own trip.” Complaints about anything are heard, but mostly ignored. The best buddies trips have a benevolent dictator and this trip has three.
- Sunday morning watching the final round The Open is still developing. Last year’s weather delays at St. Andrews didn’t help the cause.
- That being said, the Sunday late-morning reflective walk to the Labyrinth is well-received by those who are still around. Down the trail, over the bridge, up the hill and into the spiritual little clearing in the tall trees. It’s the spot to appreciate great friends, lasting memories, and it’s where we officially start planning for next year.
Your best-kept secrets about Bandon Dunes
@meireisj: “The labyrinth is a great place to take a walk, even at night if the moon is out (take a flashlight).”
@psuphi90: “Talk to one of the older caddies and find the treasure chest to experience a unique treat.”
@albysure74: “Best secret: Night golf! But you have to special request it.”
@joemirocha: “Play Sheep Ranch. Course is yours for the day and you make your own shots/rules.”
@kosmic_ray: “Next to Trails 18th there is a private patio that you can reserve for a nice dinner as the sun is setting.”