How the Bandon Dunes Solstice united two strangers for a 72-hole marathon

The first group out for the Bandon Solstice teed off at 5:15 a.m. Courtesy Steve Dipaola

The first group out for the Bandon Solstice teed off at 5:15 a.m. Courtesy Steve Dipaola

A golfer does not simply show up to play 72 holes in one day at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, a rugged golf paradise on the southern coast of Oregon, on the summer solstice -- a day devoted to the summer season and extremist golf nuts alike. First, there’s the matter of getting on the tee sheet. Then there is preparation and strategy.

For Steve Turner, from Victoria, British Columbia, there was a winter devoted to strength exercises, at the recommendation of his chiropractor. Considerable thought went into footwear (waterproof shoes for the first round, to account for dew-laden grass, plus extra shoes and interchangeable insoles for the rest of the day), a walking stick to rest on between shots, rain gear and of course Advil, to ease the pain of what would surely be a 15-hour day of nonstop golf.

But it all went south with 24 hours to go.

As Turner notes, it’s not very easy to get anywhere from Victoria, so getting to Bandon Dunes included stops in Seattle, Portland, North Bend and then a shuttle drive to the resort. None of Turner’s flights on solstice-eve left at their scheduled time, and by the end of the journey, Turner had not only lost his wallet but had become separated from his golf bag, which contained all his well-planned essentials. This is when he began texting Steve Dipaola, a friend of a friend whom he’d never actually met despite the fact that they were about to spend a marathon day together playing golf.

“I’m texting him saying, ‘Get me money!’” Turner recalls, knowing he’d likely need to buy new shoes, rain gear, etc., and also pay his caddie fees. “I can’t tell you how nice a man he is. He’s really a gentleman.”

There was some disbelief on Dipaola’s end (one return text went something to the effect of, “Is this a joke?”), but by the end of the adventure, Turner had taken to calling Dipaola “Saint Steven” for good reason. Dipaola obliged, not only bringing cash but also golf balls and, maybe even more importantly, Advil. The general manager at Bandon cut Turner a deal on club rental and merchandise. Turner and Dipaola made it to the first tee of Pacific Dunes by 5:35 a.m. on June 20 (with a quick stop at the range for Turner to warm up with the rented clubs in the pre-dawn) without further catastrophe.

Steve Dipaola, left, and Steve Turner at the end of the day. Courtesy Steve Dipaola

Steve Dipaola, left, and Steve Turner at the end of the day. Courtesy Steve Dipaola

Walking the 14-hour marathon

Dipaola, a Portland, Ore.-based photographer and golf nut, describes the Bandon Dunes Summer Solstice as a sort of secret society, and that’s not for a lack of knowledge about Bandon and its people. Dipaola has been to the resort 13 times and played 35 rounds -- a certified “Bandonista.” After months of asking about the Solstice, getting often-vague responses in return, Dipaola, 60, found himself in the Solstice lottery, and then in late 2016, discovered he had won a spot for himself and a guest.

All of a sudden, Dipaola had another question to answer: “Who is crazy enough to do this?”

That turned out to be Turner, also 60 and a retired real estate lawyer. He earned the recommendation from a mutual friend who works in the media. Having been to Bandon just once before, Turner jumped at the trip despite the physical challenge it might present. Turner is a veteran of two Half IronMan races (that’s a 70.3-mile race) and qualified for the 1996 Boston Marathon (he didn’t run it because of the crowd that turned up that year for the 100th anniversary). There’s no doubt the Solstice is an endurance event, but Turner insists it’s not a superhuman one.

“If you’re in decent shape and you regularly walk, I think you can do this,” Turner said. “I don’t think I’m some kind of incredible athlete for having done this. I think you gotta be a golf nut to even contemplate this kind of stuff.”

Dipaola, who calls himself less active than Turner, always walks when he plays golf, but found the prospect of a 72-hole day a unique event for which to train.

“How do you train for 14 hours and 25 miles?” he said. “It’s like walking a marathon, but if you’re walking a marathon, you’re walking all the time. It’s really a lot of time on your feet.”

Lace up your shoes, get it done

Perhaps the most impressive statistic from the Bandon Solstice is the 100 percent completion rate. According to the resort, 117 players showed up to take the challenge, and 117 finished. Each received a crisp $100 bill at the end of the day -- a good opportunity for a grizzled, end-of-day photo and a nice return from the $1,400 fee players ponied up at the start.

The other numbers surrounding the Solstice are incredible, too. Turner and Dipaola reported that none of their four rounds exceeded or even reached four hours. They played the first 18 holes, at Pacific Dunes, in 3:08. By the end of the day, the wind had reached 25-30 mph, and their playing time had slowed to 3:48.

Resort numbers show the fastest round of the day at 2:29 and the average pace for all groups at 3:15.

“The expectation is pretty high,” Turner said. “They send you a memo saying we expect you to play the first two rounds in three hours, the next two rounds in under four hours.”

Still, Turner said, it’s not like resort officials were ever barking for players to pick up the pace. His foursome never saw the group in front or behind. Each time they finished a course, a shuttle picked them up to take them to the next one (groups moved around the resort in the order in which the courses were built), which provided a quick rest and just enough time to change socks and/or shoes.

Turner and Dipaola's foursome, and caddies. Courtesy Steve Dipaola

Turner and Dipaola's foursome, and caddies. Courtesy Steve Dipaola

Perhaps most impressive, and instrumental in the sub-four-hour pace, was the coordinated and clearly professional caddie effort. Turner observed that they often partnered to get the flag in and out of the hole and transport clubs to the next tee to keep things moving.

“By the time players walk off the green, there is always a caddie standing on the tee to line up a player,” Turner said. “They’re always slightly ahead of you in terms of being ready to keep you moving.”

Take a caddie was the best piece of advice Turner could offer for players lucky enough to find themselves in the field for a future Solstice. It saves time and feet. For the day, Turner’s FitBit registered 55,700 steps, which is just over 25 miles. He broke 80 for three of four rounds (with rental clubs), but explained that scoring is not really the point -- it’s anything but a traditional “tournament” with a medalist.

“We were knocking gimmies that would make my wife go ballistic all day long,” Turner said, adding that players were encouraged to treat any area in which a ball was lost as if it was a red-staked hazard.

Neither Turner nor Dipaola envisions the Solstice becoming an annual event on his calendar. Dipaola said he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of playing it again in three to five years, but at this point, it stands as one heck of a story for his friends and grandkids.

“It’ll be one of those things I’ll talk about the rest of my life.”

If it's on your bucket list

The resort will fill the 2018 Bandon Solstice tee sheet by lottery, and you can get your name on that list by phone. For more information, click here.