A Good Gamble


Since 2008, David McLay Kidd has been quietly building his next world-class gem right in our backyard.

By Tony Dear

Ask a golf course designer — a good one, whose priority is creating something great and lasting — what the perfect scenario might be when considering a new job, and he’ll have a few requests.

First, it will certainly help if the course is to be built in a beautiful place with some movement in the ground, and on soil with a high sand content.

Second, though the designer would never admit as much, he’d probably prefer it if the owner remained silent throughout the process. It would also be nice if the owner were sufficiently well heeled to avoid the all-too-familiar situation where projects that look promising on paper never actually get off the ground. Even better if he’s so well off that he doesn’t need to sell lots, condos or houses to pay for the thing.

If the course is going to be open to the public, and therefore accessible to more than just a small band of bankers, stock-brokers and lawyers, then so much the better. And if, after all these boxes have been checked, the course is somehow going to have a beneficial impact on the local area, then you can be fairly certain the architect is going to reach for the nearest pen and ask where to sign.

David McLay Kidd says projects like these are about as “common as hens’ teeth.”

The Scot, now resident in Bend, Ore., has had a great run in recent years. In February, he opened a resort course in Nicaragua in a magnificent spot on the Pacific Coast owned by one of Latin America’s wealthiest men. As the first world-class course in this poverty-stricken country, Guacalito de la Isla will certainly help attract tourists and business, while employing over 200 locals. Kidd has worked for several other billionaires, been given a handful of predominantly sandy sites, was chosen to build the seventh course at St. Andrews, and has half a dozen courses in his portfolio that anyone can play, including Oregon’s famed Bandon Dunes.

But, he’ll probably tell you that his list of criteria for the ideal job has never been met so perfectly as it was at the all-new Gamble Sands, which overlooks the Columbia River a mile or two from Brewster in Central Washington. As its name suggests, the course was built on a thick seam of sand left behind by the glacier that formed the Columbia River Gorge several millennia ago.

“When I first flew up to Brewster, in 2008, I couldn’t see the sand,” says Kidd. “But I wasn’t looking at the river-front parcel of land immediately under the aircraft on approach. There is a belt of fine sand about 300 feet deep that lies on the north bank of the river just below the Chief Joseph Dam. It’s almost absurd to think it could exist so far from an ocean.”

Kidd had first heard about the job from Orrin Vincent, founder and chairman of OB Sports, which had been hired to manage the course. Kidd had been friends with Vincent for many years, since designing OB’s Tetherow Golf Club in Bend.

“Orrin told me it was a pretty special spot,” says Kidd. “But as I was flying in, I wondered how on Earth this could be as unique as he had said. After walking it, though, I thought he had totally undersold it, which is unusual for him.”

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