By Blaine Newnham
They started out building a golf course on a hilltop, a rocky, difficult site. Three holes and $1.5 million later, they mothballed the project in 2008 when the recession hit. This was the Gebbers Family – one of the world’s largest producers of apples and cherries – initial foray into diversifying their family empire with golf. Now they are back on track, with another nearby course, Gamble Sands, scheduled to open next August on a sandy plateau above the Columbia River near the town of Brewster in Central Washington.
The hope is that they will one day have a 36-hole golf resort and get back to the Perry Dye design on the hill, but in the meantime the family has hit it dead perfect with Gamble Sands and its designer, David McLay Kidd. Kidd, praised for his first design, Bandon Dunes, and later criticized in some circles for building courses that were simply too difficult for the average player, got back to basics at Gamble Sands with wide, open fairways, few greenside bunkers, wonderful links architecture on sand that more often sloped to the hole, not away from it.
With fine fescue grasses throughout, Gamble – the last name of the family matriarch – is firm and fast, wonderful for seniors and women; entirely fun to play. Kidd went so far as to make sure irrigation wouldn’t reach fescue along the fairway edges. In playing two rounds, I never looked for a ball, let alone lost one. “You might shoot 100,” said Kidd, “but you’ll do it with the same worn out golf ball.”
Kidd suggested to a writer from Golf Digest that Gamble Sands might be the next Sand Hills, the famous and private course in a remote area of Nebraska. He also revealed that because of the sand and minimal design and construction, the course cost only $2 million to build. The question will be: Is it a good enough test for tournament players? The answer should be “yes” as it can be played at 7,300 yards and come with nasty pin placements on huge greens. But that isn’t the point, not for Kidd anyway. “My goal was to make this as playable as Bandon Dunes,’’ he said. “I got sucked into all the talk about a resistance to par. I was guilty of taking the fun out of the game. I wanted to put it back in, where the average player sees possibilities and the good player sees opportunity.”
There are no cart paths, walking will be encouraged, but golf carts will be available. The course will be operated by OB Sports and green fees are expected to be $100-$150. The Perry Dye designed course on the hill? They hope to have it finished in five years. About the Gamble Sands site Kidd said, “there was sand everywhere, 600 acres and 600 feet deep. There were absolutely no excuses.” As for the design, Kidd said, ”I had the right approach at Bandon Dunes, lost it, and have found it again at Gamble Sands.”