Who wants to golf Washington State’s newest links course and soon-to-be “Best of” Gamble Sands? Who doesn’t! How would you like to tee it up at the new David McLay Kidd-designed Gamble Sands links golf course in Brewster, Washington with three of your favorite golfing partners? We are giving one lucky reader the chance to do just that, but first, you must demonstrate to us how well you know your Pacific Northwest golf courses. Just like in years past, we don’t expect you to tell us when the golf course opened, or who designed it, or the grass type used to seed the greens! We do, however, invite you to take on the challenge of correctly identifying the 12 featured Northwest golf courses. All you need to do is match (or guess) the names of each featured golf course with the corresponding photo. Correctly guess the names of the Washington and Oregon golf courses and your name will go into a drawing to win a free foursome from Golf Today Northwest! Yes, the green fees are on us. Who’s in to win? Please click the button below to make your guesses, but be sure to have your entry completed by October 17, 2014. The winner will be notified via email by late October 2014. Get to it and good luck!
Semiahmoo Resort, Golf, and Spa Back in full swing
Semiahmoo Resort, Golf, and Spa located on the idyllic shores of Semiahmoo Bay and Drayton Harbor at the top of Washington State, though secluded, was a popular destination for the better part of 25 years. With two high quality courses in Semiahmoo and Loomis Trails available for public play, the appeal to regional (and Canadian) tourists, golfers, wedding and conference planners was high. However, when the 198 room Semiahmoo Resort fell victim to a sluggish economic recovery and closed its doors in December 2012, the notion that it would again open under new ownership within a year was, frankly, an unlikely proposition. Fast forward to 2014 with new owners Resort Semiahmoo and Wright Hotels, and Coastal Hotel Group, a Seattle area hospitality-management company charged with managing the Resort and its golf courses, it was time for me to get reacquainted with one of my personal favorite Northwest getaway destinations, not only to play a little golf but to also find out what all the hype is about with FootGolf, the new hybrid version of the game now available for play at Semiahmoo’s two golf courses.
Benefiting from a multi-million dollar renovation that included upgrades to the hotel lobby, guest rooms with new luxury bedding and flat screen TVs, Spa and health and fitness facilities, and restaurants, the Resort opened to the public in August 2013.
The week that we visited, the Resort was plenty busy with the car park jam packed and hotel lobby abuzz with activity. The accommodations with the new upgrades proved both comfortable and well appointed. The views of Semiahmoo Bay with White Rock in the distance were, well, terrific as expected, but it was Semiahmoo’s bar and restaurants that proved the most impressive. Starting with the charming Packers Oyster Bar located on the waterfront offering guests a relaxing respite surrounded by leather armchairs, distressed wood bar, and incredible black walnut floors. Armed with a pint of the Leavenworth “Whistlin’ Pig” Hefeweizen while smacking down on some oysters in the half-shell and peering out into the bay, we almost missed our FootGolf tee-time!
About that FootGolf. True dat! In fact, kicking a soccer ball down the fairway, while initially an odd concept to get my head around, quickly proved a barrel of fun as we attempted to kick a regulation sized soccer ball into each of the 18 holes and their corresponding 21 inch cups in fewer strokes (kicks) than the par 36, 1124 yard course suggests. The bottom line is FootGolf, at least for this traditional golfer, is an absolute blast and a terrific activity to engage the whole family. In fact, we had a couple of families playing behind us obviously enjoying the experience—and exercise. What a way to spend a summer evening! The FootGolf program will be available every Friday and Saturday evening this summer from 6 p.m. to dusk. The rate to play FootGolf at the Semiahmoo Resort, Golf & Spa courses will be $10 for nine holes ($8 for juniors) and $16 for 18 holes ($12 for juniors), as well a $3 soccer ball rental fee. Proper golf course attire and footwear is required.
Post-FootGolf it was time to head back to the Resort and dine at the bright and airy Pierside Kitchen for dinner. First impressions of this restaurant were of the harbor views and nautical themed weathered and white washed wood walls and open beamed ceilings, subtle lighting fixtures, and a diverse menu created with local and regional food producers in mind. The service was polished and attentive and despite a full house, the food arrived without delay. With the sun setting over the water, the ambiance was really quite special and the pairing of the Wood-Fired Halibut and glass (or two) of Ste. Michelle Winery’s 2012 ‘Indian Wells’, Chardonnay topped off a very pleasurable dining experience.
Of course, we couldn’t conclude our Semiahmoo experience without taking in an early morning round at the Arnold Palmer-designed Semiahmoo Golf & Country Club, not surprisingly rated Washington’s #7 public golf course by Golfweek in2012. What I enjoy about this Palmer design is what you see if what you get with rolling fairways and generous landing areas. Where Palmer likes to “get ya” is with his green complexes: firm, fast, and with subtle undulations that will truly test your flat stick skills. The 7,005-yard Semiahmoo is open to the public on odd days of the month and is worth every penny! Of course, if time and circumstance permit, you must follow up a round at Semiahmoo with a round at the nearby Graham Cooke-designed Loomis Trail Golf Club, also ranked among the top courses in 2014 by Golfweek. If you’re a fan of forced carries and water on every hole, you’ll love Loomis. What a quinella of golf on offer and with the Resort back in full swing, the value and quality of your next visit to Semiahmoo is a sure bet!
Please visit www.semiahmoo.com for more information or to book your next fall Stay and Play Package!
By Tony Dear
Washington’s newest adventure opens to the public on August 2nd and we think you’re going to love it. Through the worst of the economic downturn, golfers despaired that Gamble Sands would ever be finished. But now, six years after c first set eyes on the wild, sandy, expansive site high above the Columbia River a few miles east of Brewster, it opens to an audience becoming a little spoiled on good golf.
In recent years, Washington has added Chambers Bay, Salish Cliffs, Wine Valley, White Horse, Palouse Ridge, the Home Course, Prospector and Rope Rider to its inventory, and Gamble Sands is set to join them on the state’s ‘Best of…’ lists.
Kidd says his priority at Gamble Sands was to design a playable course, one on which every single golfer, regardless of his or her skill level, could match or beat their handicap while enjoying amazing views over the desolate but mesmerizing landscape. You won’t spend your precious time here looking for wayward shots. Instead you’ll have tremendous fun playing the ground game, putting from well off the green, working out the angles, aiming 30 yards right of the flag and watching the ball pitch then curl round toward the hole, waiting 10 extra seconds for your ball to come to a complete halt, putting on supremely smooth greens, and hitting off beautifully crisp turf maintained by superintendent Chip Caswell.
Here’s a guide to all 18 holes with comments from Kidd on his thinking behind each hole, and Dave Christenson, the course’s General Manager, on how to play them.
1st - 285-422 yards, Par 4
The 1st at Gamble Sands is what every opening hole should be – a fairly gentle introduction that won’t intimidate anyone and builds anticipation for what is to come. A generous fairway with a slight bend to the left reveals a large green that slopes from back to front. Large bunkers that frame the hole on either side shouldn’t really come into play.
Kidd: We had a long ridge ending in a perfect green site that allowed us to easily create a right to left dogleg with a beautiful green complex that gathers the ball from either side making for an easy par opening hole.
Christenson: Swing freely and favor the right side with a drive or fairway wood. This will leave you a short approach and the best angle into the green.
2nd – 188-301 yards, Par 4
From the elevated tee enjoy the superb view west over the Columbia River and further west to the Cascades. The 2nd is a short, driveable par 4 from most of the tees that will be many people’s favorite hole. A large bunker sits in the middle of the fairway 50 yards short of a green which slopes predominantly from right to left. A huge greenside bunker on the left is definitely in play for those taking on the green from the tee
Kidd: Originally we planned this as a par 3, but ultimately we decided a driveable par 4 was more thrilling. Maybe the cover-girl hole.
Christenson: Feeling confident, take driver at the green aiming slightly right. More conservative play is out right with a long iron over fairway bunker.
3rd – 464-633 yards, Par 5
The par 5 3rd is the longest hole on the course and begins with what looks like a fairly daunting carry over a long, rising, diagonally-oriented stretch of sand and scrub. But play from the appropriate tee and don’t take on a carry you can’t handle, and you’ll safely drop your ball on another generous fairway.
This is a three-shot hole, so bunt a hybrid safely up the fairway then pitch over the bunker short of the green to set up a birdie putt.
Kidd: Having played lots of golf in Ireland, I knew how much fun a blind shot up and over a ridge can be. And here at the 3rd, we could make a very dramatic tee shot.
Christenson: Use the white rock as the aiming point off the tee. A huge fairway awaits. Check the wind as this will influence how much of the bunker you can bite off from the tee.
4th – 112-166 yards, Par 3
The first par 3 features a long stretch of sand down the right side, but the smaller, deeper bunker on the left is the far more insidious of the two hazards and should be avoided. The hole moves downhill so a poorly-hit iron might possibly squirm its way to the front edge, but only a well-struck and well-directed shot will put you within birdie range on a wavy, heaving green where three putts will be far more common than one.
Kidd: We started this one thinking about the famed Biarritz hole but it took its own form as the shaping developed. The huge bunker right side was as much about opening up the view as it was guarding the green.
Christenson: Safe play is left short and ball will feed on to green. Back pin may require a well struck short iron to front of green that will feed back to pin.
5th – 392-517, Par 4
This is a wonderfully natural hole with an amazingly-sited green that is considerably easier to hit from the left side of the fairway. The fairway slopes from left to right however, meaning that unless you draw or hook one into the slope to minimize the drop to the right, you will likely be faced with a tough uphill approach over another long, diagonal stretch of sand. And because the green is set at an angle to the fairway, the approach from the right will need to come in high to hold the putting surface.
You’re not dead from the right side of the fairway by any means – you’ll very rarely be left with no options on this course – but you will be doing yourself a big favor if you approach the green from the left.
Kidd: An incredibly dramatic landscape opened up here playing along the edge of a huge dry canyon edge to a peninsula tucked behind a hillock. We opened up huge ridges of open sand.
Christenson: Aim driver at right side of fairway bunker on the left for the best entry into the green. Don’t go long. Par is a good score.
6th – 105-265 yards, Par 3
A far sterner par 3 than the 4th, the beautiful 6th plays downhill to a wickedly sloping green. The ground slopes sharply down to the putting surface from the right, so even a bad push or slice off the tee might find the green.
Kidd: The huge, dry canyon that bisects the entire course could only be crossed at two points and the first crossing comes here. Our initial thought was to put the green on the otherwise of the canyon and play across it, but that seemed too obvious and I hate doing the obvious.
Christenson: Play short left of the green with one less club than yardage suggests. Natural slope will move ball toward the hole. You’ll lose sight of it for a moment but will be pleased with the result.
7th – 344-514 yards, Par 5
A wonderful left-to-right par 5 with a cape-hole decision to make on the tee – where to aim the tee shot and how much sand to carry. A smaller bunker in the fairway also needs to be sidestepped. Once safely on the fairway the hole slopes uphill slightly, but a low running hybrid/long iron should see you home.
Kidd: We exposed lots of sand on the inside edge of the dogleg making an aggressive tee shot very dangerous or very rewarding. A perfect green-site that provides the opportunity for a running approach, and with a great natural backboard.
Christenson: Safe play is at small fairway bunker – ball will move significantly right when landing. Second shot is slightly uphill and no trouble long so be sure and take one extra club.
8th - 214-313 yards, Par 4
Another of Gamble Sands’s great short par 4s, the 8th is easy, dangerous, fun, confounding, straightforward and bewildering all at the same time. Three diagonally-set fairway bunkers give the hole its distinctive look, but shouldn’t be a problem for golfers who spend a few extra seconds on the tee carefully considering their optimal route. Ignore the bunkers and head right and the second shot will be trickier than if you aim left and carry the sand.
Kidd: This was a tricky piece of the site. The land ahead of the natural tee gently fell away making it blind. We decided not to cut away the ground and leave it as a partially blind, almost driveable par 4 inspired by a hole at Kapalua by Coore & Crenshaw.
Christenson: The bunkers make this a split fairway. Left side leaves best angle into green. Take the right and you’ll probably leave a blind second. Good chance at birdie here, but don’t go long.
9th – 296-429 yards, Par 4
An uphill par 4 that bends left to right, the 9th hole should provide a gentle close to the front nine, provided you avoid the large bunkers on either side of the fairway. A good short-iron approach will give you a good chance of making three, but be careful not to go long and leave yourself a potentially nasty chip or putt back down the hill.
Kidd: This one was an easy find as the fairway plays across the edge of a bluff. A natural gulch in the bluff edge was used to push the hole left to right. The greensite was a natural bench with a huge slope behind it.
Christenson: Safe play is a fairway wood out left. Boomers pick your line carefully as bunker guards right side.
10th – 81-155 yards, Par 3
The third of the par 3s and another absolute gem. Again downhill and again possessing a large expanse of sand to the right of the green, the 10th demands a lofted, soft-landing iron shot if you are to set up a birdie chance. The green slopes all over the place, so the closer you can put your tee shot to the hole the better.
Kidd: We had a beautiful bowl here. It looked like a huge sand crater, and a short par 3 was obvious. We exposed a lot of sand in the base of the bowl and created a huge green with a lot of contour.
Christenson: Use outward slopes to you advantage in navigating ball close to pin.
11th – 324-426 yards, Par 4
A right-to-left dogleg par 4 with a bunker in the center right of the fairway definitely threatens the drive. The best option off the tee might actually be to aim directly at the sand and let the ball drift right, although there is more room to the left. The putting surface is one of the course’s flattest which gives a sort of infinity edge look to the approach shot. Just trust your yardage, and steer well clear of the large bunker just short of the green.
Kidd: Our first visit didn’t reveal an obvious hole here, and we had to think hard for a while. In the end, a long par 4, played diagonally into a wide fairway, was the answer. The intimidating tee shot didn’t please us though, so we kept making the fairway wider to the left.
Christenson: Big hitters can carry fairway bunker and be left with a short approach to a relatively unprotected green.
12th – 189-333 yards, Par 4
The third and final driveable par 4 on the course, the 12th demands a little consideration on the tee. Do you take a driver and go for it, or lay up left of the huge bunker on the right and short of another huge bunker further up the hole on the left? If you do go for it, a slight push won’t hurt you as the ball could feed down to the narrow green from the right.
Kidd: I love to tease golfers, but I also love to make them decide between all-in or complete layup. Nothing in-between. This one does that. A deep receptive shelf allowed us to tempt the bomber to push it up the right and feed the ball to the green.
Christenson: Play drive over fairway bunker right and the ball will feed left on landing and should get close or be on the green. Safe play is down the middle with a long iron or fairway wood. Long green so check pin location as there may be a difference of 1-2 clubs here.
13th – 411-562 yards, Par 5
A left to right-bending par 5 that will be a three-shot hole for the vast majority of players. Skirt the large bunker on the right side of the fairway, bump a fairway wood or hybrid up the left side and you’ll leave a pitch over a sizeable mound/bunker 20-30 yards short and right of a very large, narrow, undulating green.
Kidd: A natural corridor was perfect for a par 5, but a ridge directly across the fairway just short of the green was a challenge. Pushing the sand away would have been easy, but we showed restraint and decided to leave it, so the green is completely blind but has no bunkers and gathers from every side. We will see how US golfers respond to this feature which is common in the UK.
Christenson: Wind will influence your aim point from the tee. If benign, take it over middle of right fairway bunker. Ball will kick forward on down slope and leave long iron into blind green. Play safe to the left of the bunker, and continue down left side for easy par.
14th – 255-437 yards, Par 4
The split fairway on this long par 4 gives the hole a memorable look, but only a select group of power hitters should give the left fairway a second look. The right side is plenty wide and though it does leave a tougher second shot over a large front bunker, it will at least give you a chance of making four. Don’t worry if you don’t though, card a five and you won’t lose much ground to the field, if any.
Kidd: The canyon that bisects the course (see 6th hole) starts here and we decided to use it to spilt the fairway.
Christenson: Check the wind and your confidence. If playing well and hole is downwind take on the left fairway. Otherwise stay right. Long much better than short on approach.
15th – 278-467 yards, Par 4
One of the few narrow-ish fairways where teeing it high, aiming any old place, and giving it a rip definitely won’t work. There’s a large sandy area cutting in from the left, and the scrub on the right seems dangerously close. Commit to a club and a line and you should leave a fairly straightforward short iron to the green.
Kidd: In our original routing, the 15th and 16th fit where 15 now lies. But Casey (see below) discovered the Par 3 16th late in the day, so the 15th became a fairly long par 4.
Christenson: Carry right fairway bunker for best approach angle. Long approach is okay. Par a good score here.
16th – 141-225 yards, Par 3
The final par 3 was discovered late in the design process by Kidd’s associate Casey Krahenbuhl with input from Tory Wulf, a member of the ownership family and the project manager. Another huge, roly-poly green funnels balls towards the center, especially from the right and long.
Kidd: This hole might never have been found if Casey hadn’t gone walkabout one more time. A massive backboard can be used to roll a ball back to a lower pin, the high right side of the green is semi blind and in a bowl.
Christenson: Never a bad play to go slightly long and watch the ball roll back toward the pin.
17th – 342-428 yards, Par 4
A long-ish, straight-ish par 4 that plays slightly uphill. Sand and scrub all the way down the right and a large sandy area that cuts in from the left frame the drive, while a large bunker short and left of the green dominates the approach. It’s a tough hole certainly, but nothing that two solid shots can’t overcome.
Kidd: As a scot who loves matchplay, I figure most matches finish on 15/16/17 so that’s why these holes offer big rewards for big risks. The 17th requires the bravest of drives to an elevated ridge to set up any chance of a birdie.
Christenson: Wind can be huge factor here. Play safe out to the left or take on a longer carry over the sandy area which borders the entire right side. Avoid bunker short left of green at all costs.
18th – 376-566 yards, Par 5
A downhill par 5 with a speed slot at average driving distance that should give your tee shot a boost and make the green very reachable. Though you’ll need to negotiate a centrally-positioned bunker 40/50 yards short of the green, if you do find the wide fairway from the tee you’ll be disappointed if you don’t finish your round with a birdie. A four will make that first pint in the simple, elegant clubhouse (modeled on a Bend, OR brewery) taste all the colder/sweeter/more refreshing, but don’t linger in the clubhouse too long. If there’s any daylight left get out and play these wonderful holes again.
Kidd: From atop the same ridge that 17 plays along we set up a breathtaking overview of the Columbia and mountains beyond. First and last impressions matter, and here we had a great opportunity to lay out a memorable vista from the final tee.
Christenson: Enjoy the view and swing with confidence. A drive center left is perfect and will catch natural slope for additional yardage. Mid-to-long iron left for a chance at eagle or a sure birdie.
The final word goes to Kidd: We thought a lot about what we don’t like about golf and golf courses – stuffiness, inconvenience, lack of atmosphere, complexity, grandeur, ostentatiousness, etc. and we made sure Gamble Sands would be intimate, easy, relaxed, humble and, most of all, fun.
For more information, visit www.gamblesands.com
*photos courtesy Tony Dear
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.”