In 1859, the area around Brewster, Okanogan County, experienced a gold rush.
This August, the town is hoping for a golf rush, and with good reason.
Opening Aug. 2 just outside the small burg on the Columbia River is what just might get labeled a world-class golf course.
The optimism is because Gamble Sands is designed by David McLay Kidd, a well-known Scottish-born designer best known for doing the original course at Bandon Dunes on the Oregon Coast.
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That course launched Bandon on its way to golf Mecca-hood, and it now has five courses and is frequented by golfers who arrive in everything from station wagons to corporate jets.
If Gamble Sands is successful, a second course by another big-name designer already has a head start. Construction had started on a Perry Dye-designed course overlooking Brewster before the recession hit in 2008. Three holes were finished before work was suspended.
The master plan for golf in Brewster includes a new hotel.
Brewster, which is four hours from Seattle and 35 minutes north of Chelan, may seem an out-of-the-way location for golf connoisseurs, but there is precedent, not only in Bandon but also in remote Mullen, Neb. That’s where Sand Hills Golf Club draws high-end golfers and national attention.
Kidd has said his task at Gamble Sands was simple: “Build an awesome golf course.”
The new course and the incomplete Dye course are owned by the Gebbers family, a giant in the apple and cherry business and one of the state’s largest property owners. The family owns 80,000 acres and leases more than 40,000 additional acres, much of it for cattle grazing.
Kidd said Cass Gebbers, the CEO of the family business, “basically said, ‘Here you go. Here’s 600 or 700 acres. What can you do with it?’ Of course, as a golf-course designer my chin dropped.”
Making the opportunity all the more special is the fact the course is built on sand, which designers love because it results in firm fairways and drains well.
Kidd said there are “no excuses” if the course doesn’t match expectations. This is a course with fescue grass (Chambers Bay also has fescue), no cart paths, no homes, no highway noise and views of the Columbia River from 12 holes. There are no trees.
“Pure, unadulterated golf,” as Kidd puts it.
Greens fees aren’t cheap and the course rating is 74.1 (what an expert would shoot) from the tips with a slope rating of 128 (113 is a “standard” course). From what the course calls its “regular” (translation, “white”) tees, the course is 6,370 yards with a rating of 69.7 and slope of 118.
The low slope rating for golfers using the “regular” tees reflects Kidd’s goal to build a course that was enjoyable. Some of his courses, especially Tetherow Golf Resort in Bend, Ore., have been criticized as too difficult.
“I want average golfers and occasional golfers to come out here and never lose a golf ball,” said Kidd. “You may shoot 100 but you’ll do it with the same worn-out ball you started with. I want the good golfer to stand there and see opportunity, to be hopeful, enthusiastic to know he can be aggressive without being penalized.”
Kidd was introduced to the Gebbers clan by Orrin Vincent, chairman of OB Sports, the company that will manage the course. The course name honors the first settlers (the Gambles) of the land of what is now a fifth-generation family that arrived in Okanogan County in the 1800s.
Vincent said he hopes middle-income golfers will visit the course “for their one round of gourmet golf” a year. He also envisions golf-buddy trips from the U.S. and Canada making the course part of road trips that include well-regarded courses on the other side of the border such as Predator Ridge in Vernon, B.C.
“The key for us is to get people to the site,” he said. “Once we get people here, I think they are going to come back over and over and tell their friends.”