Throughout my career of covering course developments and restorations, nothing is more fun than being in the sand and dirt with the architects. What a treat to follow the feet of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw at Cabot Cliffs, Sand Valley, Ozarks National and Sheep Ranch. Not to mention their restoration of Pinehurst No. 2. I’ve walked and talked with Tom Doak while he built The Loop at Forest Dunes, and Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner as they built Streamsong Black and renovated Pinehurst No. 4. I’ve enjoyed my time watching the Love brothers do good work on Atlantic Dunes at Sea Pines and the Plantation Course at Sea Island. I witnessed my neighborhood course in Winter Park get resuscitated by Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns and then followed their creation of the par-3 course at Forest Dunes.
And then there’s David McLay Kidd. I’ll never forget roaming what would become Mammoth Dunes at Sand Valley with a revitalized Kidd, who was aglow with the success of the first course at Gamble Sands in Brewster, Washington. While we walked and talked in Wisconsin, Kidd kneeled down, drew designs in the sand and shared details of his philosophy: “Fun!”
That was the Scottish-born designer’s focus for the foreseeable future. Although he hit that note 18 times when he built Bandon Dunes for Mike Keiser in 1999, it was the next several courses Kidd built after Bandon that caused Keiser to part ways with the wonder kid. Were the courses Kidd built too hard? Were the greens too wild and wonky? Was he taking jobs on land that probably shouldn’t have been turned into golf courses?
The answer was, for the most part, yes.
But I give Kidd a lot of credit for looking in the mirror and getting back to the basics. “You’ve got to build something that people want to come back and play again,” he says. “And better yet, they want to play it again and again.”
Which is why Gamble Sands was a turning point in Kidd’s career.
After several attempts to get Keiser to see his new course in Central Washington (pictured above), Mike Sr., and his son, Michael, finally made the trip. Keiser played and ranked the holes with what is now his famous formula: on a scale of 1 to 10. Kidd’s work, across the board and scorecard, received high marks. So not only did Gamble Sands get Golf Digest’s Best New Course of 2014 and a recent ranking of No. 38 on the publication’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses, it also got the nod from modern golf’s most influential developer. Which is how and why Kidd got the gig to build Mammoth Dunes as the second course at Sand Valley in Wisconsin.
Kidd was back!
And the comeback continues at Gamble Sands as he’s building a second 18-hole course for the Gebbers family in Brewster.
“There’s a lot of responsibility, pressure and expectation that comes with building another course for the Gebbers family,” says Kidd. “They’re doubling down on me and the success of the first course. And there’s going to be a lot of drama that unfolds the next two summers as we work on anything but a benign piece of land. With high risk comes the potential of great reward. We’re about to climb our Everest and see what happens.”
The Fire Pit has been commissioned by Gamble Sands to tag along and document the build of Kidd’s new course from start to finish. Coming soon is not only another course but also a docuseries on the past, present and future of this Central Washington treasure.
The best part? It’ll be fun.