David McLay Kidd Back For An Encore Performance At Gamble Sands

Work Has Begun On A Second 18-hole Course At The Highly Regarded Central Washington Resort - All Images Credit Brad Ziemer

By Brad Ziemer, British Columbia Golf

BREWSTER, Wash. — If you build it, they will come. When David McLay Kidd finished creating his Field of Dreams — Gamble Sands — 10 years ago, the Scottish architect was certain golfers would make the trek to its out-of-the-way location in central Washington to have a look.

The question in his mind was, would they return? “Nobody knew if anyone would come out here and I told them getting people to drive out here is not going to be the hard part,” McLay Kidd says. “The hard part is going to be to get them to come back again and again and again.”

He needn’t have worried. Golfers have flocked to Gamble Sands, a course now regarded by many as one of the best in the United States.

Things have been going so well that McLay Kidd has been hired to create a new course at the resort that has yet to be named. For now, it’s being referred to simply as Gamble Sands 2.

McLay Kidd, who rose to prominence when he designed the original Bandon Dunes course on the southern Oregon coast, tried to talk Gamble Sands’ owners out of hiring him again to do the second course. He told them to try Tom Doak, Bill Coore and other top designers.

“The conversation went on for a number of years and eventually came to the point where they said, 'we don’t really want to hire anyone else, why can’t you do the second one?'” McLay Kidd says. “We knew there was a certain risk to that.”

McLay Kidd eventually agreed to do a second course for the Gebbers family, which owns Gamble Sands and has been harvesting apples in the area for more than half a century on its more than 5,000 acres of orchards. McLay Kidd recently hosted a group of golf journalists, who played the original course and the 14-hole Quick Sands (par 3) course, and got a sneak peek of the new course which is now well under construction.

Located just 90 minutes south of Osoyoos — straight down Highway 97 — the original Gamble Sands course offers sweeping views of the Columbia River Valley.

Gamble Sands marked a change of sorts in design philosophy for McLay Kidd. Lots of work had come his way after he created Bandon Dunes and some of his subsequent courses, like Tetherow in Bend, Ore., and The Castle Course at St Andrews in Scotland, were judged by some to be too difficult.

McLay Kidd said he came to learn that harder wasn’t better and at Gamble Sands he was determined to create a course that was fun to play. It offers wide fairways on sandy soil with fescue fairways, greens and tees. The ball rolls forever. There’s lots of dramatic bunkering but it’s relatively easy to avoid. The greens are huge and there are no real forced carries of any note.

This writer knows two people — he and his wife — who recorded their career-best rounds at Gamble Sands and we are not alone. McLay Kidd and the staff at Gamble Sands regularly hear from players who are delighted with their score as they walk off the course. “Obviously, I love it,” McLay Kidd says.

“There are elitist golfers who might say, well, that is because the course is easy. There may be a small grain of truth to that, but I think that it does those people a disservice. In order for your wife to shoot her best score she still had to hit a reasonably straight ball, she still had to get the ball onto the green and still had to putt it. And the reason she was able to do it here and not somewhere else, I think, is because she was able to play with a degree of confidence here that she wouldn’t feel on another course.

“We worked hard on the first course and we’re working hard on the second course to keep that sense of confidence, that sense that you can play aggressively and go after things. And I think what happens when golfers do that is that they have the ability to swing through the ball. They move their weight over to the left side, they are not intimidated….I think by building holes that aren’t forced carries with water everywhere and tight fairways, they have a degree of confidence. It’s the same reason we all hit better shots on the driving range.”

McLay Kidd does acknowledge that the new course will be somewhat more challenging than its sister course. For starters, the new course sits on a considerably smaller canvas. The original course winds over 500 acres, while the new one is half that size. There is also more slope on the new site. To use McLay Kidd’s words, it is more “topographically severe.” The goal is not to lose the character that has made the original course such a success.

“What we talked about was what are the tenets of Gamble Sands that people love and the things we identified that are fairly obvious, the wide fairways, the fact you can drive anywhere on a golf cart, the fact that it is fescue on top of the sand, that it is hard and fast, the fact that you can miss a shot and still have a chance to recover. These are the things that we wanted not to lose with the second course. But we also said, what can we do differently?”

For starters, the greens will be considerably smaller at the new course and have more contour. Players, particularly low-handicappers playing from the back tee, will be forced to take some more aggressive lines to score well. “The first course is extremely open to all levels of ability,” McLay Kidd says.

“It wouldn’t seem to hurt if we have a second course that is a little tougher. People who love this course might not love that one quite so much and vice versa. If we had our druthers, this place will be full of people arguing about which one is best. That would be our perfect scenario.”

McLay Kidd’s design associate Nick Schaan has taken the lead on construction of the new Gamble Sands course. Five holes have already been seeded and it will play as a par-71 with five par 3s. It will have five sets of tees ranging from 4,670 to 6,865 yards and is scheduled to open in the summer of 2025.

CHIP SHOTS: Gamble Sands already has a 37-room hotel on site and 40 more hotel rooms are being added near the new course. . .A McLay Kidd-designed layout — the Dunas Course at Terras da Comporta — opened in Portugal this past spring. He has also been tabbed to design a course planned for Westport on the southern Washington coast.