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Build it and they will come, but only if they can get there.

quite another to invest a fortune—particularly one you don’t have, but bor- row—to create a place that people will fl ock to in enough numbers to make the enterprise work.

Sand Hills and Bandon Dunes Blame it all on Sand


(left) Tom Doak’s Pacifi c Dunes (top) and Sand Hills Golf Club in Mullen, Neb. were instantly heralded as classics for their throwback commitment and feel.

his is golf on the fringe of civilization, far removed from crowded markets, out in the wide-open spaces of the

frontier. It’s golf on the Great Plains, the Rockies, the bar- ren Northwest Coast, or in the middle of a vast phos- phate fi eld triangulated 80 miles from Orlando, Tampa and Sebring. Does such a move make sense for the game? Is golf occupying new, exhilarating ground? Or is this golf ’s ver- sion of Area 51—a curiosity that’s doomed to fail because of its barren, desolate unsus- tainable location? Golf is a great game but

a very tough business. If the industry were as good as the feeling of being out there playing golf, we would not be seeing 100-plus course closings a year over the last decade. Actually, if course owners and developers were as smart in golf as they (presumably) were in their own private businesses, we wouldn’t have seen so many

courses open in the fi rst place. They would have done their due dili- gence. Instead they relied upon their ego. There’s a phrase that

rationalizes the irrational market behavior that aspir- ing golf course owners and operators relied upon in the mid-1990s, when the golf boom took off. It’s called, “Build it, and they will come.” The phrase derives from the baseball novel, “Shoeless Joe,” W.P. Kinsella’s 1982 tale set in a mythic Iowa cornfi eld, and was subsequently made into the 1989 movie, “Field of Dreams.” The point of the allegorical tale is that even if—or especially if—you’re in the middle of nowhere, following your ambition and creating a magical place will draw people who will make the trek and share your dream.

Of course, it’s one thing to buy lottery tickets in the hope of winning a prize. It’s

Hills. When the Bill Coore- Ben Crenshaw designed private club in Mullen, Neb., opened in June 1995, it was instantly heralded as a classic for its throwback commitment and feel. Sand Hills, dead in the center of the country’s largest stretch of untouched na- tive grasslands, immediately became a mecca for golfers in love with windswept shot making, and for

those who were willing to spend most of a day just get- ting to their destination. There was always some-

thing alluring about the hour-long drive from North Platte to the front gate. It was enough to make you forget you had already driven fi ve hours from Omaha or Denver. The trek to mecca was made all the more enchanting because of the towering sand dunes along the way. How many travel- ers on the road imagined routing golf holes through them! And once you got to Sand Hills, time stopped. There were no clocks and no TV screens. Nor was there any GPS yardage, striped fairways, paved cart paths, or a palatial clubhouse; just golf camp out in the wild. Rooms were outfi tted with

This is golf on the fringe of civilization. FALL 2013 / NCGA.ORG / 31



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