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These remote golf outposts are scruffy, unstructured, low-pressure, fun to play and a reminder of when golf was a game.


little more than bunk beds. There was nothing else to do but play golf, drink beer, wolf down burgers at a lunch shack overlooking the golf course (Ben’s Porch) and then spend the evening enjoying drinks and locally sourced steak. And the golf itself was great: firm, fast, diverse, and varied from one day to the next depending upon the wind, which usu- ally howled. Sand Hills succeeded


for several reasons. It was remote. It was fun. And it made sense for owner Dick Youngscap, because he’s a gritty, smart, parsimonious fellow who loves golf, and depises throwing his money away. It helped that he had the support of diverse inves- tors, many of them well con- nected in the golf industry and tied to folks who didn’t mind ponying up for a mem- bership they might only use two or three weekends a year. And with a golf season that


Desert Forest Golf Club in Carefree, Ariz.


didn’t start until mid-May and shut down by mid-Oc- tober, Sand Hills didn’t suffer year-long labor costs to keep the operation afloat. Bandon Dunes Resort,


on Oregon’s southwest coast, had an equally substantial impact as Sand Hills on starry-eyed developers. Most of them, as it turns out, misread the lessons of these two singular properties and ignored a basic principle of the market—if you overpay up front and need to gener- ate a lot of retail trade to pay the bills, you could quickly find yourself in trouble. Bandon Dunes’ owner/


developer, Mike Keiser, launched his initial 18-hole resort course in 1999 with a business model that antici- pated financial stability if he generated 10,000 rounds a year. When the first season’s round count tripled that, he was off and running. Every few years since, Keiser has opened yet another 18-hole layout, and expanded his resort’s room capacity accordingly: Pacific Dunes in 2001, Bandon Trails in


2005 and Old Macdonald in 2010. Lately, he’s com- pleted a 30-acre, double- sided driving range, and a 13-hole par-3 layout called The Preserve. That’s likely it for the resort, though Keiser, is now planning to open a satellite facility in the form of a Gil Hanse-designed 27-hole project that will function as a daily-fee course for residents of Bandon. That’s a lot of golf for a


seaside resort that’s hard to get to. The saying goes that there are four ways to get to Bandon—some combination of flying and driving from Portland, San Francisco, Eugene or Coos Bay/North Bend—and all of them are awful. But Bandon has that oceanfront bluff along the Pacific, along with wind, sand, caddies, fine golf and a kind of year-round golf camp sensibility that evokes a links golf experience without hav- ing to cross an ocean to get there. (Just a country.) And, like Sand Hills, it’s totally at odds with the dominant golf culture, the one you see on


the PGA Tour at “country clubs for a day,” and at high-end real estate courses where the clubhouse is at least as big an attraction as the golf course. By contrast, these remote golf outposts are scruffy, unstructured, low-pressure, fun to play and a reminder of when golf was a game, not a business or a big social occasion.


The new frontier It remains to be seen if


there are enough serious travelers out there who pre- fer the alternative model. It helps having a critical mass of courses so that the itin- erant golfer can make the trip worthwhile. Bandon Dunes has figured that out. Central Nebraska is “try- ing,” so to speak, with the simultaneous development of several properties serv- ing both daily-fee golfers and more upscale, private members. The best example of this is taking place at the Dismal River Club in Mullen, eight miles west


32 / NCGA.ORG / FALL 2013


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