CHELAN, Wa. — If the newest golf course in the region lives up to the hype it has received, the success of Gamble Sands could be a win-win bonanza for other nearby courses.
Golf courses like Bear Mountain Ranch and Desert Canyon Golf Resort, just to mention a couple, also are premier layouts worthy of tooting their own horn, and with Gamble Sands up and running, Okanogan County could become a world-class golf destination.
After several years of preparations, Gamble Sands opened for business on August 2 and from all indications it could lure golfers from all over.
Curiosity definitely is running high around the only new golf course in Washington state this year.
“I think it’s going to help the entire industry around here,” said Von Smith, the head professional at Bear Mountain Ranch, just outside Chelan. “(Gamble Sands) is a well-publicized, well-advertised golf course that is going to bring people to the area. People will come in to play the course and, hopefully, they are here for multiple days and they choose to play any number of other courses.”
The new course, located near Brewster, Wa., is an 18-h0le masterpiece carved out of a huge chunk of sandy land above the Columbia River. It was designed by David McLay Kidd, who designed two of the four courses at popular and prosperous Bandon Dunes in Oregon.
While some might say another golf course in the same vicinity would take business away from the more established courses, that appears to be an out-of-bounds approach to what Gamble Sands could mean to an area known best for producing apples and cherries.
“If it receives the accolades it deserves and should get,” said Mark Rhodes, the head professional at Desert Canyon Golf Course, “then I believe it will have a positive effect on other courses here, such as Bear Mountain Ranch and Desert Canyon.
“I have played Gamble Sands a couple of times and really enjoyed it,” Rhodes added. “I think it’s great to have a golf course like that in our backyard. I wish them well. It would be good for all of us.”
Gamble Sands provides an additional lure to golfers who might not otherwise bother driving four hours from Seattle, five hours from Vancouver, B.C., or two-plus hours from Spokane to play.
“That magnet is going to get bigger,” Kidd said. “It’s not like we’re in Seattle where there’s a set number of golfers and each new golf course divides that set number. Here there is no set number. Everyone’s coming in. We’re just going to have a bigger draw.
“I don’t think there are that many golfers coming to north-central Washington on a golf trip. Not yet anyway. This will now make it that people will come on a golf trip. This will their ‘have to play’ their ‘must play’ and everything else will be their A-, ‘let’s go play this one and this one and this one.’
“Right now there is no A+ must play. There’s isn’t a destination yet. This will make it a destination. I believe that. The tide will rise, the price point will rise, the number of golfers will rise. It’s all good. It’s only positive.”
Bear Mountain Ranch, Desert Canyon and Gamble Sands surely will be regarded as the Big Three, followed by Alta Lake Golf Course and Lake Chelan Municipal. The recent fires in the Pateros and Brewster areas forced Alta Lake to cancel the remainder of this year’s schedule, but it should bounce back quickly next spring.
“There is a lot of variety in styles of golf courses around here,” the 62-year-old Smith said. “We are very fortunate to have five really good ones.”
Golferswest.com colleague Bob Sherwin and I played two of the five courses last week on a two-day trek to help launch Gamble Sands’ grand opening.
We started off with an afternoon round at Bear Mountain Ranch on Thursday.
Bob had played it once before. This was my first visit to the facility that was built, as you might expect, on a mountain overlooking Lake Chelan.
The views are spectacular, especially on the front nine, although the first shot of the day was, shall we say, interesting.
The first hole, a 327-yard par-4 from the white tees, begins with a blind tee shot. In our case, it pretty much was the blind leading the blind. The more experienced of the two-some, found the middle while the first-time-at-Bear Mountain Ranch, hit his “mulligan” far to the right and reloaded. The “real” first tee ball of the round found the right side of the fairway.
The first of many remarkable views arrives when you reach the highest point of the first fairway. And so it goes for most of the front nine, which “features” three blind tee shots — Nos. 1, 4 and 9.
“You have to play a couple of times get comfortable with the course,” Smith said. “Its a course that grows on you.
We’ve got some very dramatic terrain changes, uphill and downhill.
“There are not too many courses that can beat us with our views.”
Even with a smoky haze from the devastating fires lingering in the sky, the views looking down at the lake were spectacular, making errant shots seem not so bad. Take a penalty shot and move along.
Smith, who has spent most of his professional career in the Chelan area, asked if we noticed a momma bear and her two cubs on the eighth hole, a 551-yard par-5. Fortunately, perhaps, we did not.
“They spend a lot of time in a tree,” Smith said. “If we ever feel they are posing a hazard, we go out and make sure the golfers are aware.”
While we didn’t see any bear, we did run into some deer, first near the fairway on No. 12, a 359-yard par 4, and two more on the 16th hole, behind the green on the 386-yard par 4 hole.
Birdies, meanwhile, were a rarity during our 3 1/2-hour round. Sherwin drained a 45-foot “miracle” putt for a bird on the 282-yard, par-4 13th hole.
Never mind the “7” taken by the other golfer in the twosome.
By the time we reached the final hole, the 580-yard par-5 18th, slightly downhill with trouble right and left of a expansive fairway, both of us were hooked on the course.
Afterwards, I asked Smith which hole is considered the “signature” hole on the course.
“Choose which one you want,” he said. “I mean that. The pictures we have most of the time t0 adorn the (score) card are the par-3, No. 3, or the par-3 No. 7. But to me, No. 18 is one of the best par 5s anywhere. It has really good length — 690 yards from the black tees and 580 from the whites. There is probably our widest fairway, but you have to hit three quality shots to get on the green.
“If you don’t hit a good shot on your first two, now you have to lay-up, and hope you can putt. It is a good, strong golf hole.”
The same could be said of the majority of holes at Bear Mountain Ranch and even if you don’t shoot your all-time low round, the vistas are worth the price.