Road Holes — 05 October 2016 by Bob Sherwin
Inn at Gamble Sands finishes a vision

BREWSTER, Wa. – Gamble Sands now is on the map.

The two-year-old, David McLay Kidd-designed golf course has added the necessary component – a 37-room hotel – to make it a premier golf destination. With the new accommodations, it moves seamlessly into world-class resort status, quite a statement considering it wasn’t so long ago that even Washington natives weren’t sure where Brewster was.

Now people from all over the region and country are coming to this north-central Washington burg, high above the Columbia, for more than just a drive by on the way to Sims Corner.

How about them apples?

It completes a dream for Cass Gebbers, president and CEO of Gebbers Farms, one of the largest orchard and cattle businesses in the country.

“With Lake Chelan so close, there is so much tourism there, he thought if we did this right people would come up farther north, up (Highway) 97, and this could be a destination,” said David Christenson, Gamble Sands GM and head pro.

“That could change dynamics of the town a little bit from strictly agriculture. You’d get different people coming through town.”

He was right. Strange people wearing mauve shirts, pink pants and Titleist hats have become conspicuous visitors. The new hotel – The Inn at Gamble Sands – means they can stay and play, spending more time and more money in this heretofore massive apple producing region.

The Columbia is just over the bluff, as each room has a unobstructive balcony view.

The Columbia is just over the bluff, as each room has a unobstructive balcony view.

What also contributes to the world class label is the high-end nature of the hotel. It has all the creature comforts that golfers on buddy trips expect, large rooms and TVs, comfortable beds and wonderful tiled bathrooms with spacious walk-in showers.

The Inn’s five separate buildings are tucked into the side of the hill, about 300 yards below the Gamble pro shop. Each building has two stories and all rooms have balconies facing west, toward the confluence of the Columbia and Okanogan. It’s the same view, a bit lower, that golfers have standing on the No. 2 tee, Gamble’s signature hole.

The Inn was open for occupancy in early September as each building came on-line as the month progressed. In the five buildings, there are 24 double queens rooms, 10 king and three suites.

“The suites are essentially two rooms with king beds, a wet bar, two showers, a couch double queen pullout,” Christenson said. “For a guys trip, it would be the leader’s room. Everyone comes to his room.”

There’s also another option as a gathering place. At the Inn’s main building, where you register, there’s a large meeting room when your rounds can be recounted and adult refreshments consumed. Beyond that room is a porch leading to a small pool and hot tub.

Further, on a undulating hill below the Inn, grass is growing in for a vast putting green. It will be a uneven surface with plenty of room and plenty of holes for various groups to putt and wager.

Christenson could not disclose the cost of the new facility but said, “it was substantially more than course.”

The vast grassy area to the west of the Inn room will be a putting green

The vast grassy area to the west of the Inn room will be a putting green

The course was a relative bargain. It sits on a huge sand base and very little ground needed to be moved and little materials needed to be imported. Kidd shared Gebbers vision for the course the moment he walked the property more than five years ago. He knew he could create a links course that looked difficult but quite playable.

The course was rated one of the top new courses in the country in 2014 and has moved from 34th best destination course in the country by Golfweek to now 19th. It’s also the second highest rated course in Washington behind Chambers Bay.

Christenson, who grew up in Spokane and graduated from Washington State, may be the best possible overseer of the course’s growth. He helped open Circling Raven – even suggested the name – then spent seven years at Lyman Orchard Golf Club in Connecticut. He was in charge of three golf courses among 1,000 acres of orchards, perfectly setting up his return to the state and Gamble’s main man.

Not only does Christenson oversee everything, from the pro shop to the restaurants, you can also catch him hanging blinds, shower curtains and moving furniture in the Inn.

Golf play ends around the final week of October but that doesn’t mean they lock up the place and return in March. The restaurant, Danny Boy’s, stays open all year as does the Inn.

“We’ll change our focus,” Christenson said. “Then it’s kind of the (Columbia) Valley, Eastern Washington and Seattle (visitors). We’ll have cross country skiing, snowmobiling and other things.”

The Inn hopes to attract many of the winter-sport enthusiasts who annually trek to the Methow Valley, about an hour away.

As for the course, it’s getting play, about 15,000 annual rounds. That could grew another 2,000 to 3,000 next year. The course introduced four Golf Boards, slalom or surfing style boards that float over the fairways and dirt paths. Another eight are planned.

Gamble's fifth hole may be set for a slight change for tee shots.

Gamble’s fifth hole may be set for a slight change for tee shots.

One hole change is being considered. The No. 5 par-4 at this point provides little difference for the average or expert golfers off the tee. Unless you can really stripe the ball, all the drives tend to settle in a collection area at the bottom of a right-sloped hill. Then they’ll all have the same shot, about a 160-yard shot over a waste-area hill onto the green. There is discussion to extend the hill to slope the hill further out so that well-hit drives can have a clear view to the green, beyond the waste-area hill.

Cass Gebbers’ vision has been realized. They built it and people have come. And now they can stay.

“We think it (Inn) will be pretty popular with golfers,” Christenson said.

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Bob Sherwin

Bob grew up in Cleveland, an underdog city with perennial underdog teams, and that gave him an appreciation and an affinity for the grinders in golf, guys such as Rocco Mediate, Jhonattan Vegas and star-crossed John Daly. This is the 44th year for Bob as a sportswriter, the first 34 working for newspapers throughout the west, Tucson (Daily Star), San Francisco (Examiner) and Seattle (Times), and the past 10 years as a freelancer. He has covered just about every sport, including golf tournaments, Tucson Open, Bing Crosby/AT&T Pro-Am, the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the annual Champions Tour Boeing Classic. He also writes articles for golf magazines. For most of his 20 years at the Seattle Times his primary beat was the Mariners. He then picked up Washington men's basketball in the winter. He also was the beat writer for the Sonics, including 1996 when they played the Bulls for the NBA title. After a lifetime hacking on public courses, he finally gave in and joined a country club in 2011, the Members Club of Aldarra near Seattle. He won't win the club championship any time soon with his 14 handicap and default-swing slice but he does have a pair of aces – 37 years apart – and in 2009 came agonizingly close to his ultimate golf goal of scoring in the 70s when he finished with an even 80. He lives in Seattle, and spends part of his winters in Marco Island, Fla.

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