BREWSTER, Wa. – After more than a century of sending the fruits of their labor around the world, many of the family-run Gebbers Farms customers might soon be visiting a spectacular piece of property that features birdies and eagles.
Indeed, Gamble Sands just might become a golf-destination site, similar to renowned Bandon Dunes on the Oregon coast. It also compares favorably with Chambers Bay, a links-style course near Tacoma that will host the U.S. Open in 2015.
The only golf course scheduled to open in the state of Washington in 2014, Gamble Sands is an 18-hole layout built entirely on sand above the majestic Columbia River. It was designed by David McLay Kidd, a native of Scotland whose golf design resume includes West Coast gems Bandon Dunes, Huntsman Springs (Idaho), Tetherow (Oregon), and The Castle Course in St. Andrews.
“It will be a relatively low volume course. Chambers, they run about 45,000 rounds a year,” said Orrin Vincent, the project manager. “We’re going to run in the low 20,000. We’re not going to allow wear and tear on the fescue.”
The par-72 course, located about 30 miles northeast of Lake Chelan — the area’s most popular tourist attraction — is slated to open the first week of July, 2014, and from what a group of golf journalists from the northwest witnessed, the sky is the limit for this gem.
It could become the Northwest’s third world-renowned golf resort, joining Bandon Dunes and Sunriver, near Bend, Ore., in that elite class.
“This is unadulterated golf from beginning to end,” Kidd said. “This has the opportunity to be truly world-class.”
I was among the group of 18 scribes recently invited to Gamble Sands to become the first golfers to take a divot out of the manicured fescue course that consumes 7,305 yards from the Medal tees. There are more reasonable (for us hackers) distances from Back (6,840 yards), Regular (6,370), Intermediate (5,785) and Forward (4,920) tees.
The foursome I was in each of the two days played from the Regular tees and the first impression: Gamble Sands is fun and fair, accompanied by some breathtaking views.
Here is a hole-by-hole look at Gamble Sands.
The ideal tee shot to is be slightly right of center so you get a good view of the green. The fairway is wide, so going a bit right is not a problem. Going left, as I did on day two, is a problem.
A bunker awaits an errant shot. Don’t go there.
An “average” tee shot would leave you with a short iron into the green, which was rough around the edges when we played but certainly will be in tip-top shape when the course opens in July. It was one of three “two-putt green” rules applied.
There is minimal elevation change at Gamble Sands, led by the picturesque second hole, a drivable par 4. The view of the Columbia River from any of the five tee locations is spectacular and surely will become the signature hole of the course.
The green is protected on the left by nasty, sandy and sagebrush wasteland, and to the right by a bunker. The ideal tee shot is a few yards right of the green as the ball will funnel down toards the hole.
On Day Two, one of my playing partners reached the green on the fly, the ball hit the pin and rolled to a stop about five feet from the hole. The not-yet-ready fescue green did not yield an eagle as his putt came up short.
A daunting blind tee shot awaits you on the third tee. All you can see is the sky and a lot of trouble, including a waste area directly in front of you, which helps explain why this is the No. 1 handicap hole on the course.
Fortunately, a painted rock (white) provides an aiming point. Go too far left and you will wind up in the sagebrush on the left side of the expansive fairway. Going a little right of the rock is the preferred approach. The fairway is wide.
A big hitter can reach the green in two, but us mere mortals come up short. There are bunkers left and right of the green, but plenty of room between them to play a links-style, pitch-and-run onto the green.
This a straight-forward hole that the usual mid-high handicapper would use a 6-or 7-iron. The primary trouble is on the right, where a natural sand area extends from front to the back of the green.
If you are not careful, your focus will be on the spectacular view of the Columbia River in the distance. I would recommend: concentrate on the tee shot and then enjoy the view.
Sand? What sand?
Oh, that sand.
Standing on the tee at No. 5 can be a bit intimidating because of the potential trouble immediately in front of you, but a solid drive leaves you in great position to walk away with a birdie. I used a 5-iron from 163 yards for my second shot on Day Two and two-putted for a satisfying par.
The beauty of this gem is that the green is so big that pin placement can vary greatly from one day to the next. On Day One, the hole was on the left side, not far from the trouble that lurks if you go too far left.
Don’t be tricked into aiming for the pin. It is best to go a few yards right of the green and allow the ball to trickle towards the hole.
On Day Two, the pin was moved several yards to the right, making it seem a bit easier. One player still hit it into the sand, left of the green, while three others found the grass.
This slight dogleg right hole isn’t the longest hole on the course, but it certainly is challenging.
Nearly the entire right side of the long fairway is bordered by sand and sagebrush, so don’t go there. The ideal tee shot is a bit left of center (more sand and brush hug the left side).
A bunker in the middle of the fairway which comes into play on your second shot definitely gets your attention. I played the hole all wrong on Day One, taking a 7, but got a par 5 on Day Two.
This is another blind tee shot, but less daunting than No. 3.
Three fairway bunkers get your attention right off the bat, but the fairway is so wide that you can go either left or right of the trouble and have a great look at the green for your second shot, which can be reached with another pitch-and-run shot.
The view beyond the bunkers is spectacular as it overlooks the Columbia River and hills above the river.
The first nine ends with a good birdie opportunity — if you put your tee shot in the narrow fairway between large natural bunkers on the right and left. It is one of the holes that definitely needs precision off the tee.
It’s a light dogleg right, and the hole can be a bit more challenging in the pin is located on the far right side of the green. With so much trouble lurking on the right side of the green, playing to the middle of the green usually is the best approach.
That’s how I played it on Day Two, reaching the green in two — but three-putting for a bogey. Even so, I shot a confidence-building 39, only the third time in my less-than-stellar career I shot under 40 on any given nine.
As most of the holes at Gamble Sands, No. 10 has a huge green so it’s easy to land on the putting surface with, in my case, an 8-iron.
However, there are so many undulations on the green that finding a spot with little or no break is practically impossible.
Bunkers on the left and right protect the putting surface, but you have to hit a really bad shot to find either trap.
Long and straight are imperative on this hole, which is dominated by natural sand traps left and right.
If you don’t go long and straight, going left of center is not all that bad. The fairway is wider on that side of the first bunker, while going right is nothing but trouble.
Two more bunkers, one right and other left, gets your attention for the second shot.
This is regarded as the easiest par 4 on the course (No. 16 overall), although it can eat your lunch if you find the expansive sand left or right.
It is slightly downhill, which lessens the distance a bit, and on the two days we played, one member of our group barely missed the green with their tee shots — one ending up about five yards to the right and the other about 10 yards short.
Both of them birdied the hole.
By all means think “left side of the fairway” on the tee.
Virtually all of the trouble is on the right side, starting with sand, sagebrush and, in the heat of the summer especially, little critters called “snakes”.
Staying left means staying out of trouble on this otherwise straight-forward but challenging hole. The “7” I had on Day One was a bummer.
Perhaps the most unique holes at Gamble Sands also is one of the most difficult, coming in as the second-toughest hole on the course.
The good news is that the golfer has a choice of two fairways. The one of the right is much wider while the one on the left is further away from the tee, but closer to the green.
Big hitters more times than not reach for the stars and go for the left fairway, while the rest of us play safe and go a bit to the right of center, where sand is there to greet your ball.
We’re headed back towards the Columbia River and eventually the clubhouse (which will be built this winter) at No. 15.
A down-the-chute drive between two bunkers will put you in great position for a short iron onto the green. Despite being on the green in two both days, I had to “settle” for pars each time.
“Par” is a good word in my world.
Ignore what’s directly in front of you — a massive sand trap — and focus on hitting a mid-iron to the right side of the green.
Playing the right side of the green takes the green-side bunker out of play (I hit into it on Day Two) and the ball will funnel down towards the hole.
Again, the green is huge on this hole, ranked 14th on the most-difficult meter.
Staying left means staying out of trouble, but what makes this hole so interesting is that the green is so much lower than the fairway, you can barely see the top of the pin on your third shot, regardless of where you are.
Blind leading the blind worked out just fine for the two groups I was in as there were more pars on this hole than bogies and it was one of my most favorite.
This reachable finishing hole is a dogleg right that take you to the soon-to-be-built clubhouse.
A long, accurate drive will put you less than 200 yards from the green and there is far less trouble coming in from the right than slicing (for a right-hander) you ball in from the left, where yet another natural bunker is located near the green.
The green was planted only six weeks before we played so we didn’t get a very good reading on the contours of the surface.
But we all look forward to returning next summer for a second preview of this outstanding course.