For generations, the Gebbers family have been well known in Brewster and far beyond for their commitment to fruit farming (they own one of the largest orchards on the edge of the Okanogan Valley) but a decision was made in the new millennium to diversify their agricultural operations using around 120 acres of a 1,000-acre tract on top of a sandy mesa that overlooks the Columbia River Valley three hundred feet below.
David McLay Kidd was entrusted with the design of the Sands course and his reputed budget of only two million dollars to construct and grass the holes, which is way below the average cost of building an 18-hole layout these days, was put to good use as he fashioned firm and fast fairways and installed massive fescue putting surfaces. It helped to have pure sand to work with, of course, which took drainage issues out of the equation.
Off the fairways, there are extensive areas of desert scrub and long, snaking native-sand bunkers so looking for lost balls in knee-high rough is not going to happen here. The property has one main canyon running through it but there are only two short forced carries across desert washes to contend with. Walking is encouraged though, for those who decide to ride, there are no restrictive cart paths that have to be adhered to.
Apart from the three wonderful short par fours at the 2nd, 8th and 12th, feature holes here include par fives at the double doglegged 6th (where the tee shot is blind) and the wickedly contoured 13th (with two huge bunkers on its right flank). The downhill 6th is the toughest of the par threes, measuring all of 265 yards from the back tees – at least there’s a bail out short and right for those who can’t fly the ball all the way to the green.
Played 36 holes (07/16) and I have to say it is a fantastic piece of property with a really fun golf course laid out over top of it.
Played the first morning round with a twosome and another single (really good guys) and we played from the greens at 6200yd and then I went back out at lunch time and played from the 6700yd orange tees. Definitely a more enjoyable course from 6700, but it is still good fun from the greens, just a few too many 9s and PWs from there.
The turf was awesome, most linksy turf of any course I've played that wasn't Bandon or a heathland/links course in the UK/Ireland. The playing conditions worked great with the course layout to enable you to play whatever type of shot you visualized. As someone who draws the ball (R to L) I felt the course set up more advantageously for that shot shape than the reverse. Not excessively so, maybe 60/40 or 70/30. Great to see a course touted as 'walkable' that genuinely was.
Looks like DMK has learned some valuable lessons from his show how clever he is phase at The Castle Course, Stonebrae, Tetherow. Going the C&C route, puts Gamble Sands way closer to his Bandon effort than the others.
Very few criticisms about the course, except that there are likely one or two too many 'reachable' holes out there. 3 par 4s reachable off the tee and 2 par 5s reachable in two removes some of the neatness/uniqueness of being able to reach such holes IMHO. #8 should probably have its teebox pushed back 30-40yds. I'm not a long hitter by any means and reached them 8/10 times in my two rounds. There could also be a tendency for tee shots on some holes to collect in the same area. Green speeds could also stand to match the pace of the practice green; however, I understand they have to be protective of the speeds for when the wind comes up. The bunkers are definitely hazards and that can be taken either way really.
The course really is out in the sticks, but if you like golf and playing new courses, I think you'll be happy you made the effort.
After a 6-hour flight from Boston, I faced a long 4-hour drive to the clubhouse. In total from Cape Cod, it took us just over 13 hours to reach our destination with a 2-month-old baby in tow. On any given day, the drive out to Gamble Sands from Seattle is painful and mind numbing as you cross the Washington desert. Needless to say, my expectations for the David McLay Kidd golf course were sky-high by the time I checked in – all the hype better be worthwhile!
Before you even hit a ball, the epic elevated views of the Columbia River and nearby plantations are off the charts. The drive is completely worth it as the topography is great for golf and in abundance for as far as the eye can see.
It doesn’t take long for you to fall in love with the golf course itself, and the routing quickly offers up spectacular views. I was consistently very fond of the short par 4s, especially those with infinity backgrounds behind the green. You’re constantly changing direction and using your imagination to use the exciting slopes, some of which are of enormous scale. Despite the scale, nothing ever seemed out of proportion and I could tell that the architect successfully focused on ensuring the golfer has as much fun with the layout as possible. Fun on a golf course for me is hitting unique shots into never-before-seen topography – and Gamble Sands scores an A+ in that department.
The sheer width of the fairways is spellbinding in places as it tumbles up, down and across the beautifully undulating land. The golf at Gamble Sands is hugely enjoyable and I was delighted to hear that David McLay Kidd presented his masterplan for the second golf course in the Spring of 2018 to the land owners. The commencement of the new course will be dictated by how successful the apple/cherry farming goes to help finance the project.
I will absolutely return.
I can’t fault Gamble Sands, apart from the location, which is far from convenient – it took four hours to get here from Seattle. A quick mention about the staff, I found each and every one to be genuinely gracious without being sickly, I’ve never come across such engaging people before.
The previous reviewer has covered the holes in more than enough detail. Suffice to say there are so many good holes that you could almost discuss each and every one positively. I understand a second course may be earmarked which will make GS a destination… as it stands it’s absolutely worth the trip to play this pure fescue layout which is incredibly links like. It’s another great course from the underrated David McLay Kidd and well worthy of its ranking in the national hundred.
In the go-go days of course development in the 1990's in the United States there was a strong push to bring to fruition various golf courses where overall difficulty was the prime emphasis. The reason? Developers in their zest to outdo various competitors often gave clear instructions to hired architects -- include any and everything you can -- just be sure the course had serious teeth. What didn't dawn on those then -- but does now -- is the intense effort -- financially to keep such courses operational as enthusiasm from players waned fairly quickly.
Tougher courses only meant longer rounds -- meaning added frustration for players - in addition to numerous steps maintenance wise in order to keep such layouts going forward. Numerous architects took their cues from developers who erroneously concluded such courses would draw more players to the game -- when in actuality the reverse happened.
David McLay Kidd, a Scotsman, was a virtual unknown when tapped by course developer Mike Keiser to design Bandon Dunes which opened in 1999 -- the first of several highly successful courses to come into existence along the Pacific Ocean and Oregon coast. Keiser parlayed that success into future design projects and opted to dial-up the difficulty meter with those that followed. Kidd's work at Tetherow in 2008 -- also in Oregon -- was panned by many as overdosing on a range of super demanding elements with little room for success. I personally think the criticism was harsher than needed and that Tetherow has a number of interesting elements -- a future review will be forthcoming.
Nonetheless, Kidd recognized the pushback and opted to move his design efforts in a far different direction. Possibly impacting that desire was the feelings from Keiser -- a prime mover in resurrecting classic / fun courses -- who opted to leave Kidd on the sidelines regarding any future work together. The pair have since reunited with Keiser hiring Kidd to design the second course at Sand Valley in north central Wisconsin -- the first layout opens this summer and designed by the winning tandem of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. Keiser's change of heart came about because of the effort Kidd would do for a course located in central Washington State.
In 2014 Gamble Sands Golf Club opened in Brewster, Washington on behalf of its owners the Gebbers family who had made their mark in growing world class apples and cherries. Kidd's effort involved a site 500 feet above the Columbia River Valley and richly blessed with magnificent views of the immediate area and, best of all, free of choking housing or other such eye-catching distractions. At Gamble Sands -- Mother Nature reserves the front row seat.
One of the main issues in attempting to bolster playability with any design is the slippery slope one can face because the fine line between playability and pedestrian outcomes. While the former is sought -- the latter can easily take hold with shots and holes that are nothing more than rudimentary and lacking any real purpose. Elasticity -- while rightly praised -- is quite hard to achieve when factoring in different levels of players.
Gamble Sands provides more than enough width on nearly all of its holes. The impact of wind is certainly present and having fairway corridors too narrow would only inhibit players and limit strategic calculations. However, width does not mean automatic acceptance of just any shot. Kidd imbued Gamble Sands with preferred angles and with green contours -- while nowhere near the ruthlessness seen at Tetherow -- possess the subtlest of twists and turns.
The opening hole at Gamble Sands is a splendid starter. The fairway turns left and the longer one drives the ball the greater the need to keep the ball away from bunkers which pinch in the drive zone.
The 2nd is a solid risk / reward hole. The Columbia River valley frames the backrdrop and the player must decide how aggressive to be on a hole just over 300 yards. Driveable -- yes. Easily done? Not at all.
At the uphill blind 3rd -- you encounter a 633-yard par-5 that requires three solid shots to get to the green which is well-protected by a pesky greenside bunker.
Providing for fairway ground movement is best seen at the long par-4 5th. The hole is grand in its scale -- a slight dog-leg right of 517 yards but if one's tee shot is played correctly can take advantage of the fairway contour and gain appreciable distance. The greensite is superbly done -- blocked from view if too close to the right side -- long and somewhat narrow with two bunkers flanking for the pull or pushed approach. It is the kind of hole one can easily envision in Scotland or Ireland.
The same happens so well at the 265-yard par-3 6th. On its face the overall distance might seem overwhelming but once again the opportunity to use the terrain to one's advantage is available -- provided the shot is shaped accordingly from right-to-left.
The short 8th at 313 yards is another well done hole with choices at the tee -- deciding what line of attack works best to a narrow green that accepts only well executed approaches.
The inward half of holes has less of the rolling terrain experienced on the outbound side but the various greensites employed on the final nine holes is particularly well thought out. Kidd consistently provides ample fairways but should players opt to get as much distance as possible they will need to be even straighter and favor certain sides to provide the best angle for one's approach. On a few of the holes you encounter bottleneck fairways -- not really impacting the shorter hitter but clearly forcing the longer hitter to be most aware of what lies ahead at all times.
The split fairway at the par-4 14th is well crafted and is followed by an equally daunting long par-4 at 467 yards at the 15th that's usually played into the prevailing wind. I especially enjoyed the uphill blind tee shot at the 17th -- there's a tendency to err more towards the left side but the reality is to do otherwise and favor the right. Again, Kidd protects the hole with a bottleneck fairway that's served by a solitary bunker on the left side. The putting surface is raised and has several different pin locations where corner placements will only intensity the need for a sound approach.
The par-5 18th provides a good opportunity for a closing birdie -- even eagle try -- but it lacks a bit more drama given the resourcefulness Kidd has consistently demonstrated with the other holes played prior to it.
Hats off to superintendent Chip Gaswell and his staff in having as firm and fast turf as possible. The playing conditions add wonderfully to the spirit of the architecture. Knowing how to make shots -- calculating both flight and roll is central to any success. Amazingly, Gamble Sands is one of several courses in the immediate area of eastern Washington that have opened in the last several years that are well worth exploring and include Wine Valley in the Walla Walla area and Palouse Ridge in Pullman. A multiple course itinerary works very well and there is on-site lodging available at Gamble Sands.
Fun golf was too often subverted during the last boom period of American golf construction and that price is still being impacted. Kidd skillfully created a layout where the emphasis is in providing rewards rather than bulking up on the penalty side. That doesn't mean Gamble Sands is devoid of challenging holes -- but those challenges are ones where the pain inflicted comes from a razor's cut not a swordsmen's beheading.
Getting to Brewster is no small feat for many but the areas is a fine destination for a whole host of tourism reasons. The game plan Kidd choose to follow certainly re-establishes him as an architect of note. The best testament one can say about Gamble Sands is that once the round concludes you want another go at it. Providing for smiles -- not lingering frowns is what the course does so well and what other courses in the years to come will need to emulate. Gamble Sands is a clear roadmap in which 21st century golf will need to go.
by M. James Ward
Great review, I was planning to make the drive out one of these days when I'm back visiting family and this review helps encourage that. Nice that Kidd is back on the right track and given the new opportunity with Keiser he clearly hit the nail on the head at Gamble Sands.