Greeting card magnate Mike Keiser’s love of links golf has led him to create some of the world’s greatest new courses
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When Doak was building Pacific Dunes, Keiser proferred one day there couldn’t be a better site for a course. Doak said he had seen one in Tasmania. That thought lodged in Keiser’s head, but he didn’t just run off to look at it. Doak knew a young developer, Greg Ramsay, who was trying to put together a deal with rancher Richard Sattler to build a golf resort on Sattler’s land. He asked Doak if he would speak to Keiser.
“I said, ‘Greg, every person I get involved with now is going to want to know if Mike Keiser wants to be involved, ever since Pacific Dunes,’ ” says Doak. “I sort of gave Greg the stiff arm, but he called Mike anyway and talked the place up.”
Keiser might never have gone to Tasmania if it had not been for his eldest son Michael’s winter break from Santa Clara University. Convinced that all his son would do was go out with his friends when he came home, Keiser thought a “bonding trip” to Australia was in order. “Michael was an adventuresome guy and he thought that trip sounded great,” says Keiser, who then arranged to visit Sattler’s ranch. Over several visits, with a willingness to put up his own money, he got Sattler to go along with the deal.
Now with his reach many thousands of miles to the west of Bandon Dunes, another opportunity arose to the east. Ben Cowan-Dewar was a young developer from Montreal who was mesmerized by a seaside property on the provincial island of Nova Scotia in the tapped out former coal-mining town of Inverness. The mines had been abandoned for half a century, and the youth of the area was bailing out in search of work. But this coal-mining property held promise for Cowan-Dewar, and he sought out Keiser to build a course he wanted to call Cabot Links.
“Ben had been to Bandon Dunes, knew it was his model and knew I was probably his best bet for doing something remote in Nova Scotia,” says Keiser. “Josh Lesnik [a young, untested manager who Keiser put in charge of Bandon Dunes] was my scout. He says ‘I know you told me not to like it, but it’s got a mile of ocean frontage, it could be pretty good.’ Then I went.”
Cowan-Dewar had already committed to using Canadian architect Rod Whitman, and with Coore’s blessing Keiser didn’t switch off to one of his geniuses. Coore and Crenshaw are designing the second course, Cabot Cliffs, and Whitman is running a bulldozer and generally being in charge. The development is humming along nicely, there is a new lodge at the Cabot Links course, and the town is flourishing.
“The thing about Mike and having success in the greeting card business then doing something totally different and having success in golf, you realize that there are few people who can do that, and if they do they obviously possess something a little bit different than your average Joe,” says Cowan-Dewar. “I asked him once what traits he thought successful people had and he said they do what they say they are going to do when they say they are going to do it, and they are someone that people like to work for. If you know Mike, you know that he embodies both of those traits. As well as being an absolute creative genius.”
A welcome byproduct of Keiser’s golf projects in these remote, small communities is the economic impact on the region. It happened at Bandon-by-the-Sea and it’s happening at Inverness.
“Bandon was flat economically, at best. We’ve definitely injected quite a bit into the economy,” says Keiser. “I bought the first chunk of land, 1,200 acres, at $2,000 an acre. By three years later it was $50,000 an acre for coastal land, land in town. The effect, I think, is adding hundreds of millions of dollars to the net worth of the area.
“Regardless of the success of Cabot Links, home prices have gone up there rather dramatically. Those little cottages in town that were rather dilapidated, you could get one for $10,000. Now they are going for as much as $150,000. And I’ve noticed that people are tending their gardens, putting in gardens. That’s very nice. When I first went to Inverness, I described it as butt ugly. But now five years later there is purification, gentrification and a healthy economy.”
For which John MacIsaac, former assistant superintendent for Inverness County schools and a champion of the golf course development, couldn’t be happier.
“It’s really the first time in my lifetime where young people in the community can look forward to getting a job,” says MacIsaac. “Used to be that all of them had to leave the area to get summer employment. Very optimistic and exciting atmosphere in the community. Great impact on housing prices. Retired people can get a price for their house that is very different from what they would get five years ago.”
And there is something else. “You know, it’s created a problem, and a great problem to have. It’s put a premium on parking spaces in town. We never thought we’d have a problem with parking in Inverness on the main street. Now they have to go up the side streets. I never dreamed in my life that would ever be a problem.”
Mike Keiser’s search still goes on. He’ s looking to build “dream golf” near or far. He has taken a stake in a development in Northern Ireland, near Royal Portrush, called Bushmills Dunes. He has an eye on a unique inland property in Wisconsin called Sand Valley. He has assisted the community of Askernish on the Scottish island of South Uist in restoring the Old Tom Morris course there. He’s interested in the Dingle Peninsula in the Irish Republic. His ardor for links golf will not wane. Why?
“The sheer fun of it,” Keiser says. “Unlike the greeting card business where you make cards, they sell, you make money, there is an aesthetic aspect to golf that if you work on the aesthetics and they work, it’s doubly rewarding because it’s profitable and it’s gorgeous. I get shivers when I look at what the genius architects have done out there. These linkscapes are truly astonishing. The fact that they are going to be there most likely in 500 years with our forbearers playing golf is an added thrill and kick. I can’t think of anything else that a non-artist, non-poet like I am could create that will stand the test of time.”
Jeff Williams is a contributing editor for Cigar Aficionado.
Jeff Williams is a contributing editor for Cigar Aficionado.