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21st Century Links

Robert Lowell
From the Print Edition:
The Best Places to Gamble, Sep/Oct 02

(continued from page 2)

For Darby, Doonbeg combines his passions for business and for golf. "I'm a pretty picky person, but now I would find it difficult to change anything," says Darby. "We've looked at its playability and it's fair, no harder than Ballybunion or Lahinch. I've played 18 holes and only lost one ball."

Mike Keiser knew what he had the minute he saw more than 1,000 acres of land on the southwest Oregon coast near the little artist-colony town of Bandon. "I thought it was perfect," says Keiser, co-owner of American Recycled Greeting Cards in Chicago. "It was covered in gorse, which was perfect. It was by the sea, which was perfect, and it had big dunes, which we really haven't touched at all and may never. I had one guy come here and break down crying because they reminded him of the dunes where he grew up in Michigan. And you know what? People who come here to play golf say, leave them alone. What we've done with the golf courses is enough."

Keiser has two golf courses, a lodge and a pair of restaurants at the resort. He started by building Bandon Dunes Golf Course. It was designed by Scottish architect David McLay Kidd. Keiser could have gone after any top golf course architect, but, "I wanted someone who was going to focus their attention solely on this project," says Keiser. "I didn't want someone who would be running from course to course."

What Kidd came up with is a natural routing that brings the course down to the sea and along the shoreline before returning to its inland origin. Six holes play along the Pacific, with the par-4 fifth hole seemingly lifted right off the shores of the United Kingdom.

After Bandon Dunes opened to rave reviews three years ago, Keiser asked Tom Doak to design a second course, Pacific Dunes. Like Norman's work at Doonbeg, Doak took a minimalist approach, choosing to go as much as possible with the natural contours of the land. When Pacific Dunes opened in 2001, the reviews were even more glowing. Here was the truest of all courses in the American links land, an instant classic. Its par-3 holes alone, featuring two back-to-back along the Pacific, are worth the trouble to get there.

"My feeling was that if it was natural and could work, leave it alone," says Keiser. "I wanted pure, classic golf. I wanted them to find the holes rather than push the dirt around to create them. What I think we ended up with are two courses that closely approximate the great links of Scotland and Ireland. I am very proud of the way they turned out."

And like some of the storied links of the old country, the Bandon Dunes Resort is remote. It takes time and determination and two, sometimes three airplanes to get there. But once American golfers found out that there were genuine links in their own country, they found a way to get there.

"I was thinking that the courses would do 10,000, maybe 12,000 rounds apiece, per year," says Keiser. "We've been doing 20,000. Our lodge has done well, the first restaurant has done well. People have heard about it, heard that they aren't going to get gouged [$140 greens fees] and have been coming."

From Scotland to Ireland to Oregon, men with vision and determination have taken the game back to its roots. They have made something new old again, returning to the standard of links golf that remains timeless. In doing so, they have touched the soul of the earth, and of golfers everywhere.

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