Jim Meehan: Picturesque and well conceived Gamble Sands opens
Dave Christenson has been part of three grand openings, including Friday’s debut of Gamble Sands.
This one is different than his previous experiences at Circling Raven and a golf course back east.
Gamble Sands, a gorgeous links course near Brewster, Washington, couldn’t be more ready to greet the public. Most of the fine fescue has been growing for two years so there are few sparse spots. There are no rocks below the surface waiting to chew up the bottom of a 7-iron.
The greens could have their own zip codes, some measuring 65 yards deep or wide. The fairways are spacious, often bordered by long, wavy bunkers and strategically placed traps in landing areas for drives and second shots on par 5s.
“At Circling Raven we were waiting on the course so we had plenty of time to set up clubhouse operations,” said Christenson, general manager at Gamble Sands. “This one is the opposite. The course is in; we’re trying to complete the clubhouse. The (entrance) road is being completed and we’re getting out road signage. My wife is working on merchandising and getting the bar and dining area all set up.”
Christenson was confident everything would be ready for opening day. The course is certainly in place and it blends seamlessly into the desert landscape. That’s not as easy as it sounds. One doesn’t get the sense that a ton of dirt – or sand, in Gamble Sands’ case – was moved to form the holes.
That was one of many goals achieved by David McLay Kidd. His first assignment as a designer was Bandon Dunes and the result was a gem ranked in the top 75 in the world.
Gamble Sands, owned by the Gebbers family, used the same blend of fescue (creeping red, chewings and hard) as Bandon Dunes.
“It’s an unbelievable convergence of all those natural elements and on top of that a world-class golf course,” Christenson said. “We didn’t have to install drainage or import sand for bunkers. No cart paths or trees. Like David said, out of all the sites he’s worked on this one is in his top three.”
A group of Spokane-area media made the 2½-hour drive and a couple of west-side media traveled 4 hours recently to learn more about the scenic course nestled above the Columbia River. Smoke and ash from the nearby Carlton Complex fire cleared out a few days before our visit.
The first – and perhaps lasting – impression of Gamble Sands is its playability for golfers of all abilities. It’s neither a pushover nor frustratingly hard. It finds a pleasing middle ground.
Our foursome played it at roughly 6,400 yards from a mixture of the regular and back tees. There were three drivable par 4s and perhaps five 400-yards plus par 4s, including the 497-yard fifth. The medal tees stretch the length to 7,169 yards. The forward tees measure just under 4,800 yards.
“It can be plenty challenging but it’s also pretty generous,” Christenson said. “There are some forced carries over wastelands, over the sand dunes, but you can bite off as much as you want. The three (drivable) par-4s are risk-reward holes and can be a game-changer for sure.”
As always with the first tour of a links course, a caddy is recommended to help read the sprawling greens – expect a few 160-foot putts – and choose from the range of pitch/flop/putt options when approach shots miss the putting surface. A course tour at gamblesands.com provides a nice overview of every hole.
The signature hole comes early. No. 2 is a 275-yard, downhill par 4 with the Columbia River in the background. A massive bunker forms a half circle around a shallow, wide green. Go long, as one member of our foursome did, and you’ll encounter sand and sagebrush.
The par 3s are among the course’s finest holes. No. 4 is 160 yards, roughly the same length of a bunker that frames the right side, with a picturesque view of the Columbia. The sixth, a downhill 185-yarder, has a large, sunken trap that swallows up shots left or short.
No. 10 is only 125-140 yards, but the pin was tucked on the extreme right side and looked like it sprouted from a green-side bunker. The 16th is 185 yards to a cleverly designed green complex. It’s essentially two greens, a lower left tier and an upper right tier divided by a ridge. Both sections are bowled so off-target shots often gravitate toward the hole.
The par-5 third, which is 592-633 yards from the back three tee boxes, is the No. 1 handicap hole and it begins with an uphill, angled tee shot over a bunker.
Christenson hopes to attract golfers from around the state with the base coming from Chelan about 35 miles away. Green fees are $130 to walk, $150 with a cart, with a $50/$65 replay rate. The long-range vision is a destination resort with cottages, two courses and numerous recreational activities.
Early feedback has been encouraging.
“A lot of people are just blown away that it’s this type of a quality golf course and it’s just a fun experience,” Christenson said. “And really how unique it is what I hear a great deal, to have a links course in north central Washington.”