Off the Wall– or a golf course that looks like a sand trap

By Bob Spiwak

While what follows is obviously about golf, it could ultimately have an effect on the economies of the Methow Valley and beyond.

Eighteen of us of the Northwest Golf Media Association were invited to a “pre-preview” of the new Gamble Sands golf course a few miles outside of Brewster on Sept. 19 and 20. It is located in the sand hills across from Fort Okanogan.

What this has to do with economies is the expectation that it will become a destination course, and in five years be joined in the area by the already begun but put-on-hold Gamble Cliffs course just up from the town of Brewster. Gamble Cliffs will be an entirely different course, with the ultimate build-out including housing and possibly a hotel.

The Gamble name on both venues, which are owned by the Gebbers family of Brewster (and possibly the largest apple and cherry providers in the world) comes from the family patriarch, John Gamble, who in 1885 completed a walk from Nova Scotia to the gold mining area possibly around Harts Pass.

Over the years, a Gamble married a Gebbers, producing today a family-owned dynasty.

The family corporation is headed by Cass Gebbers as president and CEO, who prefers running cattle to picking apples. He played nine holes in cowboy boots. He’s well familiar with the Methow, having run cattle at Spokane Gulch and Goat Peak.

The Gamble Sands course is built entirely on sand. Its golf architect is Scottish expatriate David McLay Kidd, who gained renown 15 years ago when he produced world-famous Bandon Dunes in Oregon, also a predominantly sand course, in the manner of the seaside links courses in his native land.

“Brewster,” said Kidd at a dinner after a day of sunny golf, “Brewster is, ya know, not the crossroads of anything … My task was to build an awesome golf course. If it’s crap it will be my fault.”

There are 110 acres of fescue on the course. The lies will be tight (no lush fairway turf, which will require a different style of play). No traffic noise. No trees. No water features like lakes, falls or island greens. Just pure golf approximating how it was played centuries ago. Unlike the days of yore, there will be a clubhouse, a small one with a bar that will open through sliding doors that are 10 paces from the driving range and 20 paces from the putting green.

The distance from green to the next tee is minimal on most holes, and the course has been designed primarily for walking. There are no cart paths, although carts will be available at $50 on top of currently anticipated greens fees of $150. Carts, we were told, will be discouraged, and by the time the course opens next summer there will be trained caddies available.

And it is indeed a walking course, as a couple of over-70-year-old golfers strolled around several thousand yards packing their own clubs. There are five tee positions allowing the course to play from 7,305 yards from the tips to forward tees playing 4,920 yards.

The fairways are more than generous, designed so that it is difficult to lose a ball, even if it flies into the sage and wild plant rough. It could be a hefty climb in and out of a couple of deep washes, as the visible ball mocks the golfer.

Whether the course meets the expectations of the owners, the Gebbers family, OB Sports management or architect Kidd, will probably take years to play out. A world media event is set for July, just before the course opens. What their scribes write will have some effect on the future of ultra-premium golf in North Central Washington.