WHEN MIKE KEISER was growing up in Upstate New York in the 1950s, his father was always planting and pruning trees on an open plot of land near their home, turning the two acres into a pine forest. Although Mike Sr. was a stockbroker by trade who served as a bomber pilot in World War II, at heart he was an environmentalist before anyone had ever heard of the term.
“He liked to say, ‘You always want to leave a place better than when you found it,’” says Keiser. “That’s my short answer to what is environmentalism. It’s that—always improve it.”
If there’s anyone in the industry who personifies LINKS’s Simpler Game ideals it’s Mike Keiser. More than just the owner of the magnificent piece of Oregon coastline that is home to his resort, Bandon Dunes, he considers himself the land’s steward. When the fifth course, the 13-hole par-three Bandon Preserve, opens in May, all the net proceeds will go to the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance to help protect the pristine lands and waters of the South Coast.
“The more time I spent there the more I realized that the hundred-mile stretch from Bandon to the California border is in many places primeval and undeveloped, so why not step in and make sure we keep it that way?” says Keiser, pictured above with Preserve architects Bill Coore (left) and Ben Crenshaw (center). “Most of it is state and federal park, but there are enough ranches that will come up for sale that I thought this is a perfect opportunity for a significant amount of money, depending on how popular it is, going to South Coast conservation.”
Chances are Bandon Preserve, built in dunes on the ocean side of Bandon Trails’ 1st hole, will prove very popular. Not only did minimalist masters Crenshaw and Coore design it, every hole comes with a view of the Pacific. Featuring large, undulating greens, most holes can play anywhere from 30 to 165 yards with golfers deciding themselves where to stick in the peg. Another attraction is that walking a full regulation 36 holes is just too much these days for aging Boomers.
Keiser conservatively estimates that 14,000 golfers will play it this year, and at $100 apiece that will net the alliance about $700,000. “He’s an extremely strong friend of the environment and it goes back to Recycled Greeting Cards where he made his fortune,” says the group’s executive director, Jim Seeley. “He’s returning philanthropically some of his success from the resort to the local area.”
When Bandon Dunes opened in 1999, Keiser was hoping to break even with 10,000 rounds. Last year he did 130,000 (he’ll open his first East Coast course, Cabot Links in Nova Scotia, in June). “It’s astonishing,” he says. “We have remote, links, windy, walking only—how many people want that? Turns out a lot of people.”
Perhaps even more incredibly, he was also able to sell the golfing public on the concept of “brown golf,” or at least “tawny,” the color he prefers, but only because it’s links golf on the coast where it looks natural. He doesn’t think it would play in Peoria. “If it’s parkland, they expect green,” he says. “You can go lean, but the superintendents are very loathe to be accused of not watering.”
That’s not an issue at Bandon, of course, where about the only use of an irrigation system is to grow in a course. The fescue grass also uses 80 percent less chemicals than bent. With three buildings that operate on solar energy and its own internal waste-control system, the resort is not only the model of environmental responsibility, but has actually improved the fate of an endangered plant species, the Silvery Phacelia. Invasive gorse was choking out the little jewel-like creeper, but every time Keiser builds a course, the seeds take root in the newly disturbed dunes.
“It seems to like golf,” he says. “Pacific Dunes is covered with it.”
His dad would be proud.