Jan 04, 2016 | 11:54 am

Gamble Sands: The Next Big Thing

By: James A. Frank | @jfranklinks

When the US Open is held at Chambers Bay near Tacoma, Washington, next year, it will be the first time our national championship is played in the Pacific Northwest. Our other movable major, the PGA Championship, has been played up there three times, most recently in Seattle in 1998—after a regional absence of more than 50 years. Quiz most American golfers about that part of the country and it’s likely all they know is Oregon’s Bandon Dunes.

Which is too bad, because as I’m finding out this week on an interstate sojourn through the country’s upper left corner, there’s a lot of great golf. As well as what might be the next important golf destination.

Gamble Sands, located in the middle of Washington, likely will be this year’s winner of the “great new course in the middle of nowhere” contest previously won by Streamsong in Florida, Canada’s Cabot Links, Ballyneal in eastern Colorado, Bandon, and Sand Hills in Nebraska.

Just outside the little town of Brewster in north-central Washington, Gamble is a 3-plus-hour drive from Seattle. It’s on the eastern side of the Cascades Mountains, where the weather is sunny and dry (it’s high desert terrain) and the main industry is fruit, notably apples and cherries. Nearby Lake Chelan is a popular summer spot for Seattlites who enjoy watersports, hiking and biking, wineries and good food.

Set to open on August 1, Gamble Sands was designed by David McLay Kidd (he of the original course at Bandon, Machrihanish Dunes in his native Scotland, and the very fine Huntsman Springs in Idaho, among others). Built on land owned by the Gebber family—fruit growers here for more than 100 years—the project is being referred to as a “private resort,” meaning it will have a small, select membership while remaining open to the public. A handful of lodges will open in 2016, and there are plans for another course after that. But right now, Kidd’s creation is the only game in town.

And what a game it is!

Like most of the out-of-the-way courses noted above, Gamble is built on a huge base of sand, thousands of acres of rolling dunes and wind-formed blow outs perfect for golf. At 1,000 feet above sea level, the course presents expansive views in every direction, with especially breathtaking vistas of the Cascades and the Columbia River, plus miles and miles of orchards. If beauty were its only asset, Gamble would be a treasure.

But Kidd has done something very clever and very special, sculpting a massively wide course that is playable and enjoyable to every kind of golfer. With fairways as broad as 100 yards wide—you really have to work to miss them—it is very forgiving. But the chance to play the proper angles, the swooping and shaping of greens (some up to 16,000 square feet), and the wind (from pleasant breeze to steady gale and changeable by the minute) make it challenging and compelling for good players, too. Gamble tumbles along, holes rise, fall, and change direction. It is a joy to walk, with top-class caddies to enhance the experience.

In short, it is all here. And with five sets of tees (4,800 to 7,170 yards), appropriate for all.

Kidd is onto something with this method of entertaining different golfers at the same time. When I asked him about it, he said, “The mindset of golf design is one of defense and limiting opportunity. So many design ‘ideas’ are about preventing the player from scoring. We wanted to know what would happen if we turned that on its head and said, ‘what happens if we try and help the average golfer at every opportunity.’” It’s a novel concept that could be important to a game that needs just such innovation and inclusion.

Will Gamble Sands be the next big thing? Will it lead the way to more accessible, adaptable design? We’ll have to wait and see. But whatever it becomes, right now it is big, bold, beautiful, and exhilarating. It is great golf, it is great fun, and it is worth getting to.

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Aug 15, 2014 | 11:07 am

Like/Don't Like

By: George Peper | @gpeperlinks

Like: Tiger’s decision to pull out of consideration for the Ryder Cup Team. Uncharacteristically high-road for him and the right move for both his own health and the team's.

Don’t Like: Tom Watson’s choices for captain’s picks. The leading player according to the points list is Jason Dufner (above) and he’s out with an injury. Looking at the next 14 players on that list, all but three are rookies. The other three are Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, and Brant Snedeker, who have combined for just one victory in the last 12 months.

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Aug 14, 2014 | 12:00 pm

Thank You, Tiger

By: James A. Frank | @jfranklinks

In a year in which Tiger Woods has managed to do almost nothing right—did you realize that in seven events he was in the top 25 only once (and that after winning five times last year)?—his decision, announced yesterday, to take his name out of consideration for a Ryder Cup captain’s pick could not have been more right.

At the risk of sounding like a Tiger apologist, he deserves our thanks and appreciation, because his decision makes the most sense for all concerned.

For Tiger, it means staying away from the golf course, which was his doctors’ prescription. It would have been nice if his back problems were healed with surgery a few months back, but obviously they haven’t all been taken care of.

For US team captain Tom Watson, it’s a huge relief, removing Tiger from the equation and alleviating the need to play the “will he, won’t he; can he, can’t he” game between now and September 2 when the picks are announced. Much more interesting now are the chances of players like Brandt Snedeker (presently 20th in Ryder Cup points), Webb Simpson (15th), Keegan Bradley (13th), and Jason Dufner (10th), who is dealing with his own health issues. At least we’re talking about players who should be considered, not one who was ranked 70th  in points after finishing 69th at Royal Liverpool, withdrawing at Firestone, and missing the cut at Valhalla.

Tiger’s selfless act also is good for the team. Because face it, Ryder Cup has never been his best event. In fact, I’ve been researching match records in preparing the Ryder Cup edition of HotLinks, our digital magazine, which will be out in a few weeks. Tiger’s Cup record is pretty lousy: He’s played in 33 total matches and lost 17 of them. He’s strongest in the singles, where he has 4 wins, 1 loss, and 2 halves, but he’s 4-8-1 in foursomes and 5-8-0 in four-balls. Two years ago at Medinah, he managed just half a point in four matches, halving his singles match against Francesco Molinari after the Cup had already been retained by Europe (his halve gave them the Cup outright). He’s also never established a chemistry with any partners: Remember the excitement about Woods pairing with his buddy Steve Stricker? In 2012, they went 0-3.

So, yeah, it’s good for the team, and give him credit for realizing this and stepping aside so someone else has a chance.

There’s been a lot of talk about Tiger’s rotten year and failing health marking the end of an era, the beginning of the end, a changing of the guard, call it what you will. That may be true, or maybe he’ll come back next year healthy and able to play golf the way we’re used to seeing. We’ll just have to wait and see.

So give him credit for that, too: By stepping away now and doing the right thing, he’s going to make us that much more anxious next year (like just before The Masters?) to see if the latest “new Tiger” shows any of the same stripes as the “old Tiger” that once generated so much excitement.

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Aug 08, 2014 | 09:43 am

Like/Don't Like

Like: Lee Westwood atop the leaderboard at the PGA Championship after a first-round 65. No one deserves a major championship, personally and professionally, more than this classy, understated Englishman who has played so well for so long.

Don’t Like: His chances. Two other players are also at minus 6, 35 players are under par, and Westwood has a sad history of finishing poorly in the majors.

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