Thursday, May 16, 2013

Bandon_600_oldmac_14 The 14th hole at Old MacDonald at the Bandon Dunes resort (Courtesy of Bandon Dunes). The news from coastal Oregon on Wednesday was encouraging. Bandon Dunes domo Mike Keiser met with the governor of Oregon and the Oregon State Parks Department to discuss the fate of a new course he has planned, tentatively called Bandon Muni Golf Links. “There’s no official announcement at this time,” says Bandon Dunes spokesman B.R. Koehnemann, but sources indicate that the meeting resulted in a preliminary agreement for a land swap to take place that will allow for the creation of the 27-hole course. To that, I say, “Bring it on!”

From Day 1 in the spring of 1999, passionate course connoisseurs flocked to Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, the greatest “must-play” public-course mecca ever built in the United States. So significant was its impact that in 2004, Golf Magazine named it No. 34 of the 45 Greatest Golf Moments of the past 45 years. Since then, Keiser has only enhanced the product, exponentially. Naturally, environmentalists from a fistful of factions have raised stop signs -- or at least caution flags -- but if there’s one guy to trust to get things right on the Oregon coast, it’s Keiser.

The plan Keiser has in mind is to create a St. Andrews-style muni operation; while his would be privately owned, it would be operated to benefit locals especially, as is the case with how the St. Andrews Links Trust administers its golf offerings. To that end, Keiser acquired several coastal parcels roughly 15 minutes south of Bandon Dunes and hired golf’s hottest architect, Gil Hanse, to craft 27 holes. That plan has been in place for at least two, perhaps even three years, and Hanse has completed several preliminary routings. However, Keiser has had his eye on some virtually untouched State Park land, replete with massive dunes, scrubby vegetation and magnificent ocean views that would turn his good golf course into a potentially outstanding one. He proposed a land swap with the state government, but his proposal had stalled -- or at least had been idling for many months. Optimism on Keiser’s part had clearly faded -- until now.

The age-old issue of land tampering now rears its head. Do we really need more golf in Bandon? Is it worth it to intrude on such a pristine piece of property? For the state or Oregon to part with such a parcel, there has to be an “overwhelming public benefit,” says a state parks spokesman. Keiser makes a compelling case. He’s asking for a small slice of an otherwise inaccessible plot that’s covered with gorse and other invasive plant species. In exchange he would give up land of equal or greater value, plus cash. He would offer state residents substantial discounts and invite locals from Coos and Curry Counties to play for nominal, even miniscule rates. Juniors would play free of charge and a caddie program will be established to provide jobs for young people.
So long as the bulk of the duneland is maintained in its natural state, this sounds like an “overwhelming public benefit” to me.
Thinking that Keiser has kept every promise in keeping Bandon Dunes sustainable and that Gil Hanse embodies the lay-of-the-land, don’t-fight-with-nature-but-rather-work-with-it-kind of architect, the Bandon Muni project seems like a certain home run. There remain many hurdles to overcome, but for now, I’m excited to place Bandon Muni on the front burner.

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