“You can play a full round at Gamble Sands and never lose a ball.” That’s what I was told — bold words from someone who has seen me play many, many times. That kind of introduction can give a player all kinds of confidence. Then another friend testifies that “the greens are easy to read” and “even he” putted well there. Sorry, Joe … I don’t believe you. Has to be too good to be true.
Never having seen the course, I was envisioning wide-open fields with nothing but assist-friendly mounds funneling me to can’t-miss cups — birdies galore … golf at its “never-been-easier.” (Like Pirates Cove mini-golf but with some creativity.)
The Sands Course at Gamble Sands Resort is, in fact, one of the most playable designs I’ve experienced — a place I could easily, and would gladly, play every single day for the rest of forever. That said, one swing into my first round at Gamble Sands, I lost my first ball, with the aforementioned Nostradamus doubled over in stitches at my side. “Only you,” he said, with a deep chuckle. “Seriously … only you.”
It seems unlikely I’m the only person to ever lose a ball at Gamble Sands. I don’t want (at all) to misrepresent the course as “easy.” But it’s not hard either. It’s … well … just about perfect. Golf architect David McLay-Kidd built a masterful puzzle out here in the apple-and-cherry-orchard-covered hills of north-central Washington state — a puzzle I’ve appreciated putting together more each time (six loops so far) — and it’s “easy enough” … assuming you can stay on the massive fairways and greens, and don’t peregrinate in the sand.
Gamble Sands is a golfer’s oasis — an out-of-the-way, peak-of-the-plateau property overlooking the glistening Columbia River. You’re ostensibly heading there (to Brewster) for one of two reasons: to golf or eat apples and cherries. The food onsite is good, the lodging is nice with even nicer views, the swimming pool and massive putting course are great amenities, but none of those are meant to distract from the feature attraction — the golf courses. Winner of Golf Digest’s “Best New Course” in 2014, it’s amazing what the Sands Course is already — and mind-boggling to think of what the resort could yet become.
Quicksands Short Course
The second course has been built and officially opens this spring — an incredibly “moving” 14-hole “Short Course” called Quicksands. “We didn’t use the (Quicksands) land for the original course because, frankly, it was so ... wild,” Kidd says. Perfect for a short course, in other words.
Kidd built the very “under the rader” Shorties course at Bandon, so he already had some “short course-building experience,” but he played Bandon Preserve, the Sandbox in Wisconsin and The Cradle at Pinehurst as research before really digging into Quicksands. “I love them all,” Kidd told me recently, “but all of them require you to hit tee shots. That’s not what we were going for here. Quicksands is different because it emphasizes creative ground play instead of forced carries (there are none) and replicates approach shots. We won’t have tee boxes. We’ll have tee markers, but the course and shots will constantly change, so you’ll be able to use a variety of different clubs — not just wedges and putters.”
My son and I leaned against a wooden fence in October 2019, marveling at the rugged, brushy land Kidd was given to work with. “How great will that course be on this land?” my son asked. Pretty darn great. Kidd’s primary design partner, Nick Schaan, is one of the best in the business, and those two were destined to replace the disheveled expanse of dirt and thorns before us with something much more impressive. “It’ll be firm, fast fescue like the big course,” Kidd said, a glint in his eye. Music to my ears.
And first reports are Quicksands turned out exactly like Kidd had described. Golf Trip Experts’ Darin Bunch was among the group who played the inaugural preview round with Kidd in October 2020. “The big course at Gamble Sands is one of my favorite places to play anywhere in the world, but I honestly don’t know how I would split up my time at the resort now that Quicksands is opening,” he says. “Every shot out there is fun and you want to play the holes over and over again to experiment with different approaches, runners, long putts, double-hop pitches, you name it — Quicksands is a short-game paradise for creative players.”
[Editor’s Note: Bunch loved Quicksands so much that he’s heading up a GolfTripX trip to Gamble Sands (with a Wine Valley kicker) for Aug. 29-Sept. 1, 2021. Space is limited, so if you want to join the party, DM him @golfgetaways on Twitter or Instagram for more information.]
Gamble Sands is owned by the Gebbers family, as well known in the Okanogan Valley for their generosity as they are for their massive Gebbers Farms orchard operations. They had the land, the plan and just needed a man who could implement their vision. Kidd was eager to be that guy. He met Cass Gebbers in 2008, incidentally right after Cass had interviewed Bill Coore for the project (David actually crossed paths with Bill at the local gas station). David will tell you he was lucky he stacked up to Bill’s presentation that day, and that he’s even more lucky to be so closely involved with the Gebbers family since. “Many projects, you finish your course and you move on. Here, I’m always involved in something. We have mutual trust and mutual goals. We’re a real team ... an extended family.”
David is grateful to the Gebbers for “allowing him” to bring their vision to fruition. I see it the other way around. The Gebbers are the lucky ones. They, and all of us. Few architects could have pulled off the pure and bombastically brilliant playground Kidd constructed, specifically on this land. In fact, with an admittedly modest budget, few architects would’ve been willing to even try. But money doesn’t drive David, family does ... and fun. He savored the challenge of doing something different — and having free rein to make that “different” however he wanted it. Some might say the man at Gamble Sands was like a Kidd in a candy store. Sorry. Not sorry.
The course plays like United Kingdom links golf. Kidd’s Scottish roots are evident everywhere. Walking the fairways you can imagine yourself on the coast of Scotland, from the appearance of a village in the valley to almost being able to hear sheep bleating and bells jingling when you close your eyes. You can get completely lost in your thoughts. And that was the intent — a “braw” slice of Scotland in America. “The best course my son ever built,” his dad, Jimmy Kidd, says proudly.
Best? That’s a big statement. But if it isn’t, I’m not sure what course is … Nanea? Bandon Dunes? Mammoth Dunes? The true lure of the Sands design is that every player can navigate it successfully. And, therefore, every player can love it unabashedly. The green complexes are massive, rolling, spaces … seemingly alive. With a dozen possible pin placements on each putting surface, you can truly find a different game in every round. Kidd built the course to be attacked from every angle — with options for the aerial-inclined and “handicap accessibility” for those who struggle to “elevate their game” (or prefer to bounce their way around).
“You could play the entire course with just a putter,” Kidd says while watching me putt off the tee on the par-3 fourth hole, gleefully naming someone who tried it.
“I’d give it a shot,” my pal (and “Talking GolfGetaways co-host) Mitch Laurance quickly interjected. I’m right there with him. (Note: I’ve gone with putter on No. 4 all six rounds, yielding six pars.)
The Third Course
Great as the Sands Course is, Kidd hints that the third course (they hope to begin building in early 2022) could be even better. “Just as playable, but very different,” he says. “Some tighter fairways on the opening and closing holes, with smaller greens ... more blind and semi-blind shots ... more play down in valleys and trenches. Great land. Very different land.”
“Any knock-your-socks-off holes you’ve already routed?” I asked.
“The 13th hole on the new course will be my “Bandon 16” (arguably Kidd’s greatest singular hole design). It has probably the best greenside parcel on the entire property, with astonishing panoramic views.”
“I can't wait to come back here,” my son said, his eyes taking it all in while his heart used his mouth.
Gamble has that kind of impact on people — from 18-year-old phenoms to 40-year-old hacks (fine, 40+). Dylan is hoping to return this summer with Darin, partially for another shot at Gamble, but mostly to take Darin’s money. “I’ll even play him with hickories,” he said, confidence never an issue. “Easy,” I laughed. That’s a wager Darin just might take him up on.
I have few reservations recommending Gamble Sands to anyone at any level — considering it’s in my Top 10 of golf courses I’ve ever played (out of more than 600). Struggle as I always have with the first hole (and No. 17), there’s nothing I’d change about the course. Literally. I only wish the turn shack (and bar) had been built to the right of the 10th tee instead of left of 10 green (Let the bartender see who’s coming down nine, and keep players from walking back and forth behind the 10th green) and that they had a barrel of complimentary Gebbers apples on the first tee (Darin would prefer cherries).
Walking the course with Kidd, I stop as he does. “Listen,” he says. I listen. “Hear that?” I hear laughter to my left. I hear cheering to my right. I’m not quite sure what I’m meant to be listening for. He turns to me, that clever smile twisting across his face, Scottish accent thick as chunky peanut butter. “You know what that is?” He doesn’t wait for me to answer. “That is the sound of fun.”
I nod. It is that. It’s also another thing — the sound of success.
Well done, fine sir.
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Stay + Play is the Best Way
Stay on site if rooms are available (the 40 suites fill fast). The three-star hotel offers an incredible view across the 100,000-square-foot Cascade Putting Course and Columbia River Valley, with huge rooms, comfortable beds and easy access to Danny Boy’s Grill and Gamble Sands golf. No room at The Inn? Howards Lakeshore Inn in Pateros (16.4 miles) is a great and affordable backup option. Note: I’ve never had more fun on a putting course anywhere in America, even losing to both my son and my editor in putting contests there. It truly is a sensational amenity.
Danny Boy’s Grill at Gamble Sands serves every meal, and serves them well, with plenty of variety on the menu (the tater tots alone will fill you up) and a good selection of mixed drinks. Those relegated to a Pateros stay have the good fortune of breakfast at the SweetRiver Bakery. The baked goods are steep in price but deep in flavor, and brick-oven pizza (and wings) lovers should keep the place in mind for dinner.
Want more Gamble Sands?
—David McLay-Kidd on his new Quicksands Short Course – Talking Golf Getaways Podcast #112
—The Gamble Sands Talking Yardage Guide with David McLay-Kidd
—Golf-Course Photographer Brian Oar’s Gamble Sands Photo Gallery
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Notable Golf Connections
Chambers Bay: The 2015 U.S. Open host is only 235 miles west, just south of Seattle.
Coeur d’Alene: 167 miles east, home to Coeur d’Alene Resort, Circling Raven and incredible private clubs like Discovery Land Company’s Gozzer Ranch and Jim Engh’s magnificent Golf Club at Black Rock.
Predator Ridge: You think I’m kidding, but if the border is open and you have your passport, you’d be wise to consider the four-hour 178-mile drive north to Vernon, British Columbia. Home to my “Favorite 19th Hole on Earth.”
Silvies Valley Ranch: 382 miles straight south to a four-course golfer’s buffet served up by Dan Hixson and a vastly underrated KemperSports-managed retreat. Read my latest story about Silvies here.