Something new is coming to one of our favorite places, and we’re even more excited about it after Episode 155 of the “Talking GolfGetaways” podcast as golf architect David McLay Kidd returns for an all-new conversation with hosts Mitch Laurance and Darin Bunch.
Quicksands at Gamble Sands. Add that name to an award-winning, game-changing list of golf courses created by the Scotsman. A list that includes, among others: the original course at Bandon Dunes, Mammoth Dunes at Sand Valley, The Castle Course overlooking St. Andrews, Macrihanish Dunes in Scotland, and, of course, the Sands Course at Gamble Sands in Eastern Washington.
And this conversation about “all things short courses” focusing on the 14-hole addition to Gamble Sands just might be the podcast’s most interesting and revealing discussion on the process of creativity and strategy in golf design — thanks to the articulate and wildly imaginative McLay Kidd.
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First things first: Was Quicksands the first short course in McLay Kidd’s portfolio? Turns out the answer is no. But even Kidd himself had forgotten his actual “first” short course — Shorty’s at Bandon Dunes, created when he returned to work on the practice facility after completion of the original 18-hole course at the then-fledgling resort that launched both his career and a Keiser family empire of destination golf.
But the depth of Episode 155 dives into the collaborative process of Team DMK, including design partner Nick Schaan and others in their “little crew” who built Quicksands during a three-month stretch of the pandemic lockdown.
“It’s the golf course equivalent of jamming … and everyone is doing their level best, coordinated by me and Nick, to come up with the best solution, and it’s just as much fun as you’d think it is,” McLay Kidd says while detailing construction highlights, origins of the hole names, and the attention to detail throughout the Quicksands experience, designed to be seamless for golfers who will extend their day (or days) at Gamble Sands to include these 14 extra holes once the course officially opens in Spring 2021 (although limited Preview Play may be available near the end of the 2020 season).
Here are some Quicksands highlights from the mind of McLay Kidd and the team, a few of which will set it apart from any short courses we’ve played (and we’ve played plenty around the world):
- 14 holes, ranging from (approximately) 80-160 yards.
- Design encourages players to have fun above all else, offering various strategies and club decisions on every hole, especially the shortest.
- Agronomy and course conditioning is expected to replicate the conditions on the Sands Course (albeit a bit more extreme), including putting surfaces.
- An on-course sound system designed by a Disney theme-park sound company will surround Quicksands with a controlled background level of music.
- A deck in the middle of the course for food-and-beverage (with the bathroom hidden below).
- Numerous bag stand locations designed for “ease of use” (read: helpful for appropriate beverage-management) and pace of play.
- Custom Quicksands golf bags designed by Seamus Golf.
“Ease of use is absolutely critical,” McLay Kidd says, “much more so than on the big course. We’re talking about the details of ‘Where am I putting my bag? Where am I putting my drink? I don’t want this cluster of bags and Solo cups that I’ve experienced other places. I want it to be super easy. I’ll be served a cocktail in an aluminum flask, I’m given a bag designed with a pocket for that flask. I want a bag stand at every green and on every tee as a tee marker.”
The other key difference from the Sands Course is that Quicksands will be a place to think less about “shooting a number” and more about just beating your friends — with that drink in hand and a few clubs slung over your shoulder. And the team has worked to inject a sense of camaraderie straight into the veins of the design.
“I want the golf holes to criss-cross each other,” he says, “so that golfers are forced to interact, to tease each other and taunt each other the way they do on the (Cascades) putting course.”
Only two greens on Quicksands are blind, so everyone can see who is closest to the hole on nearly every shot (and the two that are blind have some sly competitive advantages and disadvantages all their own). And both fun and challenge (while emphasizing McLay Kidd’s philosophy of keeping lost golf balls to a minimum) are built into nearly all of the design elements to keep this short course from being just a loop of 14 wedge shots with some putting.
“How do I encourage you NOT to hit that stock wedge?” Kidd asks during the podcast. “It was a riot to come up with all the different ways of not doing that. For example, there are holes at Quicksands where we wanted you to consider putting rather than chipping. Every single hole out there is a way of teaching golfers how to do basic course management on a links course, how to read the contours, and how to be imaginative, whether you chip it or bump-and-run it or putt it, maybe you use a wedge or a backstop or a side slope. All these different things are out there in a highly concentrated fashion.”
What will you remember most after a round on Quicksands? Everything. At least that’s McLay Kidd’s goal. But one hole that was especially necessary to the routing might be almost “out of the world” and have some fun of its own with golfers.
“We hope that the whole experience at Quicksands will be what players talk about [later in the bar],” McLay Kidd says. “But in order to make the routing work, we built ‘The Crater.’ The third hole is straight uphill. … So I was scratching my head and thinking ‘How do I play to a green that’s at the top of a hill and not be irritated when I miss the green and it lands on the sides of this steep hill and the ball just runs away?’ … So I wrote on the plan ‘Crater’ and I drew a little illustration of what I wanted it to look like, and Nick went out with a dozer and he built it! So you’re playing to a volcanic crater — that is, I promise you, what it looks like. And if you can hit into the crater, good things happen. If you don’t hit it in the crater and you miss the crater, obviously very, very bad things happen.”
And if you’ve ever wondered how seriously golf architects take these short-course challenges these days, Kidd is quick to point out how these non-traditional layouts are carving out an important place in the golf-travel world.
“The amount of effort that’s going into building these short courses is pretty exceptional,” he says. “I knew, going into building Quicksands, that it’s rare air. When you have Gil Hanse building The Cradle [at Pinehurst], Bill Coore doing The Preserve [at Bandon Dunes] — they’re all world-class facilities in their own right. And I wanted to make sure that when we entered the fray with Quicksands, we could compete. So I poured as much energy into those 14 short holes as I would on a full 18-hole golf course.”
Obviously, we can’t wait to see it. And we’re pretty sure after you’ve listened to this episode of “Talking GolfGetaways” you’ll start planning a 2021 trip to Gamble Sands as well.
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Also on Episode 155 of the “Talking GolfGetaways” podcast, Mitch and Darin get an update from McLay Kidd on his chance to “put a thumbprint” in the Caribbean with a project called Kakona in the Bahamas — on the Abacos Islands, to be exact. Although course construction has been delayed because of last year’s Hurricane Dorian devastation, the design is ready to go (and a too-good-to-be-true visualization is already floating around social media from Golf-CGI masterminds Harris Kalinka). And they finish the podcast with a few quick thoughts on Kidd’s childhood homeland — the Kintyre Peninsula — and how Scotland (and the United Kingdom as a whole) are slowly beginning to emerge from the coronavirus lockdown.
—Words by Mitch Laurance & Darin Bunch