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‘A pure golf destination’: Gamble Sands ramps up expansion

If you’re looking for the early frontrunner for America’s Best New Course of 2025, there’s a good chance you’ll find it sitting on a lovely bluff overlooking the Columbia River in Brewster, Wash.

Architect David McLay Kidd just broke ground on the second 18-hole course at Gamble Sands, which quickly has joined the list of must-visit destinations. Kidd’s original Sands Course was the Best New Course of 2014 and supplanted Chambers Bay as No. 1 on Golfweek’s list of Best Courses You Can Play in Washington.

Photo: Evan Schiller

“It is a pure golf destination,” said Golfweek Rater Brian Kerns, who recalls making a long drive in 2016 to play the Sands Course when there was nothing else on the property aside from a small clubhouse. “It is wonderful destination golf in the spirit of Machrihanish, Royal Dornoch, Cabot Links or Bandon Dunes, in the sense that is a long and winding road to get there, but once there, it is pure golf enjoyment.”

While it’s still remote, Gamble Sands is now a full-blown destination, with the 14-hole QuickSands short course and the 100,000-square-foot Cascade Putting Course that sits at the base of a 37-room Inn at Gamble Sands. Demand from golfers is so strong that a new casual eatery, The Barn, is opening next to the practice range mid-season, with a new 40-room hotel opening next year, followed by the new golf course a year later.

Photo: Jeff Bertch

It might seem presumptuous to predict lofty honors for a course that’s two years from opening, but Kidd isn’t downplaying expectations. “This land is frankly even more dramatic than the first course,” he said.

Kidd originally hoped to build the Sands Course on that site, but at the time Gebbers Farms, the family-owned agricultural giant that built the resort, used that land for winter cattle grazing. He said there will be “a bunch of bluff-edge holes” overlooking the Columbia River, but the drama won’t stop there.

“Internally, there are some wild, linksy, dunesy shapes that we’re going to play the golf course through,” Kidd said.

While the Sands Course has relatively gentle shaping, Kidd said the second course will have “more aggressive contours.” But don’t read too much into that. Kidd calls Gamble Sands the course that “redefined” his career as an architect committed to building courses that will be enjoyed by golfers of all skill levels. That won’t change with his second 18-holer at Gamble Sands.

“I’ve told everyone on my team, let’s not stray too far from the principles that have made Gamble so successful,” Kidd said. “We still want people to go out there and feel confident off the tee and be able to recover when they screw up and not be hunting golf balls. But will the golf course be more challenging against par? I think the topography will make it so.”

Aside from building courses that max out the fun factor for players of all skill levels, Kidd, who famously wears a kilt to his course openings, wants to deliver a playing experience that evokes his native Scotland.

Photo: Brian Oar

John Lavendoski, a Seattle-area Golfweek Rater who has played extensively overseas, said “the turf, fairway and green conditions provide an authentic taste of what golf is like in the British Isles. … It is a golf pilgrimage destination worthy of Shivas Irons,” a reference to the mystical savant of “Golf in The Kingdom.”

That sense that there is something magical about Gamble Sands comes up repeatedly in conversations with Golfweek Raters who are repeat visitors. Kerns compared it to baseball’s “Field of Dreams,” a place where people go because it touches their souls.

That’s apparently true of the staff as well. Brian Benitz, Gamble Sands’ director of sales and marketing, was dispatched to Brewster in 2017, assuming it would be a short stay because the staff was short-handed. Now he’s beginning his sixth season at the resort.

“When I got up here, I fell in love with the place, I fell in love with ownership and the vision, I fell in love with the idea that this course isn’t going to be bought or sold in 100 years,” Benitz said. “Gebbers Farms will still own that golf course. This all felt very authentic, very genuine.”

This is the Gebbers family’s first and only resort, but what’s striking is that they seem to have nailed every facet of customer experience – the golf, the Inn, the food and more.

“The accommodations at Gamble Sands are first-class,” said Golfweek Rater Dave Edwards. “Spacious with gorgeous views. The food is excellent, but what sets Gamble Sands apart from other resorts is the level of service. Happy and friendly people at every turn.”

No wonder the Gebbers family now finds itself just trying to keep up with demand. Benitz said 2023 weekends are almost entirely booked, to the point where he already is reserving space for groups visiting in 2024.

“In my view it is one of the best places you could go for a golf buddies’ trip,” Kerns said. “The accommodations are world-class and affordable and there are few settings better for evening dinner or drams and a putting competition than on that the massive Himalayas-style putting green that sits right outside the sliding doors of the spacious rooms, perched atop a bluff overlooking the large curve of the mighty Columbia River.”

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