“You have got to play Gamble Sands in Washington State. It’s one of the greatest courses I’ve played in years”, said a new subscriber. After that endorsement, we went to play and can safely concur with the superlative. Gaining international fame with the design of the first links course at Bandon Dunes in 1999, David McLay-Kidd gained a reputation of building difficult golf courses. More recently his design approach softened. Gamble Sands is an example of a newfound appreciation for designing great links courses that are challenging yet fun for all levels of golfers. Built by the Gebbers family, the owners of the largest producer of cherries and the 2nd largest producer of apples in the world, it was opened in 2014. They built gamble Sands on the same fertile property as their orchards. With sweeping views of the Columbia River, near to the Grand Coulee Dam, Gamble Sands serves the serious golfer exuding a no-nonsense approach to a quality golf experience.
A simple clubhouse disguises the upscale grill room. The Inn at Gamble Sands illustrates the tranquil ambiance offering thirty-eight oversize 2-4 bedroom comfortable units with broad views of the Columbia Valley and the golf course. A testament to the history of the golf game, Gamble Sands is a true links-style course. They believe the highest quality links golf experience embraces knowledgeable caddies as guides and sports psychologists. As a rare bonus, they attract tour-level caddies. Ask for Bobby Zimny – “Z”, the unofficial Gamble Sands ambassador, and former tour caddie on five different professional tours for over thirty years. Bobby and his other tour-quality caddie brethren elevate the Gamble Sands experience substantially. With or without a caddie, it’s designed for walking, a nod to the true links heritage. Golf Magazine rates that Gamble Sands the #2 public access course in the state of Washington, behind Chambers Bay, site of the 2015 U.S. Open. Cascades Magazine’s 2017 biannual survey of Northwest golfers puts Gamble Sands squarely in the #1 spot.
Gamble Sands Golf Course
Gamble Sands incorporates links-style fine fescue grass. Hard fairways allow shots to run along the ground making additional shot opportunities and sometimes difficult locations. Hire a caddie as shot target lines and distances are important especially for the first-timer. There is no cart GPS. The hardy fescue allows carts anywhere except the greens. There are no teeing grounds. Tee markers can be anywhere in the closely mown fescue providing enormous flexibility to set up the course.
The architects favorite hole is reportedly No. 2 stretching only 301 yards from the back tees and 261 yards from the middle tees. A low drive just left of the fairway bunker is likely to end up on the green or in a large green-side bunker. The approach shot at the long Par4 Hole #5 is illustrative of a common risk/reward dilemma – how much of a fairway bunker or barranca to cut off.
All sand is natural and little dirt was moved. Bunker are enormous and lined with tall wispy fescue. All bunkers are waste bunkers, the primary defense of the course. The ideal tee shot direction may be different from expected. “When you get to Hole #6, hit it thirty yards right”, said Booby “Z”. Sure enough, our tee shot caromed off the slope and finished fifteen feet from the hole. The center of the green is not always a precursor to a two-putt as the obvious undulations but otherwise subtle breaks can befuddle the best putter. Large greens allow a variety of pin positions. Two fairways bisected by a large nasty waste bunker provide different choices on the Par4 Hole #14.
Gamble Sands is great links golf. Hard and fast fescue fairways with multiple target lines depending on golfer skill, large waste bunkers key target areas, undulating greens with multiple approach options, wide open holes exposed to the elements, and tall wispy grass/bushes off-the-path combine for a true links experience and a top-rated course. Coupled with a rich yet minimalist approach, tour-level caddies, comfortable yet not opulent on-site accommodations, a simple but well-appointed clubhouse, and stunning expansive views; it’s a terrific golfers destination experience.
Explore other Northwest golf course profiles from Quintessential Golf Magazine.