BANDON — When Mike Keiser's staff applied to the Coos County Planning Department in the 1990s to build a golf resort just north of Bandon, they met with more than just a little push-back. Some residents testified they were concerned an upscale resort would change the nature of the South Coast area and its residents.
And it has.
But many agree the area has been changed for the better.
In 1999, Bandon was still recovering from the economic hardships of the declining timber, fishing and cranberry industries. While other areas around the state had switched economic gears, Bandon was sluggishly behind and had not yet fully embraced the idea of the area being strongly marketed as a tourist destination. That's a hard sell when people feel protective of their way of life.
But the natural landscape and outdoor recreational opportunities of Bandon were begging to be discovered.
Bandon needed the influx of visitors who would spend money and prompt the city's leaders and business owners to prioritize upgrades. It wasn't just Bandon. The county also needed the revenue. Despite tax break incentives by building in the county's Enterprise Zone, Coos County officials knew Bandon Dunes would eventually be on the tax rolls as a direct economic benefit. Job creation, from construction to services, also boosted the economy.
Twenty years later, the resort has been more of a success than anyone, including Keiser himself, anticipated. The resort has five golf courses: Bandon Dunes, which opened in 1999, Pacific Dunes (2001), Bandon Trails (2005), Old Macdonald (2010) and the 13-hole par-3 course Bandon Preserve (2012), with a sixth course — the Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch — set to open in 2020. The resort also features five restaurants: The Gallery, McKee's Pub, The Tufted Puffin, Pacific Grill and Trails End. It offers 186 guest rooms with 372 beds. It is ranked by Golf Digest as the No. 1 Golf Resort in North America
Notably, Bandon Dunes is one of the largest employers in the county, employing 560 people, with an additional 350-plus caddies during the summer.
Airport has benefited
One entity especially benefited from the beginning. Golfers coming to the area needed a convenient and reliable way to get to Bandon Dunes.
"The Southwest Oregon Regional Airport operated by the Coos County District, is probably one of the few businesses in the area besides Bandon Dunes itself, who can quantify the direct economic impact made by Bandon Dunes to the airport, in addition to many other indirect benefits to the airport and subsequently to our region," said Coos County Airport District Executive Director Theresa Cook.
The airport receives over $250,000 annually from corporate and charter aircraft utilizing the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport when they bring guests to golf at Bandon Dunes, Cook said.
More importantly, the airport has been able to sustain and grow its current commercial air service because of the passenger traffic Bandon Dunes creates.
"Without those visitors, our local demand alone would not be able to secure regular commercial air service," Cook said. "Even with Bandon Dunes golfers flying in, which helps to keep our passenger traffic numbers up, maintaining air service while building passenger demand has required a financial guarantee to the airlines."
Bandon Dunes has been a strong partner and an independent stakeholder in providing revenue guarantees to the airlines for air service.
In 2014, Bandon Dunes and the airport participated in providing over $1 million in a revenue guarantee to start the twice weekly, seasonal air service to Denver. After the second year, Bandon Dunes solely provided the revenue guarantee to continue the Denver route and has been doing so for the last four years.
Since the Airport District was formed in 2003, Bandon Dunes has been a strong advocate and supporter for airport capital improvement projects, marketing and air service, Cook said.
"The resort's economic impact along with our rural importance has helped to justify and leverage state and federal grants for a new tower, terminal, air service and marketing," she said.
Some of the additional jobs created and supported at the airport because of Bandon Dunes include employees at Coos Aviation, Avis and Enterprise Car Rental, shuttle services, maintenance and operations personnel, airline employees and security personnel with Transportation Security Administration.
"The Coos County Airport District would like to celebrate Bandon Dunes' 20 years of success and thank them for being a substantial partner in our community," Cook said.
Coos County Commissioner John Sweet, a lifelong Coos County resident, has witnessed firsthand the impact of Bandon Dunes.
"Bandon Dunes and Mike Keiser have done so much for our area, I hardly know where to start," Sweet said. "First, they have put Bandon on the map as a world class tourist destination. They have shown us, who may have taken for granted all we have to be thankful for, what a special place we live in."
Sweet said Mike Keiser's generosity sets a standard for personal and corporate participation in the community.
"His contributions to scholarships and local programs and facilities are beyond what any of us could dream," Sweet said.
Bandon Dunes, in the few short years it has been here, has become the county’s largest property taxpayer, adding much needed support to local governments and schools, Sweet added. In addition, a self-imposed room surcharge added at Bandon Dunes provides hundreds of thousands of dollars to the county to provide for public safety services such as jail and patrol and for regional tourism promotion.
Then there is Wild Rivers Coastal Alliance, a local foundation funded by proceeds from Bandon Preserve that serves as a convener and funder to help address livability issues such as tourism, conservation, housing, child care and gorse control to name just a few.
"All this on top of hundreds of jobs," Sweet said. "What a blessing Mr. Keiser and Bandon Dunes have been to our county."
Coos County Commissioner Melissa Cribbins agrees.
"Bandon Dunes has been a great community partner for economic development and public safety, and they truly embody what we mean when we talk about the merits of public-private partnerships," Cribbins said. "We have found that they are always willing to step up for issues that directly impact the livability of our communities, such as gorse and the corresponding fire danger that is caused by the gorse. We could not ask for a better community partner, and we appreciate the way that Bandon Dunes has invested in the future of Coos County and our citizens."
The jobs Bandon Dunes has provided have brought new families into the community. While many of them rented or purchased housing in town, the need for additional housing soon became clear. To address that need, Bandon Dunes began building affordable staff housing as a recruiting tool. It now has 18 buildings offering 73 beds for employees. Five of those buildings were added last summer. In addition, Bandon Dunes offers nine offsite houses.
Bandon Mayor Mary Schamehorn has strongly supported Bandon Dunes since its inception, and echos the comments of Sweet and Cribbins.
"We, in city government, certainly appreciate the contributions that have been made by Bandon Dunes," Schamehorn said. "The resort has literally put us on the map. The biggest economic impact has been in the number of jobs that it provides for Bandon residents and those living throughout Coos County."
"For years, after the downturn in the lumbering and fishing industries, when young people graduated from high school, they pretty much had to leave home to find good paying jobs," Schamehorn added. "That is not the case today. Many of our brightest graduates have great jobs at Bandon Dunes. There are more than 500 staff members and hundreds of caddies. Not only do many of them live in Bandon, but they also shop locally.
"We also benefit greatly from the nationwide publicity that the resort receives. We are so fortunate that Mr. Keiser chose to name the resort Bandon Dunes, as golfers across the country now know where Bandon is located."
In addition to thousands of dollars worth of scholarships provided by Mike and Lindy Keiser through the Oregon Community Foundation, students who work at the resort as caddies also can apply for the full-ride Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship.
"The Keisers have been extremely generous to the city, school district, hospital, museum and many others," she said. "I would say that Bandon Dunes is a dream come true for all of us."
While it would take an accountant and an economist to quantify the impacts Bandon Dunes has had on Coos County, an example was provided during a recent Bandon Chamber of Commerce meeting. Not only does the resort provide local employment and boost the economy, it brings hundreds of visitors to town, with many of them staying in local hotels, eating in restaurants and purchasing goods and services locally.
To cite an example at hand, the 5th U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Tournament is being held at the resort over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, featuring a field size of 256 players or 128 sides, with 36 holes of stroke play, followed by three days of match play. Four Ball is the most common format played in amateur golf. The event is the sixth USGA championship to be hosted at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.
Next year, Bandon Dunes will host the 120th U.S. Amateur Championship Aug. 10-16, 2020. The event, with a field size of 312 players, is the oldest championship in the United States and the most coveted of all amateur titles. FoxSports will be live-broadcasting all match play rounds.
In 2015, the Inaugural Women’s Four-Ball filled almost every hotel in Bandon with TV crews, USGA staff, players and families. The 120th U.S. Amateur Championship is almost three times larger.
The 10-day sporting event is expecting 3,000 attendees with an average of one-half a spectator per participant. In direct business sales, it is expected visitors will spend approximately $2.95 million, including $575,203 in lodging (20 percent), $680,719 in transportation (23 percent), $693,320 in food and beverage (23 percent), $565,663 in retail (19 percent), and $433,063 in recreation (15 percent). The numbers are based off a 2014 economic impact study from the 114th U.S. Amateur Championship.
Bandon Dunes General Manager Don Crowe started his career at Bandon Dunes and happily finds himself back 18 years later. Crowe is amazed at how the resort has grown.
“In 1999 the Bandon Dunes team and I could only dream that the resort would grow into a worldwide bucket list golf destination," Crowe said. "We are so proud of the golf course awards and resort accolades that we receive, but even more impressive is the impact the Keiser family and the resort has had on the South Coast over the past 20 years.
"We take great pride in supporting our local communities and being part of their success.”