BANDON — Mike Keiser admitted he took a big gamble building Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.
Looking back during a 20th-anniversary celebration for the renowned resort Wednesday, Keiser said he was driven by his desire to build a links golf course along the ocean to go with the nine-hole Dunes Club he built in Michigan, and didn’t have great aspirations of success.
“This is far beyond what I envisioned,” he said.
“I was determined to build another course and other than that, it didn’t make sense. In terms of being a rational decision, it wasn’t. It was foolhardy.”
Keiser appeared with David McLay Kidd, who designed the Bandon Dunes course, in a question-and-answer session moderated by Fox Sports golf announcer Shane Bacon. The session was attended by many leading community members and people who have shaped the resort over its first 20 years.
Thursday morning, Keiser and Kidd greeted golfers on the first tee at Bandon Dunes on the actual anniversary of the resort’s opening.
Wednesday’s event was filled with quips about the development of the first course and what it has meant to the South Coast and the golf industry as a whole.
“It changed the course of golf across America,” Kidd said of the creation of Bandon Dunes and its Scottish style links golf not seen much in the United States.
Kidd refers to the impact of Bandon Dunes and other courses Keiser has had a hand in as “the Keiser effect.”
“His vision of what golf should be,” Kidd said. “He had the nerve to break every tradition in America by far.”
Keiser hired Kidd, who was raised in Scotland, and his father, Jimmy, because he wanted somebody who would build a links course. Kesier said the best possible choice in the United States was the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (who built both Bandon Trails and Bandon Preserve on the resort and are building Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch just north of the property. But Coore and Crenshaw were already busy building Sand Hills in Nebraska.
When someone suggested Keiser talk to the Kidds, he liked them immediately.
Kidd set out to make a classic links like back home.
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“I was just doing what I was raised with,” he said.
And Kesier was pleased to find that American golfers do love links golf, complete with the Scottish tradition of walking only courses that use caddies and feature all the elements of the beauty of the land and the challenges of the windy seaside weather.
The resort draws golfers from around the world year-round and has grown to include four highly rated 18-hole courses — Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails and Old Macdonald — not to mention the 13-hole par-3 course Bandon Preserve.
Keiser said none of it would have been possible without a lot of pieces falling into place, starting with finding the initial 1,200 acres of property that started the resort.
“Serendipity entered in so many ways,” he said. “The people in this room, finding the site on the ocean, finding David.”
It even came up during the development of Bandon Dunes, when the property just north of the initial 1,200 acres became available. That property is the site of both Pacific Dunes and Old Macdonald, but also gave Kidd the land for five holes on the Bandon Dunes course — the fourth through eighth holes — making the entire routing magical when there might otherwise have been a few relatively weak holes.
After the question-and-answer period, the audience was given a chance to chime in and several people thanked Keiser for developing the resort.
“Mike has put Bandon on the map,” said Bandon mayor Mary Schamehorn. “To have it be named Bandon Dunes has been so good.”
Keiser and Kidd, in turn, reflected praise back on Bandon and the rest of the South Coast.
“If it were not for the people of Bandon, I could not have built Bandon Dunes,” Kidd said. “It was the local people who built Bandon Dunes.”
Some, he said, knew about golf. All had a great work ethic.
And once it was built, the South Coast helped make the resort a success, Keiser said.
“I get a lot of compliments about the golf course,” he said. “I get far more compliments for the people who work here. And that is a tribute to the people from Bandon.”