BANDON — Bandon Dunes owner Mike Keiser pulled the plug Sept. 30 on the proposed Bandon Links golf project south of town.
Keiser had envisioned using a 280-acre portion of the Bandon State Natural area and his own adjoining property to build the 27-hole golf complex that would both provide a low-priced opportunity for South Coast golfers and also help fund the Evans Scholar program that provides full-ride college scholarships to caddies. He had been working with state parks officials on a land trade for several years.
Keiser said in a statement that his decision to drop the project was based on additional conditions the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has put down for the proposed land transfer to take place.
BLM officials told Keiser's team that, in keeping with federal regulations, fees charged on the golf course must compete with other nonprofit golf courses on federal land, while revenues generated must be used on the property.
Keiser added that recent well testing on the property turned in disappointing results, which would make it difficult to meet Oregon land use rules that protect land zoned for farming.
“As a result of these problems, I am abandoning the Bandon Links project and will seek a site where the same programs would be viable,” Keiser said in the release.
“This project had great promise for boosting the local economy and providing employment opportunities and job training. And the golf experience would have rivaled that which is present at Bandon Dunes Resort 15 miles to the north. So it is with great regret that I make this announcement.”
In Keiser's business plan, out-of-state golfers would pay resort prices of $200 to $250 per round. That would enable the local golfers to pay as little as $10 per round if they served as mentors for the student caddies. Meanwhile, up to 200 high school students would have the chance to earn money as caddies and be able to apply for the Evans Scholarships. A handful of students from the South Coast each year have earned the scholarships since Bandon Dunes opened.
Seven years ago, Keiser hired renowned architect Gil Hanse, whose projects include the golf course in Brazil that will be used in the Olympics next year, to design Bandon Links.
He then began negotiating a land transfer with the state for the portion of Bandon State Natural Area. The Oregon State Parks Commission agreed in 2014 to trade the land to Keiser's company Bandon Biota in exchange for $2.5 million to purchase other land for parks, 216 acres of property Keiser owns on the South Coast — some near Bandon State Natural Area and some near Bullards Beach State Park — and funding for gorse control.
But the exchange also required the BLM to sign off on the deal, since some of the land was given to the state by the federal agency under the condition that it never be used as anything other than a park.
Keiser planned to satisfy that clause by obtaining a change-of-use permit reclassifying the property as recreation land and creating a nonprofit entity to manage the land for recreational use.
In addition to the golf course, Keiser mentioned in the past the possibility of opening up a portion of the New River to recreation opportunities that currently has no public access.
BLM officials told state parks staff earlier this month that, in addition to securing the permit, Keiser must pay half of the market value for the property, minus a token fee state parks paid for the land — a total expected to be about $450,000.
Keiser didn't mention that money in his release as reason for dropping the project, and did say he fulfilled some of his obligations in trying to make the land trade work.
“I am pleased to say the project did meet some of our other goals,” he said. “We contributed $450,000 to the acquisition of Whales Cove near Depoe Bay. That parcel is now owned by the United States Fish and Game Department for public use into perpetuity.
“We, along with Ecotrust, facilitated the State of Oregon's acquisition of a highly ecologically significant 357-acre parcel known as 'Sand Lake' or 'Beltz Farm,' one of the last remaining undeveloped estuaries on the Oregon Coast.”
Keizer said he also contributed $120,000 to Oregon for its gorse-control efforts.
“We had hoped for additional benefits of this project, which would have included our contributions of additional lands to the state park system and of money for the acquisition of other park properties,” he said.
Keiser expressed appreciation for the support of State Parks Director Lisa Sumption and her staff, as well as “the pleasant and welcoming attitude of the local staff at the Bureau of Land Management office in Coos Bay as we were trying to work through the federal regulatory process.”
He also reaffirmed his commitment to the South Coast that this year included the opening of the Wild Rivers Center at the resort, home for the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance, which Keiser helped create in 2010. Keiser paid for the Wild Rivers Center himself and the par-3 Bandon Preserve golf course at the resort generated $627,000 in 2014 alone for WRCA and the projects it supports.
Keiser and his wife also have donated more than $3 million to the South Coast community in grants since Bandon Dunes opened in 1999, with an emphasis on health care, education, scholarships and economic development.
“My family and I continue to be devoted to the Oregon South Coast area as we remain involved in projects which promote conservation, the local community and the local economy by blending recreational and educational opportunities with ecological initiatives,” Keiser said.