BREWSTER, Wash. — It was a question David McLay Kidd was ready, maybe even eager, to answer.
Yes, Gamble Sands is a true links golf course.
“As a Scotsman, I have the right to defend it,” said Kidd, architect of Gamble Sands Golf Course in Brewster, Wash. , the newest course in the Pacific Northwest.
To qualify as a links course, no questions asked, a course must lie alongside a body of water (in this case, the Columbia River) and be planted in 100 percent fescue grass.
“It’s the same grass as the Old Course (St. Andrews),” Kidd said.
Finally, and most important to Kidd, a links course must be built on sand. The world is rich with courses claiming the “links” label, he said.
“Then they build a course on dirt,” he said.
“I don’t think people will believe this is links until they come and play it.”
Kidd has a track record: his portfolio includes Bandon Dunes, Tetherow in Bend, Ore., and the Castle Course in Scotland.
The world, or a hundred or so press types and invited guests, got the chance to come and play Kidd’s latest on Aug. 1. What they found at Gamble Sands was a richly scenic course flowing through the north-central Washington badlands, more a bump-and-run experience than a wedge-and-stick.
You’ll get some roll here, and it’s designed to help you turn the right direction.
“Hard and fast, firm and true,” is how the mad scientist/architect describes it.
Kidd was born near Glasgow, son to a greenskeeper, so he learned about golf courses from a young age. He prefers to create courses that don’t beat you up.
On opening day, before the press hacks teed off, he used as his example the nearby 18th green, deep front-to-back with a gnarly bunker just behind.
“If you’re an aggressive but not thinking player,” Kidd said, “you’ll stand there proud as punch … and watch it roll right into the bunker.”
If you get a good bounce at Gamble Sands, it might not be by accident.
“There’s a lot of luck that you’re going to get that I had something to do with,” he said. “I’m going to fold the contours and bump it toward the pin.”
I played the back nine first, made par on the par-3 10th, and went on to a decent round for me. A big part of it was I got a chance to talk to the designer – and I was smart enough to listen.
Don’t throw big high wedges into the greens, Kidd said, which presupposes you can get air under the ball, anyway, from those tight fescue lies. What you do get is roll, so putter is a good play from well off the green on most any hole.
On the par-5 13th, I hit into a fairway bunker with a deep front lip. I got out, but barely – on most other courses, I would have stopped cold in heavy grass rimming the sand. The guy said he’d built some luck into the golf course, and here, I had to tip my hat: the ball I dribbled out of the bunker didn’t stop rolling until it was on the green, damn near a hundred yards away … thanks, Kidd.
So here I am with my head down, as usual, obsessing about golf shots when I should be lifting my eyes to the big-sky forever of the Gamble Sands spectacle.
Pick your panorama.
On No. 15, you stare from the teebox at a ridge as broad as your field of vision.
On 18, the Columbia’s interplay with the desert terrain far below looks almost like fjords in the smoky distance.
The sweep of No. 3, a gentle double-dogleg, is heightened by its 600-plus yards of golf hole.
I could go on. I need to return here, on a day less busy, and try to notice the holes I didn’t. Once noted, there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to describe them.