The Pellucid Perspective - February 2014 - (Page 9)
The way Keiser rolls
Visionary developer shares his views on golf in the colonies
By Jim Dunlap
t could fairly easily be argued that the two most dynamic individuals in North American golf course development today
are Mike Keiser and Donald Trump. It could also be said that
other than a shared affinity for the game of golf and quite likely
membership in the country's One Percent club, the two could
not be more different. They are, in many ways, the yin and yang
of golf as it is built and sold in America - good vs. evil, substance
vs. style, golf as it was made to be played on natural, sustainable
landforms vs. artificial waterfalls, immaculate fairways and lush
landscaping populated by owners of six-figure memberships.
I recently had a chance to spend some time on the phone
with Keiser, which many people may be surprised to hear is
a good deal harder to come by than a chat with The Donald.
Despite wowing the golf world more than a decade ago with
his creation of the Bandon Dunes collection of courses on the
desolate shores of the Pacific in Oregon, later adding two more
trophy destination properties at Cabot Links in Nova Scotia
and now building the first of what he hopes will be as many
as four prairie links style courses in central Wisconsin, Keiser
maintains a surprisingly low profile by choice. None of his
courses are named Keiser Dunes or Keiser Links, and he would
almost certainly send the check back if an investment partner
insisted that he brand them that way.
It is golf industry lore that when Keiser invited friend and
KemperSports founder Steve Lesnik to journey hours from the
nearest airport and view the seaside acreage Keiser had purchased for his courses near Bandon, Lesnik's response upon
seeing the site and how far it was from anything resembling
civilization was, "Are you nuts?" He likely suspected that Keiser
had spent too much time in close proximity to the glue on the
envelopes for the recycled greeting card business where he made
Asked if he still gets that response, Keiser said, "Yes, people
are still asking me why are you building new courses when we
already have too many? My answer is that I'm building them on
sand, or on oceans where there's not much else the land could
be used for, and I'm building the types of courses that are fun to
play, like the great old courses were. If you look at most of the
course rankings in the major publications, almost all of them are
old courses, or ones built like the old courses. So many of the
new courses built in recent years are not fun to play. The way I
like to build courses is sort of back to the future."
Keiser is staying true to that premise at not only his Cabot
Links courses in Nova Scotia and the Sand Valley multi-course
project he is planning in Wisconsin, but also in the Bandon
Muni Golf Course that he plans to add to his Bandon Dunes
collection of courses. That project's inception depends upon approval from a variety of governmental agencies of what Keiser
freely admits is a substantial overpayment offer on his behalf for
the necessary acreage, which is presently inhabited primarily by
Why a municipal course, you ask, and particularly one designed by Gil Hanse which will also include a par-3 layout,
putting/chipping area, clubhouse and caddie house? With its
proposed greens fees for local residents of $20, or $10 if individuals agree to mentor junior players, how does that fit in with
the rest of the Bandon Dunes courses with their 6-figure greens
fees and bucket list status? And why a "muni" course in the first
place for a municipality of 30,000 people?
"It's mostly about the caddies," Keiser said. "I've long believed that one thing that's hurt the golf industry in this country
is the decline of caddie programs. The Chick Evans Scholarship
Program is making a big push in the Northwest and planning
an 80-person dorm at the University of Oregon, primarily to
offer opportunities in golf to low income, high achieving young
people. We hope to have over 100 young people as caddies at
the Muni course. We have 250 caddies at Bandon Dunes, but
they're mostly the kind of grizzled veterans that people paying
those greens fees expect, so it's been a boon in terms of adult
employment, but hasn't really promoted youth employment.
This [muni] course completes the resort in my point of view.
The caddies are why I began it, and why I overpaid for it."
And overpay is almost certainly what Keiser did, or will do
if his offer is accepted and approved. Not only will locals pay
$20 or less to play, and juniors somewhere between zero and
$5, but other Oregon residents will play for 50 percent of the
out-of-state rack rate, which will be equivalent to other Bandon Dunes properties, or well north of $100. And, in a deal
that virtually every city in America would swoon for, Keiser and
Bandon Dunes will make up any annual operating deficit for
the muni course.
Do away with emphasis on stroke play
While Keiser obviously reveres the "auld" way that courses
were built and the way the game was originally designed to be
played, he is far too astute not to recognize that the industry
and the sport in which he is deeply involved have some issues.
Although he is on the cusp of the Baby Boomer generation,
he is well aware of the declining participation rates among the
younger generations and has some interesting thoughts on what
needs to be done to change that.
"In my opinion, stroke play is what is hurting golf," Keiser
said. "It's easier said than done to change that, because that's
what we see on TV, although what we typically play with our
friends is different. If that [match play] was what we saw on
TV, you'd have more people playing match play. Coaches at the
The Pellucid PersPecTive
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Pellucid Perspective - February 2014
The 2014 solution to Barter is… NGCOANow?
PGA Merchandise Show from 35,000 feet
Philosophy, sociology and epistemology lessons for Hackgolf
The way Keiser rolls
Scottsdale National owner to low-spending members: 'Go, Daddy!'
January golf weather impact: Downward trajectory from '13 continues
Developers' past excess plague DC area courses
ClubLink adds TPC course to Florida portfolio
USGA responsibility not to grow the game. Really?
The Pellucid Perspective - February 2014