Dream Golf: The Making of Bandon Dunes

Dream Golf: The Making of Bandon Dunes

by Stephen Goodwin


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On a wild, windblown bluff high above the Pacific sits one of America’s premier golfing destinations, Bandon Dunes. Golf enthusiast Mike Keiser had the dream of building this British-style "links" course on a stretch of Oregon's rugged coast, and Dream Golf is the first all-inclusive account of how he turned his passion into a reality.

Now, in this updated and expanded edition, golf writer Stephen Goodwin revisits Bandon Dunes and introduces readers to Keiser's latest effort there, a new course named Old Macdonald that will present golfers with a more rugged, untamed version of the game. This "new" approach to the sport is, in fact, a return to the game's origins, with a very deep bow to Charles Blair Macdonald (1856 –1939), the father of American golf course architecture and one of the founders of the U.S. Golf Association. This highly anticipated fourth course, designed by renowned golf course architect Tom Doak along with Jim Urbina — as detailed in Dream Golf — will further enhance Bandon Dunes' reputation as a place where golf really does seem to capture the ancient magic of the game. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781565129818
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 06/01/2010
Edition description: Updated
Pages: 376
Sales rank: 376,352
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Stephen Goodwin is the author of four other books, including the critically acclaimed Breaking Her Fall. He lives in Virginia and teaches at George Mason University.

Read an Excerpt


Soul Work

Deep down, I wanted to build something that would last. I wanted to build a golf course that people would be playing five hundred years from now. — Mike Keiser

In 1985, Mike Keiser acquired sixty acres of wooded sand dunes in New Buffalo, Michigan. His immediate goal was to prevent a developer from building condos across the road from the lakefront home where Mike and his wife, Lindy, spent weekends with their young children. New Buffalo is a resort town on the southeastern tip of Lake Michigan, a ninety-minute drive from downtown Chicago; for the Keisers — who lived and worked in the city — the place seemed idyllic and remote, the perfect place to escape for quiet, unhurried family weekends. Mike regarded the acquisition of the sixty acres as a "defensive" purchase.

As a partner in a flourishing company, Mike was able to pay cash for the sixty acres. He and Lindy were cofounders of Recycled Paper Greetings (along with his college roommate, Phil Friedmann), and they had seen their enterprise expand from a tiny start-up, with offices in their two-room apartment, into a business that was generating annual sales of roughly $100 million. Launched on Earth Day in 1971, Recycled Paper Greetings was known for its environmental awareness and its witty, irreverent greeting cards. From the start, RPG's cards had offered an alternative to the more traditional, sentimental greeting cards produced by Hallmark, and the company quickly grew into the third largest in the industry. Still privately owned, RPG has been a bold, gutsy, original venture, and it made Mike Keiser a rich man. It also taught him to trust his business instincts.

Those sixty acres of sand dunes gave Mike a kid-with-anew-toy feeling. He'd been considering various golf investments, and he was serious enough to have looked hard at a large tract of land near Washington, D.C., as a potential golf course site. Now, with a chunk of property to fuel his imagination, he was like, say, Ben Hogan with his first golf club: He'd come into the possession of something that brought his long-simmering interest to a full, rolling boil.

At first, he treated the property as a family playground, and he'd stroll over with Lindy and the children, all of them carrying golf clubs and pockets full of old balls, to play "wilderness golf" (pick a tree and find a way to hit the ball to it). The sandy, scruffy site reminded him of Pine Valley, the renowned golf course in New Jersey to which he'd made many pilgrimages. Geologically, this whole section of the Lake Michigan shore belonged to an unusual dune belt; most of the land was wooded, covered with stands of oak, maple, sassafras, and cottonwood, but there were openings where the family could play full-throttle golf shots. The most remarkable feature of the site was a ridge fifty feet high — a veritable mountain in the flattish lake country — that seemed to cry out for use in a golf course. The more he got to know his sixty acres, the more Mike envisioned golf holes with tees situated on the high ground of the ridge, creating dramatic downhill shots to fairways and greens fitted among the dunes below.

Mike Keiser, a lifelong golfer, was also an armchair golf course architect. For years his bedside book had been a thick volume with pictures and descriptions of the Top 100 courses, and whenever he could steal away for a day or two, he'd visit places on the list, places like Pine Valley and Merion. He knew that he'd never be a scratch golfer, but his score wasn't the measure of his satisfaction in the game. On his own property, he was happy to crisscross the dunes with a golf club in his hand, whacking old balls from one dune to the next as he imagined how golf holes might be fitted into the contours of the land.

Mike couldn't stay away from the dunes. Even when his family couldn't get away for the weekend, even when he might have chosen to play golf, he'd drive out to New Buffalo with his friend Howard McKee, the two of them wearing jeans and work boots and carrying lopping shears and axes. They'd crawl through the wire fence — there was no entry road into the property — and spend hours cutting brush. Their specific mission was to rid the property of the grapevines that grew luxuriantly, slowly smothering the trees to which they attached themselves. Their broader mission was to let certain life questions evolve and percolate as they busied themselves with physical labor.

Mike and Howard had gotten to know one another as fathers of children who happened to be in the same elementary school class, and in some ways they were an odd couple. Mike was a golfer, an athlete, an entrepreneur accustomed to operating independently and swiftly; Howard was professorial in appearance and manner, a trained architect and land planner whose career with the international firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill had involved him in hugely complex undertakings, the kind of projects — like building cities in Saudi Arabia — that required volumes of planning documents and years of patience to bring to fruition. Moreover, while Mike inclined to the right politically, Howard leaned toward the left — but the two found that they both enjoyed their spirited intellectual sparring. The brush-cutting sessions were enlivened by debates about economics, education, and environmental issues, about which they had strong and often opposing opinions.

The personal undercurrent was always there, too. Howard had come to Chicago to take part in the planning for the 1992 World's Fair, conceived as a centennial celebration of the 1893 fair (it actually opened in 1892), generally regarded as the most successful world's fair of all time, the fair that brought together the forces and energies that created the modern city of Chicago. By 1987, it was obvious that the Centennial Fair wasn't going to happen, and Howard was watching three years of work go down the drain. He was thinking of a career change. In certain moods, he was ready to consider radical changes, like returning to Oregon, the place he'd once lived and still regarded as his spiritual home, and spending a few years rereading the Great Books. "I was ready to leave Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill," he says. "I'd gotten to the point where I needed to do something that mattered to me in very direct, immediate ways. I knew that I needed to do what I considered soul work."

Soul work. Mike didn't describe his own restlessness in those terms, but it was clear to Howard that Mike was ruminating about his own future. Mike was forty years old when he purchased the New Buffalo tract, an age often associated with midlife changes. He'd taken part in an Armchair Architect contest sponsored by Golf Digest, and he actually believed he had a chance to win it. Moreover, he was close to making a decision to indulge his golf course obsession — and it was becoming an obsession — by building a course on his sixty acres. The property wasn't big enough for eighteen holes, not even for nine holes, but Mike had started looking at adjacent properties that would give him enough land.

Not a golfer himself, Howard didn't entirely understand the hold that the game had on Mike's imagination, and he wasn't quite sure what Mike had in mind when he spoke about more ambitious golf projects that could go well beyond what he was contemplating here in New Buffalo. In the fall of 1987, Mike and Howard went out for one of their regular neighborhood dinners with their wives; the family friendship had actually begun when Lindy and Howard's wife, Kennon, became acquainted. The conversation turned toward the difficulties Mike was having in finding a suitable piece of golf land on the East Coast, and he asked Howard if he could help him find something out west. After all, Howard had spent a lot of time in Oregon and was looking to spend more. By this time Howard knew Mike fairly well, but he couldn't quite gauge the seriousness of his proposal, and he made the request that any architect would make: He asked Mike to put together a "program" that listed his requirements and desires for the property he sought.

A few weeks later, Mike handed Howard a couple of handwritten pages. This was his program, and when Howard read it, he was taken aback. In fact, he was tempted to laugh. He knew that Mike was a successful businessman and a big thinker, but he had no idea that the man who'd been wriggling through the fence on his hands and knees, spending the day lopping grapevines, was formulating a scheme on such an epic scale.

The program called for oceans, waterfalls, and "breathtaking" beauty. It contemplated the appropriation of a small town. It dealt in sums of money that were significant, especially when the money would be coming straight out of Mike's pocket. It seemed almost to have been written in haste, in a telegraphic style with all fluff eliminated, making the scope of the project seem even more stark and audacious.

The program read like this:

* Min. 1000 acres

Best min 5–10,000 acres Land budget $10 MM

* Location: initially, California, Oregon, preferably on coast or with some coastal access Would not exclude Monterey south in 1st pass

* Sandy soil/sand dunes on at least part

* Stand alone water: rivers, streams, lakes, waterfall i.e., unusual features a prerequisite

* if parcel is large enough could include a small town Regardless proximity (20 miles) to town or larger "with potential"

* parcel cannot be flat; further, it must be breath-taking

* year-round or near year-round outdoor climate

* sympathetic ecosystem

* diversity of environment

GO or NO GO within 6 mos

Staged development thereafter, at a planned expenditure rate of max $3MM/year for 10 years

MIN. Amenities

1) 18 hole championship g. c. with extraordinary unique features (sand dunes, waterfall etc.)

2) Room for 2 more golf courses

3) Tennis

4) Clubhouse

5) Guest cabins/lodges

6) Natural easy access to National Forest

7) Natural, easy access to canoeing, white water canoeing, mountain and rock climbing, wind surfing, fishing (fly), deep sea fishing, bicycling, jogging, hiking, etc.

For Howard McKee, a man who'd felt constricted and confined in his work, this program was the wild blue yonder, and — once he overcame his initial surprise — he didn't waste any time coming to a decision. Within a few days, he'd drafted a careful response to Mike's program, outlining a systematic approach to finding a tract of land that would meet the requirements and setting his own fee at $3,000 per month.

By return mail he received a countersigned contract and a check for his first month's fee. Drawn on an account that Mike had set up for his golf expenses, the check didn't have the usual kind of identifying information; Mike's name wasn't on it, nor was there any address or phone number. The title of this account was simply Chivas Irons — the name of the mystical hero of Golf in the Kingdom, the legendary golf book by Michael Murphy, a founder of the Esalen Institute. (Mike had misspelled the name; the character in the book is Shivas, with an S, and he used Chivas, with a C, as in the Scotch whisky.)

Here was a powerful coincidence. Howard, though not a golfer, had not only read Golf in the Kingdom but had also been a frequent visitor to Esalen. He had been hired to redesign the property in the early 1980s and had become a good friend of Michael Murphy's. Indeed, Howard believed less in coincidence — that is, in the randomness of events — than in synchronicity; he was inclined to see meaning and purpose when events had links and connections. This appearance of "Chivas Irons" at the outset of the project was at the very least a piece of serendipity. It was a good omen.

Howard McKee saves everything, and he placed Mike's handwritten program in a file folder. When he dug it out sixteen years later, he had to laugh, again, at the audacity of the list — even though Bandon Dunes fulfills just about every one of the original requirements. The only thing missing is the waterfall.


The Anti-Tycoon

Mike Keiser spends less on his clothes than Donald Trump spends on his hair.

— Josh Lesnik

Even though Mike Keiser has become a significant figure in the golf world, he continues to oversee the operations of Recycled Paper Greetings, along with Phil Friedmann. Mike still chooses all of the "product" — and RPG produces eight thousand items per year, including three thousand new items — and he and Phil still share an office, literally. Their desks are not more than ten feet apart in a large room with beige carpets, fluorescent lights, metal filing cabinets, and piles of stuff everywhere. Phil's desk area resembles that of a stressed-out graduate student with its sprawling trails, mounds, ridges, and cordilleras of clutter; Mike's space, by comparison, is a model of order and tidiness, and his many piles of paper are neatly stacked. Framed pictures of his family hang on the walls, along with a few golf pictures. All in all, this office could be described as comfortably lived-in, and it's clearly the lair of partners who are way past worrying what anyone else might think of their working arrangements.

In articles in golf publications, Mike has been described as a "tycoon" and "the greeting card mogul," terms that are wildly off the mark insofar as they suggest a man who projects wealth and power. He has no interest in the various trappings of corporate structure that would bolster his image or ego. He avoids flash and ostentation. He goes to work in casual, comfortable clothes — khakis or corduroys, usually, and a freshly laundered and pressed Oxford shirt, without tie. His assistant for fifteen years, Karen Thompson, knows that he has an off-site meeting when he shows up in jacket and tie. His title, she says, is flexible: Mike has cards that designate him variously as chairman, president, and vice president, though he prefers to be untitled. ("When Phil and I incorporated, a little lawyer insisted that one of us be president. We told him that we'd like to be known as the baron and the duke, and of course he thought we weren't serious businessmen. We were quite serious, though, about the ability of a title to create a rift when two partners are coequal, and we've always avoided that.")

When the Chicago streets are wet or slushy, Mike steps out of his shoes and pads around the office in his stocking feet. Even shoeless and tieless, however, he manages to appear slightly overdressed and out of his preferred element; he has the open gaze and deep, permanent sunburn of a man who's spent his best hours out-of-doors. Just a touch under six feet tall, he keeps himself fit and trim, and spends his lunch hour jogging or working out at a nearby gym. He weighs the same 150 pounds as he did when he graduated from college. He likes participatory sports, especially individual sports — skiing, tennis, golf — but has next to no interest in spectator sports. He rarely goes to games unless one of his children is playing

He has large features, a thatch of steel-gray hair, and blue eyes that are remarkably clear and unwavering. Some people feel unsettled and disconcerted by the way Mike fixes his attention on them, as though he is noting their every gesture and taking their precise measure. He seems remarkably free of self-consciousness. He doesn't fill the air with small talk or nervous distractions. He has the gift of authority, for it is clear that he says only what he means to say — not more, not less. He uses words with precision and accuracy, and his working vocabulary includes words like "eleemosynary," "diaphanous," and "monetized." His voice is a baritone and he enunciates with a clarity that would please any speech teacher. The guys who worked for him at Bandon had a field day imitating the deep, measured cadence of his voice. His inflection rarely varies, though he sometimes slips into a different key — dry, droll, and ironic — when he wants to poke fun or make a pun. He is good at puns.

Everyone who's worked with him quickly comes to recognize his habits and style. For starters, he is absolutely not the kind of boss who makes work. He hates to waste time. He does not stand on ceremony or insist on protocol. His letters and memos are legendary for their concision and brevity. If he can avoid writing a complete sentence, he will, and his preferred method of written communication is the Post-it. (Lately, his favorite Post-it bears a picture of the American flag, but before that he was partial to a Post-it that carried these words of Dan Quayle's: "What a waste it is to lose one's mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.") He addresses problems the minute they arise. He expects things to begin and end on time, and he is always punctual. He is practically allergic to meetings, at least those with a fixed agenda, but he enjoys free-form brainstorming sessions. He operates entirely in the present, giving his full attention to whatever is in front of him. He has a cell phone but rarely turns it on. Though he bristles with physical energy, so much so that he has a hard time sitting still (in photos Mike's image is often blurry because he is always moving), he rarely appears to be in a hurry. He has time to listen carefully to others. Jim Seeley, a business associate, says, "Mike is a master at eliciting the opinions of others and reconciling different perspectives." As an executive he is emphatically not a micromanager or control freak but, on the contrary, an overseer whose instinct is to grant the greatest possible freedom and latitude to those working for him. He likes the creative, conceptual aspects of business and the energy that flows from successful collaboration. "He doesn't like plans that bind him," Howard McKee says. "He'd much rather keep things open. He likes the razzmatazz."


Excerpted from "Dream Golf"
by .
Copyright © 2010 Stephen Goodwin.
Excerpted by permission of ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1 Soul Work,
2 The Anti-Tycoon,
3 The Lay of the Land,
4 Out with the New, In with the Old,
5 The Dunes Club,
6 Eureka!,
7 Bandon-by-the-Sea,
8 The Best-Laid Plans,
9 Meet the Family,
10 How the Permits Were Won,
11 More Serendipity,
12 Breaking Ground,
13 Do We Like It?,
14 The Anti-Resort,
15 David at Bandon Dunes,
16 The Boy Wonder,
17 The Moons Are in Alignment,
18 Tom at Pacific Dunes,
19 The Old-Fashioned Way,
20 The Peekaboo,
21 Granddaddy Throwback,
22 Plans in the Dirt, the Dew, and the Sky,
23 The Power Spots,
24 The Bandon Family,
Appendix: Old Macdonald Hole by Hole,

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"This is much more than a golf book; it's the story of one man's unshakable vision and the extraordinary people who helped him bring it to life."
—George Peper, former editor in chief, Golf Magazine

"Mike Keiser followed his instincts to build courses that speak to golf as a rugged adventure. Steve Goodwin's spirited book will speak to the golfing soul in you and make you want to leave—immediately, whether or not you've already been there—to experience what Keiser and his band of inspired architects have wrought at Bandon Dunes."
—Lorne Rubenstein, columnist for The Globe and Mail (Canada) and author of A Season in Dornoch

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Dream Golf: The Making of Bandon Dunes 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having played all four, now five, Bandon courses I was very interested in reading the background and development of these breathtaking golf gems. Mike Keiser is a man who follwed his passion, had the conviction and confidence to stick with his vision, and truly created "dream golf". Thank you Mike for allowing all of us to share your golf masterpiece.
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