Keiser Goes Against Grain To Develop Courses
``You can't go to a golf course and see a weed like this,'' Keiser said. ``It's part of the wildness here. It's part of the wildflower thing. They don't build them like that in the United States.''
Keiser has risked going against the grain and found success - first with a recycled paper greeting card company before the environment became a hot-button word, and now with a third world-class golf course in a state better known for rain than sunshine.
A monument to the ancient roots of golf as it was played in Scotland and Ireland, the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort has become a hot destination for golfers around the world and a bright spot in a local economy still trying to find its feet after the collapse of the fishing and timber industries.
Two courses - Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes - are on Golf Digest's top 100 in the country. A third, Bandon Trails, opened this month and is drawing rave reviews. They are all links courses, carved out of seaside sand in a tradition that grew out of knocking a little ball around the poor lands between the sea and farm fields with a stick.
``The best courses, with a few exceptions, are built on the ocean in sand,'' Keiser said. ``We believe, as links purists, that you can't beat wind for informing ripples, forms and shapes. It works because it is so natural and wild.''
And there are no fairway homes to spoil the view, even though ocean-view lots on the Oregon coast can go for $1 million. That would violate Keiser's unspoken compact with golf enthusiasts.
``As soon as we do, it changes the whole feel of the place,'' he said. ``It becomes more common. And because the avid golfers have come here, the unspoken compact I have is that as long as they are coming here, I won't change what they like about it.''
Keiser, 60, grew up spending every daylight summer hour caddying or playing golf at East Aurora Country Club outside Buffalo, N.Y.
Facing the draft after majoring in romance poetry at Amherst College, he joined the Navy and served stateside blowing up old bombs. Afterward, on the last night of a ski trip to Colorado, he dreamed of starting a business based on recycled paper. Keiser's wife wanted him to go to Harvard Business School, but his college roommate, Phil Friedmann, liked the idea.
In 1971, a year after the first Earth Day, they pooled $500 each and started Recycled Paper Greetings, Inc., in Chicago. Though Keiser's father saw no future in the venture, he guaranteed half the $15,000 first printing bill.
The company has grown to 850 employees with $100 million in sales that rank it a distant third behind Hallmark and American Greetings, said Keiser, who remains an owner and regularly shuttles between the company's headquarters in a former dairy building and Bandon Dunes.
Financial success allowed Keiser to indulge his passion for golf - he carries a 12 handicap - traveling the world, playing the top courses. He decided the best were the classic links courses of Scotland and Ireland, and the best way to enjoy them was to walk.
In 1986, he bought 60 acres along Lake Michigan near his summer home and, inspired by Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey, built a nine-hole links course. His first Oregon course, Bandon Dunes, opened in 1999.
Keiser acknowledges a few sleepless nights.
``What was the Oregon brand? Rain. You go to St. Louis and try to sell Bandon Dunes in March, they look at you and say, `Why do I want go there when I can go to Florida or Arizona?'' he said.
Keiser figured he could open the first course for $3 million, but architect Howard McKee persuaded him to spend about $15 million, including rooms and facilities. Thanks to his personal fortune, Keiser needed little outside financing.
``If you want to give something a try, you need your own money,'' Keiser said.
As it turned out, the rain was overrated, and no deterrent to a golf destination that was different.
Keiser would have been happy to draw 10,000 rounds of golf a year, but soon was getting 30,000. Last year, the two courses drew 70,000 rounds, said general manager Hank Hickox.
Bandon Dunes, with its spectacular ocean views, is ranked this year by Golf Digest as 28th best in America, sixth among public courses. Pacific Dunes, which followed in 2001, ranks 22nd, fourth among public courses. Bandon Trails, which opened this month and was designed in part by Ben Crenshaw, is widely expected to get a top ranking, too.
All this despite the fact that the fairways turn a little brown in the summer and able-bodied golfers have to walk, in the links tradition.
``Wild and natural. It is a good walk spoiled,'' Kaiser said. ``But it is a good walk, first and foremost.''
Dana Woudenberg and Jed Billings belong to several country clubs around Phoenix, but came to Bandon Dunes on a golf safari that began at Pebble Beach to see what all the buzz was about. They found Bandon hard to get to, but worth the trouble.
``It's nothing like back home, but that's why we're here,'' Woudenberg said. ``He took a huge risk to do it this way.''
``You know what impressed me?'' added Billings. ``You have to walk it. That's the way golf ought to be played.''
Bandon Dunes is not cheap - $175 a round in high season if you are staying at the resort, $225 if you are not. But it's open to the public, and about half the $425 to play Pebble Beach. A second round the same day is half price and a third free, with certain restrictions. Rates are lower in winter.
``They try to say this is for rich people,'' Keiser said. ``I found it a little off-putting and not in keeping with what golf is, where it starts, how it is played in Ireland. In Ireland it's like bowling. They leave the factory, and play golf 'til they've got to be home. This place attracts avid golfers, and avid golfers in general agree with me that it's a classless sport.''
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McIlroy gets back on track
There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:
He is well ahead of schedule.
Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.
“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”
To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”
And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.
After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out.
Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.
“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”
The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.
The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)
But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.
Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.
Everything in his life is lined up.
Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.
Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.
There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.
Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.
The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.
Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.
It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.
Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.
While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.
Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.
The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.
McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.
McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.