Fate of Bandon Muni may be decided this week; Cabot Cliffs update


What’s the status of Bandon Muni?

“It’s no better than 50/50 that this will happen,” says Mike Keiser, owner of Bandon Dunes, the five-course resort on the Southwest Coast of Oregon.

Keiser’s admittedly frustrated. He has land, money, a vision for a lasting legacy that would continue to positively impact the locals and the local economy, and yet he’s having a hard time giving it away. He has been trying to negotiate a land swap with the Oregon State Parks Department for four years. He’s set to meet again on Wednesday, May 15, where he says he will make his final offer.

Bandon Muni

The proposed site of Bandon Muni, which would be home to a 27-hole course designed by Gil Hanse. 

Keiser covets a 250-acre gorse-chocked piece of coastal dunesland (pictured above) that’s 15 miles south of Bandon Dunes Resort. The No. 1 golf destination in the U.S., as voted by Golf Digest, consists of five courses and 85 holes. In exchange, and in his best estimation, Keiser is offering usable parkland worth four of his dollars for every one of theirs.

So what’s the problem?

“There’s a cultural divide,” says Keiser. “Not to cast aspersions, but they’re afraid.”

Keiser says state park departments aren’t in the business of trading land, especially rare coastal land, and he assumes they’re suspicious of his intentions. In a recent article in the Register-Guard, a local newspaper, writer Ron Bellamy told a story of environmental concerns, such as frogs, turtles and birds.

Keiser has always said Bandon Muni would be his philanthropic offering to a community that has afforded him the opportunity to build his dream of links golf in America. Bandon Muni would create another 80 jobs, and cater to Oregonians and locals with affordable green fees and an extensive junior caddie program.

“I see it as a $15-million gift to Coos and Curry County golfers and juniors who don’t even know they miss golf,” says Keiser.

If he can’t get the deal done on Wednesday, he says he’ll move on. “The resort will be just fine, thank you.”

If he can get the deal done, Gil Hanse, who’s building the Olympic Course in Rio, will be the architect. “If it doesn’t work, Gil will be just as disappointed,” says Keiser, who hasn’t spoken to Hanse in six months. “I’ve been laying low. There’s nothing new to report.”

Going back to 1999, with the modest opening of Bandon Dunes and a 50-room lodge, Keiser began the foundation of what has become a mecca for avid amateur golfers, with four of the top 25 public courses in the country. In doing so, he has created roughly 1,500 jobs and rescued the tenuous timber industry of Coos Bay. Not to mention the millions of dollars in donations for a local medical facility, schools, the environment and the 60-plus caddies who have gone on to earn Evans Scholarships, which consists of full college tuition to the University Oregon or Oregon State. 

“I wish I had better news to report,” says Keiser. “Previously, it seemed we were moving forward.” Admittedly, he could build Muni on the land he owns, and it could be “pretty good,” but if he could turn Hanse loose on a site like the one he wants, “it would be superlative.”

Keiser hasn’t become Keiser by building 'pretty good.'

Bandon's 'Punchbowl' seeded


Punchbowl at Bandon Dunes Resort

Keiser also told me they’ve started seeding 'Punchbowl,' the 150,000 square-foot putting course (pictured above), designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina. Keiser anticipates a soft opening in September and then, due to the newness of the turf, closing it again in October until the spring of 2014.

I asked Keiser if he was afraid something like the Punchbowl, which will most likely be free and a lot of fun for the competitive types with sore feet and tight hamstrings, would steal business from his other five courses on property. “I don’t fear it,” says Keiser. “If people are willing to get here, I believe the more things we can present, the better. And I mean it.”

To prove it, Keiser says he’s also considering a second par-3 course, which would be located in the dunes south of the second hole at Bandon Trails. There’s no name or specific timetable for this one, and he hasn’t decided on an architect yet, but don’t be surprised if it’s David McLay Kidd, who built the original 18 holes at Bandon Dunes.

Keiser hasn’t considered Kidd for another one of his courses until recently, after they bumped into each other twice in the past six months. Once at the grand opening of Streamsong Resort in Florida, where Keiser says Kidd admitted that in some of his recent designs, he built courses too difficult for what Keiser likes to refer to as “the retail golfer.”

More land purchased for Cabot Cliffs in Cape Breton

Cabot Cliffs

Keiser recently acquired this piece of land for the 16th hole at Cabot Cliffs. 

If Keiser is frustrated with the politics and progress of Bandon Muni, he is enjoying the opposite experience with his other budding golf destination in Nova Scotia. Cabot Links recently reopened for it’s first full year of operation, and clearing of trees continues on what will be Cabot Cliffs, built by Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw, the second course at the Canadian resort.

“It’s night and day,” says Keiser. “Nova Scotia has been wonderful to work with. I can’t believe how helpful the Canadian government has been.” He says they’ve offered interest-free loans, they’ve paid to relocate a popular bakery so it’s closer to the resort and are looking to develop a commuter airport to this remote spot in Cape Breton as close as five minutes away.

Keiser reports the recent acquisition of two pieces of land necessary to maximize the potential of Cabot Cliffs. Including one parcel of land that will be the 16th tee, which will be the launching pad to a mythical par 3, not unlike a flopped and shorter version of the 16th at Cypress Point.

More: Golf in Cape Breton at Cabot Links and Highlands Links

Another difference between Keiser’s two projects – Bandon Muni and all that is Cabot Links – is a man on the ground navigating the trenches of red tape. Ben Cowan-Dewar, Keiser’s partner at Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs, is a Canadian who has tirelessly helped “sell” Keiser’s vision and his past successes. Prior to Cowan-Dewar, and before there was a Bandon Dunes, Keiser had Howard McKee, who died of cancer in 2007. McKee was Keiser’s man on the ground in Oregon. It was McKee who convinced Keiser that Bandon, the town, could become Bandon Dunes the destination. And it was McKee who helped sell that same vision to local politicians and reluctant environmentalists.

“In hindsight, if Howard was still here, he would’ve gotten approval for Bandon Muni by now,” says Keiser. “I haven’t sold it like I should have. I didn’t think I needed to.”

If you’ve ever been to Bandon Dunes, had a pint at McKee’s Pub, found the labyrinth tucked into the tilted trees on a cool summer evening, or played Bandon’s 16th hole as the orange sun was setting on your dreams of stopping time, McKee’s spirit lives on.

Chances are, he’ll be at Keiser’s side at the meeting on Wednesday.