Writer’s Note: Gamble Sands opened in 2014, and has quickly been climbing the rankings of different golf publications, including a “Top 100 courses in the US”(#61, 2021) by Golf Magazine and “America’s 100 greatest public courses”(#35, 2020) by Golf Digest. Designed by David McLay Kidd, who lists Bandon Dunes among his other design credits, it was built to ensure good golfers could “stand on the tee with confidence and see opportunity” while “the average player never lost a ball”.

We left Seattle at 5:30am. I’m wearing a sweatshirt, because I’m pretty sure we’ll literally have to cross a mountain in our convertible before our 10:00am tee time. The drive ends up being about 3.5 hours, but we arrive in plenty of time to get ready for the adventure. The course looks unassuming as we pull in. The pro shop was small and minimalist, like it could be at any random golf course. I checked in, slung my bag on my back, and we were off.

The first two holes were fun, if not overly unique. It was a pretty view, but it just seemed like any other course. And then, I walked up to #3. Confusion set in immediately as I stood on the tee box of the 600 yard, par 5 hole. There is desert in front of me, and a sand bunker that must be 80 yards wide at the top of it. It’s about 170 yards to clear the crest of that bunker, but then what? What is going on here?

I consulted the yardage book I had purchased in the pro shop, and it tells me that, allegedly, there’s a fairway over that bunker. There is a stake somewhere toward the middle of the bunker that I assume is telling me where to aim, so I shrug my shoulders and take a rip. My ball goes missing. I take a walk up to the end of the massive bunker, and finally get a true look at why I came here. The fairway is indeed 80 yards wide, and then narrows as the hole gently rides back downhill and to the right. The view is spectacular. The whole landscape is a mix of green grass and sand- a truly magnificent picture.

Over the next 15 holes, I continuously had to remind myself that I was golfing, and not just taking a fantastic hike. The course was so big and isolated, that the other holes on the course were obscured from any point of view.

Clearly, the course was breathtaking, but how did it play? Well, as it turns out, the name Gamble Sands is a bit ironic. Although the name implies risk and reward- however, there wasn’t much risk that I found. The fairways were wide and even when finding trouble (which I often did), recovery towards the large greens wasn’t overly difficult. This is truly a links course, and as such, there were many times that I chose to play the bumps and slopes rather than attempt a “normal” wedge or short iron approach. The ball funneled and hopped, putting me into position, often leaving me thankful I didn’t attempt to just float one toward the pin.

The greens were massive and had tons of character. I found myself three-putting more often than usual, but that was likely due to the fact that I had an 80 foot triple-breaker that, on my local course, would have found the rough. The greens were receptive and rolled well, which for the desert, was surprising and welcomed.

As I finished, I found myself exhilarated; and also disappointed that I didn’t have any more views to take in. Will you see Gamble Sands as a stop on the PGA tour? No. Even at 7,227 yards, the back tees wouldn’t be enough to challenge the elite without some ridiculous scores getting posted. For me, as a “hack,” it was the most genuinely fun golf course I’ve ever played, and it had the feel of playing in a national park.

After some reflection, the quaint pro shop made a lot more sense to me. It didn’t need to be flashy, because they knew what they had here. In the end, the course seemed a lot like how I felt standing on the third tee: unassuming, sweaty from the desert heat, and telling my playing partner, “Hey, watch this,” knowing that it was going 285 right down the middle.

Editor’s Note: This story was submitted by Stick & Hack member Jon Hedges. If you have a story you want to share with the community, email us at info@stickandhack.com.