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July 25, 2013

A Masterpiece for the Masses? Bandon's Mike Keiser eyes project in Wisconsin

Posted at 11:34 AM by Joe Passov | Categories: Wisconsin

Cabot640
No. 16 at Cabot Links, one of Mike Keiser's many stunning course developments. (Photo: Ben Cowan-Dewar)

Not long ago, I asked my Mike Keiser how many projects were in his future. "I'm going to keep building courses until I run out of money," he told me.

The course development wizard behind Bandon Dunes has since put funds into Canada's Cabot Links, and Australia's Barnbougle Lost Farm, among others and hasn't run out of cash yet.

He's got his eye on a fistful of other projects as well, including one that was recently announced, an unnamed development in Wisconsin. Situated near Wisconsin Rapids in the center of the state, the property features 60-foot-high dunes along the Wisconsin River. Much more accessible than Bandon, Oregon, Nova Scotia, Canada or Bridport, Tasmania, this (potentially) multi-course complex could be Keiser's masterpiece for the masses.

However, don't expect to fork over a green fee anytime soon.

A source close to Keiser tells me that "nothing is official yet, nothing's approved." Still, Keiser's exemplary track record will mean he'll get it done at some point if he wants to. The usual supects have been bandied about as designers: Tom Doak, Coore & Crenshaw, David McLay Kidd and Jim Urbina, but nothing has been inked.

As Bill Coore reminded me recently about another site, "Just because we've walked the property doesn't mean we're doing a golf course there."

Do we really need more of the same stuff? Are these the only architects worthy of consideration? Of course not. But if you're Mike Keiser, why change a winning game? Course ranking panelists and critics clearly favor the design approach taken by these guys, especially on outstanding natural terrain -- and throw Gil Hanse in the mix without question.

Hey, I've got friends and relatives who would trade one of their limbs for a chance to work a Kesier site. But I see something developing here. In the 1920s, great clubs with terrific sites went almost exclusively to Golden Age greats such as Ross, Tillinghast, MacKenzie, Thomas, Raynor, Colt/Alison and Flynn. The rest were divvied up among part-time architects, itinerant pros, club pros, superintendents and well-meaning amateurs.

In the 50s and 60s, the go-to guys were Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Dick Wilson, period. In the '80s and '90s, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Pete Dye and the Jones boys led the charge. Sure, there were always others, and many good ones. Whether they were top-tier, such as Tom Weiskopf/Jay Morrish, or regional based, such as Canada's Stanley Thompson or even world-based such as Asia's busiest firm, Schmidt-Curley, there are reasons why too many talented architects have long been overlooked.

Still in 2000, if you wanted to sell high-priced real estate, you had to start with Tom Fazio and Jack Nicklaus. It's not necessarily that they were more talented, but they delivered, time and again. Will the post-modern, ragged bunker-edge, firm and fast, contour-based, pseudo-minimalist style that's currently in vogue, stay in favor forever? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, don't bet against Mike Keiser's judgment.

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