2017 US OPEN / ERIN HILLS
Mike Keiser Q&A
There is no one set way to measure the impact Mike Keiser has meant to golf course development since 1999 when the first 18-holes opened at Bandon Dunes along the Oregon coast. For the Chicago greeting card executive, the opening of Bandon Dunes demonstrated a massive game changer — resurrecting a clear need missing for many years and building a devoted following among core golfers.
Born and raised in East Aurora, NY, the 72-year-old visionary observed the numerous golf courses that opened during the peak times in the 1990’s and saw much of what was opened as being poorly created — failing to highlight the core reasons associated with the game and its original foundations in Scotland.
Keiser’s mission was not to bring golf back — but to resurrect what was missing. Reinvigorating classic architecture themes centered around golfers actually walking the property – rather than skipping around in a power cart and paying for non-essentials having little to do with the actual playing of the game.
Bandon Dunes achieved critical success – drawing serious golfers wanting to play courses emphasizing sound strategic elements and shotmaking – not simply an overdosing on the difficulty.
Since Bandon, Keiser has played a lead role in the creation of other facilities with the likes of the two 18-hole courses on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia – Cabot Links and Cliffs. His involvement has also taken him to remote corners of the world with the arrival of Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania in Australia.
This week’s US Open will be at Erin Hills in south central Wisconsin but there will also be much attention paid to a golf development project about 2 ½ hours northwest called Sand Valley. Located in the community of Nekoosa – the property is situated on 1,400 acres of land with clear heathland qualities – reminiscent of many of the world class layouts located just outside of London.
The first of the two planned courses is now open. Sand Valley is the handiwork of the design tandem – Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. These two heavyweights have worked previously with Keiser and the results have been praised for their connection to the land and the brilliant elasticity of shotmaking for all levels of players.
Keiser’s arrival changed the dialogue — there are no waterfalls at his courses — no forced entities — strangling creativity for golfers wanting to show their wherewithal to think carefully on all shot execution situations.
Fun golf — not the slog variety — is the central driving force.
Golf Visionary – Building Courses His Way
MATT WARD: What prompted you to get into the golf business — specifically the development of facilities?
MIKE KEISER: Building The Dunes Club, a 9-hole course, in New Buffalo, Mich. was so much fun that I decided to do another, which turned out to beThe Dunes Club, which became a 5-course golf resort with two more to come. At that point, I decided to go all in.
MW: What type of golfer is attracted to the facilities you develop?
MK: Lovers of outdoor beauty and outside recreation.
MW: Golf organizations of all types are searching for ways to draw more people into the game — especially Millennials, women and minorities. What would you suggest be done to do just that.
MK: Promote match play – 4-ball as THE game – not stroke play. Build and use more par-3 courses. Promote caddy programs. Revise handicap system so you don’t have to turn in scores after “say” June 30.
MW: What lessons were learned in the golf industry following The Great Recession in ’09?
MK: Keep golf affordable.
MW: Your most recent effort is Sand Valley in north / central Wisconsin. What brought you to the site and how it will add and differentiate from the other facilities you have been involved in creating?
MK: Craig Haltom of Oliphant Construction Company introduced me. It will add Midwest links golf to my two coastal resorts. It will add to Whistling Straits as fun to play, sand-based golf courses.
MW: Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
MK: When I was 26, my father, who wanted me to go to business school, but knew I was going to start a greeting card company said, “here’s $5,000 of seed capital. Make it grow!”
MW: If you could change one thing in golf — what would it be and why?
MK: I’d make all junior golf match play.
MW: Complete the sentence — Mike Keiser is —
MK A lover of all things classical.