When it first opened, it was simply 18 holes, and that was it. No lodging, dining, short course or anything else. Just a really good golf course. It was almost not enough to draw people 4.5 hours each of Seattle, and did take a little bit of time for word to get out. But, with Lake Chelan only 45 minutes away, golfers decided it was worth the day trip during family vacation at the lake to see this new links style course.
Gamble is a family name. The Gamble family emigrated in the mid-1800’s from Nova Scotia to the Methow Valley, 45 minutes west of Gamble Sands. A Gamble daughter married a local Gebber’s boy. The Gebber’s family has come to be one of the largest apple producers in the country, among other exports, as well as the owner of an incredible amount of land in North-Central Washington. Much of it is used for crop-growing, which is hard to miss as you make the pilgrimage east to Gamble. And if you think you got yourself lost in apple orchards, just keep going. Past the thousands of acres of apples, just beyond the mountainous stack of wooden produce boxes. You will eventually run right into the best golf destination in Washington.
Land ownership of this scale often brings acres of “unusable” land. But we golfer’s know that if there is a patch of unused land somewhere, we can figure out how to play on it. And that is exactly what the Gebber’s Family and David McLay-Kidd were able to do. Streamsong in Florida was made on old phosphate mining grounds that hadn't been used in 50 years. Chambers Bay was built on an abandoned rock quarry. Bandon Dunes Resort was carved through what the locals referred to as “gorse-infested wasteland”. The land that is now Gamble Sands Resort was not ideal for farming or cropping. Sandy and dirty soil with sage brush, water runoff basins, rattle snakes and extreme winds. If you’ve hit your ball into the wasteland, you know it’s not for the faint of heart. You may find it, but it likely won’t be playable whatsoever. But for links-golf purists, it’s perfect.
David and his team hardly had to move any dirt or sand whatsoever. A few bunkers were cut from the soil, as seen on 18 greenside. As you walk, you’ll quickly realize that the land really sits untouched. The big and wandering fairways are at the mercy of the existing terrain, leading to natural greensites. The grass surfaces were simply scraped of brush and debris and grass was laid down. It’s as natural a routing you will ever see. David used the ancient and weathered rolling hills as an advantage to route one of America's top 100 courses. If you’ve had the chance to play it, you know why - it’s golf at its absolute finest.
By definition, a course in the high desert 6+ hours from the nearest ocean is not typically considered a links course. But somehow, David and the Gamble team were able to create a world-class links course with not an ocean in site. Playing off the design philosophies of early golf designers in the UK, the course was created by simply leaving the land as they found it, only smoothing out enough land for fairways and green sites. Other than the cutting of a handful of bunkers, the majority of the land was left as is. The high-desert, extreme weather on the hills above Brewster formed an incredible landscape over a thousand years, blowing dunes, washing out watersheds, and leaving a beautiful canvas to build not just a great golf course, but a full-service golf resort destination. Gamble opened the 18-hole Sands Course in 2014, opened its lodging several years after that, opened the DMK-designed short course Quicksands in 2021, and broke ground on a new restaurant, cart barn and second 18-hole course in 2022. And rumor has it, the second course sits on an even better piece of land than the first, which is really saying something.
Good Things Take Time
Golf construction had actually started in that area by the Gebber’s Family, owners of Gamble Sands, before the recession of 2008. It took another 6 years before a golf shot was hit on property. But good things are always worth the wait. Gamble is now perennially ranked as a top 100 golf course, and often rated as the best golf course in Washington State. And rightfully so. If you have played it, you know. The views of the Columbia River in the valley below the course, racing towards the snow-capped Cascade Mountain Range, makes for sunset views unlike any other in the world. If you have been on the course late in the evening, you know just how quiet it can get out there. The only sound often heard are the orchard cannons miles away that keep birds away from crops. And maybe the occasional sound of a rattler. So keep your ball in the short stuff.
One of the things that now makes Gamble Sands so unique, especially in Washington, is the offerings of not only a full 18, but one of the very best par 3 courses in the country, Quicksands, which is 14 holes and a ton of fun, in addition to the 100,000+ square foot putting course right out the patio at The Inn, overlooking the Columbia River and mountain range. It doesn’t matter what time you arrive on property, or how much time you have, there is plenty of golf to be played.
Glow balls on the putting course under the stars is something you will never forget. A quick lap on the short course after dinner with the music going is a perfect night-cap with your buddies or family. And of course, a 36-hole day on the 18 hole Sands Course will take your breath away, and you may just come away with your lowest score to par you’ve ever shot. The course is long enough that it will challenge the longest hitters at a championship level, but playable enough that once you get to know where to hit your tee shot and approach shots, you may go very low. And who doesn’t love a reachable par-5 on the final hole. Hit a strong enough drive and your ball will crest the ridge running left to right in the fairway and the ball will disappear, traveling easily over 300 yards, leaving a fairway moderate second shot into the 18th green, sitting right in front of the Danny Boy restaurant, where your buddies will be watching whether you sink an eagle putt or three-jack for par.
Buddies TripGamble is too good to just go for a day during your family vacation at Lake Chelan. It deserves its own buddies trip. Give yourself a few days. Sit in the soaking pool, hang by the fire, each incredible food, and a few rounds in on the various courses. I’ve been there on several buddies trips, but have also spent long weekends there with the family, and even on an anniversary trip. Even the non-golfers in your family will fall in love with golf there.
- Lunch and beer at Dru Bru on Snoqualmie Pass off i90 as you head east.
- Arrive at Gamble Sands, drop your bags in your room, take your shoes off, and get a lap in on the 14-hole short-course, Quicksands.
- Eat Dinner at Danny Boy’s (with shoes on)
- Grab a cocktail and your putter, take your shoes off again, and wander down to the 18-hole putting course just outside your room at the Inn and play until the stars come out, then ask the front desk for the glow-balls, and keep putting.
- Finish off the night by the fire with your buddies
- Grab a breakfast burrito and head out for your early morning tee-time on the Sands Course.
- Pick up a snack and beverage at the shack just after you ace the par-3 10th hole
- Eat lunch on the patio at Danny Boy’s
- Grab a fresh pair of socks and new polo, and head out for your afternoon round on the Sands Course
- Take a dip in the soaking pool as the sun drops towards the horizon
- Dinner on the patio at Danny Boy’s
- Skins match on the putting course under the stars
- Pack up your bags
- Grab a famed breakfast burrito and hit the range for a few
- Tee off after breakfast for your final round on the Sands Course
- Take several moments to soak in the views, the sounds, and breathe in the high-desert air on your final lap before heading back into the real world
If you haven't yet, make sure to check off Gamble Sands from your 2023 course bucket list. You will not be disappointed!