Courses

Mike's magic touch: Why the Keiser Method works

The man who redefined public golf will go to the ends of the earth, because you will, tooJuly 4, 2019

In the World Golf Hall of Fame, there’s a category called Lifetime Achievement, which has honored 30 individuals—a handful of golf architects and golf writers, a club manufacturer, some administrators, instructors and television commentators. There are even two U.S. presidents honored, Ike and 41. But there’s not a single golf-course developer.

World Golf Hall of Fame, I give you Mike Keiser, the course developer who made golf great again, at a time when many were predicting its decline and fall. At the start of this century, Keiser redefined public golf as immersive and escapist. He built layouts on the fringes of continents, enormous sandboxes where grown-ups can decompress in weeklong sessions, playing two or even three rounds every day. It’s an exhausting yet exhilarating pursuit, the perfect remedy for 21st-century angst.

Keiser put bounce back in the repertoire of course architects, made walking with caddies or pullcarts the norm rather than the exception and convinced us that golf in wind and rain can be delightful.

His courses have received unprecedented critical acclaim. Every one of his 18-hole courses—10 to date, with three or four or six more on the way—are all nationally or internationally ranked. Nobody else has anything approaching that record. The law of averages would suggest there would have to be a clunker or two in there. But not in Keiser World.

What’s more, they all make money. Lots of it. And at reasonable prices. A second round the same day at any course on the property is half the price of the first round. The third round of the day, if you can fit it in, is free.

This dream-meister’s empire—starting with Bandon Dunes in Oregon, including for a time Barnbougle in Australia, then Cabot in Nova Scotia and lately Sand Valley in Wisconsin—has rocked the golf world. One competitor, Pinehurst Resort, reinvented itself by exposing vast stretches of sandy rough (like those found on Keiser courses) along many of its fairways. Another, Herb Kohler of Wisconsin, offered a design job to an architect only if he’d sign on the dotted line that he wouldn’t work on the Keiser project in Wisconsin. The designer declined.

What is most impressive about Keiser is that he first started developing his set of world-class golf courses in his early 40s, only after making an international impact in a whole different arena. Before he got the golf bug, he was the creative end of the fourth-largest greeting-card company in America, Recycled Paper Greetings, a business that Keiser, his wife, Lindy, and his college roommate, Phil Friedmann, started in Chicago on Earth Day 1971 and sold for mega-millions to a private-equity fund in 2005. Keiser has been a superstar in two separate careers.

At 74, Mike Keiser is more than worthy of a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame display case, and frankly, it’s overdue.

Tom Fowlks

Keiser looks over his property in Nova Scotia, site of Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links

Inspiration

Keiser was a golfer even as a kid in Buffalo, N.Y., had played on the Amherst (Mass.) College team in the mid-1960s as the sixth or seventh man, and once he settled in Chicago, frequented nearby Cog Hill, a public haven with four 18s. Sometime in the late 1970s, he says, he picked up an issue of Golf Digest and discovered its ranking of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses.

“I hadn’t conceived that there was such a thing as the 100 Greatest Golf Courses,” Keiser says. “I went over the list exhaustively and concluded, big picture, that almost all the best golf courses were private and very exclusive. The other thing I noticed, especially in the top 30, was that many of them were on sand, like Pine Valley and Shinnecock, or on the ocean. The formula seemed pretty simple: sand + ocean = great golf.”

(In print, there’s no way to convey the majesty of Keiser’s deep baritone or the crisp enunciation he gives each and every word. Even in casual conversations, he commands the room, punctuating his serious observations with dry humor and greeting-card punchlines.)

In the early 1980s, Keiser began seeking out and playing Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest. Pine Valley especially impressed him, even though he felt a nagging guilt that he’d been privileged to play a course that most golfers would never see.

Keiser in college at Amherst.

Back home in the Midwest, he and Lindy had purchased a summer cottage on Lake Michigan’s east shoreline, in the tiny town of New Buffalo, Mich., just across the state line from Indiana. When he heard that a parcel across the street was going to be developed into high-density condominiums, Keiser bought the 60 acres for cash to prevent that. The land was sand dunes covered in trees, and Keiser would hike around it with a golf club, hitting toward a particular tree or a clearing in an exercise he called, “wilderness golf.” Eventually it dawned on him that he could have his own Pine Valley, at least a nine-hole version, and after buying an adjacent 30 acres, he hired Chicago golf architect Dick Nugent to help him design and build The Dunes Club. Soon after it opened in 1989, the rolling, tree-lined, sand-scarred beauty was hailed as one of the two or three best nine-hole courses in the country, and it retains that reputation today.

“The mistake I made with The Dunes Club is that it isn’t public,” Keiser says. “I’m definitely a public golf guy. Of course, had it been public, it wouldn’t have made any money because it’s only nine holes. But I’ve never wanted to have anything but public golf ever since. That’s my mission.”

In the late 1980s, Keiser began traveling frequently to Scotland and Ireland to play authentic links. When he made it to Royal Dornoch in northern Scotland, he was immediately enchanted by its course, which spreads along the shoreline in two levels and has clever bunkering, quirky lies and stunning vistas. But what really impressed him was out in the car park.

RELATED: The best 18 holes at Bandon Dunes

“There were these tour buses disgorging all these Americans who went out there to play golf and then would climb back onboard and head back to Inverness or Edinburgh,” Keiser says. “It was proof enough for me that there were enough avid golfers to justify building a golf course on the ocean somewhere in America. The remoteness of Dornoch inspired me. If it worked at Dornoch, it’ll work at home. Nothing in America is as remote as Dornoch.”

Keiser wanted to do a Cog Hill on the coastline, a public facility with more than one 18. “One course is a curiosity,” he is fond of saying. “Two courses is a destination.”

So while he was building The Dunes Club, Keiser was also scouting locations for his public offering up and down the Atlantic seaboard. He found nothing but swamps and mud. He looked westward, but the California coastline was mostly mountains and rock.

Then he explored Oregon and began making impulse buys. First was an enormous ranch near Medford for which he paid $2.8 million cash, even though it wasn’t close to the ocean or had sand. He just liked its vista of the Cascade Mountains. Then he bought 500 acres of ocean frontage for $1 million cash in Pistol River, almost on the border with California, too rocky and rugged for golf but irresistible. Clearly, Keiser’s greeting-card business in 1990 was booming; this was decades before the electronic greeting card—the ultimate recycled greeting—would invade the market.

Word spread throughout southern Oregon that some crazy Chicagoan was buying huge parcels for cash. A realtor from Gold Beach tracked Keiser down and told him of 1,200 acres just north of Bandon-by-the-Sea, once proposed as a golf resort but, because the owners couldn’t get the necessary state approvals, then available for $5 million.

Keiser, who had enlisted the help of his friend Howard McKee, a one-time Oregon building architect, in his land search, asked McKee to check out the property. “Howard wasn’t enthusiastic [about the Bandon land],” Keiser recalls. “Actually he was pretty negative. He described all these big dunes and valleys covered with gorse and trees.”

McKee, who wasn’t a golfer, couldn’t see how golf holes could be built on such land. But Keiser knew this was his American Dornoch. He bought the property, offering $2.4 million cash, which the sellers gobbled up. McKee then negotiated the state approvals for a golf resort on the land, a perfect role for him because he had helped write that state’s Land Use laws in the 1970s and had included an obscure reference to “destination resorts” as a legitimate use of such land. He then coordinated installation of most of the resort’s infrastructure. For his efforts, Keiser made McKee (who would die of cancer in late 2007) his “phantom partner” in the Bandon Dunes Resort. McKee shared in some revenue but not in any decision-making. Keiser would have actual partners in other projects, but he has always been the sole benevolent dictator of Bandon Dunes.

The Designers

In 1987, Golf Digest ran its first Armchair Architect contest, and Keiser, along with 22,000 other golf-design nuts, entered. When he didn’t win, he contacted me to find out why he hadn’t. He acknowledged the answer even if he never fully accepted it. Keiser was clearly a fan of the concept; it was akin to his search for diverse talent in the greeting-card business.

After Golf Digest ran another such contest in 1991, this time promising to build three winning holes on three courses, Keiser was in touch again. He wanted the magazine to run yet another Armchair Architect contest, pick 18 winning holes, and he’d build them on his sand dunes in Bandon. He was quickly persuaded that his idea would not be the best use of such outstanding linksland, so he went seeking a real course architect.

Much has been written about how Keiser plucked cocksure, 27-year-old David McLay Kidd out of Scotland (and obscurity) and gave him the cherry assignment of designing the original course at Bandon Dunes. What few realize is that Keiser was also courting another young maverick architect with a prickly personality, Tom Doak, whose writings on golf design Keiser had enjoyed. Doak toured the Bandon site about the same time in 1994 as Kidd first did, then joined Keiser and his buddies on a golf trip to Ireland to explain to them the nuances of links golf.

Keiser still relishes the idea of having architects compete for jobs. “These guys are competitive,” he says. “But at Bandon, Tom said he didn’t want to go first. He’d much rather go second, so he could see what he had to beat.”

Doak agrees. “I never tried to get the first Bandon job,” he says. “I accepted the fact that David was going to get it, and I felt I shouldn’t be the guy jamming his knee in the door trying to wiggle in ahead of him.”

Kidd’s Bandon Dunes opened in 1999, and Doak’s Pacific Dunes opened in 2001. Each was declared a Best New Course by Golf Digest.

Though Keiser appreciates feedback from critics, he measures real popularity by the response from what he calls “the retail golfer.” The turnstile doesn’t lie. “When Bandon Dunes opened, I thought 10,000 rounds was doable, but a bit optimistic,” he says. “It turned out we did 24,000 rounds that first year.”

Pacific Dunes had the misfortune of opening just before the terrorist attacks of September 2001, but Keiser’s dream golf took no hit. In 2002, Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes did a combined 78,000 rounds, which led to another Keiser formula for success: “1 + 1 = 3.”

Stephen Szurlej

The 16th hole at Bandon Dunes.

Keiser selected the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to design and build his third 18, Bandon Trails, mostly through forest away from the coast. There were reports that he had considered 10 architects, but it was no contest: Keiser had been a founding member of Sand Hills, the Nebraska private retreat that in 1995 had established Coore and Crenshaw’s minimalist reputation. Keiser knew even back then he would want a course from them.

In 2009, Keiser approached Doak with a radical idea: He wanted to reproduce the famed Lido Golf Club, the 1915 C.B. Macdonald design on Long Island that had been hailed as one of the best in the nation before its demise during World War II. Keiser asked Doak if a replica could fit into a patch of coastline overgrown in gorse just north of Pacific Dunes.

Doak examined the site and concluded it wouldn’t fit. He suggested instead that he be allowed to build an homage to Macdonald, containing not duplicate Macdonald holes but originals featuring Macdonald strategies. Thus was born Old Macdonald, Bandon’s fourth regulation 18. It opened in mid-2010, and within three years was voted onto Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest, making Bandon the first facility to have four courses on the ranking at the same time.

At Pacific Dunes, Keiser had been impressed with the day-to-day construction supervision and attention-to-detail of Doak’s design associate Jim Urbina. Once Keiser decided to build Old Macdonald, he declared that Urbina would be its co-designer with Doak. Doak, who wasn’t keen on shotgun weddings, particularly those involving an employee, took it in stride, but after Old Macdonald opened, Doak suggested to Urbina that he take advantage of the publicity to pursue jobs on his own. Urbina did so and has been grateful to Keiser ever since.

Other smaller courses were also created at Bandon Dunes. In 2000, Kidd and his shaper Jim Haley had built a nine-hole pitch-and-putt on the far end of the practice range. Named Shorty’s, for Bandon’s longtime caretaker Shorty Dow, it’s available for play and short-game practice in late afternoons.

To accommodate players who can’t walk 36 holes every day, Keiser had Coore and Crenshaw fashion the 13-hole par-3 Bandon Preserve course on jagged sand dunes between the Dunes and Trails courses. It serves as a warm-up or a cool-down round, and eightsomes are allowed and encouraged. A portion of its green fees are donated to a local charity, the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance.

There’s also the Sheep Ranch, which is one of the oldest elements of Bandon Dunes yet one of its newest. It began in 2000, when Keiser heard that a stretch of ocean bluffs just north of his property line was listed for sale. To him, it was the condo threat of New Buffalo all over again, so he offered to buy it for $4 million—cash, of course. Friedmann, who had passed on Keiser’s original offer to partner with him on Bandon Dunes, now wanted in and said he’d contribute half the purchase price if they could do something separate from the main resort. Keiser agreed.

The land had been a utility company wind farm back in the 1970s but proved so windy that the windmills fell apart. When Doak first saw the property, a tight squeeze for 18 holes, the concrete foundations of the old wind turbines were still there.

Friedmann wanted Doak to design an exclusive, private 18 on the property. McKee wasn’t sure he could ever get it permitted for private golf. Keiser suggested they not call it a golf course. “What if it’s just a sheep ranch? Where we go out and hit balls around our property? Who can say we can’t do that?” McKee said he wouldn’t let them mislead the government and pledged to get it permitted. He did, but the Sheep Ranch name stuck.

Evan Schiller

The Sheep Ranch, growing in, will become the fifth regulation course at Bandon Dunes in Oregon.

Doak started building the course soon after Pacific Dunes was finished; his routing had 13 greens and crisscrossing fairways, so holes could be played a variety of ways. But when Keiser heard that locals were talking about his “secret project,” he stopped funding the construction. He didn’t want a scandal about a private course overshadowing his now highly popular public resort.

So Doak finished the shaping, but irrigation was never installed and the place became marginally maintained. Over the next 16 years, resort golfers who knew whom to ask could get permission (and directions) to play the Sheep Ranch. Most found it too rudimentary; it was Keiser’s wilderness golf transported to a high, windy shelf over the Pacific.

Friedmann never gave up on his desire for a full 18 on the site, and recently Keiser relented and agreed to make it Bandon’s fifth regulation course at the resort. Doak, Coore and Gil Hanse all submitted proposed routings. Coore’s was selected, in part because he managed to fit nine greens on the ocean’s edge. Construction began in the fall of 2018, with a projected opening of mid-2020.

The International Market

In 2001, while Doak was completing Pacific Dunes, an aspiring developer with few resources, Greg Ramsay, approached Keiser and asked if he would team up on a golf course along the ocean in Tasmania, Australia. Ramsay mentioned that Doak had already seen the property.

Keiser asked Doak about the site, and Doak admitted it was probably as good a piece of land as Pacific Dunes. “That sort of pissed me off,” Keiser says. “I thought I had the best site going. So Tom and Greg and I went down to see this land, owned by Richard Sattler, a hotelier and farmer who knew nothing about golf.”

They toured the property, four miles of massive sand dunes along the ocean, and though Keiser was enthusiastic about its potential, he didn’t want to be the primary developer. So he counseled Sattler on what a potential gold mine he had beneath his pastures and potato fields.

“I took him out to the site,” Keiser recalls, “and said, ‘Richard, I’ve seen you work your cattle and sheep, moving them twice a day from pasture to pasture. That’s a fair amount of work. If this were a golf course, you could stand here, and every 10 minutes four golfers would come by and give you $100 each to play in your pasture.’ Richard beamed and said, ‘That sounds good.’ ”

Doak teamed with Australian tour-pro-turned-golf architect Mike Clayton in designing the first 18, Barnbougle Dunes. Coore and Crenshaw followed with Barnbougle Lost Farm, which opened in 2010.

Soon after Lost Farm opened, Keiser walked away from Barnbougle. “To get him to originally commit, I loaned Richard $1 million, collateralized by the land of the second golf course,” Keiser says. “He repaid me in a rather quick period of time, so I no longer have an ownership position in Barnbougle, even though I was once his partner.”

About the same time Barnbougle was set to open, Toronto tour operator Ben Cowan-Dewar, just 25 at the time, was begging Keiser to come to Nova Scotia. He’d found a site on Cape Breton Island’s western shore that he felt had the potential to be his nation’s Bandon. Keiser had little interest in Nova Scotia, but in 2007 he agreed to visit the site. He showed up with Bill Coore and found the location to be as charming as Royal Dornoch, with lowlands along the Gulf of St. Lawrence hard against the tiny town of Inverness, a plot on which Jack Nicklaus’ design team had once routed an 18 that never got built.

Keiser and Cowan-Dewar agreed to a partnership. Coore said he’d not do a course in Canada before his friend and sometimes associate Rod Whitman, a Canadian, was given the opportunity, so Whitman got the job, with the understanding that Coore and Crenshaw would do the resort’s next 18.

Whitman, serving as his own shaper, massaged the property, partly sand dunes, partly tidal basins, to produce Cabot Links, which Canadian golf writer Loren Rubenstein proclaimed as the first authentic links in Canada.

Meanwhile, Cowan-Dewar had cobbled together parcels of highlands a mile up the coast, some of it coastal dunes, some of it tabletop farmland, a bit of it craggy ocean bluffs. Coore and Crenshaw, with Whitman handling the shaping, produced Cabot Cliffs, perhaps their most varied and spectacular design, highlighted by an ocean-cove 16th that rivals the 16th at Cypress Point.

Photo by Dom Furore

The 16th hole at Cabot Cliffs.

During construction of the Cliffs, Keiser requested that the designers find somewhere to install an “infinity green,” a putting surface located on a cliff’s edge with only the vast ocean beyond. By reworking the front nine a bit, Coore was able to provide the infinity green on a new par-3 ninth playing out to sea; that led to an unusual routing of six par 3s and six par 5s.

That wasn’t the first time a Keiser suggestion has impacted a design. At Pacific Dunes, he pointed out to Doak that both his ocean-side holes were playing north, dead into the wind. Doak rearranged the routing, with the par-4 fourth playing to the south along the Pacific. At Barnbougle Dunes, Keiser wanted the 18th to finish on the sea, so Doak reversed the routing of much of the back nine to achieve that. At Old Macdonald, it was Keiser who first recognized the drama of placing the seventh green atop a dune to provide a surprise view of the Pacific.

But Keiser’s biggest influence on modern golf design dates to his original Dunes Club course. There, because he anticipated light play, he tossed away plans for formal tee boxes and instead had long, wide, undulating landforms shaped at the start of each hole. These tees would contain some flat spots but no formal tee markers. His idea was, the winner of each hole could choose the angle and lie for the next tee shot. When Doak first played The Dunes Club, he found the idea fabulous and incorporated such free-form tee complexes into his design at Pacific Dunes as well as most subsequent courses. Others followed. Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Bruce Charlton installed them at Chambers Bay and called them “ribbon tees.” Nicklaus design associate Chris Cochran, with Jack’s approval, recently used them in the remodeling of the Renegade Course at Desert Mountain in Arizona. It’s a definite trend that had its start in Mike Keiser’s imagination.

Next Generation

Mike and Lindy Keiser have four children: two daughters, Leigh and Dana, neither of whom is in the golf business, and sons Michael and Chris, who are now fully involved in surprising ways.

Both boys grew up playing golf with their dad. Michael Lacey Keiser started by experiencing wilderness golf on the family property in New Buffalo but really fell in love with the game at 14, on a trip to Scotland. “We took a family vacation to Dornoch because Dad wanted to play Royal Dornoch,” says Michael, 38 this month. “I asked Dad if I could join him. We played 36 holes that day. Next day, we played 54 holes on the shorter Struie Course. It was a spiritual transformation. I was hooked.”

Mike Keiser with sons Chris (left) and Michael, who took different routes before becoming fully involved in the business.

Michael studied economics and Latin at Santa Clara University in California, and after graduation in 2004, moved to Australia to work for Sattler and Ramsay in developing Barnbougle.

“I told Dad, ‘I’d love to do what you do,’ ” Michael says. “He said, ‘If I offer you a job right now, you’ll always wonder if you’d earned it or simply got it because you’re my son. Go get your own job, become a success at it, and when you’re ready, you can work alongside me instead of working for me.’ ”

Michael moved back to Chicago and took a job in real-estate development but left in 2011 to work with his father on potential developments in Oregon. In 2013, he started on a new project in Wisconsin, Sand Valley.

Christopher Knight Keiser, 31, started playing golf at 3 on The Dunes Club, but because he played several sports in high school, he didn’t really focus on golf until after college. He attended Georgetown University, a poli-sci major, graduated in 2010, then taught at a Jesuit all-boys school in west Chicago for two years.

“It was an amazing experience,” Chris says, “but I wanted to try something different. So I got involved in Bandon Dunes working with an IT team redesigning the resort’s website and operating its online store. I then decided to start an online business of my own, offering similar services to private clubs and destination resorts.”

He called it Vanguard Pro Shop and ran it from a base in Chicago. He sold it to a partner in 2016 because he found himself too preoccupied with another project, Sand Valley.

Mike Keiser didn’t really want to develop Sand Valley. “I had a hard-and-fast rule,” he says. “It’s got to have an ocean. This didn’t. Craig Haltom of Oliphant Golf Course Construction had found the site in central Wisconsin, called me and said it was outstanding. I had Josh Lesnik [of Kemper Sports, the original general manager of Bandon Dunes] go up and take a look. I told Josh to tell me all the reasons I shouldn’t do the project. But Josh couldn’t. He said, ‘It’s quite amazing, with 80-foot-high sand dunes.’ ”

Kemper Sports

The 10th hole at Sand Valley in Wisconsin.

Keiser decided to buy the land and quietly told his two sons that he was deeding it in their names, staking them into the golf resort development business. Michael would be managing partner, with Chris as his partner and Mike as their mentor, but they’d need to figure out ways to finance the purchase, course construction, lodging and the like. To close the sale, Mike convinced 175 friends to contribute $50,000 each as founders. “But that was only a percentage of the capital we needed for Sand Valley,” Michael says. “As owners, Chris and I had to find the rest. We settled on Tax Increment Financing loans from the state.”

Without hiring a lobbyist, Michael and the Rome, Wis., town board convinced state legislators in Madison to modify the TIF law to give golf resorts a bit more favorable terms. Howard McKee would have been proud.

“We did some other creative things,” Michael says. “For instance, all the lodging at Sand Valley is owned by third parties, who lease it back to us. Our rent is a percentage of each room rental.”

Michael and Chris hired Coore and Crenshaw, fresh off Cabot Cliffs, to do the first 18 at Sand Valley, which opened in 2017. They awarded David Kidd the commission for the second 18, Mammoth Dunes, which opened in 2018.

RELATED: How David McLay Kidd used Bandon Dunes as inspiration to bring fun back to golf

On the latter, Mike finally got to build an Armchair Architect hole. He convinced Golf Digest to run another contest, and he, Michael and David selected the winning entry, by Brian Silvernail of Melbourne, Fla. It’s now the downhill, drivable par-4 14th, and Michael calls it his favorite hole on the property.

The Keiser boys are exploring new opportunities in destination resorts in areas their father hasn’t previously developed. They’ve also retained Doak to build a novel third 18 at Sand Valley, one that will measure perhaps 6,000 yards, par 68. Sedge Valley, as it will be called, will start construction in 2020.

“I think Michael and Chris are coming at it in a much more aggressive way than Mike did,” Kidd says. “Mike came to this as a second career, and he took giant risks with his own money, so he was extremely particular about what he did and how he did it. The boys are willing to push harder in raising money from investors, in taking on sites that are more complex, and in more populated areas.

“They’re far more involved in day-to-day operations than Mike senior was. He didn’t want to be involved. The boys want to. So all the employees at Bandon Dunes now work for the Keisers instead of Kemper Sports [to maximize their employee benefits, Michael says]. Kemper Sports is still very much involved in the management, they have a seat at the table. But it’s Chris Keiser who now sits at the head of that table.

“Mike Keiser made a huge difference in the game,” Kidd concludes, “and he’s ensured that his offspring will continue that. Golf in the mold of Keiser has an extremely good future.”

The Future

Now 30 years into the golf business, Mike Keiser isn’t slowing down much. He’s still searching for the next great site, the next Bandon Dunes, his ideal Royal Dornoch. Although he scouted sites in Cuba in 1999, he has given up on that idea. But he’s teaming with Cowan-Dewar in developing Cabot St. Lucia on the Caribbean island of the same name. Its Coore-Crenshaw design is scheduled to begin construction this winter. The rugged land is akin to Pebble Beach, with nine holes along jagged coastal cliffs.

RELATED: With Cabot St. Lucia, Mike Keiser aims to create yet another remote destination

Keiser is also investing in a new 36-hole public resort five miles down the coastline from the famed private Tara Iti Golf Club in New Zealand, the first 18 by Coore and Crenshaw, the second by Doak, who did the original Tara Iti. The timing of those projects depends on Keiser’s dream destination, Coul Links in Embo, Scotland, just a few miles up the shoreline from Royal Dornoch, with sand dunes that he and Coore say are unmatched in that area.

Developing Coul Links is his current passion, perhaps because so many have told him it’s unattainable. As a rich American wanting to build a golf resort in Scottish sand dunes, his objective has been complicated by a previous rich American who built a golf resort in Scottish sand dunes with such pomposity and disregard for locals that many in the golf-loving nation of Scotland oppose any further golf on the shoreline.

Cabot St. Lucia

The site for Keiser's planned course on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia

Coore saw vivid evidence of that hostility when he attended a public hearing with Keiser at Embo last fall. Coore has heard protests from opponents of golf projects many times before, but he was still surprised at the amount of public invective directed at Keiser personally. By the end of the meeting, Coore was disturbed by comments some had made about his close friend.

As they left the building, Keiser asked Coore to take a walk with him. They walked over to the proposed course site and, as they’d done many times before, began walking the routing through the dunes. They exchanged some small talk as they walked, with little mention of what had gone on at the meeting.

They reached the site of the proposed par-3 15th green, a point surrounded by ocean surf. Mike stared out to sea. This is it, Bill thought to himself. He’s going to tell me he’s pulling the plug.

But the end never came. Instead, Keiser turned around and said softly, “Well, I guess it’s all worth it.”

They walked back into town, neither saying anything more. The passion remains. The magic of Royal Dornoch still has its hold on Mike Keiser.

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