Pacific Gales: Oregon Coast's Newest Golf Course

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Oceanfront golf along spectacular stretch of Southern Oregon coast planned by Elk River Property Development.

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'It’s a great opportunity, and frankly one that most architects would only dream of coming across once in a lifetime,' Esler says.

The modern legend of golf on the Southern Oregon coast adds an exciting chapter with the announcement of a new project, Pacific Gales — 18 holes set to emerge from some of the world’s greatest seaside landscape, with one of the game’s most accomplished development teams behind it. Course construction is expected to begin in summer 2014.

Located on a portion of privately owned Knapp Ranch in Curry County, between iconic Cape Blanco and the town of Port Orford, Pacific Gales will add a spectacular new dimension to this remote but world renowned stretch of North American golfing coastline. Several holes will sit directly on the ocean, including both the 9th and 18th, which will share a common cliffside green — unique among American seaside courses.

“I’ve been in the business for 30 years, and you know a great site when you’re on it,” says Jim Haley, managing partner of Elk River Property Development, LLC, who first ventured to the Oregon Coast as a member of the construction team for the original Bandon Dunes course. “This is a great site. You don’t get them very often.”

With a huge natural sand dune running the length of the property, rocky cliffs that recall Pebble Beach or Cypress Point, corridors through twisted, wind-whipped pines and gorse-filled ravines that resemble those at Pine Valley, Pacific Gales promises to bring every element of classic seaside golf into play, augmented by views unmatched anywhere else on the West Coast, including the famed Cape Blanco lighthouse on the westernmost point in Oregon.

Haley began the long journey to making Pacific Gales a reality in the late 1990s, while working as Bandon Dunes architect David McLay Kidd’s lead shaper — a relationship that continued through some of Kidd’s most well-regarded projects around the globe via Haley’s construction company, Highland Golf Services. In fact, Haley’s career has included work on everything from Rees Jones’ renovations at Atlanta Athletic Club and Duke University Golf Club to more recent McLay Kidd efforts at Tournament Players Club Stonebrae in the San Francisco Bay Area, Huntsman Springs in Idaho, Nanea on the Big Island of Hawaii and Queenwood Golf Club in Surrey, England, home to more than a few European Tour stars.

“One of the owners of Knapp Ranch, Jeff Knapp, had worked with me,” he says. “He invited me down for a crab feed when Mike Keiser was building Bandon Dunes.” That’s when Haley first caught site of the family’s incredible 1,100-acre stretch of oceanfront property.

In 2010 Haley and his business partner, Jay Kenyon, completed a lease agreement with the Knapp family to develop 330 acres along the ocean. They brought on Troy Russell, a native to the area who played pivotal roles in the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort’s early success during his 10 years there, to be project manager. Russell saw the land’s potential as a golf site right away. “It’s more than just the oceanfront property — you’ve got these other unique attributes, the lighthouse, Cape Blanco, the Port Orford reef just offshore and a view of the Coast Range,” he says. “Plus, you’re looking down onto the Elk River, one of the most beautiful on the Wild Rivers Coast. It’s a cut above, a remarkable piece of property.”

The next step was finding the right designer for the new project, which led to Dave Esler, who had built his reputation bringing restoration work to life with a light touch and classic flair in the Chicago area. Esler also created the layout at highly acclaimed Black Sheep Golf Club — ranked by Golfweek as one of America’s Best 100 Courses.

“He called me to look at a remodel project, a Donald Ross course on the South Side of Chicago that he was shaping,” Haley recalls. “He did a masterful restoration; he didn’t impose his will on the site. And that’s exactly what we needed for a piece of land like Pacific Gales.”

Esler also had a Bandon Dunes connection — he was one of many finalists for the job that eventually went to Kidd — so he jumped at the chance to create what will undoubtedly be his finest design achievement to date.

“It’s a great opportunity, and frankly one that most architects would only dream of coming across once in a lifetime,” Esler says. “We feel obligated to do something extraordinary because the site deserves it. That’s our goal — to put the best possible golf course we can on that site. It may even become the best one in the neighborhood — it’s clearly something special.”

That “something special” is a journey rife with drama and a sense of hole-to-hole anticipation that has the potential to rival anything in American golf.

“We want the routing to be a spectacular walk, with or without clubs,” Esler says. “On the first green at Pacific Gales, you’ll be staring at the edge of two worlds, looking into infinity. It’s drop-dead spectacular. The routing is intentionally choreographed, constructed as theater really. We set the hook early, move away from the edge, build the drama again with long views, intimate peeks and anticipation of what’s ahead — the spectacular finish. We’d be pretty fortunate to be able to do that with one of the nines, but after a good bit of work, we’ve found a routing that provides that drama on each of the nines.”

Fundraising for the project is well under way although investment opportunities remain available. For additional news, photos and a video preview of Pacific Gales and to register for e-mail and social media construction updates and special offers, please visit http://www.pacificgales.com.

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