A Resort Developer Who Puts the Emphasis on Golf, Not Real Estate

This article is a part of our newest particular report on International Golf Homes, about a few of the high spots to stay and play.

Mike Keiser began constructing Bandon Dunes, a distant golf vacation spot in Bandon, Ore., with little care as to the place the golfers who got here would possibly keep after they performed.

Bandon is actually onerous to get to: It is hours away from any airport and a five-hour drive from Portland. But in the late 1990s, Mr. Keiser felt the time was proper. He additionally had the funds to make it occur, having constructed a profitable greeting card firm, which he offered for $250 million in 2005. And he wished to check his concept that golfers in America would love hyperlinks golf — an previous type of the sport, invented in Scotland, involving a extra open panorama and customarily close to the water — if uncovered to it.

“I expected we’d have 10,000 rounds the first year, which was the break-even number,” Mr. Keiser stated. “We did 24,000 that first year and that basically paid for two years of development.”

Bandon Dunes, constructed alongside a barren stretch of the Oregon coast, has 1,200 acres, 48 rooms and a clubhouse. The membership and trip properties had been added by Mike Keiser at the urging of Howard McKee, an early associate.Credit…Bandon Dunes Golf Resort

Even with that form of success, Bandon wanted someplace for gamers to remain. Enter an early associate, Howard McKee. At Mr. McKee’s urging, Mr. Keiser constructed a clubhouse with 12 rooms and 4 visitor cottages with particular person rooms for group journeys. “It was self-funding after the initial investment in 1,200 acres of land, 48 rooms and a clubhouse,” Mr. Keiser stated. “But that wouldn’t have been possible if Howard hadn’t made me build the rooms and the clubhouse. I give him kudos for that.”

Mr. Keiser is one in all the most profitable golf builders of the previous three many years. From barren, coastal land in Oregon, he created a brand new template for the stay-and-play buddies’ journey. He has since constructed three extra.

His mannequin is the reverse of many builders who lead with actual property and match the golf in round it: Mr. Keiser places the golf programs first, then he listens to what the native market needs. Today his title is spoken of amongst severe golfers in the identical method as high gamers and star architects: with reverence, a little bit of jealousy and a great deal of amazement.

Soon, he was increasing. In 2014, he had opened Cabot Links on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, and has lately begun improvement on Cabot St. Lucia in the Caribbean, each with an outdoor associate, Ben Cowan-Dewar. In between, he helped unfold the mannequin to Sand Valley, a golf resort his sons Michael and Chris opened in 2017 in central Wisconsin.

Sand Valley and Cabot Links each have actual property developments inside the resort. Cabot St. Lucia is experiencing a pandemic-driven increase in demand for its properties — despite the fact that the resort continues to be years from opening.

At Bandon, nonetheless, Mr. Keiser had a sensible cause to construct momentary dwellings and never trip properties: He couldn’t think about golfers’ efficiently promoting their households on trekking out to a trip house in coastal Oregon.

“The Bandon brand is it’s cold and windy and it rains a lot,” Mr. Keiser stated. “Does that sound like a marketing hook? Had we tried, we would have failed.”

Two many years on, Bandon, with its 5 full-length programs, two quick programs and worldwide status, has remained a “spartan” expertise, as Mr. Keiser’s son Michael put it. But the resorts underneath the Keiser model which have come since Bandon have all discovered a solution to embrace actual property with out cheapening the golf expertise with Florida-style condos lining each fairway.

“Most developers try to maximize the amount of real estate they can put around their golf course,” Michael Keiser stated. “We sell just enough real estate to fuel our golf addiction.”

The marketplace for Sand Valley, in contrast to Bandon Dunes, is one the place most visitors are driving lower than three hours to get to part of Wisconsin identified for vacationing. So the properties might be rented and earn revenue for his or her homeowners.

The Sand Valley golf resort in central Wisconsin was constructed to be family-friendly. “We received golf going first, however we’re including different issues like a pool and a pool home and courtroom tennis,” stated Michael Keiser, Mike Keiser’s son.Credit…Sand Valley

“It doesn’t go against the spirit of Sand Valley,” Michael Keiser stated. “Our guests love staying in them. By selling real estate we’re also able to give our resort guests more of what they want, like fire pits and screened porches.”

Yet, like his father, Michael Keiser stated he was resisting the siren name of cash from house gross sales. He has constructed solely 15 properties at Sand Valley with eight extra in the works.

“We just want to sell enough to house our resort guests and fund golf courses,” he stated. “I’d rather spend my time building great golf courses, and the real estate lets me do that.”

At Cabot Links, which opened in 2012, actual property has come slower. For years, Mike Keiser was tired of partnering with the potential developer, Mr. Cowan-Dewar, then a 20-something Canadian golf fanatic, and didn’t return his calls.

“A friend convinced me to take his call,” Mr. Keiser stated. “The deal was land for a dollar. It was remote, but I’d already done that.”

“When I finally went there,” he added, “I was flabbergasted that it looked that good.”

Cabot offered out its authentic 19 villas in 2014, nevertheless it solely lately received zoning approval for 29 further properties at its second golf course. Those properties offered shortly and are actually funding different enhancements. Mr. Keiser stated that he had by no means wished to hurry a improvement and that he had been lucky to have the cash to take his time.

After surveying the authentic owners, Mr. Cowan-Dewar stated individuals wished extra non-golf facilities like tennis, strolling trails and barns for train and entertaining. “As people live in these places, they behave differently than if they just come for golf,” he stated. “You start to go to the beach. You don’t just play 18 holes when you arrive, then 36 holes the next day and 36 holes the day after that.”

Mr. Keiser didn’t balk at the completely different method. One of his enterprise philosophies is to hearken to the purchasers and form the resort round what they need.

“You need to find the best property you can, but then sit next to the first tee and ask people what they want,” Michael Keiser stated.

The Dunes Club in New Buffalo, Mich., was an early acquisition of Mike Keiser. A nine-hole course, it isn’t removed from Lake Michigan. Credit…Lyndon French for The New York Times

His father takes that strategy actually: When Cabot Links opened, he eschewed the ceremonial first spherical, and as a substitute sat with Mr. Cowan-Dewar on the first tee, asking individuals what they preferred and disliked.

Largely due to its geographical location, the challenge underway in St. Lucia is the most completely different. There is nothing chilly or disagreeable about the golf season there and it has been a pandemic escape, which Mr. Cowan-Dewar credit for promoting out the first 42 properties upon their launch.

Per the Keiser method, the golf course in St. Lucia got here first: Nine of 18 greens will likely be on the ocean and the course is being designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, acclaimed architects who’ve additionally constructed programs at the different Keiser resorts.

The philosophy of Sand Valley has advanced to be one thing completely different nonetheless — not a dream buddies’ journey or a Caribbean escape however a family-friendly trip spot.

“Our goal is not spartan, it’s comfort,” Michael Keiser stated. “The non-golf activities are the difference at Sand Valley. We got golf going first but we’re adding other things like a pool and a pool house and court tennis.”

In addition to its two current programs at Sand Valley, a 3rd is about to be accredited. For hard-core golfers, one in all the Keiser household’s favourite course architects, Tom Doak, is in the strategy of recreating the Lido, a revered Long Island course that closed after World War II. The new Lido, scheduled to open in 2023, can have simply 17 properties, with half of them for hire to offer 50 visitor beds. Additional rooms is likely to be added above the membership home, if wanted, he stated.

“Part of that secret sauce is that nimbleness and ability to flow and adapt,” Michael Keiser stated. “Just like at Bandon, my dad didn’t set out to build all these courses. He set out to do what was immediately in front of him.”

The success of Bandon begot the subsequent resorts, however that success required a wholesale reimagining of what the golf trip can be.

It began with the land. Then Mr. Keiser added architects who had been little identified — David McLay Kidd, now a sought-after designer, had but to design a course when he was chosen at age 26 to construct the first Bandon course, which opened in 1999. And he requested the designers to make the programs enjoyable, not penal as many high programs had been.

“I’m using a no-name inexperienced golf architect at a remote site that had no chance of succeeding,” Mr. Keiser stated. “It was ridiculous that it could work. But I had the money to lose, which was good because no bank would have financed it.”

That threat has been rewarded. In addition to a gradual stream of golf vacationers in any respect the resorts, Bandon was simply awarded 13 nationwide championships from the United States Golf Association over the subsequent twenty years, beginning with the U.S. Junior Amateur subsequent 12 months. Mr. Keiser is happy with getting the recognition however prouder nonetheless of getting the programs to do one thing that, once more, hasn’t been finished earlier than.

When Bandon hosts the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Amateur in 2032, the tournaments will likely be performed the identical week. “With five courses, we can have two televised golf tournaments going on at the same time,” he stated. “It will be very important for girls golf. I’m very proud of that. That’s the direct result of having enough golf courses.”