Sil­vies Val­ley Ranch:

The Re­turn of Dan Hix­son

Golf Today Northwest - - Front Page - By TONY DEAR

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Dan Hix­son re­mem­bers the first time he be­came aware of reversible golf. It was 1968, and Robert Trent Jones had been hired by Eu­gene CC to up­date Chan­dler Egan’s 1923 de­sign. The seven-year-old Hix­son was walk­ing the course with his fa­ther (his grand­par­ents were mem­bers and the fam­ily spent quite a bit of time at the club) and looked on be­mused as big ma­chines ploughed up the ground. He saw a man with a rolled-up set of plans and, though he didn’t know it at the time, now be­lieves it must have been Jones. “I asked my fa­ther what the man with the plans was do­ing,” says Hix­son. “He told me he was the de­signer, and was ba­si­cally chang­ing the di­rec­tion of the course. Most of the ponds were po­si­tioned close to the tees, and Jones wanted them fronting, or to the side of, the greens. I re­mem­ber my dad telling me the 18th green was now be­com­ing the 1st tee.” Jones es­sen­tially re­versed the course, and young Hix­son was in­trigued. He re­al­ized for the first time that golf cour­ses got built, they weren’t just there. “I be­gan sketch­ing holes and course rout­ings, and have never really stopped,” he says.

Hix­son has there­fore long been aware of the con­cept of reversible golf, and when the op­por­tu­nity to build it came up at Sil­vies Val­ley he was more than a lit­tle ex­cited. Founded in 1883, Sil­vies Val­ley Ranch is a 140,000-acre prop­erty made up of leased and deeded lands 130 miles east of Bend. It is owned by Sil­vies Val­ley Ranch L.L.C. which was set up in 2007 by Scott Camp­bell, a re­tired vet­eri­nar­ian who turned Port­land’s Ban­field Pet Hos­pi­tal into a multi-na­tional com­pany with over 800 clin­ics, many of them in Pets­mart stores. A non-golfer, Camp­bell has lit­tle con­cept of con­ven­tional golf, let alone the reversible kind. He knows enough about the game, how­ever, to rec­og­nize vis­i­tors to his guest ranch, or rather re­treat, (in July 2011, the Ore­gon Leg­is­la­ture voted in fa­vor of Camp­bell’s pro­posal to build 575 cab­ins) would prob­a­bly ap­pre­ci­ate a golf course, or two. He also un­der­stands its eco­nomic po­ten­tial. When it comes to the en­vi­ron­ment, Camp­bell is a preser­va­tion­ist at heart and has been keen to re­store the ranch to some­thing like its orig­i­nal pur­pose. He breeds prize-win­ning cat­tle; is de­vel­op­ing a meat goat – the Amer­i­can Range Goat; and sup­plies sta­bles and horse-own­ers with Sil­vies Val­ley Ranch Pre­mium Per­for­mance Blend Hay from its cer­ti­fied-or­ganic mead­ows. The ranch’s vi­sion is to be a ‘prof­itable live­stock ranch­ing and guest op­er­a­tion with abun­dant, healthy wildlife that sets the stan­dard for the na­tion in best ranch­ing and en­vi­ron­men­tal prac­tices where as­so­ci­ates stay for their life­times and guests re­turn time af­ter time.’ If he could build a rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive, lay-ofthe-land golf course that re­quired min­i­mal in­puts and which was so good it might at­tract golfers from far and wide, he would not only pre­serve the en­vi­ron­ment, but also con­trib­ute to the longterm fi­nan­cial well-be­ing of the ranch. “We want the free­dom to de­cide when and how to im­prove the ranch,” he says. “That free­dom only ex­ists with profit. With­out it, the bankers, lenders, and cred­i­tors call the shots.” Con­sid­er­ing Camp­bell’s cri­te­ria, Hix­son was the ideal choice to build the golf course. For starters, he was a na­tive Ore­go­nian which ap­pealed to Camp­bell. And though clearly a de­signer of great abil­ity and imag­i­na­tion who made good use of what fea­tures and un­du­la­tions were al­ready present rather than plough the ground up and start from scratch, Hix­son’s name had not yet be­come so big he could de­mand the fees of a Nick­laus, Fazio, or Trent Jones Jr. Nor was he in the same tax bracket yet as Ben Cren­shaw and Bill Coore, or Tom Doak – other de­sign­ers who like­wise treated the land lightly but whose pre­vi­ous suc­cesses (C&C - Sand Hills, Ka­palua, Ban­don Trails, etc. Doak – Pa­cific Dunes, Ban­bougle Dunes, Cape Kid­nap­pers, etc) had seen their com­mer­cial value sky­rocket. “I spoke with five or six de­sign­ers,” says Camp­bell. “Dan just ticked all the boxes. And what I really liked was that he would spend a lot of time at the ranch. Oth­ers told me how they would make an ini­tial trip, then de­sign the course us­ing CAD (Com­puter-aided De­sign) from their of­fice and des­ig­nate the day-to-day work to some­one in their com­pany. They would then re­turn on the day the course opened. But on a huge project like a golf course, you make a hun­dred de­ci­sions a day. So hav­ing a de­signer/builder on site ev­ery day was a huge fac­tor for me.” Camp­bell was also im­pressed by Hix­son’s ethics and pas­sion for the game. “It clearly wasn’t about money or sta­tus for Dan,” says Camp­bell. “He just wanted to build a great golf course. He’s very sen­si­tive to the his­tory of golf.” Camp­bell made the ini­tial con­tact in the late sum­mer of 2009, shortly af­ter the suc­cess­ful open­ing of Hix­son’s Wine Val­ley GC in Walla Walla, WA. Two hun­dred and forty miles north of Sil­vies Val­ley, Wine Val­ley was built on ex­posed farm­land that many de­sign­ers might have re­jected as bland and fea­ture­less. Hix­son, how­ever, had done a re­mark­able job cre­at­ing in­ter­est, strat­egy, and va­ri­ety. He was sat in the club­house fol­low­ing a round with a group of Golf Club At­las reg­u­lars when Camp­bell’s call came through.

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