Silvies Valley Ranch:
The Return of Dan Hixson
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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.