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The Warmth of a Cold Embrace

No one was a stranger by the end of a three-day TGJ trip to Gearhart

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It’s a small word when you’re serving a life sentence in golf. 

Marcus Skovhus certainly knows that now. Originally from Denmark, Skovhus currently lives in Boston with his wife—a native Hawaiian—whom he met while on business in Los Angeles. And even though he’s stacked plenty of frequent flyer miles, a consistent golf community has been hard to find. So when an opportunity to join fellow Golfer’s Journal Members on a three-day retreat to Gearhart Golf Links arose, with additional stops at nearby Highlands Golf Course, Astoria Country Club and Manzanita Links, he decided to give it a shot.

His place on that trip secured, Skovhus went ahead and did what any of us might do given the chance: He went to Bandon Dunes first. As he arrived on the first tee, Skovhus was surprised to learn he was paired with a fellow single. After all, Bandon is the buddy trip capital of the golf world. 

“What brings you here?” asked Joseph Long, fresh off a plane from Texas himself. 

“I’m actually on the way to Gearhart,” replied Skovhus. “Thought I’d make a trip of it.”

“You’re with The Golfer’s Journal too!?”

It took some explaining to their wives, but by the end of their first 18, Skovhus and Long canceled one of their rooms and bunked up for the week. There’s no such thing as a single on a TGJ adventure.

Close your eyes for a moment and picture your ideal golf course. Where does your mind go? 

For me, it always starts with the opening tee. It should be intimate, not intimidating; warm, yet not necessarily welcoming. Like the first track on a classic album, it should tell you exactly what’s about to come, without spoiling the surprise.  

No. 1 at Gearhart Golf Links is all of this, and, somehow, more. It sits no more than 25 yards from where players wake up that morning, sandwiched between a cozy putting green and the par-4 ninth hole. At first glance, the hole itself looks benign—dead straight and perfectly flat with some scattered pot bunkers that look as if they’ve been plucked straight from the Old Course. There’s a world of space down the left, which is nice considering the 20-foot high dunes down the right that protect their 18-hole putting course and beloved Sand Trap bar. It’s as close to a perfect start as you’ll find. 

Now, what about the meat of your dream course? While some may prefer seclusion, tucked between the trees of Pine Valley or lost in the dunes at Sand Hills, I prefer the sociability that comes with a cohesive routing. Maybe this is the Perry Maxwell in me, but I like to see holes before I play them, and banter across neighboring greens with groups both ahead and behind. 

Once you cross Gearhart Lane and arrive on the second tee, this is exactly what’s on order. You’ll spot players in any direction, along with every green from Nos. 2-8. You’ll step off a green, and your feet will soon find the next tee. Green, tee, green, tee— the formula is repeated until you finish just steps away from where you started. Put all of this together, and it makes for one of the more delightful walks I’ve ever experienced. 

Unfortunately, more than a few perfect walks have been spoiled by a rotten cast of supporting characters. That’s why the people are often as important on a golf course as the holes themselves. And while Gearhart has 18 damn good ones, they pale in comparison to the folks who surround them.

There’s a laundry list of reasons why golf-lovers have become almost religious in their praise for Gearhart in recent years, and General Manager Jason Bangild is at the top of it. Since arriving a decade ago, the Toronto native’s Canadian politeness has taken hold of this strip of Northern Oregon coastline already known for top-tier hospitality. At north of 6’6, the gentle giant sees everything that happens at his golf course. He’s the first in and seemingly the last to leave. He would rather walk home than let a guest drink alone, and he’s the first resort boss I’ve ever seen offer to shuttle players—in his personal vehicle—to neighboring golf courses.

What’s more, Bangild is relentlessly innovative and resourceful. Once every couple of months, the high team in Gearhart’s twilight scramble takes what’s left of their lost & found. Their one-day match-play marathon is every bit about the curated menu between matches as it is the golf.

Bangild is not the only face that will stick with you long after you’re gone. Brooklyn, the keeper of Gearhart’s now-famous bunker bar, transitions seamlessly between sweet and sassy. The same can be said for her Shirley Temple mix, which swaps grenadine for preserved Japanese blackberry juice. Then there’s Forrest Goodling, Gearhart’s trusted Superintendent, who manages to present firm and fiery greens year-round despite a six-man crew, unforgiving growing conditions and heavy-footed elk. The list goes on.

The people of Gearhart are far from ignorant of their geographical hurdles. They could have kept this fever dream of a golf course to themselves and nobody would have blamed them. Instead, they open their arms to anybody who travels through, with a warmth rivaled only by the opening tee shot.

 You can open your eyes now.

Congratulations to our winners of The Gearhart Trail challenge ( from left to right): Julius Morck, Patrick Jacobson, Joe Long, and Mark Warman. The foursome counted their one low ball per-hole in the morning at Gearhart, and their low two in the afternoon at nearby Astoria CC for a 36-hole total of 201 (-15).