BANDON, OREGON | Since the day it opened in 2012 and started collecting fees from golfers, the 13-hole Bandon Preserve short course has been much more than a fun alternative for visitors at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. It’s a centerpiece of charitable contribution, conservation and community enhancement on Oregon’s South Coast. That foundational mission was not lost on Marie Simonds as she took a brief break from spearheading those various endeavors to play in a sixsome on the Preserve.
“I’ve had a front-row seat to the Keisers’ generosity,” Simonds, the executive director of the charitable arm founded by Bandon resort owner Mike Keiser, said as she enjoyed a pristine afternoon walking and playing the “course with a mission” overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
The pending opening of the new 19-hole Shorty’s par-3 course adjacent Bandon Trails next spring not only will increase the net proceeds pouring in via the resort, but it prompted an opportunity to streamline and rebrand Bandon’s various donor-directed community outreach funds that have awarded a combined $16 million in grants supporting conservation, community and economy in the region. What’s been known for 12 years as the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance is now the Bandon Dunes Charitable Foundation. “We are excited about this transition for increased impact and stronger connection between the Keiser family, Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and our thriving local community,” the name change announcement said.
“It won’t change what we do at all,” Simonds said. “Mike (Keiser) is generous in a whole different variety of ways, and so it just will be kind of our single point of contact to streamline and funnel some of that giving through the foundation.”
How Simonds came to direct this community-driven mission is a story in and of itself. Marie Beasley played golf at Boise State University well enough to be ranked fourth on the school’s recent 30th-anniversary team. She met and married Jeff Simonds after college, and the young couple moved to Bandon in 2004 when Jeff accepted a seasonal job as assistant pro at the growing resort. While Jeff’s career progressed steadily to his current role as assistant general manager and senior director of operations at the resort, Marie’s professional path took a different route.
“I just never wanted to really lose my love of golf by making it feel like work,” she said of her brief flirtation with the idea of becoming a pro herself.
Instead, she worked for 6½ years at the local community college, serving as executive director of the Southwestern Oregon Community College Foundation as well as the men’s and women’s golf coach. Her biggest initiative was helping raise money to assist the school in expanding into a new Curry County campus.
“We were able to take this idea of Wild Rivers supporting a local community through the proceeds from Bandon Preserve and set the priorities and build relationships and find projects and really see where Mike’s generosity could be multiplied and do good work in the community.” – Marie Simonds
In 2010, the Simondses had their second son, and Marie decided to leave her job and spend a couple of years raising their young boys. It was a time investment she never regretted. But by 2012, she was ready to consider getting back in the workforce. That serendipitously coincided with Bandon Preserve opening and the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance forming under the direction of Mike Keiser’s close friend and colleague Jim Seeley, who retired from his role as executive vice president at Kemper Sports, to spearhead this mission at Bandon. Marie dropped a résumé with Seeley, and he hired her to be his executive assistant.
“When the opportunity with Wild Rivers came up in 2012, it really felt like the perfect blend of what I had kind of uncovered as a passion of mine, which is just being engaged and figuring out how to help the community and help people and programs and organizations thrive,” Simonds said.
“Just from my years at the community college, I had a lot of connections in the community already and was really familiar with some of the regional priorities that were going on. We were able to take this idea of Wild Rivers supporting a local community through the proceeds from Bandon Preserve and set the priorities and build relationships and find projects and really see where Mike’s generosity could be multiplied and do good work in the community.”
When Seeley died after a nine-month battle with pancreatic cancer in 2020, Simonds seamlessly assumed the helm as executive director. “He was a wonderful mentor for me and many others here at the resort,” she said of Seeley.
The breadth of projects Bandon Dunes Charitable Foundation will support runs the gamut from conservation and preservation to recreational development, amplifying art, workforce housing, healthcare, education, scholarships as well as local golf programs. It’s also a great facilitator, helping local landowners who want to voluntarily restore watershed habitats for fish or establish local protected land trusts.
Simonds highlighted a project called Washed Ashore, whose mission titled “art to save the sea” ignites volunteers to pick up trash on local beaches and turn it into art to raise awareness of plastic pollution in the oceans. With funding support from Wild Rivers, Washed Ashore has grown from a small local nonprofit into a sizable entity that created its own movie and has installed artwork in aquariums and museums all over the United States, including the Smithsonian in Washington.
“We were involved with them in the early going to help provide them with funding and resources to be able to catalyze their work,” Simonds said. “That has been incredible to be a part of and to support.”
Another project born from a seed of an idea with funding support from Wild Rivers is the Whiskey Run Mountain Trail Bike system. Bandon visitors know Whiskey Run as the gorge separating the Old Macdonald course from Sheep Ranch, with a road that runs down to the beach. The project honed in on utilizing undeveloped forested land in Coos County to develop a secondary tourism option with a light footprint on the land but a high-dollar benefit for local businesses from a cycling community that is as passionate about traveling to mountain bike venues as golfers are to flocking to destination resorts like Bandon.
“Wild Rivers and other organizations in the state agreed that we would put in money to build the trail system, and lo and behold it’s gone from this idea to about a 32-mile mountain bike complex just 10 minutes from Bandon Dunes,” said Simonds, who said more funding and cooperation from tourism groups will identify additional trail sites in the area and help attract influencers to spread the word about the Whiskey Run system for adventure cyclists who like to explore different trails in close proximity the same way golfers enjoy Bandon’s seven different courses. “In working with the trail developer, we knew that we had the opportunity with the landscape to build a really high-quality, high-class trail system.”
Another area of focus golfers can appreciate is gorse management. The South Coast of Oregon is blanketed by the prickly shrubs much like the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland, thanks to Lord George Bennett, who imported both the Bandon’s name and the invasive shrub from his native Ireland when he founded the coastal town in 1873. While the gorse helps augment Bandon’s linksy appeal, it is not really something to be celebrated or admired.
The presence of gorse in Bandon played a major role in a 1936 fire that killed at least 10 residents (click on images to enlarge).
In fact, gorse completely destroyed the town of Bandon once in 1936 when a wildfire started in a nearby forest and raged through the town, destroying nearly every business and home and killed at least 10 residents. The fire was fueled by the abundant gorse filling most of the empty spaces between buildings and proved impossible to douse.
“Gorse has so many negatives, in terms of its flammability, invasiveness and just not being suitable habitat, that I’m not sure about any of its positive attributes,” Simonds said. “One of our big focuses has been around gorse. It quickly rose to the top of the list in terms of what role could we play in continuing being proactive in our broader South Coast ground management.”
Since 2016, the Gorse Action Group draws agency folks, nonprofits, local businesses, advocates and natural resource experts together around a common mission of gorse removal. “We work to sort of elevate the profile of gorse, so people know it’s not some beautiful yellow flower,” Simonds said. “It’s really invasive and something that we want to work to control.”
Simonds and the Keisers have big plans for the enhanced BDCF to help further build the foundation of the blossoming Bandon and Coos County community surrounding the resort.
“We keep hearing two things from the community when we’re out and about and listening, which is the need for childcare and the need for housing,” Simonds said. “So we have been working to try and see how we can increase the number of childcare slots in the region and develop workforce housing.”
“Obviously, the resort has a continual need for workforce, but so do our small businesses in our local communities. They have trouble staffing up the local school district or the hospital or just our downtown businesses that are looking for workforce. So, you know, we want to be a part of their solution as well.” – Marie Simonds
Keiser bought a 17-acre parcel inside the Bandon city limits and is working on plans with the city to create a workforce housing project.
“I’m not totally sure what that will look like, but it will be a housing project that would be for the broader community,” Simonds said. “Obviously, the resort has a continual need for workforce, but so do our small businesses in our local communities. They have trouble staffing up the local school district or the hospital or just our downtown businesses that are looking for workforce. So, you know, we want to be a part of their solution as well.”
Since Bandon Dunes opened 25 years ago, it has been intent on transforming the South Coast of Oregon into more than just a golf destination. Simonds feels fortunate to be such a big part of delivering the Keisers’ broader vision for the community.
“We’re a business that’s based on the land, and we’ve often referred to the resort as a working landscape,” Simonds said. “And there’s a deep care for the local community. I love working here. I really love what I do and feel fortunate to work with Mike and how he can be generous in the community. It’s really a pleasure.”
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