A Brisk Walk Among the Dunes
By Stacey Schmeidel
High atop 100-foot cliffs that hug the ocean shoreline in southwestern
Oregon are 2,000 acres of picturesque dunes, rustling sea grass and emerald madrone
trees. Overlooking miles of crashing surf, the site is subject to the unrelenting
vagaries of weather; the wind is strong, the fog frequent and the rain, when it
comes, is cold. But the temperatures are comparatively moderate: 45 degrees in
the winter, 75 in the summer, and a clement 60-something most days in between.
And when the fog relents and rolls back from the seaside bluffs, the lofty perch
provides an endless and heart-stopping view of the Pacific.
I know what you're thinking: What a great place to play golf.
But read on. Because this is not a story about manicured greens. There'll be no
talk about the precision required to hit a one-ounce ball 300 yards into a four-and-a-quarter-inch
round cup. The name of Tiger Woods will not be invoked; Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus
and Nancy Lopez will not be discussed.
Instead, this is a story about Mike Keiser '67, a businessman who builds golf
courses "for fun" and whose three coursesincluding the two public
links on the cliffs at Bandon, Oregonare among the most highly ranked, the
most classic, the most beautiful in the world.
Keiser's workaday surroundings are far more prosaic than the outdoor environments
he creates as a hobby. We met on a clear, pleasant September 10 morning at the
North Side Chicago offices of Recycled Paper Greetings, a company Keiser established
in 1971 with his wife, Lindy, and Amherst friend and roommate Phil Friedmann '67.
Founded on the first anniversary of Earth Day, the company has grown from a eco-friendly
card company (remember "Hippo birdie, two ewes"?) to a privately held
business that produces 100 million cards a year, employs 850 people and registers
$80 million in annual sales.
Housed in a nondescript, squat warehouse four blocks from Wrigley Field, the RPG
offices can charitably be described as an afterthought. Fluorescent lights do
nothing to soften the harsh white walls or the worn yellow shag carpet that seems
to crumble dryly underfoot. "Watch your step," Keiser's assistant advises,
indicating a small but treacherous unevenness between the floor in her cubby-hole
reception area and the firm's "conference room," a low-ceilinged windowless
space housing a fiberboard folding table and mismatched canvas director's chairs.
The focal point of the room is clearly the "money wall," an organized
array of RPG's cards, post-its and notepads, segmented by type ("GW"
for get-well cards, "NB" for "new baby") and rearranged each
week according to sales popularity.
We meet on a Monday, but Keiser is dressed informally, in khakis and a faded polo
shirt that make Casual Friday-wear look dressy. A tall, tan man with an open face
and a flat, Midwestern inflection, he speaks directly and authoritatively. He
makes constant, probing eye contact, but his head-on speaking style and watchfulness
somehow make him seem guardeduntil he starts to talk about golf.
Keiser's been playing since he was nine, when his parents began taking him to
the East Aurora Country Club outside Buffalo, New Yorka club they'd joined
so his mother could develop her game. Keiser fell in love with the sportand
with the club's big, juicy hamburgersand that summer spent every day "playing
golf, practicing golf and caddying," working the greens from 8 a.m. until
7 p.m. "What a day," he recalls, dreamily.
Photo: Wood Sabold