U.S. AMATEUR FOUR-BALL
This Nice Guy Gets Job Done on Bandon’s Courses, Hardcourt May 21, 2019 | Bandon, Ore. By Tom Mackin

Agronomist Ken Nice has been working on the grounds at Bandon Dunes since the resort opened 20 years ago. (Bandon Dunes)

Leading an agronomy team of 100 adults is not that much different than coaching a high school basketball team of 15 teenagers. At least that’s what Ken Nice thinks. He’s done both.

Currently the director of agronomy at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, site of this week’s 5th U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, Nice coached junior varsity and varsity basketball at Bandon High School between 2002 and 2017.

“Within a basketball team you want to be fair with everybody, but at the same time you also have to realize what makes one player tick doesn’t make another player tick,” said Nice.

“Within the big scope of a group, you have to forge those individual relationships that are different among everybody. That’s one of the things that I liked about coaching and what I like about my current job. Ultimately, it’s making it a positive environment where people want to work together and be on the same page.”

Hoops came before golf for the Oregon native, who grew up in Corvallis, where he met the first of three coaching role models. His father was a professor at Oregon State University, and Nice often sat in on practices led by that school’s head coach, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Ralph Miller.

In high school, Nice played for Mike Doherty, the winningest coach in Oregon history.

He then played under another Oregon coaching legend, John Roche, while earning a degree in psychology at Willamette University in Salem.

“I was a pretty versatile player, good shooter, a ballhandler who could defend, and very athletic,” said the 6-foot-1 Nice. “After college, I played in city leagues while working in Seattle. But I recognized that golf is a game you can get better at. I wasn’t going to get better at basketball.”

The golf bug bit while Nice was a foreman for a commercial landscape company. His growing interest in the game, especially in coastal links courses, led him to study under Tom Cook, a professor in the turf management program at Oregon State. That led to an assistant superintendent position at Astoria Golf and Country Club in Warrenton, Ore., from 1997 to 1999. He arrived at Bandon Dunes in March 1999, two months before the resort’s first course, Bandon Dunes, opened for play.

“I worked as an assistant superintendent first at Bandon Dunes and then became construction superintendent at Pacific Dunes,” said Nice. “I did the same for Bandon Trails and Old Macdonald before being elevated to director of agronomy overseeing all courses. Right now, I’m also working on construction of the Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch Course (scheduled to open in 2020).”

Pacific Dunes and Old Macdonald will be used for the stroke-play portion of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball; the latter being the match-play venue.

Ken Nice's skills go beyond grooming golf courses. He also spent 15 seasons coaching basketball at Bandon High. (Ken Nice) 

Named the 2016 national award winner as an environmental leader in the Resort Courses category by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, Nice oversees agronomy operations at Bandon Dunes and serves as a resource for the individual course superintendents.

“I try to keep an element of consistency throughout the resort. Although there may be little nuances between courses, the overall scope of the agronomy programs is very similar.”

In 2002, Nice saw an ad in the local newspaper for the Bandon High School junior varsity boys basketball coaching job.

“Pacific Dunes was up and rolling by then. I told Mr. [Mike] Keiser (the resort’s owner) and the management company (Kemper Sports) that I’d like to apply for the job but wanted their blessing. They were very encouraging about being involved in the community and having people integrated within the town.”

For 17 seasons, Nice pulled double duty between Bandon Dunes and Bandon High, eventually running practices from 5:50 a.m. to 7:50 a.m. as the varsity basketball coach from 2010 to 2017 before heading to his day job. His team’s best season came in 2015-2016, when the Tigers won 23 games before losing in the state tournament semifinals to eventual champions Vernonia High School.

“That was a heck of a good year,” said Nice. “We got to the final four basically in our division but just ran out of gas because they were a lot deeper than we were.”

“I used a lot of the Syracuse 2-3 zone defense and a transition offense all the time. Believe it or not, our mainstay was the Triangle offense (made by famous by Phil Jackson and the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls in the 1990s). It creates great spacing.”

That decision led to a remarkable change in fortune, as Nice recalled.

“I put in the Triangle offense after going 1-19 in 2012-2013, and we won 18 games the following season and went to the state playoffs. We had the best scoring defense in the state. I was really proud of that turnaround. The attitude and effort never wavered.”

Although Bandon High has yet to claim a state basketball title, it has produced one NBA player: 6-foot-10 Bayard Forest, a second-round draft pick in 1976 who played two seasons for the Phoenix Suns.

“What’s tough is competing against the private schools in the state,” said Nice. “They’re drawing from a big area unlike our public school in Bandon (with a population of just more than 3,000).”

Nice took a hiatus from the sidelines after the 2016-2017 season due to the time commitment. “I just didn’t have much downtime, so something had to give,’ he said. “I love coaching and I may return to it someday.”

Instead of wins and losses defined on a scoreboard, Nice tracks feedback from guests and course review ratings.

“Ultimately it’s about, are we doing what’s right for Mr. Keiser and his family to keep the Bandon spirit alive? We’re trying to be true to the spirit of the golf that people come to expect when they come here. Links golf on the Oregon Coast is our brand.”

Nice stays in touch with many former players, two of whom currently work on the agronomy staff at Bandon Dunes. “In the end, that’s the coolest part of the coaching – forming lifelong relationships.”

Nice has been present for all of the previous USGA championships contested at Bandon Dunes, beginning with the 2006 Curtis Cup Match and will continue next year with the 120th U.S. Amateur Championship, Aug. 10-16. Bandon Dunes and Bandon Trails will be used for that event.

“Every one of those is a source of pride and passion for us here,” he said. “But there’s a whole different vibe coaching in a state tournament. That is crazy emotional. You have a key role during a USGA championship, and everyone comes together. It gets us out of our normal routine. But when you’re a coach on the bench and your team is playing for a state title, it’s a whole different level of adrenaline.”

Arizona resident Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA digital channels. Email him at temackinjr@gmail.com.

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