Spokane Journal of Business

Golf season’s start dampened in Spokane

Weather causes delays after Valentine’s Day opening last year

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-—Kevin Blocker
Rod Tamura weathers the weather to get in an early spring round at Downriver Golf Course, in northwest Spokane. The course opened on March 23.

The wind stiffened and the rain increased when Rod Tamura stepped back from his attempt to chip onto a green at Downriver Golf Course in northwest Spokane last week.

As the elements subsided, Tamura looked at his playing partners—Jamie Tamura and Joe Schultheis—and declared, “Hey, at least it’s not snowing.”

But that wasn’t the case last Monday morning at the Kalispel Golf & Country Club, which now has been open for two weeks.

“Every green is covered with snow,” said Bob Castle, the club’s general manager, Monday morning. The club, located at 2010 W. Waikiki Road on Spokane’s North Side, is private but offers limited hours during the week for public play.

“The course doesn’t open on Mondays until 11 a.m. If we were open now, we’d be pushing back tee times due to the snow,” he said.

After two straight comparatively moderate winters, local golfers have been reminded of just where they live this season. In the last two years, both the city of Spokane and Spokane County had at least one golf course operating on Valentine’s Day. They were all covered with snow this year.

“Esmeralda opened on March 20. The Creek at Qualchan opened March 22. Downriver got going on the 23rd, and Indian Canyon didn’t open until April 4,” says Jason Conley, executive officer for the city of Spokane’s parks and recreation department.

Conley says the department had projected last fall that golfers will play close to 150,000 rounds on city courses in 2017, up from 142,000 rounds played in 2016. 

“It didn’t factor in a hard winter and wet spring. I don’t think we’re going to hit our projections this year,” he says. Conley says the city predicted its four golf courses will generate $3.7 million in revenue.

“There’s a modest fee increase that was implemented, but admittedly, we lost some early rounds due to the weather,” he says.

This year, 18-hole and nine-hole rates increased $2 and $1 respectively. Weekday play Monday through Thursday is $33, and weekend play, Friday through Sunday and holidays, is $36.

Conley says the city increased rates to help cover course and equipment improvements scheduled to occur this year. The improvements will include irrigation system upgrades and turf improvements, cart path repairs, tree maintenance, and clubhouse renovations at all four courses.

Meanwhile, Doug Chase, director of Spokane County Parks, Recreation and Golf, says despite the harsh winter and wet spring, all three county courses—Hangman Valley, Liberty Lake and MeadowWood are open and show no ill effects from the snow and rain.

“We had some very light flooding at Hangman Valley, but it was very minor,” says Chase. “Only the back nine could be played for a while, but the water has receded and the course looks and is playing great.”

Spokane County has established a link for the public on its website that enables golfers to leave and read reviews from course surveys, which players are asked to take at the end of their rounds.

“The quality-of-experience surveys are going to be a valuable tool for players, and for us, as we continue to implement improvements,” says Nautice Pham, the county department finance manager.

In 2016, the three county-run courses saw 94,000 rounds of golf played, down slightly from 94,500 played in 2015 and 94,600 in 2014. Spokane County generated almost $2.5 million in revenue from its three courses last year, Pham says.

He says he’s optimistic that the county can meet its $2.5 million revenue budget projection this year.

“We’re definitely off to a slower start, but if we can avoid the wet October of last year, we might be just fine,” Pham says. “Our courses right now are in fantastic condition. I’m optimistic we can make up ground.”

Pham says the county increased green fees slightly to help offset salary costs incurred by the passage of Initiative 1433, which raised the statewide minimum wage to $11 per hour on Jan. 1. Washington voters passed the initiative in November.

Pham says the county anticipates hiring at least 30 seasonal workers to help maintain and operate its three courses. The minimum wage increase is expected to cost the county approximately $40,000, says Pham.

An 18-hole round on one of the county courses is now $32 for an adult on the weekdays and $36 on weekends and holidays, up $2 from last year.

Pham says Friday is no longer categorized as part of a weekend as  it has been in previous years.

Last year, the county for the first time offered a discounted bundle for 12 rounds of play at Hangman and Liberty Lake, but Pham says it has dropped that this year due to a lack of interest.

Instead, the county is trying to spur interest among younger golfers by offering college students discounted rates on 18 holes of play. With a college identification card, students can play a full round for $24, which is the cost of a nine-hole round at any of the county’s courses, Pham says.

Castle says the Kalispel Golf & Country Club expects to have a strong 2017 even though course officials were forced to set up temporary greens on the second and fourth holes due to flooding from the Little Spokane River. The permanent greens were back in play by the middle of this week.

“We came through the winter perfect. It’s really amazing considering how bad the winter was. No fungus, snow mold, none of that. Course conditions are ahead of where they were this time last year,” Castle says.

Last year was the first year the Kalispel Tribal Economic Authority operated the course after it purchased the former Spokane Country Club course for $3 million and renamed it.

“The emotional success we experienced last year was really gratifying,” Castle says.

“Long-time members of the club often told us that last year was the best the course had ever played, felt and looked. At the start of the last season, we had just a little more than 200 members and increased that number to 240. Our goal is to approach 300 by the end of this season,” he says.

 Kevin Blocker
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Reporter Kevin Blocker, a University of Colorado alum, is a rec league basketball addict. At age 47, he still sports a 32-inch vertical leap. He has three children, all of whom are hooked on hoops.

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