It was not long ago when golf courses were trying to figure out a rate that could attract golfers in a rough economy.
After years of cutting their rates, Central Oregon golf courses appear to at least have found some stable ground.
Of Central Oregon's 23 public and semiprivate golf courses, only one — Kah-Nee-Ta High Desert Resort — has decreased its summer green fees this year compared with 2011. And while the vast majority of those courses cost the same to play this season as last season, several actually raised their fees.
And that could be a signal that better days are ahead for the Central Oregon golf industry.
“There is no reason to go backward in price, which I think there has been some pressure on some courses (to do) in the last three or four years,” says Troy Eckberg, director of golf at Bend's River's Edge Golf Course.
If this spring marks anything in the Central Oregon golf industry, it is a return to optimism.
For most in the golf business, that renewed hope is a direct product of a seemingly improving economy.
“I think we're past the bottom of the downturn,” says Chris van der Velde, managing partner at semiprivate Tetherow Golf Club in Bend. “I think we were getting close to it last summer, and you had that debt ceiling crisis and the Euro crisis that kind of hurt us. Otherwise, I think we would have come out of it a little sooner than now. But I think we're going in the right direction.”
Bruce Wattenburger, who has been the head pro at Juniper Golf Club in Redmond since 1983 and is the longest-tenured golf pro in Central Oregon, is still cautious.
Juniper decided to keep its rates for 2012 flat with 2011 — even adding a $29 discount rate Monday through Wednesday for senior golfers — and Wattenburger sees little freedom to raise his rates.
“I don't think we're there yet,” Wattenburger says. “Every one of us are dealing with budgets, expenses, and labor is tough. I just don't see anybody that was that busy that they can say, ‘Hey, we're full anyway so I'm going to get another couple bucks out of every green fee.' ”
Wattenburger suspects that discounting and value-added options, staples at nearly every golf course in the region since fall 2008, will still be crucial to bringing golfers to the course this year.
Van der Velde agrees.
Tetherow has more than doubled its membership in the past year, from 67 last spring to 136 (as of mid-April). Much of that growth can be attributed to aggressive pricing with its young executive memberships, which package golf with memberships to the Athletic Club of Bend.
“If you can consolidate deals like that, it makes it a lot more palatable for people,” van der Velde says. “We had an extreme value for your young family. ... That's what anybody who is getting into the market has to do right now, is say, ‘Am I giving enough value for the money that people are putting out?' ”
Bargain-aided as it might be, growth appears to be at hand at many Central Oregon golf facilities. Summer golf package bookings have nearly doubled at Sunriver Resort from this time last year, says Scott Ellender, director of resort operations. And memberships at Crosswater Club and annual memberships at Sunriver's Meadows and Woodlands courses are up slightly.
Ellender credits new greens at Crosswater (see story, page 15), a more stable economy, better marketing, and a new $19 million aquatic center for the rise.
“We feel great about the upcoming season, especially as it relates to golf,” Ellender says.
As is the case with so much in Central Oregon, weather can make the difference between a bad year and a year of growth.
Simply having a mild May and June — two months that have not been kind to Central Oregon golf courses in recent years — would allow those facilities to breathe easier.
“Obviously the economy affects everyone and all of us, but I just look from day to day and it is SO weather dependent,” says Dan Ostrin, head professional at Bend's Widgi Creek Golf Club, referring to the fortunes of area golf courses. “I just look at our last couple weeks, and we get a cloudy, kind of rainy day, and it's only 30, 40, 50 people come out. And boom, (a recent) Sunday, the sun comes out and the course fills up.
“I'm hopeful that once the weather turns and it's good for the rest of the season that we start to see a full golf course.”