Under Three Rivers Casino Resort ownership, bigger changes still envisioned.
FLORENCE — Four years after the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, owners of Three Rivers Casino Resort, purchased Ocean Dunes Golf Links, the deal has produced measurable short-term gains for the golf course, with grander improvements envisioned.
With the investment by the casino, the condition of the golf course is better “by a mile,” said head professional Bob Rannow.
A relatively short (5,613 yards from the white tees) and historically narrow course, Ocean Dunes has been improved by clearing out undergrowth and encroaching shore pines, making it likely for golfers to find their golf ball after errant shots, and to play back to safety. A new roller has been purchased, improving the quality of the greens, as well as a new mower and other equipment.
“We’ve done a lot of the things we thought we would do initially,” said Bob Garcia, assistant general manager of the resort and a tribal member who spent eight years as tribal chairman. “Some of the things are still on the list to do. The first was to clean the course up, let’s make it more playable, let’s whack down on the weeds and all the brush …
“We’re in the enviable position that unlike many places, we’re not looking to make a profit on the golf course. We’re looking to break even and to increase play, and to make the play better. Let’s be frank, we don’t want to lose money on it, but our goal is to reinvest every dime that we can in the course. It’s a chicken and egg situation, of what can you do to get more rounds because we need more rounds to be able to spend more money on the course.
“Rounds are increasing, the course is improving, membership is increasing, pretty much every category, from four years ago, is an improvement.”
According to Rannow, rounds at the public course have increased at least 10 percent each year under casino ownership, and membership has grown to 125, up from the low 90s. Regular green fees are $48 for 18 holes.
“I think it’s a good decision,” he said. “I had to defend the decision to tribal members who were going ‘what the heck, why are you buying a golf course?’ But a golf course is an important amenity and it’s something we’re buying for the long-term vision of building resort guests.
“That’s really what it comes down to. If you’re not adding or improving amenities, you’re going backward. That’s Business 101. It’s always been, to my mind, something that made sense.”
Garcia envisions some long term improvements, such as relocating the clubhouse and first tee so that the main entrance to the course would be at the casino, which backs up to the 13th green. He also wants to build a practice range.
“I see us eventually doing that,” Garcia said. “How soon eventually is something that is a good topic. I don’t have any firm plans or dates for those, but it just will make sense to have a driving range, and have more amenities, and let someone go right from the hotel to the course …
“We don’t have a timetable for that right now. It’s tied up with some hotel expansion that we’re still working on. It’s definitely something under consideration. It makes sense from an operational standpoint. It will make the course easier to find, and it will help operationally to link things a little bit more.”
Garcia said there have also been discussions with the City of Florence officials about the course leasing city-owned property in the dunes west of the seventh fairway, something that would enable certain holes to be lengthened, thus attracting golfers who prefer longer courses.
During the past couple of years, golf course architects, including David McLay Kidd, John Fought and Bill Love have also looked at the course to consider a more substantial redesign.
Garcia said Kidd, whose courses include the original course at Bandon Dunes, Tetherow in Bend and Macharanish Dunes in Scotland, liked the potential in what he saw.
“He said ‘Oh, Bobby this course has got good bones,’” Garcia said. “It is a course on sand, it is close to the ocean; he said we have too many holes oriented north-south, and we should get more oriented east-west and take advantage of side winds.
“Some of those reworks can be multi-million dollar reworks, and that’s not in the cards for a while. But I think we come down to that we need to have a new clubhouse, we need a driving range and we’ll need a new starting and finishing hole. What stays, what goes, how can we use the land the city has …?
“We know that for some people the course is short. There are things it is not. But if you focus on the improvements that have happened, there have been a lot of improvements.”
(Originally published Eugene Register-Guard on Aug. 23, 2016.)