Shadow Hills Country Club: A shadow of its old self

By Ron Bellamy | Golf, Oregon |

A $5.8-million investment is near completion at Shadow Hills

JUNCTION CITY — If you haven’t been to Shadow Hills Country Club recently, prepare for a dramatic new vista as you approach the golf course on the long driveway off River Road north of Eugene.

Behind a vastly improved practice area that, to the south, includes a state-of-the-art short-game area, looms Shadow Hills’ new clubhouse and banquet facility, an impressive 24,000-square-foot structure that represents a bold, confident investment in the future of the country club.

The new building is scheduled to open June 18, 50 years to the month after Shadow Hills opened as a nine-hole course before later expanding to 18. With a formal dedication on Aug. 5, the building is the cornerstone of what’s become a $5.8 million project, including the new short-game area and expanded practice range, that Shadow Hills believes will strengthen the value of the country club for current members, attract new members and increase non-golf revenues as a site for weddings, banquets, reunions, meetings and similar functions.

It will also give Shadow Hills a platform as it seeks major amateur tournaments — U.S. Golf Association or NCAA championship events, for example — or even as a site for the Nationwide Tour again, if a local sponsor is willing to invest in reviving the Oregon Classic held here for 11 years. Suffice to say, the professional golfers who played in that event, when they gave the golf course itself consistently favorable reviews, will think they’ve returned to a different place.

The new building replaces a 16,000-square-foot structure built in the early 1960s; that flat-roofed building will be demolished, to be replaced by a garden area that can accommodate outdoor weddings.

Located behind the ninth and 18th greens, the new building sits on a subsurface raised 4½ feet above grade, allowing a view of the golf course from the many windows and the large decks and in turn framing the horizon for golfers on those fairways. In the distance, golfers will see the Coburg Hills, the inspiration for the country club’s name.

“I never understood the name before,” general manager Dave Shelton said. “It didn’t seem to fit. But now … when you come up nine and 18, those hills sit right behind the clubhouse. So the whole Shadow Hills thing makes sense.”

Not that “clubhouse” quite does the building justice. The long building, designed by Robertson Sherwood Architects of Eugene with Hyland Construction as general contractors, features a pair of 30-degree angles, to create separation between the banquet area at the north end and the golfing end of the structure to the south, shielding the view of each from the other. The vaulted lobby has a stone gas fireplace, slate floor and wood paneling of natural cherry, along with windows and skylights for natural light.

Approaching through the front entrance, patrons can go directly into the golf shop, or turn left into elegant locker rooms (and exercise room) and bag room, or right toward the offices, bar and restaurant, the latter with views of the first and 10th tees and ninth and 18th greens.

Beyond the bar and restaurant is the banquet area, which will have its own entrance and parking lot. The 2,800-square foot banquet room can accommodate 300 people, or be divided for 200 or 100 people; in conjunction with the outdoor garden and deck area, Shelton said, a wedding or benefit event for as many as 500 to 600 people could be held.

In January, Shelton said, Shadow Hills representatives went to the local “wedding show,” with plans and renderings — the new building has a dressing room for brides — and that led to the booking of eight to 10 weddings, the first to be held in late July.

So far, Shelton said, members who have toured the new building have been impressed, to say the least.

“I think it exceeded everyone’s expectations,” Shelton said. “I don’t think any of them understood how nice it would be on the inside.”

Already, members have been able to experience what Shadow Hills is doing on the outside, in terms of the new short-game area and refurbished practice area — three times the size of the previous range — designed by Dan Hixson, whose course designs include Bandon Crossings. Instead of one teeing area on the range, Shadow Hills now has three — north and south tees for golfers who want to spend an hour or more on their game, and a teeing area closest to the clubhouse and first tee, intended as a warm-up area before heading to the new 8,000-square-foot putting green before their round.

Trees have been planted on the practice range to produce a fairway effect, once they mature, but the highlight is the new south-end short-game area, with a chipping green, a pitching green, a second putting green and several bunkers. Later in the summer, Shelton said, Shadow Hills intends to install a half-dozen covered stalls for hitting in inclement weather and a restroom.

With membership up to about 410, from a low of about 375, Shelton said Shadow Hills is staging another membership drive through the end of June, toward a capacity of 475.

Eventually, Shelton also plans to recruit the national exposure that would come with hosting a prestigious golf event, such as a USGA championship, Pacific Coast Amateur Championship or NCAA championship.

“We want something that would give us national recognition, and have some airtime on the Golf Channel or ESPN,” Shelton said. “Something to put it back on the radar (and have people say) look at all the changes that have happened there.”

A daring approach at Shadow Hills

The club will undergo a $5.2 million improvement project

JUNCTION CITY — A good golf course rewards play that is at once bold and thoughtful, and the members of Shadow Hills Country Club believe they’ve had a very good golf course since a major redesign in the 1990s.

That project took place when the country club was “at a crossroads,” general manager Dave Shelton said.

Well, the private club has endured, and its golf course played to favorable reviews by professionals when the Oregon Classic was an annual stop on the Nationwide Tour, and its preceding tours, for 11 years through 2008.

Now, almost 20 years after the course redesign began, Shadow Hills is making another bold, thoughtful play.

The country club off River Road south of Junction City is embarking on a $5.2 million project to replace its aging clubhouse with a new, larger building that will allow Shadow Hills to generate increased revenue by hosting various functions, and to transform its driving range into a true practice facility that Shelton believes will be virtually without peer in the Pacific Northwest.

In a daunting economy, and at a time when club membership has fallen from a capacity of 475 to 375, according to Shelton, the goal of the project is to enhance the value of the country club for current members, and to attract new ones, both through an aggressive membership drive this spring and over the long term.

“It changes the whole competitive nature of the club, and the value of the club. And that was our concern, that if we don’t do that, we were going to lose that eventually. We were going to lose being a country club; something was going to happen, and it was probably not going to be a positive thing.”

The key elements of the project:

A new 22,400 square foot clubhouse, to be situated behind the ninth and 18th greens, that will replace the 16,000 square foot clubhouse near the 10th tee built in 1963 or 1964. That project, including a new parking lot, is estimated at $4.8 million, with construction to start in mid August or early September and completion by next April.

A new practice facility, designed by Dan Hixson, whose courses include Bandon Crossings and Wine Valley Golf Club in Walla Walla, Wash. The project, at an estimated cost of $400,000, will transform and expand the current driving range from eight acres to 24 acres, with three tee areas and a short-game practice area with another putting green, a chipping green and a pitching green that’s 80 yards wide, offering the opportunity to practice shots from different lies and distances up to 100 yards.

Hixson took into consideration design suggestions from Oregon golf coaches Casey Martin and Ria Scott, whose teams practice at Shadow Hills, as well as at Eugene Country Club and Emerald Valley Golf Course, and who view the new practice facility as another arrow in the recruiting arsenal.

Construction of the practice facility is expected to be completed by the end of this month, weather permitting, with the facility ready for use in July.

“People will say, ‘Why are you doing this now? It’s kind of a scary time,’” Shelton said. “Well, it is a scary time in business, but it also gives you some of the best opportunities in business because of the cost of building and the cost of money.

“The timing is right for us. We feel like we have an unbalanced product. We have a very nice golf course, it’s in great condition. But on the other side, we have a very aging clubhouse that doesn’t really fit the quality of our golf course. And we have a driving range instead of a practice facility.

“We want to balance that out and create higher value, but still keep the core of Shadow Hills, which is welcoming and friendly.”

‘A genius move’

Shadow Hills Golf Course opened as a nine-hole course almost 50 years ago, in June 1962. The second nine opened that September, creating a 6,500-yard course. The original investors included Bill Erskine, a Mapleton lumberman, and Ray Pollard, co-owner of a Eugene insurance firm. Three years later, by then a private club that was barely breaking even, the golf course was sold to Bohemia Lumber Company, which envisioned building upscale homes on the adjoining acreage.

However, changing state land use regulations prevented that dream from becoming a reality, and instead of a gold mine for Bohemia, the course became a financial burden.

As recounted in Michael Thoele’s “Bohemia, the Lives and Times of an Oregon Timber Adventure,” Bohemia leased the golf course to the country club until 1986. Then, with the club on the verge of going under, and motivated as much by community relations as business needs, Bohemia agreed to sell the club to the membership in a favorable deal, $1.1 million at annual payments of just $63,000.

Shadow Hills was saved and then saved again when the golf course underwent a major redesign, in several stages between 1992 and 1995, by noted designer Bill Robinson.

“My description used to be that you could play six or seven holes and look up and not know where you were, because they were all so similar,” said Mark Keating, then the head professional at Shadow Hills and now the assistant pro at Astoria Golf and Country Club.

The $1.5 million project added ponds, mounding around the greens and new bunkers; it changed some holes considerably and covered “old farm ditches.” It lengthened the par-72 course to 7,113 yards from the tips.

“It gave it a real signature look, a real new look, dramatic from what it was in the past,” Keating said. “As far as the membership went at the time, it was a big frog to swallow, but they figured if they wanted to get out of the dark ages there, they had to do it. As it turned out, it was a genius move.”

Even before the project was finished, Keating said, “people started flocking out there. The membership really blossomed. We had a really big waiting list for quite some time.”

Jim Bradshaw, then the general manager of Shadow Hills, said the course redesign, promoted by an extensive advertising campaign, netted 100 new members. Because the project included a new irrigation system and an upgraded maintenance facility, it allowed Shadow Hills to continue investing in the quality of the redesigned course, Bradshaw said.

“We always made the golf course the priority,” he said.

And so, in 1998, when Shadow Hills was added to what was then called the Nike Tour, a subsidiary tour for golfers seeking to reach the PGA Tour, it was a major coup, unthinkable without the redesign, and validated when the now-defunct Oregon Classic got consistently positive reviews from the tour pros for the quality of the course.

But about three years ago, Shelton said, Shadow Hills took stock. The aging clubhouse needed to refurbished, if not replaced; the flat roof was “no longer flat, it’s concave,” and the banquet facility wasn’t big enough for some potential revenue-producing events, or classy enough for others.

Owning 150 acres of land around the golf course, Shadow Hills explored some of the options that Bohemia had explored — whether developing some of that land for homes could help finance construction of a new clubhouse. In the end, the hopes of obtaining city services from Junction City, water and sewer service — the country club is on well water and a septic system — by getting into the city’s urban growth boundary proved unrealistic, Shelton said.

That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“Golf was originally a rural sport,” said Shelton, in his sixth year at Shadow Hills. “Those places have been engulfed by population and the ruralness has gone away. … The good news is that we can maintain the integrity of the game of golf, but we needed to find a way to make this happen.”

In December, club members voted with a “resounding ‘yes,’” — 73 percent in favor — to go forward with the project, Shelton said. They authorized the club to borrow up to $2.8 million to finance building the new clubhouse — a lender is being sought — and to assess themselves $3,000 each for the project.

Some club members donated personally to the project, upwards of $400,000, Shelton said. The new clubhouse, designed by the Eugene firm of Robertson Sherwood Architects, will include lockers, an expanded pro shop, a living-room-like lobby and a larger, dividable banquet facility, with decks and a view of the golf course and a garden.

“Given a beautiful banquet room with large outdoor decking, we feel we can rent that space a lot,” Shelton said. “We’re pretty excited about that. We’ve lost several events because we’re too small. We’re not the choice for a high-end wedding because of our building.

“But we would be.”

A membership drive

The vote to go forward cost Shadow Hills some members, Shelton said, with further attrition not unexpected. Membership capacity is 475, and Shadow Hills has been at that level within the past five years, but the economy, natural attrition and disagreement over the future direction reduced membership to the current 375, Shelton said.

“Ideally, we don’t need to be at 475,” he said. “If we’re at 430, we’re in great financial shape. We’re in great financial shape now because we have no debt and we manage our expenses really well. If we were at 430, we’d be in wonderful shape.

“That’s the point of the membership drive, to get our membership back to where we want it to be.”

Through June 15, new members can purchase a full membership, both family or individual, for $3,500, compared with the usual initiation fee of $6,000, and that will cover the cost of the $3,000 project assessment. There is also the opportunity for a one-year trial membership (subject to a commitment to pay all monthly dues) and new members can also receive a credit on their monthly dues ($320 for a family, $298 for an individual) of $55 per month for the first two years.

As part of the membership drive, current members would receive a two-year reduction in monthly dues if they bring in a new member.

There’s also a “social sports membership” that allows use of the new practice facility, as well as other club amenities, but not course privileges.

Certainly, the practice facility will be a significant upgrade.

“I think their practice facility will rival any of the top facilities you go to from a size and uniqueness standpoint,” said Martin, the UO men’s coach and former PGA Tour player. “I think it will rival any of the ones I’ve been to, and I’ve certainly been to a lot.”

The practice facility will feature a warm-up tee for golfers about to embark on their round, and two practice tees, the widest 125 yards, allowing golfers the chance to practice different shots in different wind conditions. In addition to the much-improved short-game area, there will be target greens, and also cement discs, at 10-yard increments up to 100 yards, so golfers can learn how far they fly different wedge shots, and the south part of the range can be used for a four-hole mini-course during juniors camps.

Scott, the UO women’s golf coach, said the facility is going to be a “huge recruiting tool” for the Ducks, and “unbelievable resource” for the teams, which also practice at Eugene Country Club and Emerald Valley Golf Course.

“If we can’t figure out every single shot to hit between those three great facilities, I don’t know what we’re doing wrong,” she said.

The practice facility will be purely about golf, which should fit Shadow Hills perfectly.

“Most private clubs do 28,000 to 32,000 rounds of golf a year,” Shelton said. “We do 46,000 rounds every year.

“Our members really like to play golf.”

Originally published Eugene Register-Guard

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