George Rhodes, left, and Ed Murdock hope their efforts will turn Salmon Run golf course into a profitable operation. Photo By Jane Stebbins.
George Rhodes and Ed Murdock, the new managers of Salmon Run golf course, are taking it one hole at a time to make the Brookings facility a top-notch tourism amenity.
The Brookings City Council Monday night signed a letter of termination with The Claveran Group — the management firm that has held the contract for 14 years and only made one rent payment to the city — and penned a new one with Wild Rivers Golf Management.
“We’re trying to take care of basics to start with,” Murdock said. “I’ve been here long time; I’ve seen it grow through a lot of different stages. I believe with the right management and the right plan, it can be a success.”
The duo has its work cut out for it, they admitted.
“The first thing has to be the playability of the course,” Rhodes said. “We have to figure out what will have the greatest impact on playability. We’ve just barely started it.”
The golf course has its share of problems — “opportunities,” Rhodes calls them. One hole has drainage problems. Another is in a slide zone — and The Claveran Group has already spent about $100,000 on repairs to that. The practice area offers about half of what it should, and people have complained that the course is too hard, too brushy and too cramped.
But first things first, Rhodes said.
In the past two weeks alone, he and Murdock, who worked under The Claveran Group as the course’s general manager, have implemented daily breakfast, lunch and Sunday brunch menus.
The tee boxes will be moved. Brush will be cleared along the fairways. One hole could see the complete elimination of a sand trap.
Maintenance will mean more frequent mowing of the roughs, Rhodes said. The restaurant will get a new paint job and landscaping around it will be spruced up. They want to get a full liquor license so they can serve more than just wine and beer.
A larger project will involve creating a better practice area, with a full driving range, putting greens, sand trap and chipping area. Then, Rhodes said, they will be able to court a golf pro.
“That’s like their office,” he said of the practice area. “If you don’t have a decent practice area, you can’t attract a pro.”
With those small — and relatively inexpensive — improvements, the two hope to garner enough enthusiasm within the community that will translate into revenue to do larger projects.
“Eighty percent of the holes are really playable,” Rhodes said. “People can still have a great experience.”
That, he believes, is what people seek when they go knock a little white ball around a huge expanse of grass.
“Most players are in my league,” he said of his “not very good” game. “They want to have fun, have a beer and a sandwich and enjoy the day. They’re not necessarily there to take their Big Bertha and whack the ball 300 yards. They just want to keep the ball in play and get a decent score.”
Murdock, who brings to the course a wealth of golfing knowledge, and Rhodes, who brings an outside view, have cited the golf course, the restaurant and marketing as priorities.
“I think the future of golf on the southern Oregon coast is pretty bright,” Rhodes said, dismissing comments from a golf consultant who told the city council two years ago that the sport is fading in popularity. “At some point in time, it could become a golf destination, like in the Carolinas, where people come on vacation and play all the courses. With all the improvements, people will not want to miss out on Salmon Run.”
He noted that thousands of enthusiasts attend major professional golf events, as well.
“Mike Keiser doesn’t think golf is a dying industry,” he said of the owner of Bandon Dunes’ four courses. “(Course developer) Herb Kohler doesn’t think golf is a dying industry.”
He believes in the future of the sport because he doesn’t think the owners of Bandon Dunes would be investing millions of dollars in expanding their existing four resorts. And those courses are inching south, and could easily be included in a visitor’s golfing itinerary, he said.
The details of two other major components Salmon Run will pursue — obtaining a permanent source of water and opening an RV park — will be determined as money starts to flow in. For instance, it is unknown if the park will include park models, RVs, or a mixture of both.
“We have to assess the costs and the return on investment,” Rhodes said. “It doesn’t make sense to put lodging in until we have a playable course.”
As is with any other amenity, Salmon Run must offer people an experience, not just a souvenir .
“Golfers who go (to golf resorts) will say, ‘The restaurant was great; the amenities were great, but the golf has to be great,’” Rhodes said. “It’s all built around golfing. We’ll put our focus on golf amenities and make it unique and pleasurable.”
He hopes to convince the non-golfing community of the potential of — and need for — the golf course, as well.
“It’s a good thing for the community, and we want to make it a better thing for the community,” Murdock said. “Business in town is not easy for anyone right now.”
About six regular tournaments are played during the season at Salmon Run, not including league play. Rhodes and Murdock hope to get families and youth involved, as well.
Rhodes, a former county commissioner and chef at the Art Alley Grille, said his interest in the industry is due to his interest in the success of the county. And that, he said, depends on diversity offered.
“It’s important to have this resource,” Rhodes said. “The community can’t just make it on bars, or antique stores, or art galleries or Fred Meyer alone. It has to have a diverse economy to be truly successful.”
Rhodes also hopes to create golf-ball-free hiking trails for people to explore, expand events to include more weddings, concerts and even cookoffs.
It’s those experiences that entice people to return, as well.
“Even though I’m a mediocre player, I enjoy it,” Rhodes said. “There’s a real serenity in riding around the course. I enjoy playing. I enjoy the camaraderie, meeting other people, getting paired with someone from out of the area.”