Group plans golf course near Port Orford

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer November 22, 2013 09:17 pm

 

Fore!

Officials of the new Elk River Property Development plan to submit paperwork next week to the Curry County Planning Department and begin the process of building two, nine-hole golf courses between Port Orford and Cape Blanco.

The plans for Pacific Gales, debuted on a website Nov. 18, would comprise the two courses on 330 acres of the 1,100-acre Knapp Ranch, a pro shop and restaurant. The developer is shooting for a 2016 opening.

“It’s a pretty exciting project,” said General Manager Troy Russell.  “The property is spectacular. The team that’s putting it together, we’re all veterans in the industry and have been all over the planet and built, worked or played on a lot of great golf courses. This is a once-in-a-lifetime site; it’s hard not to get excited about it.”

Russell said that because the proposed course isn’t a “resort,” there will be no zoning changes needed, thus enabling developers to move the process along quickly. He said paperwork should be filed with the county before Thanksgiving.

If everything goes as smoothly as Russell hopes, preliminary construction could begin as early as next summer, with the first nine holes seeded in the fall and the second nine holes the following year, he said.

The course

Russell and his crew are already talking like they have a hole in one.

“Pacific Gales will add a spectacular new dimension to this remote but world-renowned stretch of North American golfing coastline,” the website reads. “Several holes will sit directly on the ocean, including both the 9th and 18th, which will share a common cliff-side green — unique among American seaside courses.”

One nine-hole course would meander north to feature vistas of the Elk River, Humbug Mountain and Cape Blanco Lighthouse. A southern-facing course would feature the valley and coastal range. Both of the courses would finish on bluffs along the ocean at a shared green.

“With a huge, natural sand dune running the length of the property, rocky cliffs that recall Pebble Beach or Cypress Point, corridors through twisted, wind-whipped pines and gorse-filled ravines that resemble those at Pine Valley, Pacific Gales promises to bring every element of classic seaside golf into play, augmented by views unmatched anywhere else on the West Coast, including the famed Cape Blanco Lighthouse on the western-most point in Oregon,” the website reads.

“We want the routing to be a spectacular walk, with or without clubs,” said Dave Esler, a Chicago-based golf course designer on the team. “On the first green at Pacific Gales, you’ll be staring at the edge of two worlds, looking into infinity. It’s drop-dead spectacular. The routing is intentionally choreographed, constructed as theater, really. We set the hook early, move away from the edge, build the drama again with long views, intimate peeks and anticipation of what’s ahead — the spectacular finish.”

Russell said they realize they have challenges ahead, and feel they’ve learned by the hurdles environmental groups have thrown at the would-be developers of Crook Point Golf Course.

The Crook family’s Crook Point Golf Course has received approval from the county, but has been waylaid by appeals to the Land Use Board of Appeals since it was first outlined in 2009.

That $44 million project would include an 18-hole course, a nine-hole practice course, spa, restaurant, equestrian center and 175-room lodge, according to Leroy Blodgett of Eagle Two Development, which represents the family.

Most of the complaints filed against the Crook Point course involved the proximity of holes to wetlands and ocean bluffs, and the written description of Pacific Gales sounds as if it might be similar — and thus counter the same kind of opposition.

Russell disagrees.

“We’ve been dealt different cards than the Crook family,” Russell said. “It’s been pretty tough sledding for the Crooks. This is on an old cattle ranch, geologically it’s different, it’s not in a slide zone, it’s not next to a state park — it’s a cattle ranch that happens to have ocean views.”

He said they’ve addressed all the environmental concerns they could, but declined to say what they might be, or how they were addressed.

“A smart attorney and experienced, professional complainers are probably going to find something we’ve done wrong,” Russell said of potential challenges posed by environmental groups. “We don’t think we have issues — or we think any issues there might be have been addressed. We expect some push-back, but we think we’re putting forth a pretty good case. Of course, it could be two years down the road that we’re saying the same thing about our project.”

An idea is born

Jim Haley, managing partner of Elk River Property Development and owner of Highland Golf Services, a golf-course design consulting firm based Highland, Ind., had his eye on the property for 16 years before he finally met landowner Jeff Knapp in 2010 and completed a lease agreement to develop the property.

Esler said the project has received positive feedback from residents with whom he’s spoken in Port Orford — a far cry from 2012 when then-commissioner George Rhodes was working with an unidentified golf course designer to build a similar amenity in the same area.

Residents then were miffed when Rhodes would not publicly name the designer — even after a crowd of 300 showed up in Port Orford to see the unveiling of the course, only to learn later the plans had been scuttled a month earlier.

Pacific Gales is intended to complement the world-class courses in and around Bandon — and provide an economic boost to Coos and Curry counties.

Russell, a native of Riverton, near Coquille, was the first superintendent at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and helped rehabilitate the Face Rock Golf Course in Bandon. He will work alongside Haley.

Esler’s best-known course is the Black Sheep Golf Club in Sugar Grove, Ill., ranked 74th by Golfweek Magazine among the nation’s top 100 courses last year.

Haley, Esler and Russell hope for the same success in Curry County.

“The views, Cape Blanco, the ocean, Port Orford reef — even turning your back on the ocean and looking east — it’s just a really special piece of property,” Russell said.