It’s been a rocky few years for the Salmon Run Golf course in the city of Brookings.
In 2016, the course was repossessed by the city of Brookings after falling into disarray by Ed Murdock’s Wild River Golf Management in early April. However, the cost for repairs and past due bills and taxes exceeded $208,000, forcing the Wild Rivers Golf Management to turn over its assets—including the clubhouse and golf carts— to the city.
And the city’s effort to renovate the course soon was thwarted by winter rains.
However, under the guidance of Gary and Val Early, the course’s current operators, the city is hopeful that Salmon Run can be restored to its former glory.
Upon repossessing the course, the city sought out individuals interested in managing the course. Looking to venture into something new, the Earlys threw their name into the pool.
Unlike the rest of the applicants, the Earlys were longtime residents of Brookings, which they believed gave them an advantage.
“We didn’t come from out of town to go do this, and a lot of the people knew us from what we do,” said Gary. “We’re river guides; we’ve taken a lot of local people fishing in the rivers.”
While the Earlys were initially excited about the prospect of a new venture, they soon found a litany of problems that stalled their plans to revamp the golf course.
“At that time, I didn’t foresee any of the problems we’re running up against right now, and the city was keeping their fingers crossed that we would turn this into something that people wanted to come and pay. Maybe there’d be a profit and the city could maybe recoup some money,” Gary said. “Well, we were kind of sailing in the right direction, it was looking pretty good, when in October, which is normally a dry month and pretty good business wise (because there’s fishermen showing up) and it’s the fall time of year— it rained 25 inches. It put a damper on what was going to happen.”
Gary originally planned a slate of excavation projects to be done during last October, as the typically dry month presented an opportunity to dig up areas on the course without disturbing their surroundings. But when the rain came, all plans for renovation went out the window, and it was all the Earlys could do to prevent the condition of the course from deteriorating.
“It got worse and worse. There’s an education there, too: It became evident to me that over the period of 18 years, the slopes and the fairways that normally took the water and drained it towards the drain had filled in. They don’t slope towards anything (anymore), they just sit there and pool, which actually made more of a problem,” Gary said.
To make matters worse, the Earlys were ill-equipped to manage the course, as much of the course’s equipment was reclaimed by the city. According to Gary, the newest piece of equipment they possess was manufactured in 2004, and the chances of an upgrade anytime soon are nonexistent.
On top of dealing with the elements, the Earlys have also had to deal with the wildlife that inhabit the golf grounds, such as gophers and elk that use the greens as their winter grounds.
“I’m up to 94 gophers and moles, and I didn’t put a dent in them. They keep coming out, and more and more and more,” Gary said. “Originally, when they put the course in, it was really bad, and they hired this old guy to do it for them and they got 250 that summer. And then, it was kind of let go for quite a while. I’ve had to attack it again, but boy, they can devastating.”
It wasn’t just the animals the Earlys had to look out for either, but the foliage as well.
“We have a lot of alders here, which can develop a disease in their canopy, and most of that is when they’re next to a stream they get a disease and then they start dying from the top down. A lot of those trees got snapped off and littered all over the course,” Val said. “That’s not safe; we had to clean up that stuff because it’s not safe for the golfers. I didn’t know about the disease that alders can have along streamways; it’s been another one of those learning experiences. Just maintaining the foliage out here is quite a feat, really.”
However, the biggest issues the Early face has been enticing old customers to return to the course, as “the previous management left a lot of sour notes in people’s mouths.”
Even though it’s been a rough year so far, the Earlys are on the upswing when it comes to improving the golf course.
“They’re terrific; they’re doing a great job with no money. It’s incredible how much they’ve improved the golf course simply because they’re willing to work,” said Dale Riley, who has golfed at the Salmon Run the past 11 years. “It’s in 500 percent better condition. The grass is being mowed, the greens are coming back, we’re in the process of trying to help get the course into tip-top shape so they can possibly pick up more business.”
Already, Gary has a few contractors hired to make major renovations to the fairways— only this time it’ll be in September, considering how October panned out last year.
“It’ll look bad at first, but it’ll repair pretty quickly,” Gary said. “It’s a good time of year to grow new grass too.”
Additionally, the Earlys are modifying the golf course to make it a more enjoyable experience for everyone.
“The ordinary golfer doesn’t want to go out there and get beat up; they want to go out there and have a good time,” Val said. “That’s really what we’ve been working on, making the course not easier, necessarily, but more fun to play.”
While there still remains work to be done, some golfers are already returning to the course after the rain passed, a trend both hope will continue.
“It’s getting better,” Gary said. “We can see the daylight now.”