The Brookings City Council voted unanimously at its Nov. 9 meeting to enter into a contract with CourseCo to take over management of Salmon Run Golf Course, effective Jan. 1.
The 18-hole golf course, located at 99040 South Bank Chetco River Rd., is owned by the City of Brookings. The course is 3.5 miles up the South Bank Chetco River Rd. Jack Creek runs through the course, and steelhead and salmon are often seen spawning from the many bridges that cross the meandering creek.
The course opened in 1999 and was the first golf course designed by Troy Claveran, who transitioned from being a pro golfer to a professional golf course designer. Amenities include a restaurant, full-service bar, pro shop, and PGA teaching staff. The Occasion Hall offers facilities for weddings, receptions, conferences, reunions, meetings and more.
For the past 4.5 years the Early Management Team, Inc., owned by Gary and Val Early, has managed the property. At the council’s April 13 meeting, the councilors decided to issue a request for proposals for the management of the course because because of proposed changes for the management agreement. The current agreement expires at the end of the year, and that was after an extension of one year and seven months that was added onto the original three-year agreement with the Early Management Team.
Both Early Management Team and CourseCo responded to the RFP, which had a due date of June 29. A committee comprised of council members Brent Hodges and John McKinney, along with the city manager Janelle Howard and deputy public works director Jay Trost proposed entering into an agreement with CourseCo after interviewing both companies.
Michael Sharp, President and CEO of CourseCo, a golf property management company based in Petaluma, Calif., spoke at the council meeting about his company’s transition plans.
“It’s our intent to work with Val and Gary to bring as much staff over as possible,” he said. “We don’t come in with a bus full of people ready to go to work. “Typically, we find that 90-95 percent of the current staff wants to stay on board. They’re the best resource for institutional knowledge. They know what works. They know the customers, the history and we believe that if we provide some more support and resources, that they typically rise to the occasion and we get good employees out of it.”
Salmon Run has approximately a dozen employees. The new company plans to set up an all employee meeting and start the process of the transition, reduce some of the anxiety and give people some security. “As of January 1, it’s our full intention to bring everyone on over,” Sharp said.
The new agreement is for a term of 10 years for CourseCo to manage the golf course. CourseCo will receive $84,000 annually to be paid from golf course revenue. CourseCo will contribute $60,000 of their funds toward capital at the golf course.
Councilors and Mayor Jake Pieper all agreed that Val and Gary Early had done a phenomenal job running the course since they took it over in May 2016. According to the website GolfOregon.com, the Early Management Team had their work cut out for them and received high praise in its review of the course.
“The course has suffered a series of events, including severe flooding in 2016 and 2018, and the fire of 2017 (which did not singe the course but stopped operations for a time). By the spring of 2016, the course would have been charitably considered as in poor condition. Later that year, the City of Brookings hired Early Management Team to take over course operations, and they have done a remarkable job in improving the conditions of the course.“
“The future of the golf course was pretty uncertain before the Earlys came on,” said Mayor Jake Pieper. I wasn’t sure having a golf course was in the cards for the City.”
Councilor Alcorn noted that he had been approached at a restaurant by a couple who told him Val and Gary are the two hardest working people they’ve ever seen.
“In our several visits to the facility, I want to recognize how much blood sweat and tears went into the facility,” Sharp said. “We look forward to building on that legacy and the next chapter in the future.”
The Pilot caught up with Val Early to discuss the challenges they faced, as well as the rewards.
Val Early acknowledged managing the course was challenging. “There have been many challenges — some bigger than others. One of the greatest challenges has been getting the course in shape over the past 4.5 years. Finding the proper equipment to accomplish everything we wanted was also challenging.”
Along with fires, floods and COVID, a persistent challenge for the course is an elk herd that considers the course home every winter season.
“Just once we’d like to not include an ‘elk’ report with our monthly newsletter,” according to the March 2020 newsletter. “We don’t know if it’s due to the logging or the increased herd size but the elk have been relentless. We scooped over 250 pounds of elk droppings off 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17 and 18 fairways. Gary and John V. spent four hours on their knees repairing the 9 and 18 green after a particularly extensive dance party by the herd.”
Over the years they tried hiring night watchmen and deploying game cameras to get a handle on the problem.
“The greatest rewards have always been the people and their appreciation of our hard work and improvements to the course,” Early said. “It has also been very rewarding to have new golfers come discover the course and enjoy their rounds. We weren't able to accomplish many of these tasks, or bask in the rewards, without significant help from others including our staff and close businesses who have supported our endeavors at Salmon Run. The improvement of Salmon Run has, in many ways, been a coordinated effort with many players. We are extremely grateful for all the community support we've received.”