Aiming for a hole in one

Prineville’s Meadow Lakes Golf Course on the path to financial upswing, faces new challenges ahead

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin

Published: January 11. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – Driving down the hill that leads into Prineville, the first thing a visitor sees is Meadow Lakes Golf Course spread out on the right, with its oblong water hazards and grassy greens.

The land the golf course lies on almost had a very different fate.

“(The former owner) said he had expected that to become a mobile home park,” said Prineville City Councilor Steve Uffelman, who was mayor at the time the city-owned golf course was developed. “So which would you rather see in the presentation to a community, a mobile home park or a golf course?”

After years in which the restaurant at Meadow Lakes consistently lost money, both the golf and restaurant sides of the course appear to be on a financial upswing. But in the next few years Meadow Lakes will face further challenges with the loss of business from Les Schwab Tire Centers’ corporate office and an influx of high-end golf courses at nearby destination resorts.

The Prineville City Council and city planners came up with the idea for the course in 1993 as a creative way to deal with treated effluent, wastewater that is discharged into the environment.

Early projections showed the course turning a profit for the city within a few years, Uffelman said.

Meadow Lakes does earn money overall, Manager Wayne Van Matre said, but profits in the past have all come from the golf course instead of the restaurant.

“We see our biggest growth coming internally within the (Prineville) community as it grows,” Van Matre said. “With the housing developments that are coming, we see a lot of baby boomers moving in, and we think a lot of them will be coming here to golf.”

Gradual gains

In 2005, the City Council was worried about the restaurant at Meadow Lakes. It was losing money, and the city had to funnel a loan of $200,000 from the City of Prineville Railway to support the operation.

The city also pays the golf course $350,000 a year for wastewater treatment. The water is used for irrigating the course.

At the time, the council decided to hire a consultant who would come up with a business plan for the golf course and restaurant. Since then, Meadow Lakes has been doing “awesome,” Finance Officer Liz Schuette said.

In the 2004-05 fiscal year, the golf course turned a profit of $12,183, while the restaurant lost $24,322. The restaurant again lost money in the 2005-06 fiscal year – about $35,000, according to a draft audit. But Schuette and Van Matre said that since the end of the fiscal year in July the restaurant’s performance has improved. Complete figures for the second half of 2006 are not yet available.

“We’ve had an extremely good fiscal year so far – we’re up about 25 percent over last year,” Van Matre said. “Things have just improved across the board.”

Schuette also pointed out that, despite the losses, the restaurant’s revenues have been steadily climbing, from $194,000 in the 2004 calendar year, to $207,000 in 2005 and $256,000 in 2006.

The 18-hole course has also seen more golfers in recent years, Van Matre said. In the first half of 2005, there were 13,300 rounds of golf, while the first half of 2006 had 15,540. He said the increase is partly due to better weather this year.

Van Matre attributed the gradual turnaround at the restaurant to hiring a new food and beverage manager two years ago who has worked to lower labor costs and improve food quality. Most of the restaurant’s growth has come from more banquets and special events, he said, rather than more nightly customers.

“We went to a more family oriented type menu, but we’re still not seeing the numbers we’d like to see, the nightly ticket numbers, so we’ve reduced the hours in the winter,” he said. Right now, Meadow Lakes is only open for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays.

Unfortunately, much of the restaurant’s banquet business comes from Les Schwab Tire Centers, which hosts corporate functions at its Prineville headquarters. Van Matre said he expects the restaurant to suffer a $40,000 to $50,000 loss in the first year when the company moves its corporate office to Bend as planned in 2008.

“They have been a very strong supporter of our facility and they are here normally three or four days a week,” he said. “We’ve got about a year and a half now to come up with a battle plan to work with that because we do know we will lose some business.”

A destination for golfers

The departure of Les Schwab’s corporate offices may come as a blow to Meadow Lakes, but city officials are looking on the bright side when it comes to future destination resort development. They and the resorts’ developers say the new, high-end courses will bring more golfers to the area, not more competition.

“I think that the more good golf you have in the area, the better, and that it helps everyone out,” said Chris Pippin, vice president for Winchester Development, the company behind Remington Ranch. “I can see people coming to our project, staying here and not only playing our golf course but some of the other courses in the area. I think that most golfers, when they go on a golf vacation, they want a lot of variety anyway.”

Remington Ranch and Brasada Ranch are the first of two destination resorts in Crook County in the works. Both are located in Powell Butte, about 20 minutes from Prineville. Together, they will eventually include over 1,400 single-family residences, 700 overnight rental units and four golf courses.

Remington is planning for three courses, one of which will be open to the public. Pippin said the details of green fees for that course have not been finalized.

The back nine of Brasada Ranch’s golf course, Brasada Canyons, is already open and the front nine should be ready by July, General Manager Steve Cartmill said. But Brasada Canyons will be a private course, available only to members and, in a more limited fashion, to other Brasada residents and overnight guests. The golf membership fee is $25,000, which is refundable after 30 years.

“Having a private membership has a value to these people if they ever want to sell their property years down the road, if they’re not a member of the club, they can’t pass on membership to their buyer,” Cartmill said. “The club(house) is going to be real important to this property because it’s going to be the social focus of everything, so it’s not just being able to play golf, it’s where people will meet and gather and have parties and have meetings and all those sorts of things that end up making something like this a real community.”

The standard fee for a round of golf at Meadow Lakes during the summer months is $36 for a weekday and $40 for a weekend. Tri-county and Prineville residents received additional discounts. The course is also able to stay open longer than most other Central Oregon golf facilities, due to slightly drier and warmer weather in Prineville.

Whether the golf course turns a profit for the city, Uffelman said, it is the most cost-effective way to dispose of wastewater.

“The effluent irrigation is a sewer-user issue – you have to get rid of it, whether you do it on a golf course or you do it in some other location … It’s been recognized nationally for what we have done with creatively managing wastewater,” he said. “Could we have saved some money here and there? Probably, but it has been a thing that people have appreciated that has saved some money for the town.”

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