Gone Golfing

Lyle Brown, 88, tees off at Big River Golf Course in Umatilla on March 26, 2020. The golf course owners plan to sell the course to the city of Umatilla.

Big River Golf Course in Umatilla will be under new ownership in 2021.

The owners announced on Wednesday, Nov. 25, that after 13 years of ownership, they are planning to sell to the city of Umatilla.

“This golf course has been a labor of love for over a decade and we are truly grateful for the experience, the tremendous friendships made, and the endless amount of support we have received from members and patrons throughout the years,” they wrote.

The Umatilla city council made the sale official on Tuesday, Dec. 1 by voting to approve the sale agreement. The city plans to finance $1.7 million through Banner Bank and cover the rest through the city's reserves and money from a recent land sale.

According to the sale agreement, the city will purchase the golf course, its water rights and all of its equipment for a total of $2 million. The city plans to finance $1.7 million through Banner Bank and cover the rest through the city's reserves and money from a recent land sale.

The city plans to take over operations on Jan. 1, 2021.

City Manager David Stockdale said there were several reasons for the city to invest in the course when its collection of partners decided to sell. First and foremost, he said, the course generates economic benefits for the community by drawing visitors, and serves as an amenity for area residents. While a golf course may go out of business if its private owners are not successful in turning a profit, Stockdale said the city would have more flexibility to supplement the course from its general fund during a bad year if needed.

“Big River Golf Course is one of our premier recreational features in the community, and we wanted to make sure it will stay there, and will always be here,” he said.

The golf course also comes with a valuable water right and an already established point of diversion in the Columbia River, which Stockdale said will be helpful for the city’s overall efforts to expand its water infrastructure. The course also adds value to the undeveloped property the city owns adjacent to the course, where they hope to see housing built someday.

One of the city’s goals is to create more “destination” events for Umatilla, and Stockdale said the golf course could possibly be used for a concert or other event during the “shoulder season” when fewer people are using the course but it is not too cold to hold an outdoor event. He said as the city looks to expand its recreational offerings, ownership of the course also opens up opportunities, such as golf classes and tournaments.

According to Stockdale and the statement by Big River Golf Course, during 2021 the city plans to continue the course’s current business model, including honoring membership fees, rentals, book money and other arrangements already in place before they take ownership.

Stockdale said once the city owns the course it does plan to make some improvements to the irrigation system to increase efficiency and automation, and add some other improvements, including some additional hazards.

“There will be some nice changes out there that I think will be welcomed by the golfers,” he said.

The Oregon Secretary of State’s business registry lists 10 partners for the course. Megan Olsen, who manages the course, said the statement from Nov. 25 is a good reflection of how they feel about the years they have enjoyed running the course. They stated that the city of Umatilla shares “the same love for the course that we will always have” and they believe the course will be in great hands.

“We will walk away from this experience with full hearts and gratitude,” they said. “Thank you again for all of your support throughout the years. The friendships made during our time at Big River will always be cherished. If we aren’t able to see you in person before the end of the year, then we will see you out golfing!”

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