With the economy still in a state of flux, this is not necessarily a great time to be in the golf business. But it is, however, a great time to be in the golf habit, especially if you live—or can tee it up—anywhere near Boise.
Treasure Valley golfers have a wide variety of affordable golf options (from wide open or tree-lined courses, to hilly or flat, to professionally designed or mom-and-pop-style) and bargain hunters can find a deal almost anywhere. The economic slump that hit the country so hard has left several golf courses in troubled waters, but the great news is that they’ve all managed to stay open—often with attractive pricing for players.
In fact, 2010 was a particularly challenging year for golf courses in Idaho and around the nation. According to numbers compiled by the Professional Golf Association of America (PGA), rounds played nationally dropped by an average of 2.1 percent. And the numbers were even worse in Idaho, where, on average, courses were open for more days in 2010 than 2009.
“It is tougher,” said Scott McGeachin, the pro at Warm Springs Golf Club in Boise. “What I’ve noticed is not necessarily the rounds are down but that rounds have moved toward the discounted times. My family night is just crazy . . . and then you might have two hours before there that might be completely open.”
What I’ve noticed is not necessarily the rounds are down but that rounds have moved toward the discounted times. My family night is just crazy.”
—Scott McGeachin of Warm Springs Golf Club, Boise
1. A Great Deal
Anyone who travels knows what a bargain Treasure Valley golf is. Our most expensive course—BanBury Golf Club in Eagle—is $49 on weekends. Some quality courses, like Purple Sage Golf Course in Caldwell, can be played for less than $20 during the week. And with more courses than ever in the Treasure Valley and rounds falling, operators have become increasingly aggressive about offering deals. The Idaho Statesman’s golf card packages 11 two-for-one golf deals for $69. Courses like Eagle Hills and Lakeview have put together discount cards in recent years that included so many free and discounted rounds, range buckets and meals that it’s difficult to use them all in a year. Web and e-mail specials are abundant, too.
2. Homemade Layouts
One of the great charms of Treasure Valley golf is its history. Many of the courses in the valley were not created by big-name designers and professional golf course construction companies. They are homemade courses run by families or communities. Shadow Valley Golf Course in Boise, one of the most popular and enjoyable courses in the area, opened in 1973. It was built by the Stadler family on their alfalfa farm in the foothills just north of the city. The original course was as raw as it gets, with above-ground sprinklers and few trees. Today’s 18-hole course is beautifully maintained and tree-lined. River Bend Golf Course in Wilder also was built on a family farm, by the Bidaganetas. The course is a hidden gem with its fantastic location on the shore of the Snake River. And it has a rather unique, distinguishing feature—the 4th horseshoe-shaped green is guarded by an old grain silo. Scotch Pines Golf Course in Payette was built by the city’s residents. They began construction in 1961—and got together again a quarter-century later to build a second nine. Those stories are indicative of how of the Treasure Valley golf landscape was built.
3. John Harbottle & Gene Bates
The valley’s recent golf growth has been fueled by more traditional construction. Designer John Harbottle, who has left quite a mark on the golf scene in the West in the past two decades, conceived Ridgecrest Golf Club in Nampa and BanBury. His style is distinctive—and you can see the resemblance between his two Treasure Valley courses. He likes big bunkers and risk/reward par 5s. He makes memorable par 3s. And his courses feature a nice blend of trouble and bail-out space, making them playable for all levels.
Designer Gene Bates created the Treasure Valley’s most recent addition, Hunter’s Point Golf Club in Nampa. Envisioned as a country club, the course’s financial difficulties have made it available to the public and one of the state’s best deals. Bates, who is best-known in Idaho for designing the renowned Circling Raven near Coeur d’Alene, transformed a former gravel pit into a six-hole masterpiece that highlights Hunter’s Point. The 18-hole layout features a links style with ultra-short, bent-grass fairways, abundant sand and sometimes nasty wind—a combination you won’t find anywhere else in the area.
4. Community Feel
The Treasure Valley’s golf community is unusual in its stability. Pros like McGeachin, Jerry Breaux (BanBury), John Watson (Purple Sage), John Lewis (Centennial), Jeff Thomsen (Indian Lakes) and Jim Brown (Ridgecrest) are fixtures at their courses. And players, despite all their options, tend to stick to their favorite tracks. It makes for a familiar setting for golfers. Genger Fahleson, the new executive director of the Idaho Golf Association, spent the past 14 years at the United States Golf Association in New Jersey. The former Boise State professor returned this winter to find many familiar faces in the local golf industry. “It’s a community,” Fahleson said. “These people have a passion for the game.”
5. Future Stars
The Treasure Valley golf community comes together for one week every September for the Albertsons Boise Open at Hillcrest Country Club. The tournament, for up-and-comers in professional golf, presented by Kraft, began in 1990 as part of the Hogan Tour. The tour has changed names several times (to Nike, Buy.com and now Nationwide) but its “gold standard” remains the same. Players and tour officials will tell you nobody puts on a better event than Boise. The event has raised more than $1 million for charity each of the past four years and distributed more than $11.8 million in its 21-year history, the most by any Nationwide event. The event’s heart is its volunteer force, about 1,200 strong. The 2011 tournament is September 12-18.
6. The PGA Tour Connection
Used to be, the only local connection to the PGA Tour was the former Boise Open participants who made the big time. And there have been a lot of them. But the Treasure Valley itself has rarely had one of its own to root for on the PGA Tour—but that’s starting to change. Graham DeLaet and Troy Merritt, two former Boise State golfers, experienced success on the tour as rookies in 2010. Merritt, in fact, won the $1 million Kodak Challenge, a season-long competition. Boise State men’s golf coach Kevin Burton, a Boise High graduate who played on the PGA Tour in 1997, thinks he might be on the verge of producing a player or two to follow in the former Broncos’ footsteps. The next step is for a homegrown player to stick on the PGA Tour—and that’s where Burton is less optimistic. The Treasure Valley has produced a handful of Division I players in recent years—and a couple one-year PGA Tour members—but there’s hardly a pipeline. “It’s a big step even from high school to college and then they’ve got to get the right help in college,” Burton said. “For a kid out of Idaho to make it to a major D-I school isn’t very likely.”
For the right junior golfer, though, Idaho’s isolation and climate shouldn’t be an obstacle. “All it does is make you tougher,” Burton said. “On the PGA Tour, it’s not like they’re playing in a dome. You’re going to have weather. We have it all here.”
7. Mountain Golf
The surge in golf’s popularity during the 1990s and 2000s was felt strongly in mountain resort areas, where high-end golf courses have become staples. And Boise-area golfers are fortunate to have easy access to two such areas: McCall and Sun Valley. The two resort communities offer the scenic, forested, peaceful, wildlife-inhabited golf that is much different than what’s available in the Treasure Valley. And both areas are accessible from Boise for a day trip.
8. Family Time
Treasure Valley golf courses have made a strong push in recent years to attract families to their courses. With play slightly down, it makes sense to find creative ways to use the courses and develop new customers. For example, BanBury has a family membership that costs $45 a year. Members can play golf for $7.50 each in the evenings as long as there is at least one junior in the group. At Warm Springs, it’s $8 for anyone to play after 4 p.m. on weekends, and those tee times are booked solid every weekend in the summer, McGeachin said.
9. A Year-round Game
Golf courses don’t shut down in the winter in Boise. They play through. Warm Springs usually closes for only few weeks each winter. But even with the temperature in the high 30ºs or low 40ºs, the course can expect 40-50 golfers per day. “We had our Thanksgiving tournament—the Turkey Shoot—in a blizzard,” McGeachin said. “60 people signed up. It was snowing so hard—and we had 57 of them show up. I can’t believe they didn’t cancel out. People are just dying to get out and get some fresh air.”
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