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Area courses cash in on rare early opening dates

The Esmeralda Golf Course driving range was filled with spring golfers on Friday. The mild winter has pumped up area courses. (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON)
The Esmeralda Golf Course driving range was filled with spring golfers on Friday. The mild winter has pumped up area courses. (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON)

If the people behind the pro-shop counters at our region’s golf courses seem a bit happier this spring than they have the last two years, it’s because they probably are.

And you can credit the weather for the collective mood swing.

Following brutal back-to-back winters in 2008 and 2009 that delayed course openings into mid- or late-April and dramatically impacted revenues, local head golf professionals are reveling in the early arrival of mild weather that allowed several courses to open back in mid-January.

“After two off seasons in a row, this has been huge for us – and all of the courses around here, for that matter,” said Darrell Hull, the head professional at Prairie Falls Golf Club in Post Falls, which opened in mid-January – a full three months earlier than it did in the wake the of record-setting snowfalls brought on by the winter of 2008-09.

“We were on financial life support, essentially, until this winter. And come spring, when were able to get opened on Jan. 16 – our earliest opening ever – it was like a big shot in the arm to get you going.”

According to Hull, Prairie Falls did almost 1,300 rounds in January and February, which has helped bring in approximately $60,000 more in revenue than was generated last spring, when the course didn’t open until April 17.

The Fairways at West Terrace also staged one of its early openings, kicking off the season on Jan. 15, after waiting until March 28 to crank things up last spring.

“It’s been so long since we were open in January, I can hardly remember anything to compare it with,” said PGA professional Kris Kallem, who also serves as The Fairways general manager. “We had a pretty decent turnout right out of the gate, similar, I guess, to the first two weeks we were open last spring – only in April.”

Kallem estimates his course has already hosted well more than 3,000 rounds of golf since opening in January.

“And that’s 3,000 rounds we never had a chance to get the last two years,” he added. “Last year, we didn’t get a cart on the course until the third week in April. And in ’08, we didn’t get carts on the course until the first week in May, and we only had 181 golfers the entire month of April.

“So, we’ve gone from the worst possible winter the past two years to the best possible winter this year – which helps us pay some offseason bills and gives us some working capital to make improvements to the golf course.”

Not all courses, however, have benefited financially from the mild winter.

Chewelah Golf & Country Club, for example, was able to stage its earliest opening on March 19, but without any noticeable jump in revenue.

“The early start, for us, has been great for our members,” said Jason Pitt, the club’s head professional and general manager. “And I hate to be the gloom and doom guy in all of this, but up here in Chewelah – as far as our financials are concerned – it didn’t work out for us to open early.”

According to Pitt, the prolonged siege of unseasonably cold temperatures that plagued the region through most of March and early April severely limited the amount of non-member play the course might normally get once it opens.

“One of the things, when you open early, is that you take some risks,” Pitt said. “Our restaurant, for instance, brought in a bunch of food, and we ended up with quite a bit of waste. And there was also the cost of the additional labor.

“We’re just not getting the folks traveling from Spokane yet, and that’s understandable, because there’s just so many good golf options there that it’s tough for somebody, on a chilly day in March, to drive all the way to Chewelah.

“Hopefully, the non-member traffic will pick up now that it’s getting warmer.”

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