The Kalispel Tribe took ownership of the venerable Spokane Country Club this week with plans to preserve the course for private-member play and just a few tee times each day open to the public.
Greens fees will be $115 when the course reopens for play next year.
Opening the 117-year-old club to the public for the first time is a consequence of its bruising bankruptcy brought about by losing a gender discrimination lawsuit. Four women members exposed a club culture that did not offer equal access and benefits afforded to male golfers.
The tribe’s first move after paying $3 million for the club was to put its own name – Kalispel Golf and Country Club – on the course that’s tucked beneath towering pine trees along the Little Spokane River.
The tribe seeks to turn the course into a special draw under its successful Northern Quest Resort and Casino businesses.
Phil Haugen, Northern Quest’s general manager, said the tribe’s first order of business will be assembling private memberships. Former Spokane Country Club members are invited to continue their association by signing one-year contracts that include dues of $425 per month for single memberships or $475 per month for families. Initiation fees will be waived.
Haugen said the club believes it will be able to retain about 200 of the former club’s 260 memberships.
The tribe then will offer new memberships – which will include a $3,000 joiner fee – until the club reaches total membership of 350.
Haugen said that despite overtures to keep former country club members, the Kalispel Tribe views its purchase as a fresh start.
“We want to create an environment where everyone is welcome and will be treated equally,” he said.
The memberships include unlimited golfing on the course and a few other perks, such as equipment storage and a private locker.
“We wanted to preserve the rich history of the club,” Haugen said, “and also open this extraordinary place to Spokane.”
Northern Quest will offer stay-and-play guest packages that combine hotel rooms, tee times and other casino and entertainment offerings. Haugen said these golf-tourism guests will have access to choice tee times that may have historically gone to certain club members.
While the public’s access to the course appears limited by the tribe’s plans, Haugen said he believes there potentially will be dozens of tee times each week for the average Spokane golfer who wants a chance to play on a course that had been off-limits.
The high cost and dress code – golf attire, no denim – along with the course’s difficult holes is expected to discourage most duffers. Also, the new restaurant will be a “gastropub” offering higher-priced pub food and drinks, said Les Blakley, who has been retained by the tribe as director of golf operations. He has been with the country club for three decades.
There was no announcement on who would be hired as the club’s golf pro.
The Kalispels’ winning bid was not unexpected, even though the tribe was not the first choice among country club members attempting to control the bankruptcy outcome. They wanted a private group to buy the club and keep running it as an exclusively private organization.
Interested suitors included companies run or fronted by professional golfers such as Ryan Moore and Phil Mickelson, but they kept backing away from formal bids, unable to pencil out a profit scenario as a members-only club. The business of golf has slumped since the heyday of Tiger Woods’ popularity. In particular, Spokane offers ample, affordable public golfing.
The Kalispels have the financial strength, reputation and complementary services such as the hotel and casino to make it work, said Haugen.
They submitted the winning bid that paid legal judgments and related lawyer fees of about $2 million stemming from the 2009 case. It was brought by four women members who said they were subjected to discrimination even though they paid full price for their memberships, and were subjected to boorish and crude behavior by some of the men at the club. The money also cleared the way to settle other thorny bankruptcy issues.
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