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Jim Meehan: Antler Springs joining Sun Dance on golf’s sidelines

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 17, 2018, 10:06 p.m.

A man-made pond is shown as Antler Springs prepares to open its new back nine in this file photo from 2004. (Liz Kishimoto / The Spokesman-Review)
A man-made pond is shown as Antler Springs prepares to open its new back nine in this file photo from 2004. (Liz Kishimoto / The Spokesman-Review)

Golfers are losing another option regionally, although Antler Springs’ shuttering doesn’t necessarily correspond with the national trend for course closures.

Antler Springs, which will remain open through Oct. 7, is essentially a Stime family affair, from the design to the decade spent shaping the scenic layout to the 18 years offering public play. The course usually turned a modest profit, which separates itself from the primary reason 150-200 courses cease operations annually across the country.

“I’m 77 and my wife (Linda) is 77,” owner Nathan Stime said. “She’s been running the clubhouse all these years. I did 18 seasons, man, I’m tired.”

The Stimes spent more than $1 million to build the course, located near Highway 2 about 4 miles north of Chattaroy. Antler Springs has been for sale for nearly five years but has drawn little interest. Stime said the asking price is below the construction cost, but acknowledges “you can’t get anybody to buy it. They want to make $150,000 a year out of the place and it’s probably in the $25,000-$30,000 range.

“We’re not getting rich off of it, we never intended to.”

Golf course closings in the U.S. have far outnumbered new course openings over the last decade as the market self corrects following the building boom from the mid-1980s to mid-2000s, according to industry analysts.

There are numerous other contributing factors: Declining interest from millenials, expense, time and, as National Golf Foundation president Joe Beditz told Golf Inc. after 190 courses called it quits in 2016, “The dirt (value of the land) is worth more than the grass.”

Inland Northwest courses aren’t immune to these issues. Sun Dance is closing in late September after a 55-year run. Developer Brad West purchased the property in 2017 and attempted to keep the course running but said it wasn’t “viable economically.”

Stime, a retired doctor, turned his attention to the family’s 182 acres after building Riverside Medical Clinic, where Stime and his brother, a dentist, practiced for decades.

The family quickly rejected the idea of an orchard and settled on constructing a golf course.

“This was an act of love that started in 1977 when we bought the property,” Stime said.

Antler Springs opened with nine holes in 2001 and expanded to 18 about three years later. It’ll never be confused with customary layouts capable of stretching out to 7,000 yards. Stime believed it measured 5,000-plus yards, but PGA officials’ lasers had it the high 4,000s.

The absence of length is offset by smaller greens and enough trouble in the form of water, sand and terrain to snag accomplished players.

“It’s short, but it’s hard,” Stime said. “Players that are a 5 or 6 handicap generally shoot 10 shots higher than their handicap.”

Green fees have always been reasonable. It’s roughly $20 with tax on Wednesdays, which brought about 25 customers to the course earlier this week. The weekday rate is $27 for 18 holes and a cart. It’s $37 on weekends.

Season pass holders, which number in the single digits, will receive a small refund, Stime said. The course remained profitable because family members and close friends did most of the work, keeping operating expenses low.

Stime said selling the carts and maintenance equipment shouldn’t be a problem.

Stime won’t have any trouble staying busy after the course closes.

He plays golf on occasion but counted himself lucky if he played nine holes uninterrupted once a summer at Antler Springs.

Stime enjoys traveling, hunting, building boats and making twice-yearly trips to Guatemala to teach steel welding to residents. He plans to assist his semi-retired brother, who provides dentistry aboard a ship for Alaska villages.

“It’s time to go do some other things,” Stime said. “I don’t care if (the property) sells or not. If it sells, good and bad. If it doesn’t sell, good and bad. If it sells, I lose it. If it doesn’t, I keep it.”


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