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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Encouraging developments at The Idaho Club

Perhaps you’ve forgotten about The Idaho Club.

I tried to make it a point to play the scenic golf course nestled along the Pack River outside Sandpoint at least once every summer, dating back to its Hidden Lakes days. I remember playing with a couple of relatives who left behind probably 25 balls in the waterways. I remember striping what I thought was a perfect drive only to locate my ball snorkeling in a pond.

I remember the startled reaction of my best friend from Seattle when we had to let a bull moose play through on a par 4.

I played it and enjoyed it after each redesign, including the 2008 version authored by Jack Nicklaus. One of the coolest assignments I’ve had was tagging along when Nicklaus toured the site in June, 2007.

But I haven’t been back for several years as the course experienced a myriad of problems, prompted by the slump in the housing market. There have been lawsuits, bankruptcies and ownership changes. The multimillion dollar clubhouse burned to the ground in December 2008. At times some wondered if the course was even open to the public.

“They had a fire that burned the clubhouse. The main lien holder, R.E. Loans, went into bankruptcy,” Bonner County Treasurer Cheryl Piehl said. “It’s been one thing after another.”

Recent developments carry the promise of bringing me, and others, back.

The course and approximately 176 of 200 undeveloped lots were removed from the auction block in July when Valiant Idaho LLC paid nearly $1.7 million in back taxes owed by Pend Oreille Bonner Development.

Valiant president Bill Haberman said the foreclosure process has begun but acknowledges it could be a lengthy one and “there are no guarantees.” Haberman hasn’t been through the process in Idaho but he has experience elsewhere – and that’s one of the reasons for optimism regarding The Idaho Club.

Haberman and his business partners acquired Thistle Golf Club in Sunset Beach, North Carolina, in October 2013. The development appears to be on the road to recovery.

“It was a similar situation, it had gone through some distress,” said Haberman, who is based in Celebration, Florida, near Orlando. “Operations of the golf course are doing exceptionally well in less than a year. There have been significant improvements in terms of tee times and total revenue.

“The real estate side, just like The Idaho Club, is a bit of a building process but it’s going very well. We have four model homes under construction. We’ve been able to establish relationships with the best builders in the area. A lot of what we did there is very similar to what we’re planning for The Idaho Club.”

Haberman liked what he saw when he visited The Idaho Club and the surrounding area.

“I think it’s spectacular,” he said. “It’s what’s going to bring golfers back and what’s going to sell real estate. And to be that close to Sandpoint and all that it offers, it’s a really compelling package. I don’t think we would have taken on a project like this if we didn’t really believe that.”

The golf course is precisely what Nicklaus is known for, said Haberman, who carries a 12 handicap. “A very challenging course in a spectacular setting.”

Haberman anticipates the course being semiprivate but open to public play. He has heard from people who consider the course too hard.

“We’re going to look into that,” he said. “We would do that in conjunction with Nicklaus Design and we wouldn’t want to do anything that would be counter to what they believe. We believe the Nicklaus signature is an important and valued distinction.”

Haberman recently met with about 20 homeowners. (A group of homeowners has been maintaining the course, which currently isn’t open to the public because it lacks golf carts and other necessary amenities).

“They’re very excited about this possibility,” he said. “They’ve been through a tough run; they’re excited about the new life, the new investment and the new commitment we want to bring. They’re really proud of the place and they’re excited to see it be a success that we know it can be.”