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

Kalispels bid for Spokane Country Club

The Kalispel Tribe has bid $3 million to buy the members-only Spokane Country Club and would fold the golf course and amenities into its Northern Quest Resort and Casino operations.

The tribe is among four businesses that offered bids as the club members seek to settle bankruptcy and preserve a semblance of its 117-year history as an exclusive social club.

The members took an informal vote this week to pick a preferred buyer and chose M Club Holdings Inc., a company headed by professional golfer Phil Mickelson. The Mickelson offer totaled $2.8 million – the lowest of the four bids. But it also came with an alluring albeit expensive condition: keeping the club’s exclusivity intact if the club can guarantee 250 members pledged to pay a $2,000 fee upfront along with a three-year commitment to pay $475 a month in dues.

Country club leaders acknowledged the challenge and opportunity of the Mickelson offer as they solicited members. The club doesn’t even have 250 members left, according to court documents.

“The only way to maintain the principles upon which this club was founded is to keep it private,” wrote John Schroeder, who became a board member in March.

If club leaders fail to solicit the necessary number of members or financing pledges, the Mickelson offer will be withdrawn, according to documents filed in the bankruptcy case. The club members selected the Kalispel Tribe as their second choice to purchase the course, clubhouse and other holdings.

The other bidders included Woodland Shadows, which offered $3 million and would make the course at least partially open to the public; and a group that included professional golfer and course developer Ryan Moore along with local investors, which offered $2.88 million with intentions of keeping the course semi-private.

Bankruptcy attorney Barry Davidson said a motion to sell the club will be filed by Aug. 10 with the Mickelson offer serving as an opening bid.

The money earned from the sale would pay creditors, including a $1.4 million gender discrimination verdict and related legal costs.

It’s been a tumultuous period for the venerable club founded in 1898 by elites including the likes of architect Kirtland Cutter. The founders first built their clubhouse and course on the South Hill at 14th Avenue and Perry Street. As it grew it moved to the area that is now Hart Field.

After the clubhouse designed by Cutter burned in 1908, the members bought land along the Little Spokane River. They built a stunning course that unfurls along the banks.

The discrimination lawsuit hit at an especially difficult time. Golf began to slump with the economy, and country clubs were vulnerable as affordable and excellent municipal and privately owned courses open to the public discouraged golfers from plunking down thousands of dollars in fees, dues and mandatory restaurant charges to join private clubs.

Private clubs also failed to capitalize on the growing financial might of women.

At the country club four female members sued, troubled by a culture of yesteryear that reserved the best tee times and tournaments for men and barred women from some areas of the restaurant, according to court documents filed by Drusilla Hieber, Laura Skaer, Nancy Van Noy and Tracy Villanueva. The plaintiffs also pressed claims that some of the men at the club attempted – and failed – to intimidate them.

They won their case trial.

Attorney Mary Schultz, who represents the four women, is disputing that the Mickelson group offer is in the best interest of settling the bankruptcy.

She is urging the course be sold to the Kalispels, which she claims would net about $300,000 more than the Mickelson offer when closing costs are factored in.

All offers include commitments to improve the course and honor existing memberships.

Tribal attorney Lorraine Parlange said Friday the tribe is always looking for ways to improve and expand its entertainment and business holdings. The Northern Quest casino, a popular destination that has earned millions to help its once-impoverished tribe, may face keen competition in coming years as the Spokane Tribe makes steady progress toward opening its own casino and resort on the West Plains.

The tribes will be in competition to offer the best entertainment and value to customers. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe also runs a resort and casino across the Idaho state line that includes the acclaimed Circling Raven golf course.