by Yvonne Pepin-Wakefield
Since opening in 1949, the 9-hole Prineville (Ore.) Golf Club has dealt with regional recessions, population shifts and even a flood.
Originally a six-hole course carved between the Ochoco and Prineville reservoirs on the outskirts of town, the club has survived and flourished because of dedicated members who met the challenges that arose over time.
“In 1991 we had five mills and Les Schwab,” recalls member Cathy Thompson. But as the mills gradually closed and Les Schwab moved its corporate office, the golf club experienced a downturn.
“At one point we had to step up to pay the light bill,” Thompson says. “If it wasn’t for our members and how well we all get along, we could not have made it through hard times.”
Marla Stafford, one of four women on the eight-member board of directors pointed out three Oregon Lottery machines behind a screen in the clubhouse. “These have helped tremendously in raising revenue that goes directly back into the club,” she said. “We are really like a big family, but small enough to keep everything intact.”
The club has roughly 220 members and two full-time and seven part-time employees. “But the grounds and clubhouse are mostly volunteer run,” said Dawn Kludt, who found her niche as the club’s bookkeeper.
Some areas of the course have special plantings maintained by a group or individual, like the fresh mint used to garnish bar drinks.
Though the club is private, all tournaments are open to the public and funds generated from events are channeled into local organizations. A range of individual and family resident and non-resident memberships, as well as a Tri-County membership (for Deschutes, Jefferson, and Wheeler counties) offer affordable rates.
Cruz Bocanegra has managed the club for two years and staffs the bar and restaurant but his duties often expand, he said, to “everything they need me to do here.” Bocanegra’s background includes 16 years as head pro at Kah-nee-ta on Oregon’s Warm Springs Reservation.
The original knotty pine paneled clubhouse has seen some renovations and additions, but none as drastic as the restructuring after a May 1998 flood.
“A large snowpack backed by rain and a log blocking Ochoco Creek flooded the course all the way into here,” Thompson says, pointing to steps above the bar that were under two feet of water. “You could have floated a boat in here. Bar bottles were bobbing around everywhere.”
Now carpeted and simply furnished, the Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant clubhouse features men’s and women’s locker rooms, and hosts family-friendly (and open to the public) bingo fundraising nights, and regular member coffee klatches.
In 1948, Ted Longworth, the head PGA professional at Portland’s Waverley Country Club and Eddie Hogan, head PGA pro at Portland’s Riverside Golf and Country Club, laid out the first six holes of Prineville with the help of volunteers.
In 1951, the local community raised $13,000 to purchase additional property to finish the remaining three holes, which were designed by Larry Lamberger, the longtime head PGA professional at Portland Golf Club. Longworth, Hogan and Lamberger are all in the Pacific Northwest Section PGA Hall of Fame.
A 25th anniversary booklet published in 1974 describes every hole on this high desert course in detail.
Today, three tee boxes lend different approaches to narrow fairways of Blue Ryegrass, and blind doglegs challenge even regular players. Holes eight (and 17 if playing the loop twice) are the only par-5s. Players may also cross paths with the occasional bull snake, elk herd or deer sauntering in or out of the surrounding Juniper and Ponderosa pine hillsides.
Bunkers that Thompson describes as “dirt sand” are so compact she uses a putter instead of a wedge. A grass driving range and a pitching and putting area are just off the clubhouse. Gas and pull carts are available for rent.
Another source of course pride is the recent replacement of the irrigation dam that was built after the 1998 flood. Andy Gallagher, board president, worked with staff at the Crooked River Watershed Council to obtain grant funding from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board for a new environmentally friendly version of the previous one.
“Typically, you don’t have a golf course do such environmentally sensitive work,” Gallagher explained. “It’s usually either beautification or maintenance.”
The new dam maintained the irrigation pond, fed by Ochoco Creek, but included construction of a more natural stream channel with fish habitat features and an appropriate gradient.
“The work objectives aligned to provide fish passage,” Gallagher added. “It was a win-win for the course and the environment.”
(This article first appeared in the September 2023 issue of Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine.)
Yvonne Pepin-Wakefield, Ph.D. is a published author and award-winning artist. She took up the game in 2016 and is known for her colorful language on the golf course. Visit her website at YvonnePepinWakefield.com.