Travis Kane’s office is stuffed with stacks of cardboard boxes containing about 12,000 plastic eggs. Kane, the general manager of Juniper Golf Course, said the eggs will be scattered around the course for a massive egg hunt on Easter Sunday, an event that the municipal course is hoping will draw in many families.
The upcoming Easter egg hunt is one of many steps the city of Redmond is taking to evolve the course from a golfers-only destination to a multifaceted community facility, as golf revenues decline nationwide.
In February, city staff organized a committee to decide on a vision for Juniper’s future and renegotiate a contract with the course’s longtime operator, CourseCo. The city’s eventual goal for the course is to have it turn small annual profits after its $4 million debt is paid off in 2033.
“We want Juniper to have a very clear and defined positive identity,” Annie McVay, Redmond’s parks manager, said. “People either don’t know that we’re here, or people might be under the impression that this is a private golf course, and not understanding that it is a larger community asset, as well.”
In 2003, the golf course took out a $5.93 million construction loan — which was backed by the city — to relocate from its old site on Veterans Way to its current spot near the fairgrounds. Juniper’s original home was on land owned by the Redmond Airport, which the airfield leased to the golf course for $1 a year.
Federal Aviation Administration laws, though, require airports to charge fair-market rates for their lands, meaning Juniper was looking at a rent increase of about $300,000 when its contract with the airport expired in 2006.
Instead — with the unanimous backing of the 2003 Redmond City Council — the course moved to its current site on land donated by the city and the Bureau of Land Management. Juniper also took out a second city-backed loan in 2006 for another $800,000 to finish construction work on the new course.
According to Redmond Chief Financial Officer Jason Neff, Redmond pays $407,000 each year in debt from the course construction, but from 2026 until 2033, when the bond matures, the annual payment will drop to $350,000. This annual payment means Juniper won’t be able to turn a profit until the debt has been paid off, rendering it an “albatross” until 2033, City Manager Keith Witkosky remarked.
Meanwhile, as Redmond waits for the bond to mature, golf as a sport has declined nationwide. According to Gene Krekorian, a Los Angeles-based consultant specializing in golf courses who is assessing Juniper alongside city staff, 12.4% of the U.S. (excluding small children) participated in golf in 2003.. By 2017, that number dropped to 7.9%. According to the city of Redmond, more golf courses have closed than opened since 2006.
Krekorian said there are several theories as to why courses are shuttering — millennials are turned off by golf’s slower pace, the “Tiger Woods effect” ended after the superstar’s career collapsed, rising minimum wages have made it more expensive to staff courses — but there isn’t one silver-bullet answer.
“Nobody’s really put their finger on what’s caused the decline, but the (excitement) among millennials has dropped substantially,” he said. “We’re just not seeing people enter the game like before.”
However, Juniper has held steady. According to Neff, in the 2017-18 fiscal year, 32,555 people paid for rounds of golf at the course — a jump of over 3,200 rounds from the 2016-17 fiscal year, and the highest amount since 2012. And although the course had operated in a deficit for four straight fiscal years between 2013 and 2017, revenues exceeded expenses by $29,000 in the ‘17-’18 fiscal year.
Perhaps what’s helping turn around Juniper’s financial fortunes is its increased emphasis on drawing more visitors to the property by hosting events. Along with the Easter egg hunt, the course will host its fifth annual free block party for the community this summer, complete with bouncy houses, face painting, food and a movie night screened on the driving range. High school cross-country races have been held on the grounds.
In June 2016, CourseCo poured $100,000 of its own money into a remodel of the clubhouse restaurant, The View. According to Kane, who works for CourseCo, the remodel included a new pizza oven, a speedier menu, new furniture, TVs and 10 taps of beer.
“It definitely needed a little sprucing up,” McVay said of the restaurant.
After the remodel, Juniper’s food-and-beverage revenues have soared, although its expenses have gone up, meaning it doesn’t turn a profit, according to city data. But food and beverages pulled in 35% of all sales for Juniper between 2016 and today — only slightly less than greens fees and carts, which make up 38% of sales.
The restaurant has started hosting more themed dinners, such as “Prime Rib and Jazz,” along with karaoke nights, to draw in more customers.
Still, the course hasn’t neglected the golf side of its business. Kane said the course has hosted top-tier local golf tournaments, from the Oregon Open Invitational to the Central Oregon Junior Championship. Kane said Juniper brings in two to three larger competitions each year, which net about $10,000 each year.
Longtime Juniper members said they noticed the increased crowds, on the links and in the restaurant. Barb Schreiber, a 22-year member, joked that the course has become so popular that it’s difficult to find parking.
“In the summertime, it’s very hard to get on the course unless you plan ahead,” she said.
Juniper’s future has been the topic of much discussion among city staff recently, as the City Council formed a committee to assess CourseCo’s performance in operating the facility.
Neff said the city will decide by July whether it wishes to sign a new, five-year contract with CourseCo, or seek a new managing company.
But regardless of how well Juniper operates financially while the city counts the days until 2033, McVay said Redmond treasures its golf course.
“Even since the old course, Juniper has been a staple and a part of the community for a long time,” she said. “It’s a big asset.”
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