Desert Canyon: A course reborn

Homestead Northwest conditions Desert Canyon to become a par-none course

 

The 14th hole at Desert Canyon, 25 miles north of Wenatchee, overlooks the sloping mountains and green slopes. Desert Canyon’s new owners, Homestead Northwest, also have invested in new golf carts and are paying special attention to the greens and fairways.

A revamped restaurant, GPS golf carts and a trimmed golf course make up a few changes ahead for Desert Canyon Golf Resort, an 18-hole championship golf course outside Orondo, 25 miles north of Wenatchee on the east side of the Columbia River.

The new parent company, Homestead Northwest Inc., plans to polish the 15-year-old course and remodel the full-service restaurant and pro shop.

In the process, Homestead also hopes to rejuvenate interest in its development properties adjacent to Desert Canyon, which include the 37-room Great Links Lodge and full-ownership and timeshare condominium units. Homestead, which also owns and operates courses and properties in Ocean Shores, Dungeness Golf Course in Sequim, Homestead Farms Golf Resort in Lynden, Moses Pointe Golf Course in Moses Lake, Birch Bay in Anacortes and Semiahmoo Golf Club in Blaine, purchased the 47-acre Great Links Resort property in 2003 and opened the hotel in 2004.

Pro Desert LLC, a division of Homestead Northwest, bought Desert Canyon Golf Resort for $3.7 million on Dec. 31, 2007, according to Douglas County records. The company is investing $100,000 in renovations this year, which includes the $26,000 remodel project turning the former pro shop into a facility for large group events and reconfiguring and remodeling the former restaurant space into a new restaurant and pro shop. Construction on that project began in February and should be completed when the course opens in April.

Golfers hailed Desert Canyon as one of Washington’s hottest courses after it was built in 1993, funded by a group of Central Washington investors, including designer Jack Frei, who bought out many of the original investors in the late 1990s. Finances got tight in the early 2000s and by 2005 Frei filed for bankruptcy.

In 2006, ownership of the course reverted to General Electric Credit Equities Inc., and GE hired Century Golf Partners, which owns 38 courses and manages 12 others across the U.S., to operate the course while it looked for a buyer.

Although Desert Canyon Golf Resort never closed, it died in the eyes of many players in the Northwest, said Homestead Northwest CEO Bill Chrysler. GE planned to sell the course and did not invest in upgrades, he said.

Coron Polley, who has been the resort manager at Great Links since 2003, said the golf course suffered as GE looked for a buyer. The fairways, greens and T-boxes remained the same, he said, but the extra care and ability to focus on the details did not remain a top priority. Maintenance and replacement schedules for golf carts, for instance, fell behind.

“It’s a good course right now, but once we refine it, it will be a great course,” Polley said. “And the reputation of the course impacts the activity at the lodge.”

While Desert Canyon’s financial turmoil continued, Homestead looked for a way to capitalize on its investment.

In 2007, Homestead built two fourplexes and sold four units.

“We watched as the course got into trouble, but we were not necessarily wanting to run or own a [golf] course,” Chrysler said. “We wanted to develop our property. Finally the price met what we could provide.”

Without a golf course, the property could not realize its full potential, Chrysler said. When Desert Canyon began to fail, the value of Homestead’s 47 acres of investment property mirrored that of the course.

“We needed to find a way to protect our investment,” Chrysler said. “It was a big decision.”

Polley said a single owner has advantages.

“It will allow us to synchronize labor for the course as well as activities,” he said.

Chrysler said the company also will add amenities to make the resort more of a destination. Once the restaurant renovation wraps up, the construction focus will shift to a new water park at the Great Links Lodge. Chrysler said the proposed water park includes an indoor pool and waterslide so the facility, including the lodge and restaurant, can stay open year-round. He said Homestead wants activities for the whole family, not just the avid golfer.

Plans also call for construction of 20 to 40 condominium units a year for the next five to 10 years, he said. Chrysler said demand for high-end second homes, like those at Desert Canyon, remains high and the trend remains consistent at Homestead’s various properties across the state.

Chrysler said the addition of golf courses like Bear Mountain in Chelan and Highlander Golf Course in East Wenatchee in the past five years don’t pose a threat to Desert Canyon. People want variety, he said. More golf courses could transform Central Washington into a golf destination. Players from out of the area help fill the local lodges like Homestead’s Great Links and the more attention Desert Canyon can attract the better, Chrysler said.

Great Links Lodge is just one of the attractions at Desert Canyon Golf Resort. Owner Homestead Northwest is planning to add an indoor pool and waterslide to help the resort attract visitors all year long.

Robbi Beckstead, Desert Canyon’s director of golf for the past two years, said the new ownership is providing the golf course with needed stability.

“It’s been a long drawn out saga,” Beckstead said. “Now things are moving and I hear a lot of buzz about what’s happening.”

Beckstead said the majority of play at Desert Canyon comes from golfers on the west side of the Cascades. He said Homestead also wants to reach out to the local market through a players’ card, something that’s new at the course.

For $140, a player gets a round of golf, 10 buckets of balls, a handicap calculation, discounts on lessons and discounted green fees at Desert Canyon and discounts of 10 to 20 percent at other Homestead courses.

2008 marks the first year Homestead will own and operate all functions at Desert Canyon. Chrysler and Polley said ultimately they have to see if Homestead’s combination will succeed, but both are confident the combination of a refinished course, quality and diverse amenities and the popularity of Central Washington will create an experience many people will seek out.

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