SOUTH COAST — The South Coast golf boom is expanding into Curry County.
Pacific Gales, a project developers hope will be the area’s next world-class course, was announced Tuesday, to be built along the ocean on a portion of a ranch located between Cape Blanco and Port Orford.
“This is an exceptional golf course,” said Troy Russell, a South Coast native and the general manager for the project. Ideally, the peer group for Pacific Gales will include the courses at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort as well as Kiawah Island in South Carolina, Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina and Pebble Beach in California, Russell said.
In addition to adding to the golf destinations in the area, the course should provide a boost for Port Orford and northern Curry County. Since it’s not a resort, it won’t include any lodging, so visitors likely will be staying in area hotels.
The course, located on 330 acres of the 1,100-acre Knapp ranch, would employ at least 40 people year-round, including the maintenance crew and staff for the pro shop and on-site restaurant, Russell said.
Before it can become a reality, it must go through the permitting process, which will begin when the proposal is submitted to the Curry County Planning Department in the next few days. The earliest the Curry County Planning Commission might hold a hearing on the proposal would be January.
Because it isn’t a proposed resort and won’t require changing the county ordinance, developers hope the process will go smoothly, Russell said.
“I think we’re presenting a pretty good application,” he said. “We’re building a golf course and supporting services. From the state land use planning rules, it’s perfectly acceptable to take low-value farming land, which this is, and with a conditional use permit, change its use.”
Russell is the local member of the development team, having grown up in the Coquille Valley. He was the original superintendent at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and later rehabilitated the Face Rock Golf Course in Bandon, as well as working on other projects in the region.
The driving force for the project has been Jim Haley, the managing partner of Elk River Property Development, LLC, and the head shaper when Bandon Dunes was built. Haley owns an Indiana-based company called Highland Golf Services.
The course architect is Chicago-based designer Dave Esler, who has worked with Haley on a number of projects over the years. His best-known course is Black Sheep Golf Club in Illinois, ranked among the country’s top 100 courses by Golfweek Magazine.
With their experience and the natural setting, they think they can make Pacific Gales into a top-tier golf course.
“Honestly, we’re a great deal of work away from being compared to anything, but we have a team that has literally been through this before — and that gives us all a lot of confidence,” said Esler. “Plus, they’re just a bunch of fun to be around, and the course and the management will no doubt reflect that.”
The property itself is visually stunning.
“In addition to the beauty and variety of the terrain on the actual site, the local views are spectacular,” Esler said. “The Elk River Valley and Coastal Range around Port Orford, including Humbug Mountain, are fabulous assets that we’re able to work with to beautifully frame an exceptional golf course site.”
Russell described the preliminary routing as a north and a south nine moving all around the property, with great views on nearly every hole.
The north nine includes a couple of holes along a bluff overlooking the Elk River, with a view of the Cape Blanco Lighthouse to the north. Both nines have finishing holes on a bluff along the ocean, ending with a shared green for No. 9 and No. 18.
“We’ve identified some world-class holes — some obvious, some less so, I think,” Esler said, adding that in the design process he and Haley have been “highly conscious of the quality of the walk and the drama, including the build-up, anticipation and resolution of each nine.”
Haley has had his eyes on the property for about 15 years.
He met Jeff Knapp when Knapp was part of the original construction crew at Bandon Dunes. Knapp said Haley should come take a look at the family’s property as the site of a possible golf course and he saw the potential immediately.
“Jim has been chasing after this since 1997,” Russell said.
It wasn’t until 2010 that Haley and his business partner, Jay Kenyon, completed a lease agreement with the family to develop 330 acres of the property.
They brought on Russell, a friend of Haley since their days building Bandon Dunes, to be the project manager and Esler to be the architect. Since then, they’ve gone through the steps of building the proposal.
“The whole process has been like a roller coaster ride,” Russell said, describing highs and lows. “Right now, it’s the top of the coaster. I’m sure there’s some twists and turns to come, maybe even a loop.”
Before the Curry County Planning Commission holds a hearing, Russell said the developers hope to hold meetings in Port Orford to answer questions from people who want to learn more.
People who have heard about the project have been supportive, Esler said.
“We have been very much welcomed by the folks in Port Orford, and we are excited to be part of the community’s economic future,” he said.
Russell, who won state and national awards for environmental awareness when he was superintendent at Bandon Dunes, said environmental concerns already have been addressed. The proposal calls for the course to be salmon-safe, which sets restrictions on the types of fertilizer and herbicides that can be used, and it also is proposed to be an Audubon bird sanctuary.
Under a best-case scenario, Russell said pre-construction on the course could start sometime next summer, with the first nine holes being built and seeded in the fall and the second nine early in 2015. If that happens, the course could hold its grand opening in 2016.
For more information on the proposed course, visit www.pacificgales.com.