Big Projects in the Works for Eastern Washington

By: Jeff Shelley

The people who live or grew up - including this writer - in the broad, desert-like environs west of the Cascade Mountain Range have long felt bereft of high-end golf developments. Though it has a generally arid climate, Eastern Washington is amazingly fertile thanks to the Columbia River that winds through it. Grand Coulee Dam, still America's largest producer of electricity, brought a plenitude of irrigation water and cheap power to the region after the massive structure was completed in 1942.

Yakima, located in the center of the state, warrants its nickname "The Fruit Bowl of the Nation." The 600,000-acre Yakima Valley is bounded by Rattlesnake Hills on the north, Horse Heaven Hills to the south and Red Mountain along its eastern boundaries. Long one of the country's prime growers of apples, pears, peaches, cherries, nectarines and other fruit - as well as many lower-growing "row crops" such as peppers, melons and tomatoes - the valley has helped Washington State become the nation's second-largest wine producer, with vineyards sprawling across 11,000 acres.

Farther north, Wenatchee is situated at the confluence of the Columbia and Wenatchee rivers near the Cascades' eastern foothills. Like Yakima, Wenatchee is one of the state's premium fruit-growing areas. Though it doesn't have the grape varietals grown from Yakima through Prosser to Walla Walla, the "Apple Capital of the World" has long been attractive to "Wet Siders" - people living in the metro Seattle-Tacoma area - for its dry climate and choice outdoor recreation.

Still further east is one of the nation's prime wheat-growing areas. Stretching south to Walla Walla in the state's southeastern corner, the generally unpopulated Palouse region is famous for its onions (Walla Walla Sweets) and, in recent years, burgeoning wine industry. (Cropping up in mid-September near the campus of Washington State University in Pullman is the aptly named Palouse Ridge Golf Club, a John Harbottle design.)

Primarily because of the advent of Eastern Washington's viticulture and the visiting wine-sippers the industry attracts, new golf-related developments are popping up around the region like Roma tomatoes in a Yakima patio-side summer garden. Since many nascent golf projects may not get off the drawing board due to water-access and environmental issues, not to mention cold hard cash - whereby the term "Big Hat" signifies a glorious idea and "No Cattle" means that money is lacking, some of these developments may not be completed. Also aiding the difficulty of many such projects these days, whether in Washington State or North Carolina, is the sagging American economy and a slow housing market.

On the other hand, encouragingly, many of these have an excellent chance of survival. Regardless, the sheer size, scope and quantity of the projects are clear indications that Eastern Washington is one of the few epicenters of golf development in the entire U.S. Let's take a look at some of them.

Dallesport - Vines Resort Columbia Gorge. Former U.S. Amateur champion and PGA touring pro turned golf course architect, John Fought, is one of the principals behind this development along the Columbia River. The 540-acre site is located directly across the vast water body made famous by Woody Guthrie from The Dalles, Ore., one of the world's top destinations for windsurfers. In addition to a 7,115-yard layout called Sundoon Golf Course, the project involves a resort on 145 acres, commercial or light-industrial lots, and 150 single-family and 240 multi-family units in several villages. The development is located west of Highway 197, north of Dallesport Road and south of Tidyman Road next to the Dallesport Regional Airport. For those less daring than the people who climb atop skinny boards to be propelled by fickle and powerful wins in deep, frigid waters, an interesting local attraction is Maryhill Museum, which occupies a 6,000-acre panoramic perch. About two miles from the museum, which contains one of the world's largest Rodin collections, is an exact replica of England's famed Stonehenge, a memorial created by Quaker and railroad mogul Samuel Hill to the victims of World War I. Of the course property, Fought exclaims: "Some of the most natural golf terrain I have ever seen. If Mt. Hood wasn't looming in the background, you'd swear you caught a good-weather day in the Old Country." For more details, visit Sundoon.

East Wenatchee - Battermann Ranch. Located on the east side of the Columbia across from Wenatchee, this 3,656-acre project will become the largest development in Douglas County history if and when it comes to full build-out. In addition to 36 holes of golf, the proposal calls for 4,000 housing units; a primary hotel, a golf-themed boutique hotel, and future smaller hotels with upwards of 400 lodging units; up to 100,000 square feet of convention/meeting space; an equestrian center; tennis club; community parks; swimming pools; parks; a spa; and pedestrian/bicycle paths. Since the golf season in Eastern Washington is only about seven to eight months a year, the golf fairways will be converted into cross-country trails in winter. Undeveloped open spaces will be used for hiking and mountain paths and rock climbing. Also under consideration are venues for Via Ferrata rock climbing, a zip line and alpine slide. Douglas County officials are now studying the proposal.

East Wenatchee - Spanish Castle Resort. Though a bit smaller than Battermann Ranch at 659 acres, this upscale resort community is further along in that Douglas County has already approved it. With a Mediterranean architectural theme, the development will feature a golf course co-designed by Seattle native Fred Couples and Florida-based architect Gene Bates. Occupying property above the Columbia, the $400 million resort involves over 1,100 housing units, a 100-room hotel, equestrian center, a 20,000-square-foot spa, and commercial and retail spaces. The project is backed by Entezar Development Group of Bellevue, Wash.

George - The Golf Club at Sagecliffe. Located next to the world-famous Gorge Amphitheater above the Columbia, this unique golf development is still in planning. The backers, Vince and Carol Bryan, built the amphitheater and, after selling the popular outdoor music venue, created Sagecliffe, a high-end destination with an inn, Tendrils Restaurant, a spa, and the acclaimed Cave B Estate Winery. Next up is this private-resort golf course, a design by Brian Curley that will be built by Landscapes Unlimited. The first six holes are slated to wind through Cave B's vineyards, while holes 7-12 cross sage-steppe deserts and the final six will be strung along the Columbia River Gorge. A driving range is already in operation, with work on the private course, which will have approximately 250 members (with inn guests also allowed access), to start soon. For more information, call 425/458-1573; e-mail, or visit The Golf Club at Sagecliffe.

Manson - Reflection Ridge. Details about this project were revealed late this summer. Backed by Premium Developments of Wenatchee, the 475-acre resort is proposed for property between Winesap Avenue and Boyd Road on the south shore of Lake Chelan. It involves an 18-hole course designed by Robert Trent Jones II, approximately 900 housing units, various recreational amenities, boat storage, spa, overnight accommodations and full infrastructure. The land is situated in a commercial agriculture district, so Chelan County officials will need to rezone it before the project can proceed. The county is now reviewing the project and, depending on the expediency of that process, public hearings may be held toward the end of the year.

Walla Walla - Wine Valley Golf Club. Designed by former Portland-area golf pro Dan Hixson, the course at this 650-acre development west of Walla Walla is well underway. Due to its topographically diverse site, minimal earthmoving was required during shaping of the course. If all goes well with grow-in, the daily-fee layout could debut in spring or summer of 2009. Also involved in the $20 million project are over 200 homes and various recreational amenities. For details, visit Wine Valley Golf Club.

Zillah - The Vineyards Resort. Featuring a Tuscan theme, this $500 million development is proposed for property atop Rattlesnake Ridge southeast of Yakima near the small agricultural town of Zillah. The centerpiece of the 500-acre resort will be a 7,200-yard golf course designed by Michael Hurdzan, the first Northwest project by the Ohio-based architect. In late January, the backers hired KemperSports (operators of the acclaimed Bandon Dunes on the Oregon coast and Chambers Bay in Tacoma) to oversee the development of the course as well as run the facility when it opens, which could happen by 2010. Backed by a partnership called SBC Development that includes Eagle Resort Development of Colorado and Yakima-area developers Craig Schultz and Gary Scott, the project also involves over 580 housing units, a condo hotel, fitness complex, amphitheater, swimming pool, a restaurant and retail shops. For more information, visit Vine Yards Resort.

Zillah - Zillah Lakes. Originally slated to open in September, the nine-hole course within this 224-acre development will now open next spring. Designed by Bobby Cupp Jr., Robert Cupp's son, the 3,326-yard side will boast considerable variety thanks to sundry water hazards, dozens of bunkers and other testy features. The overall project involves about 800 housing units, 14 acres of retail and commercial spaces, a community center, tennis courts, an outlet mall, brew pub and swimming pool. For more information, visit Zillah Lakes.