Developer, Community College Partner on Innovative Course

Bend, Ore.-based residential developer Abito is well into the approval process for Illahee, a master-planned community on 358 acres near the Walla Walla regional airport in southeast Washington State. The company has forged a multi-faceted partnership with neighboring Walla Walla Community College (WWCC), the first element of which is a public golf course planned for the center of the property and designed by Houston-based Jacobsen Hardy Golf Course Design.

The Illahee course will give students and faculty at the college’s nationally known Turf Management program the opportunity for real-world experience, in a relationship that extends far beyond basic on-course training.

“Abito and Jacobsen Hardy have included us from the earliest stages of this project,” said Bill Griffith, a former golf course superintendent and longtime instructor/program coordinator for Turf Management. “Ours will be one of very few programs that has access to its own golf course – and the first I know of that would be housed at a course.”

Abito President Steve Robertson said plans call for a classroom experience within the Illahee maintenance facility, so faculty can do training and lab work onsite. A course superintendent will be hired and he or she may also do some teaching at WWCC.

Turf Management students will work on the grounds-keeping and maintenance crews, and first-year students can do their six-month internships at the course. Griffith is certain that students will be better placed in the job market because of instruction in industry-current methods and the work experience they gain at Illahee.

The college also has a Service Technician’s program that will assist in maintaining Illahee’s fleet of machinery, and students in the Pro Golf Management and Water Management programs will be involved as well. Twenty-eight acres of premium wine grapes will be planted on the Illahee property, creating an opportunity for Abito to partner with WWCC’s popular Enology & Viticulture program.

“We are deeply committed to establishing public-private partnerships that align with our academic mission,” said WWCC President Steven L. VanAusdle. “As many as 100 students stand to benefit directly from this affiliation.”

Noted Robertson: “Illahee is a thoroughly non-traditional residential development and it deserves an equally unconventional golf course.”

Jacobsen Hardy is planning “the best public 9-hole course in the world.” It will be a friendly but challenging track for local and visiting golfers of all skill levels. The complex will include a pro shop, driving range and full practice area. The course design features a trio of three-hole pods, each of which circles back to a central starting point – not a clubhouse but a “core” and starter’s facility.

A portion of the golf course will be open as early as 2008, if the permitting process continues at the current pace.

Environmental Sensitivity

“Illahee is one of the most environmentally friendly courses I’ve ever seen and that’s a big reason why we wanted to be involved,” said Griffith. “The inclusion of natural areas, native grasses and wildlife habitat make the entire site ecologically sound and attractive.”

Only 41 of the course’s 88 acres will be irrigated. The irrigation system will be state-of-the-art and include the use of ultra-efficient Nelson sprinklers, manufactured in Walla Walla. Golf courses make excellent bio-filters and the goal will be to only use the water necessary for healthy turf. Any excess, such as rainfall, will be returned to the shallow aquifer. And more than 95 percent of the pesticide use will be confined to 1.5 acres.

“This partnership has the potential to make Turf Management one of the premier programs in the country,” said Griffith. “It certainly will increase enrollment and, more important, it will graduate future industry managers who have a better awareness of environmental issues and best practices.”

For more information on Walla Walla Community College, visit For more information on Illahee, visit