Jamie Lusch / Courier TribuneOak Knoll Golf Course in Ashland.
Ashland’s Oak Knoll Golf Course is struggling to survive.
The prolonged drought shows no signs of letting up, forcing Ashland’s Parks and Recreation Commission and a golf course subcommittee to prepare Oak Knoll for a new reality – the golf course must change to survive, although the question is how it will change.
The subcommittee held a study session last Thursday to create a recommendation to submit to the APRC, which will have its own study session on Wednesday. Anyone wishing to have a say in the future of the golf course can request to speak at the meeting by emailing [email protected]
At last Thursday’s meeting, commissioners, speakers and Ashland Parks and Recreation Director Michael Black focused on two main points: affirming their dedication to the course and discussing how to keep it alive. .
“We don’t know the golf course has to close, what we know is we can’t afford to water the golf course with city water,” Black said.
Oak Knoll once had Talent Irrigation Water, but dry winters and even drier summers have made water more expensive. In 2020, the course spent $26,247 on water. In 2021, the cost has risen to $49,046.
The projected cost for 2022 was $96,377. But to date, the course has already consumed $78,377 of water. Although it is no longer possible to water with TID water, a viable alternative remains elusive.
Trucking water from the Medford water supply would be expensive. Drilling a well for the golf course would also be expensive and may not be able to provide enough water.
The committee discussed the use of treated sewage, but that water goes from the sewage treatment plant to Bear Creek. Redirecting some of this water would require permits, would be time consuming, and the cost of installing the infrastructure needed to redirect the water would be another major expense.
Drought is a pretty tough problem for home gardens, farms and orchards, but it’s even more serious for a golf course.
Some would rather see the Oak Knoll Golf Course become a small development, or for the course to simply disappear and the land move on.
“I can’t tell you how many people say it’s an elite sport,” said APRC commissioner Jim Lewis. “No, you have to consider it as equipment for the community.”
Lewis listed several ways Oak Knoll tried to become something everyone can enjoy in some way. The course has started to advertise itself as a wedding venue, it offers monthly Audubon bird walks, it will soon allow walking golf and people are encouraged to stroll the course, Lewis said.
Black reminded everyone that Oak Knoll is APRC property, and whether or not the golf course will remain APRC property. Ownership means maintenance, especially for Oak Knoll.
“Closing it doesn’t solve the water problem,” Black said. “We have to make sure that there is no fire danger for the neighbors of the golf course. It should still be useful for walking, it can’t be invaded by blackberries.
Closing the course was not considered at the meeting, but keeping the course open requires more than fighting through one more dry season. Golf must adapt to a changing environment, complicated by the city’s budget deficit.
“We’re not just in a water drought, we’re also in a funding drought,” Black said. “We are working to make budget cuts of up to $500,000, or up to 10% of our budget.”
All municipal services have been asked to reduce their budgets by 5 to 10%. The way in which the cuts will be absorbed by the departments is currently under study.
The cost of redesigning a golf course, much like the cost of changing the way the golf course gets its water, is daunting.
“Go get a golf course designer, and you’re going to have to give them your checkbook,” Lewis said.
Members of the committee recognized during the meeting that even if the funds remain to be found, the golf course must be redesigned in one way or another. Ideas discussed include rearranging and planting drought-tolerant plants, watering some parts of the course more than others, or incorporating different types of soil into the course rather than the typical lush green.
“We’re a bit used to getting out of the ground, when it’s late summer,” said APRC administration analyst Brett Deforest, who suggested using the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort as a model.
Black pointed out that going over budget is not an option, and the course is already closing in on it. To fund the proposed projects, grants and public donations were discussed, as well as increasing user fees.
Black said he wouldn’t recommend taking funds from any other part of APRC’s operations, such as the senior center or the North Mountain Park Nature Center. But, he said, APRC commissioners are taking public input.
The meeting ended with a motion to keep the public informed and prepared for the reality that the course could close, while doing everything possible to keep it open. And if it has to close, try partial closures first, like keeping only the driving range or the practice and chipping areas open.
The committee’s motion – and the next round of discussions on the future of the golf course, will take place before the APRC on Wednesday.
Contact Morgan Rothborne, Mail Tribune reporter, at [email protected] or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne