Coronavirus fallout: Popular and affordable Tom Fazio design the latest golf course to permanently close

Patience at two acclaimed, but money-losing golf courses, runs out.
A view over the water of hole #1 from Butterfield Trail Golf Club

UPDATE 8/18/20: The City of El Paso has struck a deal with Spirit Golf Management, which runs Picacho Hills Golf Course and Sierra Del Rio Golf Course in New Mexico, to operate Butterfield Trail starting this fall. Read more here.

The United States is into its second month of an altered life and suppressed economy due to the coronavirus pandemic. Businesses are dealing with trying to weather the uncertainty or close all together.

For two highly regarded golf courses, their decision is the latter.

On Wednesday, the El Paso International Airport announced it would close the nearby Butterfield Trail Golf Course for good. Earlier, Eaglemont Golf Club in Washington announced its closure with a letter from the owner posted on the club website.

Considering we're in the early stages of what experts believe to be a long economic recovery, this could be just the first wave of casualties. According to Golf Advisor/GolfNow research, at least 46 percent of America's courses are currently closed due to government mandates for "shelter in place". Losing expected revenue could be the final blow to courses already teetering on the brink of financial trouble.

The future of a third highly regarded facility - the 36-hole International Club & Resort outside Boston - remains in doubt. Originally, a manager told local media that the owners, the Weadock family, had shared with the staff that the government-mandated closure would be permanent. The Weadocks refuted that claim a few days later, according to this Telegram.com report. Since then, its website has added a note that the mostly private club is "temporarily closed."

Tim Matsche, the general manager at Loggers Trail in Stillwater, Minn., said last week that courses in the cold-weather climates like the Midwest need all the rounds they can get in a short season. "Every week we get pushed back, it is harder and harder to convince league and regular members that it (buying a membership) is worth it," he said.

Ambitious El Paso International Airport development fails to materialize after a decade

Butterfield Trail in El Paso, Texas, will close by May 31, according to a press release from the airport, which has been subsidizing the golf operation since 2008. Butterfield Trail's website currently indicates the course is "closed until further notice" due to the pandemic, despite the fact that the Attorney General of the state has said golf courses can remain open with social distancing guidelines in place. The press release indicated the closure will save the airport approximately $1 million a year, allowing it to focus on "essential" services in a climate where the airline industry has ground to a halt. The Tom Fazio course, operated by KemperSports, has been regarded among the best municipal courses in the country and on Golf Advisor ranked among the top five in Texas on Golfers' Choice lists in 2018 and 2019, which are tallied by reviews from users. El Paso had high hopes for Butterfield Trail when it was constructed by Fazio for $11 million. Plans called for a nearby office park and hotel that never succeeded, according to this 2018 report detailing the golf course losses.

A view of green #17 at Butterfield Trail Golf Club

New amenities can't save Eaglemont

The loss of Eaglemont, located in Mount Vernon, Wa., about 90 minutes north of Seattle, erases one of the most scenic courses along the I-5 corridor between Seattle and Vancouver. Owners invested in a new clubhouse high on a hill in 2011, a new amenity expected to enhance the banquet and food and beverage side of the business, both for weddings and golfers at the 19th hole. The bump proved not enough. Eaglemont's business model, as a high-end semiprivate club, never really fit with the surrounding blue-collar community, where my father currently lives.

A view from tee #6 at Eaglemont Golf Club

The rerouting of the 7,006-yard layout to accommodate the clubhouse also couldn't fix the facility's biggest flaw: a difficult course on a hilly site. I played it a handful of times and never fell in love with it. Eaglemont was a ball guzzler stocked with too many difficult shots from awkward lies over hazards. According to the letter, Eaglemont was attempting to find a buyer. Ultimately, it was the economy in Asia that derailed the course as much as the struggles of the U.S. golf industry.

We "tried to find new investors for Eaglemont due to (the) financial situation in Thailand (that kept) declining for a period of time and the COVID-19 pandemic is the final impact which affected vast investments both local and overseas", wrote Pisit Singhachaithanadej, the owner's representative.

Golf organizations are doing their best to support course owners and individual employees during this difficult time. A multi-million-dollar gift from the PGA of America launched the Emergency Golf Relief Fund, which was so overrun with applications that the website had trouble loading for many users this week. It is also being supported by the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, National Golf Course Owners Association, the United States Golf Association, Golf Course Superintendents Association of America and the Association of Golf Merchandisers. The USGA also offers a "Resource Management" program on its website, which could ultimately lead to improved pace of play and suggestions on agronomy changes that cut costs.


Updated 9/1/20, 08:41 AM: Course will reopen due to new management agreement
Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
19 Comments
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Jason, as a regular player at Eaglemont including the league, I did fall in love with it.
Sure it's tough, but when was the last time you played it? It has been made more playable than it used to be. Sure it can eat balls but that depends a lot on the tees you're playing. I'm a 19 handicap and have shot 39 on the back 9 from the whites. Yes that was one of my best rounds, but to do it on a tough course with fast greens was really fun.
The other thing that I'm sure you remember is that the course is flat out gorgeous with great views and is very serene when you get in the woods. Sometimes you have to let the deer wander by. Anyway, I'm a fan obviously and hope the course sells and reopens soon.

Staff
Commented on

I too am rooting for a comeback. No doubt, choosing the right tees and knowing the course are critical to enjoying it. Every time I thought about playing, I balked at the green fee. Probably needs to be $60 max with $45 weekday green fees to attract a big enough audience to survive a comeback attempt.

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Eaglemont is for sale for $6.5 million. I am listing the course. Please call me at 206 459 4200 with any questions. Thanks

Staff
Commented on

Tim, feel free to e-mail me, or have the buyer e-mail me, when they want to announce a reopening. Best of luck!

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How much is Eaglemont selling for?

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Heard one of the tribes picked it up. Think skagit but not sure.

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I really love butterfield. When I visit EP., the course is on top of my list to play.

I hope someone or group buy it and keep it going!

We cannot let this place go!

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Good article Jason. I think that courses that were on a poor financial footing are likely to fail. The El Paso course has the added problem of being owned by an airport authority and all of the airports are hurting financially now. Sounds like they had grand development plans that didn't pan out. The airport authority board must have thought they were developers. The public in Texas should push for an investigation on the decision making process for the use of public funds for such a scheme. Hopefully, as some financially shaky courses fail, other courses will benefit and we will continue to have many quality golf options.

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I hate to see a golf course close but if it cant pay for itself then someone else is subsidizing it, usually a taxpayer, and that's not right. Sorry.

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The decision to close Butterfield Trail GC in El Paso has been a blow to the community. This Fazio course is pretty much packed week to week, with the course Pro Tim Krebs and crew being some of the best in the country. Many of us including the trade association I work for have lost a valuable fund raising event with this closure. While we may find another course to help us raise money its the loss of over $20,000,000.00 to the city that has many of us fuming. The course had its water shut off, meaning that there's a very small window to save that course. Abruptly shutting it down has economic ramifications beyond the coffers of the airport.
Poor decision with little planning for what may be a historic boondoggle.

Ray

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It saddens me to read that Butterfield will be shutting down. It was a very beautiful and playable (monetarily as well as physically) golf course. Tood bad the locals in El Paso did not support enough. We live some 2000 miles away so full support would have been difficult by us but it is a course that brings my wife and I fun and fond memories of our rounds played at Butterfield. Let's hope we golfers get a chance to turn this tyoe of failure from becoming common place.
I have heard the complaints about developers making too many course and the owners charging high tee fees but that was not the case with Butterfield.

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I have a feeling we're gonna see many more clubs taking this route in the months to come. Outside of the loss of what some consider a valuable asset for the country I've got a feeling some politicians are already having visions of greater tax revenue to squander. And of course there's their friends, the land developers, chomping at the bit for the forced shutdown to end so the bulldozers can get to work on another residential subdivision or road clogging business park!

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or buy them for pennies on a dollar.

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Golf course architects should wake up and stop designing golf courses "for the pros." The vast, vast majority of golfers want to play and have fun and some success. Ball-sucking hazards only turn people off.

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I agree totally. Thank you.

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Coronavirus fallout: Popular and affordable Tom Fazio design the latest golf course to permanently close