McCausland Hall at the museum in Westport was packed Tuesday evening as community members got their first chance to hear from investors who would like to partner with the state to build a golf course at Westport Light State Park.
Golf course designer David McLay Kidd, a native of Scotland who has lived in the Pacific Northwest for nearly 30 years, talked about a vision for a Scottish links-style course that incorporates golf into the environment of the state park and complements its other many uses.
“I want to discover the layout of a golf course, not build a golf course,” he said to the estimated 150 who attended the open house. “I want to find a way to wind a course through (the park).”
The open house, hosted by Washington State Parks and Westport Golf LLC, was designed to gauge the community’s feelings about a public-private partnership that would result in a golf course, a small inn and other amenities on the park’s 600-plus acres.
“When taking a look at a site that’s over 600 acres you need to look at it holistically,” said Parks Planner Laura Moxham. “What should be in the park? How do we provide public access and protect the natural resources and environment?”
Westport Golf LLC principal Ryann Day approached State Parks about the concept earlier this year. Day and his family have been vacationing in Westport for more than 10 years. An avid runner, he said as he ran at the park he looked at the lay of the land and noticed similarities between it and some of the links-style courses in Ireland and Scotland and “couldn’t get it out of my head.”
Day met Kidd and asked him to take a look at the property. Kidd liked what he saw and Westport LLC got a meeting with State Parks, which had been looking for public-private partnerships for the park for several years.
“We sat with 12 or 13 reps from State Parks while they tried to talk us out of this idea,” quipped Day. “We found out we had a desire and Parks had a need.”
A golf course project for the property came up about 10 years ago that failed to gain the support of the community, in large part due to environmental concerns. Day is familiar with that project and said the current proposal differs in some key ways.
“We’re letting the environment drive the decision making,” said Day. “We’re building a course to support the park and the city, not building a course so we can sell lots. That is not our intention.”
Jessica Logan, Environmental Program Manager for State Parks, explained the environmental review process.
“We’ll be doing a deep dive to find out what we know, what we don’t know, and what we need to know,” she said, adding it is State Parks’ job to balance public access and recreation with environmental protection. That includes identifying the species of plants and animals at the park, both native and invasive, and taking the dozens of complex steps needed to conduct a thorough environmental review.
There were questions about specifics of the course layout and potential environmental impacts, but as Logan and State Parks Assistant Director Peter Herzog pointed out, the open house was held at a time before a master plan for the potential project had been drafted.
“We didn’t want to do a master plan and spring it on you,” he said. “We’re here to see if we’re going upstream, downstream or side stream,” meaning the public input and a general idea of Westport’s support for such a project would weigh heavily on deciding if the concept will move a step closer to reality.
Kidd explained the concept of the course and how it would be incorporated with the natural surroundings and the parks’ other uses, including trail and beach access. He began by describing the difference between American golf and the golf he grew up with in Scotland.
“The essence of golf where I came from was to explore a beautiful landscape with golf as an excuse,” he said. “Here in America golf is a sport. In Scotland it’s a social pastime, same as walking a trail or along the river.”
St. Andrews in Scotland, the birthplace of golf some 600 years ago, is in a state park, explained Kidd. The concept is to build a course that will be a part of the park, where dog walkers, hikers, beachcombers, picnickers, all users will have access. Day said other uses within the park, like trails, “would not just be encouraged, it’s fundamental” to the concept.
Along with environmental concerns expressed by the community were infrastructure questions, including the city’s water system. Public Works Director Kevin Goodrich said the city has had conversations with Westport Golf LLC to make sure the city has the capacity for water, sewer and possible irrigation for the project, and said the city could meet that demand.
Kidd’s company, DMK Golf design based in Bend, Oregon, designed a similar course in Bandon, Oregon, Bandon Dunes, which opened in 1999. Since then, it has become a major destination course, will host the U.S. Amateur in 2020, and has become a major economic force in the region.
The economic impact of a course at Westport Light State Park could be substantial for the city. Based on attracting golfers for a total of 25,000 rounds per year, Day said some $30 million could be pumped into the town annually. Hundreds of full-time staff would be needed for the course, including hundreds of caddies, which offers employment opportunities to the area’s youth. And, said Day, for every job inside there are three more for people “outside the gate,” in local businesses that could provide services to visiting golfers.
Plans for the course include a small inn, maybe 40 rooms.
“We purposely made the inn modest,” said Day. Judging from the success of Bandon Dunes and other links-style courses that have sprung up around the country in the past 20 years, Day said, “Forty rooms is not enough,” and the overflow would be directed to local lodging.
A quick show of hands from the estimated 150 people in McCausland Hall showed overwhelming support for the project.
The next step, said Day, would be for Westport Golf LLC to have another meeting with State Parks, and to develop a memorandum of understanding with State Parks. He stressed this would “not be an agreement for the project, but an agreement to go through the steps and the environmental process needed to move toward an agreement to do the project.”
Herzog said it can take close to a year to go through the initial environmental review process for such a project. Moxham said public input would be incorporated throughout the entire process, until the State Parks Commission board gets the final proposal before them for a vote.
“You will be involved in the planning, soup to nuts, if you want,” said Herzog, adding, “we’re talking 3-4 years out” before any construction would be possible, and that’s if the project maintains the necessary traction to continue beyond the initial environmental review.