Short course decision pays off for Skamania Lodge

  • Skamania Lodge
    Skamania Lodge

    The original 18-hole course designed by Gene Mason was reduced to nine

  • Skamania Lodge
    Skamania Lodge

    Since the renovation, Skamania Lodge has seen an increase in activity

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Skamania Lodge, located in Washington, USA, close to the border with Oregon, is seeing increased play and revenue following a transformation of its golf facilities by Brian Costello of JMP Golf Design. 

The resort had an eighteen-hole golf course, a Gene Mason design that opened in 1993, routed over 175 acres of heavily forested terrain with dramatic views towards the Columbia River Gorge. 

But an influx of new layouts in the region combined with the resort increasing the range of other activities available to guests, led to a decline in play. 

“The owners and management realised that they needed to take a fresh look at the golf course to re-evaluate the asset and to completely reimagine the golf experience,” said Costello. He proposed a new masterplan that replaced the existing course with two shorter layouts, a nine-hole par-three course and an eighteen-hole putting course. 

Verde Sports Construction started work in February 2020 and, despite some Covid-related delays, completed ‘The Gorge 9’ course in June 2021, with a grand opening taking place a month later. 

“The original required a golf cart to navigate the hilly terrain and took close to five hours to play,” said Costello. “The new Gorge 9 is a fun, walkable short course that features some of the former ‘all-star’ signature approach shots, and typically takes under 90 minutes to play.” 

Holes range in length up to 201 yards. There are multiple teeing options on each hole, including forward tees that allow the holes to be played to lengths of around 50-75 yards. The routing also allows for a loop of four or seven holes. 

“We wanted to incorporate elements from some of the best holes and existing landscape features into the new routing,” said Costello. “The holes closest to the clubhouse provided the best terrain for a golf course trail which avoided the steeper slopes. We explored numerous routings to keep existing green sites, reverse holes and find new holes until we settled on one that kept six original green sites and created three new greens. 

“The final routing was fine-tuned to provide a variety of lengths and minimise forced carries. We removed the sand bunkers and created grass hollows and collection areas to provide strategic interest and more playable recovery shots.” 

A new Rain Bird IC irrigation system, designed by Greg Baer, has been installed and synthetic turf was used on tees and fairways. 

“The engineering beneath the synthetic turf and the topdressing within the surfaces replicates the characteristics of real grass when receiving tee and approach shots,” said Costello. “The design of each green has 10-to-12 hole locations to add tremendous variety to the course experience.” 

General manager Kara Owen said: “The change in our course size and the use of synthetic greens and tees has greatly reduced our water and chemical use. In addition, the hours that it takes to be sure they are weed free and meticulously managed to maintain the right conditioning, consistency and speed has also been reduced. This allows our teams to focus on other priorities both on the course and around the lodge.” 

There were several existing walking trails that laced through the golf course property. Costello considered how to route the course so golfers could experience the best views of the gorge and meadows. “The original fourteenth was a very narrow downhill par four with a small creek fronting the green, a signature pond and a breathtaking backdrop,” he said. “If you could place your drive in the ideal spot in the fairway, you enjoyed this awesome view and a relatively level lie. The tees for the new fifth hole places you in this same vantage point recapturing the thrill of this approach shot into this picturesque and dramatic green setting.” 

In place of the former driving range, a new eighteen-hole putting course, ‘The Little Eagle 18’, has been built, also using synthetic turf. “The putting course features real-course strategy with creative and fun contouring such as elevated plateaus, ridges, collection hollows, deflection mounds and bumpers amongst rock outcrop obstacles and rough,” said Costello. “Each individual hole is set apart from the others amongst native trees and colourful and contrasting landscaping that add beautiful interest to the experience.” 

Owen said: “Both The Gorge 9 and The Little Eagle 18 putting course have added value to our lodge. More of our corporate groups have taken advantage of the courses. In our first 1.5 years we have focused on making golf approachable for all and focused on its ability to be a team building activity for groups. As we begin 2023, we will increase our focus on bringing more youth into the game of golf as well as giving our younger guests an opportunity to try golf when they visit.”