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OB Sports puts a new twist on theme-based golf courses

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - You drive up to Langdon Farms Golf Club in Aurora, Ore., and suddenly you're part of a pastoral fantasy. White rail fences and wide swaths of pansies and petunias surround the property, and the clubhouse is a huge red barn where they serve the very popular Barn Burner Burgers.

The practice range at this course, designed by John Fought and Robert Cupp, is known as the Stables, and the tee markers resemble signs you'd find on a country store. One of the cart paths takes you whizzing through an antique 1916 barn that was restored when the course was built.

Langdon Farms, which opened a few years ago, was the creation of OB Sports, now of Scottsdale, but formerly based in Portland. The company still manages Langdon Farms and does a lot of work out West and elsewhere, brainstorming imaginative themes for golf courses that it also goes on to manage.

But you have to ask yourself: Theme parks have themes, but should golf courses have them, too? And how do birdies and pars and the athletic side of golf fit into all this? Are you there to play because you heard the course was good or because you wanted to check out the interior and exterior decoration?

"Our company's founder, Orrin Vincent, was the one who came up with the theme concept," says C.A. Roberts, the company's vice president of business development. "He didn't invent the idea, but he carried it a lot farther than anyone had before with golf courses."

Vincent used to develop courses in the Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe areas. "And he saw what they were doing in casinos - buildings that looked like castles or Egyptian pyramids," says Roberts. "So he took the concept into the golf arena to use it on the golf courses themselves."

It's important, however, Roberts acknowledges, not to get lost in the theme itself. A great golfing experience has to be the foundation for the course. "First of all you have to have a high-level championship design," he says. "But then when you design buildings for the course, you have to have signs, you have to have interior decoration, you have to have staff uniforms of some kind. So if you're using a farm theme as we did at Langdon Farms, you have a big red barn on the property that you've renovated; the stables are where you have the driving range; the feed store is actually a snack bar, the staff wears bandanas and the restaurant is very rustic - it's like eating in a barn."

OB has used the concept over and over at courses that it's developed in the past 10 years, most of which it no longer owns. Most are daily fee courses with prices ranging from about $30 to $70, depending on the time of year, although some run $150 or more. The company's list of themes goes on and on:

• At the new Tuscany Golf Club in Henderson, Nev., the theme is the Italian wine country as seen in the old world village-style clubhouse and adjoining restaurants. The eateries, of course, feature pasta and wood-grilled pizza. The tee boxes will remind you of wine barrels.

• At the Washington National Golf Club in Seattle, owned by the University of Washington, a new permanent clubhouse that will open next year will have architecture resembling that of the university. There are university courses all over the country, of course, and many celebrate their teams. But at this course, designed by John Fought, OB took the ball and ran with it. There are 90 golf carts, says Roberts, and 80 are painted in purple and gold – the Husky colors. Each of those 80 is also named for a Husky football legend - like the Warren Moon cart - and has a placard celebrating the legend's accomplishments. The other 10 carts represent the other Pac 10 teams like the University of California-Berkeley or Oregon State so that visitors who root against the Huskies can drive around with colors that suit them better. The flags of all Pac 10 teams stand on the grounds.

• At the Gallery Golf Club in Tucson, the theme is Southwestern art and the firm turned the clubhouse into an art gallery where local artists can show their paintings, sculptures, crafts and artifacts on a rotating basis. There are giant pieces of outdoor art and a fabulous scarlet-walled dining room with silver chandeliers.

• At the Ranches, about 25 miles from Salt Lake City, various elements of the course will celebrate the cowboy way of life. Art in the clubhouse will include carved saddles. Every tee box will have an icon that looks like the kind of musical triangle that would be struck to summon cowboys to chow down at the ranch house. This course is scheduled to open in spring of 2003.

• And at Trophy Lake Golf and Casting in Port Orchard, Wash., the clubhouse looks like a fishing lodge where off the back patio, you can take a lesson in fly fishing and of course, trout is on the menu in the restaurant.

OB Sports formerly owned some of these courses, but is now mainly involved in course management and consulting with developers who want to provide themes for their courses.

Roberts also points out that a golf course by its nature often has several very different elements grouped together in one place: "You have a retail store, a driving range where you're giving lessons, a place to play golf and a place to serve food and beverages. Those four things are four different businesses that you would probably never find together in another kind of place like a shopping mall. But all those things can be threaded together into one big plan with a theme."

But does a course with a theme have to be restricted to a vacation spot, a resort area? It couldn't ever work in a housing development, could it?

"Well, we like to think that someone living five minutes away can feel that it's a vacation for a day to visit one of these themed courses," Roberts says. "It's not just a golf course, it's Langdon Farms. We call them public 'resort' courses."

That doesn't mean that a theme will always work, he says: "if you're building a course at a housing development, you might not want to jam a themed course into a subdivision. It might not fit unless the development also has a theme."

One place where it does work is a development at a course in Rochester, Minn., named Somerby. "It's going to have an Old English foxhunt theme in a housing area with an Old English theme," Roberts says. "The architecture is English style and we'll make use of decoration involving trumpets and hounds."

In the Phoenix area, OB Sports manages We-Ko-Pa, the brand-new and highly acclaimed course owned by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, just east of Scottsdale. This is a course where themes were played down. The firm initially tried to talk the Yavapai into using Indian cultural icons in laying out the course. "We said let's celebrate your culture, perhaps by doing something on every hole that would talk about some legendary member of your tribe," Roberts says. "But they said, no, that's our business. That's very private to us. So we backed off. We did use some Indian art in the clubhouse, but it's not terribly personal."

Now in the works is The Duke Golf Course, part of the Rancho Eldorado housing development in Maricopa City, off Highway 10, south of Phoenix. It's being built on a rugged piece of property with an Old West atmosphere. "There's definitely going to be a Western motif," Roberts says. "It's going to have a theme that's Western-light, as we call it. It's sort of a low-fat Western theme with a resort feel to it." The course is expected to open in early 2003.

Want to play and check out the themes?

If you're interested in playing at some of the courses named above, here is more information about those now open for business:

The Gallery Golf Club is located about 10 miles north of Tucson, at 14000 N. Dove Mountain Blovd, Marana, Ariz. 85653. Call 520-744-4700 or check out www.gallerygolf.com - the course, designed by Tom Lehman and John Fought, is 7,400 yards from the back tees. It's a private club but some limited tee times are available to the public.

Langdon Farms Golf Club is located at 24377 N.E. Airport Road, Aurora, Ore. 97002. Call 503-678-3262 or check out www.langdonfarms.com - the course, designed by John Fought and Robert Cupp, is 6,931 from the back tees. Rates range from about $30 in winter to $85 in summer.

Trophy Lake Golf and Casting is located at 3900 S.W. Lake Flora Road, Port Orchard, Wash. 98367. Call 360-874-8337 or check out www.trophylakegolf.com - the course, designed by John Fought, is 7,200 yards from the back tees. Rates in summer range from about $35-$70.

The Tuscany Golf Club is located at 2920 N. Green Valley Parkway in Henderson, Nev. 89014. Call 866-TUSCANY or check out www.tuscanygolfclub.com. The course, designed by Ted Robinson, is 6,906 yards from the back tees. Green fees range from $90-$115.

The Washington National Golf Course is located off Highway 18 east, at 14330 S.E. Husky Way, Auburn, Wash. 98092. Call 253-333-5000 or check out www.washingtonationalgolfclub.com - this traditional, classic style course, designed by John Fought, measures 7,300 yards from the back tees. Rates range from $45-$90. The course opened last year; a new clubhouse will open next year.

We-Ko-Pa Golf Club is located 15 miles east of Scottsdale at 18200 E. Toh Vee Circle, Fountain Hills, Ariz. Call 480-836-9000 or check out www.wekopa.com - the course, designed by Scott Miller, is 7,225 yards from the back tees. Rates range from about $50 in summer to $150 in winter.

Rebecca LarsenRebecca Larsen, Contributor

Rebecca Larsen is a former features and assistant features editor for the Marin Independent Journal, a medium-sized daily paper located north of San Francisco. She has also worked for the Milwaukee Journal and for a Chicago public relations firm. She has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's from the University of California at Berkeley.

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