GEARHART — “It’s a gem that is being polished,” said Tim Boyle, CEO of Columbia Sportswear and co-owner of Gearhart Golf Links at an open house reception at the golf course last week. Friends of the golf course gathered in the clubhouse for hors d’oeuvres followed by an invitation-only dinner.

Oregon’s oldest golf course has been owned by the Boyles for years, but the family is turning it over to Greenway Golf for everyday operations to give the course added appeal and publicity.

“The setting here is unique. To have a facility along the ocean in a links-style course – you don’t find that in a lot of places,” said Greenway Chief Operations Officer Ken Campbell. “It’s history – the fact that it’s the oldest golf course in Oregon – brings a lot of historical perspective that attracted us to it. The relationship with the ownership was the other attraction,” he said.

Just 82 years before people started playing golf on the coastal plains of Gearhart, members of the Lewis & Clark Expedition were a few miles away, making salt for the expedition’s food supply in the winter of 1805-06.

Maybe that can be one of the “fun-themed” event packages in store for the new and improved Gearhart golf experience, said members of Greenway.

Maintaining the historical significance of Gearhart Golf Links will play a big role in the new image being created by Boyle.

“The goal is to just expose lots of people to the golf course, and make sure that everybody has a terrific experience here,” Boyle said. “And making sure people tell their friends what a phenomenal experience it is to play on the oldest course in Oregon.

“They’ve been playing golf at Gearhart since 1892, which makes it the oldest place they’ve been playing golf west of the Mississippi.”

According to gearhartgolflinks.com, “legend has it that Gearhart Golf Links began life in about 1888, starting out as a few holes of true Links golf amongst the seaside meadows that characterize the North Oregon Coast.

“Golf, somewhat new to the U.S., came to Gearhart by way of visitors to the bustling resort who had experienced the game in Europe and found Gearhart’s meadows the perfect setting. By 1892, golf was a regular pastime for guests of the Hotel Gearhart on the three-hole course just across the street.”

In 1901, at the hands of Marshall Kinney, Gearhart was officially opened as a nine-hole course. From 1913 to 1915, Gearhart grew to 18 holes and began a long heritage as one of the state’s premiere golf venues.

Campbell said, “To be able to play golf where they played for the first time in Oregon, right here on this land … from a golfer’s perspective, that’s pretty unique and special.”

In late 2010, when the new family partnership of Gearhart Golf Links came into existence, the Boyles sought out a firm to make a good thing better.

“This golf course is an unbelievable gem that not enough people know about,” Boyle said. “The folks at Greenway are going to help us run the golf course. None of us know how to run a golf course and they are experts at it. The changes are improvements and polishing the great golf course we already have.”

The new General Manager and Director of Golf, Jason Bangild, has been managing a variety of golf courses for many years. Greenway, which has 19 golf properties, specializes in taking over the day-to-day operations of golf courses, and improving their greens and fairways.

“Greenway has built their reputation on turf grass management. They are experts in that field,” Bangild said. “The overall structure of the golf course won’t change. It’s not going to get longer; they’re not going to remove bunkers or anything crazy like that. But they are going to improve the playability of the golf course, improve the quality of the bent grass in the greens, and improve drainage. Those two simple things will improve the playability of the golf course,” he said.

“It’s taking all the details of the property and building on them, making them better, making it a fun golf experience, something people want to do multiple times on their trip to the coast,” added  Campbell.

Said Boyle, “There are some people who come out from Portland and ask, ‘When did you put this golf course here?’ 1892, I tell them.”

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