A youthful, progressive culture, coupled with an eco-friendly attitude, sustains Tetherow Golf Club.
Former European Tour pro Chris van der Velde made a wise choice when he asked Evans Scholar Chris Condon to caddie for him at the 2008 Pacific Northwest PGA Professional Championship, and then again at a local qualifier for the 2008 U.S. Open. After all, van der Velde won both events.
However, that wasn’t the only time van der Velde, who held his European Tour Card for 12 years, has put his trust in Condon. The Owner and Managing Partner of Tetherow Golf Club in Bend, Ore., also hired Condon as the property’s Golf Course Superintendent.
Condon had worked in the golf industry since he started caddying as a teenager and earned a college scholarship from the Western Golf Association Evans Scholars Foundation. (Established by amateur golfer Charles “Chick” Evans Jr., the scholarship provides full housing and tuition to deserving caddies across the country. )
Tetherow Golf Club
Location: Bend, Ore.
And van der Velde and Condon’s mutual understanding of the game, from more than one point of view, has proved to be beneficial for their relationship—and for Tetherow.
“He has played golf all over the world,” Condon says of van der Velde. “He’s not just an owner with knowledge of a few golf courses around the area. He can pull from his experience and bring it back here and see if it’s a fit for us.”
Respect for the Land
Along with Willem Willemstein, his Netherlands-based partner, van der Velde—who oversaw construction and pre-opening operations for the property’s original developer—purchased the Tetherow golf course in March 2009 and acquired 58 home sites in 2010. Condon, who started at Tetherow in December 2005 as part of OB Sports Golf Management, shared the partners’ vision to develop a resort that followed sustainable practices.
Tetherow (named for Solomon Tetherow, who led a wagon-train party through the area in the mid-1800s as it traveled from Missouri to the Oregon coast) was the first Audubon International Certified Signature Sanctuary golf course in Oregon. It is one of only 87 properties worldwide with the designation, and Condon and van der Velde were instrumental in achieving the certification.
“Development is going to happen, but we should do it the right way, and with the future in mind,” van der Velde believes.
Condon, recently honored as Co-Superintendent of the Year by the Oregon Golf Association, agrees. “A golf course superintendent should be a steward of the environment and utilize all resources to maximum efficiency,” he explains. “[Stewardship] pushes a superintendent into this type of management, and forces us to think months out, and not just about that day. We need to plan and schedule maintenance and be preventative instead of reactive.”
At Tetherow, the use of environmentally sound philosophies and practices were integrated into almost every aspect of the course’s development, and ongoing agronomic practices have continued to support sustainability.
“Audubon International has a set of guidelines for golf course construction, and we wanted to create a wildlife habitat and develop a course that can take care of itself,” notes Condon.
Only 78 acres of the 160-acre property include maintained turfgrass, and the entire golf course features a blend of fine fescue and Colonial bentgrass. This grassing plan makes it possible for Tetherow to use half the amount of water, fertilizer and pesticides that other regional golf courses use, Condon says.
Education and Training: B.A. in Spanish, University of Oregon; B.S. in Horticulture/Turf Management, Oregon State University
“We use fewer resources, but we still maintain a good-quality golf course,” he reports. “Grass can still grow without a whole lot of water and fertilizer.”
Developed at an elevation of almost 4,000 feet in a dry, high-desert climate, the Tetherow property preserves the natural landscape with nine acres of lakes and wetlands, as well as 73 acres of natural area. Rock piles and snags were retained to provide shelter for natural animal habitats. Tetherow is working with the Cascade Bird Conservatory to improve the nesting potential of Lewis’s Woodpecker, which is on the endangered species watch list, by placing bird boxes on the property.
The bunker sand is from the coastal town of Florence, Ore., and many of the native plants and rocks on the golf course came from areas of the property that were disturbed during construction.
Some of Tetherow’s natural resources, such as its rock fascia, were used in other parts of the facility as well. Tri-colored basalt mined from the 13th hole, for example, was used throughout the clubhouse, outbuildings, pathways and patio areas.
Condon credits golf course architect David McLay Kidd (who also designed the original Bandon Dunes course for the renowned resort on the Oregon coast) with choosing fine fescue for the links-style property, to provide better drought tolerance and help Tetherow’s course survive the summer heat that can be significant in the state’s arid center.
“[Fescue] was something that would set us apart from other golf courses in many facets such as playability and aesthetics, and I liked the challenge of it,” Condon notes.
The biggest challenge of the grass, he says, has been coordinating golf car, foot and maintenance traffic on the course. “Fine fescue isn’t known for its tolerance to traffic,” he explains. “We have to spread traffic around without affecting the pace of play. There are not a lot of ins and outs to the golf holes, and we have to manage tight spaces. The holes are framed by native plant materials, and there are just a couple of entry and exit points on the holes.”
The fine fescue also challenges the maintenance staff to adjust the greens speed, so it meets golfers’ expectations.
“The greens speed can start out slowly in the spring and early summer,” Condon reports. “It takes time to get it where we want it, but [fescue] does well in the winter and summer. Overall, the benefits clearly outnumber the downside.”
To get summer-like playing conditions on the greens more quickly, he continues, the maintenance staff topdresses the greens going into the winter, and aerifies more than normal in the spring.
However, Condon must also stay within his budget to maintain the appearance and playability of the golf course.
“As a superintendent, it doesn’t have to look perfect,” he notes. “If it looks perfect, sometimes the playability isn’t as good. You have to balance playability and aesthetics.”
He also has to consider the consequences and problems that could result from maintenance inputs. “If you overwater, then you have more disease pressure and need to use more pesticides,” he says.
Oregon’s climate minimizes disease susceptability during the growing season as well. “We only have disease pressure during the winter, with snowfall,” Condon reveals.
|Course & Grounds Profile
Tetherow Golf Club
Annual C&G Budget: $875,000
Louis Bennett, Tetherow’s PGA Head Golf Professional, believes that paying attention to environmental concerns has value not just for golfers, but for “any person who comes into the clubhouse.” Bennett also appreciates the reduced inputs used by Condon’s maintenance crew. “That’s a cool story to tell,” he says.
It also helps that Condon was part of Tetherow’s story from the beginning, which had him involved in all of the property’s planning stages, from irrigation to grassing to architectural decisions. Tetherow, which is still affiliated with OB Sports, was his fourth grow-in project, and the superintendent says that working at various types of golf courses with the management company has enhanced his professional growth. “It helped me learn to deal with different personalities and with what I do, agronomically and construction-wise,” he explains.
Condon also benefits from a strong working relationship with an owner who has a background that taught him the value of teamwork and management skills. As coach of the Dutch men’s national golf team from 2001 until 2008, van der Velde led that team to victory in the 2006 Amateur World Cup.
“Playing is playing, but coaching was important in learning how to manage people,” reports van der Velde. “Teamwork and communication between the departments is what makes us successful. I preach that every day.”
The department heads meet for weekly staff meetings, and Condon and van der Velde, who plays in a lot of sectional events, spend a lot of time together on and off the property. They also walk the golf course together about once a month.
“He plays a lot of golf with amateurs, so he sees how the golf course plays for them,” Condon explains. “We can’t make every hole really easy. [The golf course] needs to maintain its teeth, but it still needs to be enjoyable.”
Condon also gets valuable feedback from Bennett, a six-year golf pro who came to Tetherow in October from a neighboring course. Every morning, Condon or his assistant superintendent stop in the golf pro shop to talk to the staff.
“We check with them in the morning to be sure everyone is on the same page. We talk about comments they hear on the golf course,” says Condon. “If there is a negative comment, we can give people a reason why, or go out and fix it.”
Condon and Bennett also get together at least once a week to discuss course conditions and review maintenance requests and recommendations. “We’re the front line for the members and guests, so we can relay what the members are feeling,” Bennett says.
Goals and Outreach
Of course, Condon doesn’t rely solely on pro-shop feedback to find out what golfers are thinking. For the past two years he has held “meet and greet” open houses at the golf course maintenance facility, and he would like to offer hands-on educational programs this winter. Each year Tetherow works with Audubon International and its Advisory Committee to update sustainability goals, and this year Condon plans to get more involved in community outreach.
“I’d like to get some classrooms out here and get the members more involved on environmental issues, to help them with their landscapes and lower their water costs and consumption,” Condon says. “We are perceived as the experts on growing grass. People ask me what to do on their home lawns.”
He also wants to inform local residents about Tetherow’s efforts as well. “We can use our knowledge and let the community understand what we do here and let them tour the golf course,” Condon adds. “We can get people out here to walk the golf course and educate them on our wildlife habitats, maintenance plans, and how they affect the environment.”
While golf is the main attraction at Tetherow, the facility is used for additional purposes, including a mountain bike race that runs through the property.
“We have other focuses,” notes Condon. “We can show people our environmental efforts, hospitality, and the services we provide. This is a good place to wine and dine or hold an event, whether it’s a wedding or a big business meeting. We’re open to ideas, and it’s important to make Tetherow a well-rounded experience.”
A new hotel, which will include 50 suites with mountain and golf course views, is scheduled to open next spring. The property is expanding its event area and dining options as well.
“Chris and Willem really make an effort to make sure that Tetherow—the resort, the golf course, and the community—is successful,” reports Condon. “They [are taking] financial steps to grow the community of Tetherow, and the management and membership are very supportive of the club.”
The property pushed forward during the economic downturn, he notes, to ensure that golfers could enjoy an exceptional experience even as the maintenance budget had to decrease in the last four years.
“If we needed to do a major renovation project, as long as it’s properly planned, we would have the financial backing of the ownership,” Condon adds.
According to Bennett, the property found creative ways to adapt to the market during the recession. For example, he says, Tetherow charged special rates for locals to play the golf course at a price that matched the projected high temperature for the day.
“The culture here is youthful and progressive, out of the box. It’s not your grandpa’s country club,” Bennett reports. “It’s fun to be a part of and fun to be around. The potential for growth is super-attractive.”
That’s just what Chris van der Velde had in mind.
“The golf business is a good business to be in,” he says. “It was a struggle for the last five years, but we’re coming out of it. Our goal is to create a family-friendly place where people want to play golf and have fun.”