STEVENSON — After more than 18 months of construction, Skamania Lodge has taken the wraps off its newly reconfigured golf course, capping off a project that has seen lengthy disruptions and delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The milestone marks the return of one of the popular Columbia River Gorge destination’s key attractions at a time when the lodge is enjoying a busy summer but still working to get back to normal after being heavily disrupted by the pandemic last year.
The golf project reconfigured the lodge’s previous 18-hole course and driving range to produce three new offerings: a nine-hole course, a 2.5-acre putting course and a disc golf course.
The official grand opening celebration was last weekend, although the nine-hole course has been open to guests since the start of July. Disc golf debuted first in late May, followed by the putting course in mid-June.
“That was a great jumpstart for us,” said sales and marketing director Kara Owen.
The revamp was prompted by a change in guest attitudes toward golf, according to the lodge’s director of golf Guy Puddefoot and general manager Ken Daugherty.
Groups attending events, conferences and corporate retreats make up a significant portion of the lodge’s regular guests — about 60 percent before the pandemic hit, according to Daugherty — but the average event schedule has become more densely packed in recent years.
Attendees aren’t always able to get away for the four or five hours it takes to play through a full 18-hole game, Daugherty said. Full games can also be intimidating for newcomers to the sport, making it less appealing in an era when there tend to be fewer hardcore golfers in the average group.
The trio of new offerings are all aimed at providing faster and more accessible games that are fun for veterans and newcomers alike. The nine-hole course can be completed in about 90 minutes or less, Puddefoot said, and the putting course in about an hour.
The nine-hole and putting courses both feature multiple tee locations and multiple holes on each green that can be plugged and opened to add variety to the course — an adjustment that staff have been making on a daily basis.
The main course has also been switched over to artificial turf, Puddefoot said, and the irrigation systems have been upgraded to reduce water use. The shortened length also makes it more practical to walk the whole course, although golf carts are still available.
The initial reception from guests has been positive, Puddefoot said. Some of the golf enthusiasts have lamented the loss of the 18-hole course, but the lodge staff have been able to win most of them over by presenting the nine-hole version as a good opportunity for veteran players to work on their short game.
“There’s only been a handful of folks who have left not converted,” he said — and the trade-off is an increase in interest from new or casual players who might have previously skipped the course.
The putting course is also quickly fulfilling its intended role as an easy and fun introduction for golf newcomers.
“Most of the time, people have never played golf when they go out there,” he said.
The former driving range site to the north of the lodge has been renamed “The Backyard,” which Daugherty said is intended to reflect the fact that it’s become more than just the place to tee off for the main course. The space between the putting course and the nearby putting green now doubles as an event lawn.
The project has had a lengthy development timeline due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Construction was well underway in early 2020, aiming to get the work done during the spring and partially reopen the course in May of that year, with the last of the work wrapping up in July.
The driving range field was in the process of being leveled in preparation for the putting course by the beginning of March, and sections of the main course were under construction. But the work ground to a halt and the lodge itself shut down a few weeks later when the first COVID-19 lockdown measure put a moratorium on nonessential construction.
Work resumed in June, but at a much slower pace due to labor and material shortages. The pause also caused the project to miss a critical seasonal window for reseeding grass. The lodge was able to reopen to guests in May with social distancing measures in place, but it had already become clear that the golf project would stretch into 2021.
Skyrocketing lumber prices made headlines earlier this year, the starkest example of widespread supply chain issues that have caused headaches for home and commercial builders. The golf course didn’t need any lumber, Daugherty said, but it still found itself in the same boat as most structural building projects.
“You’re still looking for wiring, all the PVC for plumbing, all the materials — irrigation especially,” he said.
The new light fixtures, which had been ordered prior to the pandemic, were one of the only things that didn’t see a price hike, he said. Even the discs for the disc golf course became more difficult to source due to plastic shortages, Puddefoot added.
There was also material and labor competition from other golf courses, Puddefoot said. Course owners rushed to remodel and upgrade in response to an influx of business from customers seeking outdoor group activities that would lend themselves well to social distancing. Even the more golf-specific materials like sod and landscaping trees fetched a premium.
The final cost of the project came in at about $4 million, Daugherty said, a figure which was higher than expected due to the increased material costs.
The upgraded golf course isn’t the only project in the works at Skamania — the lodge also added two new “treehouse”-style cabins late last summer, and Daugherty said the lodge has plans to expand the lineup even further. The individualized lodging options proved to be very popular for pandemic guests.
The next two treehouses will hopefully be added in 2023, he said, and the lodge’s leadership is also looking into adding more indoor and outdoor meeting space, as well as new cabins and “glamping” options — basically luxury campsites.
The lodge’s Riverview Pavilion debuted in 2019 and has been wildly popular, he said, so a second one is likely to be added at some point. The first one was only intended to operate for three seasons out of the year, he said, but guests have even requested it for winter use.
The lodge saw a major shift in its usual customer traffic patterns last year as the traditional stream of business conferences and retreats dried up, while a new surge of families and small groups headed out to the lodge to escape the confines of home quarantine.
The family traffic isn’t quite enough to make up for the loss of business traffic, Daugherty said, but group traffic has begun to rebound this year, and he predicted that the lodge traffic would return to normal in about another year.