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News / Business / Clark County Business

After more than 50 years, Vanco Golf Range to close in October

Land, owned by city of Vancouver, to become part of Heights District Development project

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 8, 2024, 6:03am
5 Photos
Vancouver golfer Ben Sims works on his swing while playing at the Vanco Golf Range. The facility is closing at the end of October as the city did not renew its lease.
Vancouver golfer Ben Sims works on his swing while playing at the Vanco Golf Range. The facility is closing at the end of October as the city did not renew its lease. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Ben Sims smashed his club into the golf ball and watched it fly through the rain and land with a kerplunk in one of the many large puddles on the Vanco Golf Range.

Relatively new to golf, Sims, of Vancouver, plays three to four days a week to stay active and relieve stress and for the social aspect.

He appreciates that in a sport known for being pricey, Vanco offers a low-cost way to play: $7 gets you a bucket of about 45 balls. Vanco also has free practice putting greens and a chipping green. Vanco is not pretentious but has a blue-collar feel, said Sims, who works for Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue in Oregon.

“To be honest, I thought golf was dumb,” Sims said. “I thought of golf as not being affordable and taking up a lot of land.”

But come October, Sims will need to find a new place to practice. After more than 50 years in business, Vanco is shutting down for good after the city of Vancouver, which owns the land, opted not to renew Vanco’s lease.

That land will be turned into the Heights District Development project, which covers 205 acres in central Vancouver, including a 63-acre development where Tower Mall used to stand. The project will bring hundreds of residential units — including for low-income families — as well as commercial spaces to the area.

“I think it will be really good, but it’s kind of a bummer,” Sims said of the Tower Mall project.

Land intensive

Vanco is the most recent golf facility to permanently close. It will join Lakeview Par 3 Golf Challenge in west Vancouver, as well as The Cedars on Salmon Creek and Hartwood in Brush Prairie. All three closed in 2021. Green Mountain in Camas closed in 2014.

Vanco was supposed to close in 2020, but a deal was reached with the city to extend its lease through the end of 2024 after a petition to keep Vanco open by its regular customers garnered more than 750 signatures. This time, there will not be an extension.

Golf is a land-intensive use, and the city has to make trade-offs for what will benefit the community the most, Vancouver Economic Development Director Patrick Quinton said.

“If we have assets that can produce significant new housing, especially affordable housing, and provide open spaces … that are inclusive and allow for a variety of different members of the community to access it, I think that’s a decent trade-off,” Quinton said. “But I certainly am not going to say you don’t lose something in the process. Those are the kind of tough decisions you make as the needs of the community become more acute.”

Affordable housing

The Tower Mall Development comes at a time when Clark County and Washington face a lack of affordable housing units.

In 2022, the Council for the Homeless cataloged more than 9,000 people experiencing homelessness, a figure driven by high rents and lack of affordable housing units. To meet a statewide goal of building 1.1 million new homes by 2044, Clark County would need to boost its affordable housing supply by more than 100,000 units in the next two decades, according to estimates by the state Department of Commerce.

Construction of buildings in the Vancouver Heights neighborhood could start as soon as 2026. Infrastructure work will likely start sooner, Quinton said.

“We’re ready to start to work,” Quinton said. “If we thought it was going to take another five years, I think we’d have a different perspective on it.”

Leaving a hole

The course squeeze has been felt by the schools as well, said Demetrick White, the head golf coach and dean of students at Hudson’s Bay High School.

Hudson’s Bay is one of the handful of schools that practice at Vanco, with Fairway Village in east Vancouver as its home course. Fort Vancouver, Mountain View and Evergreen high schools also practice at Vanco, said its owner, Chuck Milne.

In season, his team practices at Vanco three to four days a week, White said, adding that many players practice at Vanco on the weekends, too.

“All kids should be able to access such an amazing game,” White said. “But yet, it seems like the squeeze is on, and there are starting to be fewer courses and areas for kids to grow that skill.”

White said he hasn’t thought much about what Hudson’s Bay will do once Vanco closes.

“High school sports are an amazing way for students to feel involved in the community and the schools,” White said. Vanco closing is “going to throw a wrench into the accessibility of that.”

Milne, 76, has owned Vanco since 1981. The retired pro golfer said his favorite part about it is the community the range has cultivated.

“It brings families, lost souls, people that are bored, people that are lonely,” Milne said. “People come up here because they want to be here. It’s not like going to the dentist; it’s a real positive place to be.”

Milne works to keep it affordable, too. Over the past three years, he has covered the sales tax for his customers. He estimated it costs him $15,000 to $20,000 a year.

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“If people think they’ll have to pay taxes on them, they’ll definitely go across the river,” he said.

Milne said he will probably retire and spend more time in a warmer climate once Vanco closes. He and his wife are planning a customer appreciation celebration for the third week of September.

“I have real mixed emotions about it,” Milne said. “I’ll miss it. I’ll miss the people.”