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If you build it, they will come

How three friends turned a parcel of farmland into one of the finest golf courses in the country


The WinCo Foods Portland Open, which returns PGA tournament golf to the Portland area for the first time in decades Aug. 18-24, is not the first major event to be staged at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.Photo Credit: PORTLAND TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Marvin French, Barney Hyde and Gay Davis (from left), who are co-founders of Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, stand on the 18th fairway of the Witch Hollow course.

Six USGA tourneys have been held over the years — the 1996 U.S. Men’s Amateur (when 20-year-old Tiger Woods won an unprecedented third straight title and then turned pro), the 1997 U.S. Women’s Open, the U.S. Junior Girls and Boys Championships in 2000, the U.S. Women’s Open in 2003 and the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2006.

Sometime in the next decade, Pumpkin Ridge is a likely site for one of men’s golf’s four majors — the PGA Championships.

The jewel of a course tucked into Washington County farmland in North Plains, just north of Highway 26, is the brainchild of original owners Marv French, Gay Davis and Barney Hyde, who had the foresight to purchase the 341-acre site on Dec. 18, 1987, for $570,000 — just $1,668 an acre.

Four years later, the 36-hole layout — which includes Ghost Creek (public) and Witch Hollow (private) — opened for play with total land and construction costs of $18.3 million. Golf Digest ranked Ghost Creek as the No. 1 new public course and Witch Hollow as the No. 2 new private course in the nation in 1992.

Such acclaim “was beyond expectations,” Davis says. “We’ve kind of ridden that curve ever since.”

Today, Pumpkin Ridge is regarded as one of the finest courses on the West Coast and on a short list of the premier layouts in the Northwest. It’s exactly what the original owners had in mind.

“We weren’t going to risk our marriages, our finances and our jobs and take that level of risk unless we could build something incredible,” Hyde says. “I feel tremendous pride that we did the damn thing. When I think about it, I just glow inside. I have something to do with this wonderful place.

“I don’t mean to be hyperbolic, but it’s the most awesome thing we could have built. I couldn’t be more proud of it.”

The original owners jumped through more hoops than a circus performer to get the four-year project completed.

“We committed to building a championship course, the best course we could possibly put together,” French says. “We went through an awful lot to get it done, but I’m glad we stuck to our principles.”

***

In 1987, French and attorney Chuck Ruttan were sitting at the men’s bar after a round at Waverley Country Club.

“I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to build a championship course here in Portland?’” recalls French, who turns 70 on Aug. 18. “Chuck agreed. I said, ‘Let’s start looking for land.’

“In Oregon, that’s a little difficult. Outside the urban growth boundary, you’re restricted on what kind of development you can do. You can’t do it on farmland.”

French mentioned his idea to friends Davis and Hyde, who showed interest, but in the case of the latter, also at least a touch of skepticism.

“I thought he was nuts,” Hyde says. “I said, ‘Sure, Marv, go ahead and look for the land.’ He looked for the better part of a year.”

In September 1987, French — a Roseburg native and Westmont (Calif.) College grad who had a career in financial management and was CFO at Sunriver for five years in the early 1970s — received a call from Sunriver pro Verne Perry.

“You still looking for a place for a golf course?” Perry asked. “I got a call from a realtor. Do you want to go look at a piece of land?”

Perry picked up French and they drove to a strip center mall in Beaverton.

“It was raining like crazy,” French recalls. “We walked into the building and nobody’s there. Then we hear a voice in the background, ‘Come back to my office.’

“There’s a big guy with feet up on his desk, a pile of cigarette butts in a container, a fellow named VanderZanden. He said, ‘You boys looking for a golf course? I’ll give you directions (to the land), but I’m not going out in this weather.’”

The man was the late Ray VanderZanden, a realtor whose brother ran a dairy farm in the area and rented part of the property from owner Pat Murphy to pasture a herd of cattle.

“It was a mostly wooded area with a few clearings,” says Walt’s nephew, Bob VanderZanden, 66, who still farms about 1,500 acres of clover and grass seed and wheat along Jackson School Road. “There was a fair amount of pasture. My uncle Walt, who knew Mr. Murphy from church, would run the cattle through there in the summer and round them up in the fall.

“Back when I was 11 or 12, sometime in the late ‘50s, I’d help him round up his heifers. The corrals were close to where the (Ghost Creek) clubhouse is today.”

Ray had the listing on the property, which in the late 1980s was owned by the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose. One of Murphy’s daughters had lived in the convent.

“Uncle Ray dabbled in real estate all his life,” Bob VanderZanden says. “He was one of those gregarious, large personalities.”

With directions in hand, Perry and French drove out Highway 26 to the property.

“We came in the back side and across the fence where the sixth tee is now at Ghost Creek,” French says. “From there to the market at North Plains was a well-oiled walk path where all the migrant workers (from fields in the area) would walk down and get their beer after work.

“We couldn’t see a lot as we walked (the plot of land), but we saw enough to know it was an awfully good site.”

French soon learned the land had been used for “virtually nothing” since being select cut for timber in 1952.

“At one time, they farmed wheat or grass on what you now see as Nos. 1, 9 and 10 of Ghost Creek along the southern boundary,” French says. “Mostly, (the land) sat there for 35 years.”

French called Ruttan, who would serve the partners as an in-house lawyer, write the land purchase contract and meet with the owners weekly until they opened the course in 1992. As soon as Ruttan crafted the offer, French called Davis and Hyde.

Davis came out that weekend to inspect the real estate.

“I thought it was a great piece of property,” says Davis, 68, a Cleveland High and University of Oregon graduate and a two-time Oregon Amateur champion. Davis was in.

French spoke to Hyde, a CPA who was a little less sure about the substantial investment.

“I was not a rich man,” says Hyde, 68, a Seattle native and Gonzaga grad. “It took me a month or two to make up my mind. Finally, I said yes.”

The asking price for the land was $650,000, but that wasn’t the bad news.

“Somebody was there ahead of us,” Davis says. “We had to wait for that offer to expire.”

The offer fell through. French and friend Gary Hellwege had formed a real estate investment company called Pacific Estates Ltd. They made an official offer to the management committee controlling the property, and it was accepted, with $10,000 as a down payment, a year’s option and another year extension if necessary.

“We had a year to pull out of the project if it wasn’t viable for whatever reason, and an option to extend it for a second year,” French says. “Essentially, we got two years from the landowner to get our ducks in a row and get the thing started.”

Over the course of the next year and a half, Hellwege sold his interest in Pacific Estates Ltd., and Davis bought his interest in the company. A short time later, Hyde came in as a third shareholder.

Hellwege, an architect who worked in the wood products business, was hired as project manager. He was the owners’ representative in building both clubhouses as part of the original land-use application with Washington County and managed construction of the entire project, including the golf courses.

“I was on the ground running with (French, Davis and Hyde) in the preliminary process to convince Washington County to let them do it,” says Hellwege, 72, a Springfield High and UO grad. “For about a year, the four of us had weekly meetings at the Red Lion in downtown Portland.”

The owners hired Demar Batchelor as their land-use attorney to help them through the permit process with Washington County.

“That was interesting,” French says. “Nobody at the county had ever been involved in golf course construction. Plus, the ‘Thousand Friends of Oregon’ group didn’t want farmland built for anything. They drove up Pumpkin Ridge Road with us and the comment was made, ‘We cannot support a golf course on this land.’ We immediately knew they were looking at farmland on the wrong side of the road.

“We walked them into our site. The good news is, in the end, they did not fight the project. They wouldn’t endorse it, but they did not fight it.”

Soon it was time to hire an architect to draw up plans as part of the permit process. Local golf pro and designer John Fought recommended Bob Cupp, who had worked with Jack Nicklaus designing courses for many years.

“We thought we had a good site for a championship course, but you never know until an architect looks at it,” Davis says. “We didn’t really know what we had. Bob loved it because there were mature trees and no rock. Surprisingly, he was happy there was no water, because (architects) want to create their own water.”

In April 1989, Cupp was hired and immediately made a very important recommendation.

“I’ll never forget the meeting,” French says. “He said, ‘You guys are making a very big mistake if you build only 18 holes.’ He was the instigator who got us to 36 holes.”

The owners followed Cupp’s suggestion and decided on 18 holes private, 18 holes public.

“Bob gave us a very nice proposal that worked out very well,” Davis says. “For $25,000, he’d do the route plan for all 36 holes, and tell us within 10 percent of what the course would cost. We’d go with that to an investor and say, ‘Here’s the cost. Do you want in?’”

Next week: With plans in place, the group looks for investors to turn the dream of Pumpkin Ridge into a reality.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers



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