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Kitsap's Village Green golf course struggling to stay open
Research by the National Golf Federation indicates that the total number of people who golf has declined or remained flat since 2000.
Couple that with soaring gas prices and a trio of highly regarded golf courses within a 10-mile radius, and Doug Hathaway isn’t sure how much longer Village Greens can survive.
Hathaway, the club’s PGA professional who has leased the 43-acre facility from Kitsap County since 1991, said the course has lost money every year since 2005.
“They’re substantial enough that I’m not going to continue to do it,” he said. “If this is a fourth-consecutive year, we’ll have to look really hard. At some point, we’re going to have to come to a mutual agreement or changes are going to have to be made.”
The challenges also have been personal for Hathaway.
He said he has been robbed three or four times — including one when a colleague’s head was cracked open by a bat — but the latest was by a pair of children that he says were between 10 and 12 and wearing white masks.
“I had a gun this last year stuck in my head by a couple of kids,“ he said. “The UPS guy was coming in and it about scared him to death.“
Hathaway, 65, said he still is optimistic about the situation despite the challenges. He suffered a heart attack on the course in 1993 and a stroke a few years ago, but can’t imagine being anywhere else.
“I would not have spent as many years here if it weren’t a wonderful experience,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed my time here tremendously.”
But Hathaway realizes there are challenges. The executive-length, 18-hole facility on Fircrest Drive charges an every-day, all-day $15 rate for adults, $12 for seniors and $10 for juniors, and features a covered driving range. But participation has dwindled in recent years.
Hathaway said the course once averaged 200 people per day, but the numbers have dramatically declined in recent years.
He said many golfers would prefer to play occasionally and spend the extra money at one of the area’s high-end courses, such as Gold Mountain, McCormick Woods and Trophy Lake.
“If we average 70, that’s a big day,” he said. “I think we’ve had one day this year with 200.”
Location is one issue for the course that’s nestled back in Port Orchard.
“Even people that live here are shocked when they find the course,” Hathaway said. “Then they’re really shocked when they find out it’s 18. Since we’re out here in the end of the community, it’s a little tougher to get here.”
Hathaway said this used to be a “beautiful spot” to draw crowds from across Puget Sound. But he said increasing gas and ferry prices, in addition to the toll that went into effect on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge last year, have changed that. The toll will increase from $3 to $4 on July 1.
He said the course used to receive one-third of its players from the Seattle and Tacoma areas, but hardly anyone comes from outside the peninsula anymore.
“That’s $3 you could’ve put in your gas tank when you have (Tacoma’s) Meadow Park and millions of courses over that way that are adequate to handle them,” Hathaway said. “There’s no reason to come this way.”
The 3,255-yard, par-58 course also exhibits deterioration. Hathaway said the greens are playable, but exhibit some wear and need repair. He said the course, which was built in 1958, needs extensive renovations, but the money isn’t there.
“They could come in and do some minor things that would make it a lot better, but it’s never going to generate the revenue needed to make significant repairs,” Hathaway said.
He said the course originally was a small-housing development for the military and they just “pushed dirt around” when it was constructed. The small greens — Hathaway estimates they’re a quarter the size of ones at McCormick Woods and Bremerton’s Gold Mountain — are difficult to maintain.
“We have a lot of challenges with the greens because they never were constructed as greens,“ he said. “They were just a bunch of dirt and stuff knocked over and put in the hill. So when we change cups, we get bricks; we get wood.”
But Hathaway estimates the cost to replace each green, $250,000 or $300,000, isn’t manageable, so “we’re pretty much stuck repairing it and keeping it as nice as we can.”
The myriad pine trees at the course also have impacted the greens. He said they’ve took an aerial picture from a helicopter and couldn’t see the course because “there’s so many trees.”
Hathaway said the roots have grown under the greens in some areas, including No. 15, which has been pushed up. One tree near that hole also blocks the middle of the fairway.
A tree on the first hole — one of the four par 4’s on the course — blocks the view of the green. Hathaway would like to remove some trees, 390 were taken out several years ago, but he’s limited by regulations.
“We can’t touch a tree anymore,” he said. “If they go bad and go dead, we have to leave them. If I have a dead tree, I should be able to cut it down for the safety of the poor guy who’s going to play.”
The trees also affect the condition of the fairways because they limit sunlight and Hathaway said it’s difficult to water because the trees become more overgrown at that point. Those trees also create a mess around the course with pine cones and other debris.
John Bauer, an 83-year-old Port Orchard resident, has hand-raked the course for free the last 12 years.
Hathaway said several other retirees help around the golf shop. He said the course likely would have closed already without their assistance.
One regular is Charlie Preston, 77, who has played at Village Greens two or three times a week for the past 20 years. Preston said the course is easier for seniors because it isn’t hilly, but he also likes the atmosphere.
“You go to some golf courses and the guys take it too seriously,” he said, adding that he rarely plays at other courses. “We just want to play for fun.”
Those friends, including 83-year-old Gordon Sipe, who travels from Rochester, Thurston County, like to note that Hathaway never has had a hole-in-one. Hathaway said Sipe had six in his career “and he can’t hit it 60 yards in the air.”
“That’s one of the most irritating things around because I’ve had a lot of double eagles, which is much more rare,” he said. “But nobody cares.”
Hathaway called the prospect of the course closing “a nightmare.” He noted that it’s not only like a second home to many regulars, but the course also is affordable.
“It’s so valuable to this end of the community,” he said. “If you took this facility away, a lot of people wouldn’t play golf anymore. They couldn’t afford it. They might play once a month or once a year, but it wouldn’t be every day.”