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Oak Harbor golf club on new course
A thick stack of scorecards and piles of green pencils still bear the old name.
As the inventory thins and eventually vanishes, though, the transformation of a half-century old golf course in Oak Harbor will be complete.
Whidbey Golf Club is the new name of the 18-hole course formerly known as Whidbey Golf & Country Club.
The new name reflects the biggest changes at the course since the club, opened in 1961.
The club is veering from its private course image by offering a variety of membership options geared toward casual, military and seasonal golfers, and is marketing itself as a “semi-private” course.
The changes are an attempt to reinvigorate interest in the course by peeling off its exclusivity label.
Eric Schelling, the club’s general manager, said big changes were necessary to keep the club viable after a decline in the game’s popularity and economic recession led to a significant reduction in membership over two decades.
Shareholder membership that reached 450 during the height of the Tiger Woods craze in the mid 1990s had dipped to 200.
Schelling started pushing for changes shortly after joining the club’s staff in 2006 when he began seeing statistics that alarmed him.
Of the club’s members, there were 75 members over the age of 75 and one under age 40.
“I was looking at the next generation,” Schelling said.
“I saw some huge red flags.”
Modifications were made to membership offerings to attract younger golfers, resulting in new “under 40” category. In a year, membership in that age group rose from one to 30, Schelling said.
That success laid the foundation for the sweeping changes that the board of directors approved in late February, Schelling said.
In April, the new Whidbey Golf Club moniker was unveiled, offering seven additional customized membership options.
Among them are memberships targeted toward people unique to Whidbey Island, including the military and part-time island residents. Other new memberships were designed for juniors, executives and casual golfers.
While a traditional club member pays $2,805 a year for membership, an active duty military member is now able to play for $110 monthly on a per-month basis.
Whidbey Golf Club offered a “Military Appreciation Day” on May 4, drawing about 100 service members who played for free.
Military memberships at the golf course rose from two under the former slightly-discounted format to 50 under the new one.
“Their lifestyle is one of transition,” Schelling said. “They would be less apt to join something they’d probably have to quit.”
Schelling also took a long look at the number of Whidbey Island residents who live on the island only during the warmer, golf-playing months and made a bold suggestion to offer a discounted rate during peak season.
From April to September, a “seasonal” member can play for $855 less than a traditional premium annual member. The fear would be that all members would gravitate toward that category, but Schelling argued that their well-drained course and “rain shadow” it rests under makes Whidbey Golf Club a desirable place to play 12 months of the year.
“We said, ‘Let’s not act out of fear. Let’s act out of opportunity,’” Schelling said.
Schelling said he hasn’t heard any negative feedback about the changes, which are still in progress.
A new logo was designed featuring a red barn, which serves as a reminder to the days when cows roamed on the land that was once the Loerland Dairy Farm.
Steve Anderson, one of the club’s board members, is building a new sign that will rest near the club’s entrance.
“It’ll look barnish,” Schelling said.
The pro shop already features black caps and polos in seven different colors that boast the new logo.
“I like it,” pro shop employee Brandon Kenworthy said. “It goes back to our roots.”
Taking “country” out of the club’s name was important to let golfers in the community know they can play on the course, Schelling said.
He said there has been public play in the afternoons at the club since the late 1990s but “we didn’t tell anybody about it.”
Schelling is busy getting word out now about the many new changes in 2013, including the community’s new website at www.whidbeygolfclub.com. He’s also gearing up for the club’s biggest annual event, the Men’s Invitational, May 25-26.
He’s hoping the new sign is up by then.
“I don’t know of any other golf courses doing this,” Schelling said. “I think it’s a little progressive thinking, and so far, it’s going pretty well.”