Despite the snow and cold, Ken Graham is thinking about golf.
Specifically, the manager of Pheasantback Golf & RV Estates is pondering how the course northwest of Stettler might attract players from the surrounding area, as well as from Edmonton and Calgary, and even overseas.
Stettler lawyer Gary Grant purchased the property last summer after the previous operation — Pheasantback Golf and Country Club — went into receivership in the fall of 2012. Since then, Grant has joined forces with an adjacent property owner who wants to develop a trailer park on 40 acres to the west.
“The two fellows are combining their properties,” said Graham. “Both realize that in order to make a good viable solid operation they both need to be up and running to complement each other.”
On the golf side, that means getting the 18-hole course into shape for the 2014 season. In addition to showing the effects of a year of non-use, the greens, fairways and remainder of the property are suffering from a longer period of neglect.
“There was a lot of deferred maintenance over the last five years,” said Graham.
But other, more significant changes are planned for Pheasantback, he said. These includes making the course more inviting to casual golfers.
“We know we have immediate area clientele that won’t even come and play just because of the difficulty of the course — or what they perceive as difficult.”
With water coming into play on 15 of the holes, and some tee boxes requiring players of all skill levels to hit over water, the course is intimidating, acknowledged Graham.
“It’s a real straight-shooter’s course.”
Alterations, which began last summer, have included trimming back vegetation to open things up.
“We attempted to make the course substantially more friendly for beginner and average golfers,” said Graham.
“We’re striving to be known more as a community course.”
That includes developing league play for men, women and juniors. But the course will also continue to welcome tournaments, added Graham.
Food service at the clubhouse will be upgraded, he continued, and the golf-related facilities may be expanded. For instance, Pheasantback’s aquatic driving range, which has proven inadequate for long-ball hitters, may be restricted to iron use and a longer driving range developed on the adjacent land, said Graham.
Also contemplated are other training features like chipping greens, practice bunkers and pitching holes. Such facilities would be ideal for training, he said, and perhaps even for golf camps.
“I’ve already spoken with one entity from Korea, with a possibility of interest in sending Korean juniors over.
“I think it would work well as a training course, even globally.”
The immediate plan for the adjacent 40 acres is to develop a recreational vehicle park, with rental lots available with partial or full services.
Other recreational opportunities, including trap shooting, are being considered, said Graham.
Pheasantback actually reopened on a limited basis last August, which pleased some former loyal players.
“The clientele was extremely patient and co-operative — just excited and happy to see something happening,” said Graham.
Tim Fox, chief administrative officer with the County of Stettler, said the municipality is pleased.
“It’s great news for the county to have the business being taken over by new owners and providing economic development for the area.”
Graham said it’s important the course wasn’t allowed to deteriorate further and perhaps even revert to pasture.
“You’d never get another one. Nobody’s going to put that investment up in the country.”
The golf course requires no further approval from the county to operate, said Fox. The RV park, however, must still be OK’d.
Opened in 1995, Pheasantback Golf and Country Club hosted a number of provincial amateur and professional tournaments before being forced to close last year.
It’s been popular with many seasonal residents at nearby Buffalo Lake, said Graham. These, and other golfers, should be able to tee it up at Pheasantback Golf & RV Estates this spring, he said.
“We’ve got a good program in place and it should look pretty fine come next season.”
Membership and green fees are still to be finalized, with these part of a broader budgeting process, said Graham.
Grant recently asked the county for a break on Pheasantback’s 2013 property taxes, and has appealed the land’s assessment. Fox said council will consider the tax abatement after the assessment appeal has been completed.