Board explores Birch Creek Golf Course

Former Pendleton Country Club improved, rebranded

By Miranda Vega Rector of the CUJ

MISSION – The Board of Trustees (BOT) of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) toured the Birch Creek Golf Course, formerly the Pendleton Country Club, for the first time since they purchased it in 2019.
Due to many COVID-19 restrictions and shut downs, as well as a change of board members since the purchase, this was the first opportunity that Wildhorse Resort and Casino – managers of the course – had to properly showcase the property which includes 248.5 acres, Birch Creek and its associated two surface and two sub-surface water rights, large clubhouse, swimming pool and locker rooms, and three zoned housing lots.
“I finally feel secure that it’s a good purchase,” said Lindsey X. Watchman, General Council Chair of the CTUIR. “At the time I was on the outside and now I am on the inside and I feel it was a good purchase. Now I am just anxious for it to be more then just a secondary golf course.”
The 18 hole golf course with a 72 par, is located along Highway 395 between Pendleton and Pilot Rock. Upon purchase in 2019, the golf course was in dire need of some maintenance which included a majority of 26,000 sprinkler heads that needed to be replaced and a kitchen remodel. Because there were no capital improvement dollars to invest into the property, Wildhorse staff did most of the maintenance themselves. They improved the golf course irrigation system, property equipment, the club house electrical system, the on-site restaurant, and replaced all the kitchen equipment and golf pro shop.
“Very little funds were used to make these improvements and relied on staff knowledge and labor,” said Gary George, CEO of Wildhorse Resort and Casino (WRC).
Birch Creek Golf Course is no longer a country club for members only, like it once was, but is now open for public play and membership privileges.
The BOT is hoping to do more with the land and golf course, and therefore WRC has hired an independent consultant to prepare a Highest and Best Use Study of the property. WRC is also preparing a Birch Creek Business Plan for BOT review and adoption.
“There’s a lot of potential here to grow and make sure that we help out our community, Tribal and non-Tribal, to find diversion,” said Boots Pond, CTUIR BOT Member. “There’s a lot of steps to take to make sure it comes to fruition to be a destination point. I’m happy with the staff and all their efforts in making this possible to be that.”
According to George, many ideas have been expressed to him ranging from outdoor concerts with an amphitheater, weddings, more housing, golf course improvements, and re-routing to protect Birch Creek wildlife and fish habitats, and to create an environmental conservation area. But all will depend on what comes back from the studies and what the upcoming new Board of Trustees will vote on.
“Next step is to find other places for the property to create non-golf venues,” said Watchman. “So that’s where we’re at right now. We are waiting for a business plan which will include a bunch of ideas. It will take a year to whittle things down I think.”

BACK ROW: Golf Course Grounds Superintendent Phil Lagao, Head Golf Pro Ryan Dahl, PGA Director pf Golf Mike Hegarty, Food and Beverage Director Bruce Mecham, BOT Member Jill-Marie Gavin-Harvey, BOT General Council Chair Lindsey X. Watchman, BOT Vice Chair Jeremy Wolf, BOT Member Boots Pond, Assistant Golf Pro Chris Stoops, and Wildhorse Resort and Casino CEO Gary George. FRONT ROW: Retail Advertising Manager Robert Watson, BOT Member Armand Minthorn, BOT Chair Kat Brigham, BOT Secretary Sally Kosey, BOT Member Cor Sams, Controller Mitchell Wellington, and Marketing Director Diane Long.
CTUIR Board of Trustees members Corinne Sams and Armand Minthorn look around at Birch Creek Golf Course.

“You know what, when people think of indigenous communities they don’t necessarily think right away of golf, but as a people we are very athletic and drawn to athletic things… and golf is no different,” said Jill-Marie Gavin-Harvey, CTUIR BOT Member. “It’s been really great to see the golf program at NCS (Nixyaawii Community School) grow and to see so many indigenous people out on the course, working and golfing and enjoying the recreational activities. It’s a testament to how diverse we are as a people and how we have come a really long way. To see that play out in our business ventures is really cool.”