Never resting on its laurels
Now under the operation of golfing fanatics and professionals, the Laurelwood Golf Course at 2700 Columbia St. still transports its patrons to the well-manicured rolling countryside fewer than 10 blocks from campus.
Its history dates back to 1929, when designer Charles Sutton created the layout for one of the most topographically diverse 18-hole courses in the Eugene area. Eugene’s oldest course hit ups and downs over the years, garnering the nickname “Laurelweed” at times because of the low-quality greens and drainage issues. That never dampened public support, though, as generations of Eugene residents continued to pour in.
“We’ve got kids from 7 years old, and one of our oldest players is 88 years old,” said general manager Debby King. “He’s been playing out here since the ’40s.”
King, a seven-year veteran of the LPGA tour, is part of a revamped, professional staff brought in by new operators Will Benson and Todd Mathews in 2007. She has also won PGA and LPGA teacher of the year awards and coached at Notre Dame. Together, they are responsible for altering the image of Laurelwood from that of a dilapidated park to a top rival in quality of most private courses in the region.
Benson and Mathews stacked the staff at Laurelwood with golfing professionals in their never-ending quest to make it a top golfing destination. They added Tim Taylor, a former pro teacher, as the assistant manager.
“They want to focus on the nine holes, and making it the nicest nine holes in
Oregon,” he said. “They are the main two out there 50 to 60 hours a week. That right there shows you that they really do want it to be the nicest.”
Brandon Richardson, once one of the best junior golfers out of Oregon, now teaches under his new program at Laurelwood, called Golf with Freedom. The program is meant to free golfers from outside distractions.
“It makes the biggest difference in the world when there’s an environment created with the students, so there’s no judgment or evaluation,” he said.
Along with the staff, Benson and Mathews have also revamped existing greens. They now use Vera-Cutting, a practice usually saved only for private courses, to offer golfers the smoothest grass. Eight new bunkers adorn the course, with fine-grain sand also usually reserved for more private clubs.
Benson and Mathews have also been adding many features to Laurelwood. A new covered driving range is in the works, and a new practice facility will be added on next to the clubhouse. For beginning golfers, tees of various colors provide different starting points for different skill levels. A new restaurant and bar could also be moving to the upstairs of the clubhouse.
Possibly the most important improvement is the financial sacrifice Benson and Mathews made on tee times to give golfers extra space and relieve congestion on the course.
“They’ve spread the (tee times) out the farthest of any club I know of in Oregon,” Taylor said; “every 12 minutes, which is basically only four groups an hour.”
The terrain is one quality that has always helped Laurelwood stand out from the competition. Its menagerie of approaches to holes means golfers are always challenged by new angles.
“There’s just so much you have to pay attention to,” Richardson said. “It’s always different because there’s so many hills. You hit it a little left or a little right, and it’s a different deal than yesterday or two shots ago.”
In tight economic times, Eugene’s support of Laurelwood has only grown. The city regularly helps with drainage issues and improvements to course facilities. It also helped create greens on the driving range to provide targets to golfers, along with paying for 10,000 new golf balls. King attributes the city’s support to cheap prices and quick throughput.
“Since it’s only nine holes, it takes about two hours and 15 minutes to play, where most courses are 18 holes and you’re looking at a four- or five-hour round,” she said. “This is good for the consumption of time and the value.”
It is also a smart golfing option for frugal college students. During fall and winter, unlimited golf costs only $145 a term for students. Rates rise with the temperature, with unlimited play costing $200 during spring and $270 during summer. For any student dropping in for a day, it is $12 for 9 holes of golf; $20 if they want to go twice.
With a duo of dedicated owners and one of the most professional staffs of any course, Laurelwood should be offering students and community members close-by golfing opportunities on an immaculate course for years to come.
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