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Sandpines saga still unfolding

The Register-Guard

August 26th 2006

FLORENCE - The golf at Sandpines has always been top-shelf. Indeed, within months of its opening in 1993, Golf Digest labeled the Rees Hones layout the "Best New Public Golf Course in America."

Other honors followed for the 7,252-yard, par-72 course set amid pine forest and sand dunes, but the facilities at Sandpines have never come close to living up to the "resort" status that the original development envisioned.

After a dozen years and two sets of owners, however, Sandpines Gold Links is finally showing signs that it may, indeed, become a "destination resort."

An interim pro shop that would have fit right in at a mobile home park has been replaced by a luxurious 9,000 square-foot clubhouse overlooking the finishing holes. The pro shop at the eastern end of the two-story building has been open for several weeks, and the Tavalo Restaurant and bar on the west side of the main entry opened Saturday.

The $3.5 million facility - designed by the Myhre Group of Portland and built by Vik Construction of Eugene - is just one sign that Sandpines' current owners are serious about developing an upscale golf resort on property that was zoned for just that. The owners are Robert Bocci and John Pearson, both Portland real estate developers. They purchased Sandpines' 250 acres from Japanese businessmen Kenzo Ariki for $6.5 million in 2004.

Another sign that things are looking upscale at Sandpines came earlier this year when Troon Golf signed a management contract.

Headquartered in Scottsdale, Ariz., Troon Golf is the world's largest golf management company. Troon Golf's portfolio includes more than 185 courses worldwide, 32 of which have received "Top 100" ranking. Sandpines is Troon's first Oregon property.

A third sign should come in October, when construction is scheduled to start on a 4,000 square-foot banquet facility to be built just west of the new clubhouse, according to Diane Haworth, Sandpines' general manager. Construction should take about six months.

Then, early next year, Haworth said, work should begin on the first overnight lodging units for golfers, in the form of a "boutique" hotel consisting of up to 50 bungalow-style units and a day spa, to be located to the west of the new banquet facility.

All of these facilities - plus several hundred residential housing units to be located on 75 acres of undeveloped land around portions of the golf course's perimeter - were included in the "planned unit development" approved by the City of Florence prior to construction of the golf course, Haworth said.

"It's what it was meant to be from the beginning, but unfortunately it took us until our third owner to finally have the capital to create all this," said Haworth, who came to work for Ariki in 1996 and is now employed by Troon Golf.

All the facility improvements obviously make Sandpines much more appealing to traveling golfers. For local golfers, however, it's a bit of a mixed blessing.

The stunning views afforded by the new restaurant and bar, which overlook a lake surrounded by the 16th, 17th and 18th holes - invite golfers to linger at the "19th hole."