MYRTLE CREEK — Ask just about anyone and they’ll tell you that the sixth hole at Cougar Canyon Golf Course is the toughest of the bunch. At about 340 yards, it’s not that long, but the fairway is narrow and uphill and the green is tight.
“It requires a great tee shot and wonderful second shot,” said Scott Major, a regular at the course. “But if you get a par or birdie, you feel great for the rest of the day.”
Nowadays, however, Major and scores of other golfers who consider the course almost a second home have a lot more than the 6th hole to worry about.
It looks like the popular course, set amid picturesque mountains just minutes from downtown Myrtle Creek, is about to close. The last day of golf at Cougar Canyon, which has been operating for a quarter-century, has tentatively been set for Sunday, Oct. 6.
“I’ve been getting 10 to 15 questions a day about the course and what’s going to happen to it,” said Clyde Johnson, who manages the pro shop. “We’re doing the best we can to keep people on the golf course excited about playing. We’re between a rock and a hard place and we need to figure out what our next move is.”
Cougar Canyon was designed by renowned golf course architect Graham Cooke and opened in the mid-1990s. In addition to the 18-hole, par 72 course, there is a driving range, practice putting and chipping greens, a pro shop and a clubhouse.
The city owns Cougar Canyon but it is managed by Myrtle Creek Links, LLC, whose registered agent is Karl Hallstrom. Hallstrom also owns Zip-O-Log Mills, Inc., in Eugene. He did not return repeated calls seeking comment for this story.
Cougar Canyon actually serves dual purposes — it offers recreation for golfers and provides plenty of land for Myrtle Creek’s treated wastewater, known as effluent.
“They get free water and we get rid of our effluent at no cost,” said Myrtle Creek City Administrator Sean Negherbon.
In August, Myrtle Creek Links appeared before the city council asking for between $30,000-$40,000 for improvements to the irrigation system. The council declined.
Mayor Matthew Hald said the city just didn’t have money budgeted for that kind of expense, and that approving such an expenditure would put it over budget. Hald also said city officials have heard rumors of the impending closure of Cougar Creek, but have not received anything in writing yet.
There are negotiations underway but nothing is firm yet, Hald said.
“We would hate to see it close down,” he said. “We’d like to negotiate with them to keep it going and ideally have someone else take it over.”
For his part, Johnson is resolved to take things day by day. He continues to work in the pro shop and do whatever else is needed at the course, as he has done since he started working there in 2011.
Cougar Canyon has about 15 employees — including Major’s wife, Janet, who manages the books — and their jobs are in jeopardy.
And there are other things, perhaps less tangible, that would be lost if the course were to close, say golfers like Ken Pinheiro.
Pinheiro moved to the area in 2007 from Estacada — “Gateway to the Clackamas River” — and quickly fell in love with Cougar Canyon, and its beauty. He especially likes the elevated 7th tee and its scenic views. If you catch it at just the right time, with a dust of snow mist in the air, “It’s a Currier and Ives painting,” he said.
There’s also the numerous fundraising events Cougar Canyon sponsors and the juniors program it ran, Pinheiro said.
“I’d hate to see it close, especially for what it means to the community,” he said.
But most of all, there’s the golf. Pinheiro can reel off the exact date — Oct. 21, 2008 — he hit a hole-in-one on the 8th hole. “I hit a 9-iron,” he said, pointing to a plaque on a wall in the clubhouse memorializing the achievement.
Scott Major can top that. He sold his home in Sacramento and moved to the Myrtle Creek area in 1999, in large part because of the golf course, he said.
Like Pinheiro, Major has an annual membership and plays the course nearly every day, even during the winter. And like Pinheiro he has a hole-in-one plaque on the wall — six in fact, including two he hit within nine days of each other in 2011.
“I hit them both with the same club and the same ball,” he said.
Major doesn’t even want to think about what it would mean for the course to close.
The camaraderie, the double foursomes with a few dollars on the line, the taste of a cold beer in the clubhouse after a round, all potentially gone.
“I’m not real happy,” Major said while relaxing after a round. “This course is my favorite thing to do.”