A great many people have a passion for golf. Most of them satiate it by playing a round.
A great many people have a passion for golf. Most of them satiate it by playing a round.
Bob Hyer tried that. Then he took itch-scratching to an advanced level.
He bought a golf course.
And it wasn't just any Podunk track requiring a few short irons and a putter. No, the 58-year-old Portlander went whole hog when he purchased Eagle Point Golf Club, a wonderfully maintained facility built and first owned by Robert Trent Jones Jr. It has routinely been included on lists of top places to play by the likes of Golf and Golf Digest magazines.
Now he has a good excuse to tee it up whenever he wants.
"It's an all-year-round course, and I'm one of those guys that will play in the rain all day long just to be able to play," said Hyer, who closed the deal July 30.
He's played with a number of members already, some of whom are out there "five or six days a week," he said. "I think I should be able to do that."
Hyer's journey to the Rogue Valley has been interesting, to say the least. He and his wife, Chana, are leaving behind their own Shangri-La in southern Washington, and he has sold part of his stake in a successful financial planning business that he started.
This comes after Hyer's first offer to buy the bank-owned course fell through at the eleventh hour — as he celebrated a hole-in-one, no less, by a member he had been randomly paired with — and after a second-chance offer proved successful once the original bank changed hands.
If those twists aren't enough, Hyer received a call out of the blue that led to a serendipitous afternoon in the company of Jones himself.
It's hard to tell what tickles Hyer the most. That he has a championship golf course to call his own or that he spent six hours with the legendary Jones.
To wit, when Hyer arrived for lunch, Jones was telling a writer about walking with Ben Hogan during the 1966 U.S. Open. More than a week has passed, yet the awe in Hyer's eyes and voice conveys, still, how special the moment was for a commoner such as himself.
Yes, he did just buy a golf course that cost $8 million to build in the mid-1990s and was enhanced with the construction of a clubhouse in 2000. He didn't divulge the sale price, but it's safe to say he got a bargain.
"I learned that if you buy a golf course, then you're wealthy," said Hyer, who arrived in Medford Thursday to tend to business. "I'm just a common guy, you know, work hard. I didn't grow up with any money and just kind of built things. My wife and I developed a lot of things together where we did the right things at the right time, I think. We worked hard at it."
Under Hyer's ownership, Eagle Point's operation won't change dramatically, he said. The course became the property of PremierWest Bank in January 2012 when former owner Chris Galpin turned it over in lieu of foreclosure. PremierWest was bought out and folded into AmericanWest Bank last spring, and a golf management company was hired to oversee operations at Eagle Point.
The addition of Touchstone Golf and the presence of eight-year head pro Patrick Oropallo give Hyer a team he feels blessed to have.
Hyer's motivation, he said, is to provide everyday players a chance to enjoy a Jones course at reasonable prices and not make it an "elite" place.
"I'm not looking at making any changes," said Hyer. "Mark (Luthman, of Touchstone) and I and Patrick have talked. It's really cool the way it is."
Hyer wasn't bitten by the golf bug early. Growing up in Southern California, his exposure to golf was similar to that of other kids. He fished balls out of ponds at a nearby course and sometimes played. His sport was baseball, which he continued to play through school and a six-year stint in the Air Force.
After the service, he attended the University of Washington, and it wasn't until age 28, when he also entered the financial planning business, that he took up golf. He wasn't enamored of the game, however, until he played a Jones course, Keystone Ranch, in Colorado.
"There was something about it that just "¦ the atmosphere, the ambience, the being in nature and playing a really interesting, enjoyable course," he said. "I don't remember playing well, but I remember having fun, and it was just different than the other courses I'd played. So it stuck in my head. Every time I got a chance to play a Robert Trent Jones Jr. course, I took it and I loved it."
Hyer moved to Portland in 1991 and was a planning-division manager at Prudential Financial, Inc. He played a lot of business-related golf, but also on his own. His handicap got as low as a 2, and it's not much higher now.
While he turned around a struggling division, the stress of management wore on him. Hyer broke away and started his own business, Mosaic Financial Group, in 1994, in Vancouver, Wash. Just last week, he sold part of his practice to his partner.
That wasn't the only thing that had to go as he and Chana prepare to relocate to southern Oregon. Their grandest project, Lac de' Fleur Gardens, north of Vancouver, was put on the market this week.
The two had always wanted acreage, and Chana found a 20-acre parcel. They went for a look.
"On the way out, we stopped at a hardware store and bought hip-wader boots," said Hyer.
He asked why. She said, you'll see.
The property was thick with overgrowth. But Chana, a "landscape designer, horticulturist, master gardener," said Bob, spied non-native trees.
"She's giving me the Latin names of these trees and said, 'Something was in here, somebody owned this at one time and it's been let go,'" he said.
The two set about clearing the property, stationing a trailer and spending their weekends toiling.
"It was flooded," said Hyer. "Beavers had cut down all the trees and dammed it up all along the back side. It was a mess, a war zone."
He broke apart the dam and restored the water to its natural level. He ruined three chainsaws in the clearing process. Eventually, structures from the 1940s, '50s and '60s revealed themselves. The former owner had built his own park, then walked away.
The Hyers turned the land they bought in '96 into their version of Butchart Gardens, and it became a popular place for weddings, retreats and artists' easels.
"We just listed it last night," said Hyer, "which is tough. We thought we were going to retire and that would be our place. But we found Eagle Point Golf Course. That came into our lives and here we are."
Hyer was encouraged by a friend and mentor of a dozen years, George St. Laurent, to look into Eagle Point when it was taken over by the bank. St. Laurent owns a cattle and land company in Eagle Point and has an office in Vancouver adjacent to Hyer's. The two did business together and St. Laurent was well aware of Hyer's affinity for golf.
"He said (Eagle Point) was an opportunity and you ought to go check it out," said Hyer.
Hyer was on a plane the next day.
He initially made an offer and put down a deposit. He thought the deal was done, and planned to sign papers late one day. With time on his hands, he asked Oropallo to put him with a group for a round of golf. One of the members, Steve Howard, aced the third hole.
"It was a great thing," said Hyer.
The group decided to spend time at the course celebrating, and Hyer called the bank to make arrangements for the paperwork. He couldn't connect and didn't get a call back, he said, before flying home that night.
Hyer earlier had been approached, he said, by another person who wanted to buy the course. That party, aware Hyer had placed a deposit, contacted him to work out a deal. Hyer was convinced the person didn't have the necessary funds and didn't go forward.
Once home, he learned the other party made an offer substantially higher than his. When he contacted the bank, Hyer was told the bank needed to take the bigger offer and his deposit would be returned. Hyer warned of his misgivings that the other party couldn't pay and was told they had 15 days to do so.
Fifteen days later, Hyer said, he got a call from the bank. The other deal fell through, and Hyer was asked to make another offer, only this one similar to the other party?
"You probably can imagine what I told him," said Hyer.
Months went by and PremierWest changed hands. The day it did in April, Hyer made an offer — lower than his original one — to AmericanWest, and it was accepted.
As the new deal was taking shape, Hyer, a member at Royal Oaks Country Club in Vancouver, got a phone call from an acquaintance in Medford, Billy Crenshaw. Crenshaw was sponsoring a young golfer, Kevin Murphy of Rogue River, in a prestigious tournament at Royal Oaks. The man wondered if Hyer would give Murphy pointers before he played the unfamiliar course.
Hyer went well beyond, inviting Murphy and his mother to stay at his home and offering to caddie in the tournament.
During a practice round, Hyer was allowed to play with Murphy, Crenshaw and James Auchenbach, a columnist for Golfweek. Hyer made four straight birdies that got Auchenbach's attention. They talked, and Hyer told him he was in due diligence with Eagle Point.
Auchenbach is no stranger to the Rogue Valley. He plays in the Southern Oregon Golf Championships and, more importantly, he told Hyer he's a personal friend of one Robert Trent Jones Jr. That was like telling a child you're tight with Santa Claus.
A couple weeks went by and Hyer received a call from Auchenbach. He'd spoken with Jones, and the noted course architect wanted to meet Hyer for a round of golf on July 30 at Chambers Bay. Hyer fretted because he was to close on Eagle Point that day, but he wound up signing several days earlier and, freed up, drove to the course just south of Tacoma.
At 12:30 p.m., he received a message on his phone offering congratulations. He was the new owner of Eagle Point. An hour later, he walked in for lunch and heard Jones telling of his time with Hogan.
He wound up riding with Jones during the round and soaked in every word this veritable idol of his spoke.
"What an experience," said Hyer. "Phenomenal day."
Hyer doesn't know when he and his wife — who doesn't play golf but will begin taking lessons at her new course — will move here. But when they do, he looks forward to being involved in the community and playing plenty of golf.
That itch will never bother him again.
Have a local golf story idea? Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email firstname.lastname@example.org