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Sun Dance Golf Course to close; developer weighing options, including possibility of future housing

August 2, 2018

Sun Dance Golf Course, a staple of the Nine Mile Falls community for more than 55 years, announced it will shutter Sept. 30 to make way for something new – possibly, a future housing development.

Sun Dance Golf Course opened in 1963 and became one of Spokane’s hidden gems, with its manicured greens and tall evergreen trees. Several Pro Am and local golf tournaments were held at the 18-hole golf course throughout the years.

Ken Johnston and his wife, Peggy Jones, purchased the golf course in 1977. When Johnston died in 1997, Peggy and her children took over ownership of the property.

Jones sold the property – which includes a driving range, pro shop and a restaurant – to developer Brad West in 2017 for $1.7 million, according to Spokane County Assessor’s records.

“The play at the course was down. It’s just like a ski hill. You have a very short window to make money,” said Shelly Price, manager of Sun Dance and Johnston’s daughter. “Last year, we had a lot of rain in the spring, then heat and fires. It’s something we’ve always dealt with in the past 50 years. You can’t control mother nature, but costs continue to rise and we didn’t really raise our rates. We tried to keep rates less than the city or county courses.”

Price said it will be difficult to see the golf course close.

“It’s going to be hard. (Sun Dance) has been in our family for more than 50 years,” she said. “Our family would like to thank the community for their support and loyalty throughout the years. We appreciate them as well as our employees.”

West said he attempted to keep the course open, but it just wasn’t feasible.

“The golf course isn’t viable economically, and hasn’t been viable for a while,” he said.

The trend isn’t unique to Spokane. Golf courses across the U.S. are shuttering because of increased operation costs and declining sales.

While more than 15 courses opened in the U.S. in 2016, more than 211 golf courses permanently closed, according to a report by the National Golf Foundation.

Spokane real estate developer Chris Heftel, who is consulting with West on a proposed project for the golf course site, said plans for the property are still to be determined, but could include a housing development.

“We are starting the process of looking into getting the property developed,” he said. “Golf is a very tough industry; it’s tough to be competitive, especially in a market like Spokane with a short (golf) season and a lot of city and county courses.”

Housing, on the other hand, remains a promising industry in Spokane’s competitive market. Other undeveloped areas of the city – including the forested field at the junction of 29th Avenue and Southeast Boulevard, the Beacon Hill mountain bike trail system and others – are being eyed by developers as likely ground for a new wave of building.

As in the case of the field at Southeast and 29th, which nearby residents used as an impromptu park for decades, these changes can bring some level of disruption. Heftel said the next step would be to inform nearby residents and conduct informal meetings to share information about future development.

“We’re going to try to do something very nice with (the property),” he said.

Spokane resident Myles Bonneville has been golfing at Sun Dance for more than 30 years.

“I love the place,” he said. “I’m really bummed it’s closing, especially for the reason. It’s a laid back, good, family-friendly golf course.”

Nine Mile Falls resident Retta McHugh and her late husband, Michael, purchased a home near the 11th hole of the golf course in 1989.

The couple formed many friendships through golfing at Sun Dance, she said.

“I am terribly disappointed this great source of recreation and socialization is no longer a part of my life,” she said. “We just always hoped when it was sold they would keep it a golf course. It’s been a huge part of the Nine Mile Falls community. I’ve always been really proud of the course, proud to live on it and proud of our community of friends that have developed over the years on the course.”

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