Banks Lake: Eastern Washington course survives despite rough financial times, looks ahead to 2011

Updated: May 2, 2011

By Brad Faller, PGA
Special to Inside Golf Newspaper

The first time Bob Burquist saw Banks Lake Golf Club in Electric City, Washington, he was taken in. “I was hooked! It really is a beautiful place.”

Unfortunately, not enough other golfers passing through the central Washington town felt that way. As Bob would be the first to admit, most golfers would not even know it existed. “Most people would ask in surprise, ‘There’s a golf course in Banks Lake?’” When Bob was asked to come to Banks Lake two years ago and try to save the financially troubled 18-hole golf course, he was all in for the good of the game. “I’m a hack golfer! I was brought in for my business experience, but I love to play.” But would it help?

For 50 years area golfers in the communities surrounding Banks Lake tried to build a golf course. On the fifth try it worked. In 1984 nearly 100 “forward thinking” founders put up $2,600 each to get the construction started, volunteering their own time and energy to build the Keith Hellstrom-designed, nine-hole layout. In 2000, thanks to the efforts of Glen Anderson and Dan Thomas, they had a second nine. Ten nondescript years later the golf course was feeling the ever-present crunch of a struggling golf economy. In early 2010, the Port District 7 that leases the golf course sent a letter to the Banks Lake Board of Directors, ordering them to pay their remaining debts or vacate the property. Crescent Bar Golf Course in nearby Quincy, Washington experienced a similar battle in 2010 before being saved by local golfers this past January. However, would Banks Lake be so lucky? The future was not too bright for Banks Lake Golf Club and its 100 or so shareholders.

Bob Burquist describes the turn of events quite simply. “It wasn’t the friendliest place to play golf,” he recalls. “This is a good ole’ boys type of golf course with good people, but instead they were being alienated. When you raise green fees on top of that, you aren’t going to succeed.” New life was brought to the table when Bob and several others stepped in to see what they could do to turn it around. With the new Board of Directors being mostly business oriented—which includes Phil Horn, current Vice President of Sales for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings—changes are being made for the betterment of the club’s facility, including its finances. Positions that were no longer needed have been eliminated, additional shares have been sold to increase capital, and some creative financing with its vendors has not hurt. “We needed to make better relationships with our vendors to make this work,” says Bob. Future ideas for the facility include potential housing and an RV park on site.

This 2011 season will prove to be a big year for Banks Lake Golf Club. With event outings and tourism a primary focus on tap for the year, Bob is hoping the word will get out quickly about the positive change in direction. “The goal is more ‘bang for the buck’, now we just need to get the word out. The folks that come play our course really like it. We rely on those golfers to tell others.” Golf facilities are looking for alternative and creative ways to save and spend money. “We’ve already reached out to Electric City and area communities, building packages with hotels, doing more advertising, just creating a better relationship between club and city.”

With the economy on the apparent upswing—even if golf is still a few holes behind—how optimistic is the Board for business beyond 2011? “I believe the economy is in fact getting better, and we will keep putting our efforts in,” says Bob of the many people involved in Banks Lake’s future, both paid and volunteer. “The members of the Board aren’t making any money out of this for themselves. It’s for the good of the golf course, that’s why we’re putting our time in here.” As for the shareholders, they are the players with the most to lose in the deal if things go poorly. Every golf course has a core group of golfers that prove vital to a course’s success. The 100 plus shareholders at Banks Lake are no exception. “We want the shareholders to win on this one,” Bob assures. “From the biggest shareholder to those with just a few, they are what keep us going during a majority of the year. 2011 is really going to show us what we can do with this golf course.”