Following is a story we wrote for the Tulsa World last weekend updating our earlier story on Emerald Falls. As of Monday, groundbreaking is still planned for mid-April on the golf course renovations.
By KEN MacLeod
Groundbreaking is planned this spring for a $122 million resort on the border of Tulsa and Wagoner counties next to Emerald Falls Golf Course. The course will be closed starting Monday for an estimated 12 to 18 months of extensive renovations, project officials said.
Developers are studying course renovation suggestions from associates linked with Nicklaus Design, owned by the legendary Jack Nicklaus, among others, and expect to finalize their plans and contract for services by April.
Once revamped, the course will serve as an amenity to the new resort, which has plans for 140 rooms including some cabins and luxury teepees, game bird hunting, horseback riding, fishing ponds, pools, a spa, tennis courts and other amenities, according to developer David Oberle.
Oberle said the development group expects to sign contracts with interior designer Hutton Wilkinson and the Gensler architectural firm for the building design. The Bury engineering and consulting firm from Austin, Texas, will do land planning.
Oberle said the project is not really comparable to any other resort, as it will be designed to incorporate Oklahoma history and landforms.
Bernie Carballo, who maintains residences in both Oklahoma City and Florida, is a former executive vice president of Seagate and now owner of Carballo Ventures. He funded the construction of Emerald Falls and has invested millions in the golf course from its inception in 2007, mostly without return as the course has not yet operated in the black in any calendar year.
A group of private investors, however, is helping to fund the resort development, which Oberle said will attract guests primarily from a five-hour drive radius, as well as serve Oklahoma businesses and individuals.
Plans are for the upgraded golf course to offer memberships, resort play and still remain open to the public at least several days a week.
The project marks the second time a golf course has been extensively redone in the location. Emerald Falls was built on the site of a former 36-hole facility called Deer Run, constructed and owned by Wayne Coppage. The course was redesigned by Jerry Slack with a reopening in 2007 to serve as the centerpiece of a planned real estate development.
Due to a combination of factors including the downturn in the U.S. economy, housing at Emerald Falls never took off. There was room for 850 lots and estimates were for hundreds of lots to be sold and houses constructed by 2014, but only 20 are built and occupied now, Oberle said. The course, however, has grown slowly but steadily in popularity, from 13,500 rounds played in its first full season to approximately 20,000 in 2013.
"We realized if we were ever going to see a return we were going to have to do something drastic — something original and creative," Oberle said. "We’ve had the top industry consultants involved, and there was a consensus to build a truly unique resort on a five-star level."
Oberle is the owner of Progeny, a golf course construction company that did most of the building of Emerald Falls. He has maintained a friendship and business relationship with Carballo since, and in February married Carballo’s daughter Lucia Carballo. She is now the majority owner of the original Emerald Falls development, while Oberle and Bernie Carballo have formed a partnership called Emerald Falls Development Corp. to spearhead the resort.
In addition to the as-yet-unnamed resort, Oberle said there are plans for an upscale senior living center and a shopping village.
Plenty of room for additional housing remains, though developing residential real estate will not be an initial priority, Oberle said.|
To counter rumors about the project, Oberle emphasized that it will not have a casino. A new clubhouse is planned, and there will also be an extensive indoor teaching facility and a golf school. The current clubhouse will eventually be turned into a community center.
Specifics on the redesign of the course remain uncertain at this point, but tentative plans call for changing the greens to one of the new ultradwarf Bermuda varieties and possibly moving four holes to the west of 305th East Avenue to join the five holes currently on that section of the course, close to where the new resort will be located.
Oberle estimated the project will create more than 2,200 jobs from construction through permanent operation. A tentative opening date for the resort is spring of 2016 and for the golf course late summer or fall of 2015.