By Ken MacLeod
SilverHorn Golf Course in Oklahoma City closed in late December at the expiration of a 20-year lease with American Golf and the ownership group which purchased the course less than two years ago has no plans for it to remain a golf course.
Brennan Dolan, president of Urban Works in Oklahoma City, acted as a broker and spokesman for the owners, a group of Oklahoma City businessmen, doctors and lawyers who formed an investor group. He said they unsuccessfully sought other interested parties to lease the course and will now likely look to develop the acreage or sell the course to a developer of both commercial and residential properties.
SilverHorn was built in 1991 by a group then known as O-Sports Development headed by Elby Beal and David Hardin, with Randy Heckenkemper as the course architect. It was intended to be the Oklahoma City area’s first foray into the upscale daily fee market that was the model for new courses across the country at the time.
Although it started off as a popular alternative, SilverHorn had a few issues that may have prevented its rise to the status it originally aspired to, including constricted acreage on a piece of property intersected with numerous creeks.
American Golf leased the facility in 1997 and began making annual payments in excess of $400,000. As in similar leases at White Hawk Golf Course in Bixby and Golf Club of Oklahoma in Broken Arrow, the golf market made it difficult to make those payments, make money for the company and still maintain and market the course at a high level.
Discount rounds became commonplace and the number of rounds played there annually did not keep pace with its competitors, namely the Oklahoma City municipal courses such as Lake Hefner, Lincoln Park, Earlywine and Trosper Park. As time went on, SilverHorn faced frequent criticism about its agronomic and clubhouse conditions on online forums, but did make a recent conversion to Bermuda greens which alleviated some concerns.
Heckenkemper, who designed SilverHorn in San Antonio as well for the original ownership group, said he was sorry but not surprised at the outcome.
“Anytime you put a lot of time, effort and thought into a project you would like to see it succeed,” he said. “On the other hand, I understand the economics of golf and I think they’ve been on the wrong path for a long time.
“The original intent was to be operated and maintained a little above the OKC public courses for people who wanted an upscale image. Did they do that? Probably not.”
In the Oklahoma City market, SilverHorn joins Coffee Creek Golf Course in Edmond as the second course to close in two years. In the Tulsa market, Meadowbrook Country Club has announced it is closing in the next few years, and the market has lost Emerald Falls in Broken Arrow, Scissortail Golf Course in Catoosa, Clary Fields in Sapulpa, Cotton Creek in Glenpool and the Okmulgee Country Club in the past five years, part of a nationwide trend that in 2017 saw 175 courses close and 25 open. Golf analysts say the rate of closings to openings needs to accelerate even more for golf to reach an equilibrium where supply meets demand and most public courses will be successful.
Contrast that to what analysts were saying in 1991 when SilverHorn opened and developers were guided by a famously errant study by the National Golf Foundation which predicted that a course needed to open every day in the U.S. for several years to satisfy demand.
Of the American Golf operated facilities in Oklahoma, White Hawk, after nearly being sold to an OKC developer last summer, was recently purchased by Roger Rodich, who bought out the final months of the American Golf lease and announced plans to renovate the course and end deeply discounted rounds which were previously a staple. It is currently closed for renovations with plans to reopen in March. Golf Club of Oklahoma, owned by Beal, filed suit against American Golf for not returning the course in its original condition at the end of its 20-year lease in 2016. That suit is pending and expected to go to trial this spring if no settlement is reached. Beal has embarked on a series of improvements to the course and clubhouse with the intent of rebuilding membership numbers.