By Ken MacLeod
White Hawk Golf Course in Bixby has closed effective immediately and plans for its development into residential lots are likely inevitable.
Owner Roger Rodich met at the course Sunday night with more than 90 home owners in the White Hawk neighborhood and offered details on his efforts to restore the course and bring it back to profitability in the time since he purchased the majority stake from previous majority owner Gerald Pope.
Since reopening the course after improvements in March, Rodich said the course had recorded 13,808 rounds at an average price of $27. It needed 30,000 rounds at $30 per round just to break even and Rodich said the club sustained heavy losses in operations above and beyond money he poured into the course, clubhouse and restaurant in capital improvements to bring it back to a competitive level.
Rodich, who lives off the 11th fairway, purchased White Hawk from Pope in November of 2017 following the collapse of Pope’s first effort to sell the course to an Oklahoma City developer. Rodich was upfront from the start with residents, the city and media that he would make a good faith effort to restore the course and see it succeed but if the response from the Bixby and greater Tulsa golf community were not sufficient he would turn to developing the course in order to recoup his investment.
Rodich said he has an agreement with an as-yet unnamed private equity firm to purchase the 165 acres and begin development. Rodich was able to get a change in zoning laws pushed through during his time as owner to ensure that apartments or starter homes would not be built on the property and the value of the current home owners’ property would be largely protected.
Rodich said most of the homeowners at the meeting were understanding and sympathetic to his plight. He said he was saddened that the effort to restore the course was so short-lived.
“I told my team many times that if we resurrect this course and develop a good product, people would come,” Rodich said. “We worked extremely hard to make it better and spent a lot of money. But the golfers did not come. Even if we had double the rounds we had, it wasn’t going to work.”
White Hawk opened in 1993 as a Randy Heckenkemper design at a time when the golf market was relatively booming and the privately-owned upscale daily fee course model was bringing the promise of lot sales and eventually $100 green fees to owners and builders throughout the U.S.
As many know, it hasn’t exactly turned out that way. Very few privately-owned public courses are in business in Oklahoma and the successful models consist of Forest Ridge Golf Club in Broken Arrow and few others. Most other public golf today is of the municipal variety whether city, county, state or tribal ownership. Over 2,300 courses have closed nationally since 2000.
White Hawk was put into a 20-year lease with American Golf under Pope’s watch and that agreement consisted of an annual payment to owners in excess of $400,000 regardless of whether the course was making money. For the final eight years of that agreement as the golf industry declined locally and nationally, American Golf was losing significant money on its White Hawk lease and the course was marketed as a discount golf vehicle. Course conditions deteriorated as well as rounds.
Rodich vowed to restore pricing sanity and improve conditions, but the challenges were too great. The course was built with the understanding that a bridge would eventually connect Bixby and south Tulsa at Yale Avenue, but that was never built and for thousands of golfers in south Tulsa what could have been a commute of a few minutes was a hassle of a 30-minute trip or more.
“Even in Bixby, 80 percent of the population is north of the (Arkansas) River,” Rodich said. “Our location was not helpful. Anyone who lives at 111th and Yale would have had a five-minute drive to White Hawk. Now you need a helicopter or take at least 20 minutes.”
“I was hoping to have at least a two or three-year run before we had to make a decision,” Rodich said. “But the enthusiasm was so short-lived.”
Efforts to talk with Bixby City Manager Jared Cottle and Bixby Development Services Director Jason Mohler were unsuccessful. Mohler attended the Sunday meeting. A statement from Bixby’s public information office read as follows:
“We are disappointed to hear about the closing of White Hawk Golf Course. We anticipate whatever the future holds for the facility it will continue to enhance quality of life for residents in Bixby.”
Rodich, the CEO of Workspace Resource Inc., an office furniture company, said he couldn’t put his family or business finances at risk. The developer will be introduced to the homeowners and plans detailed at a second meeting within a few weeks, he said.
“I’m very comfortable with whose hands this will be in,” Rodich said. “This person has multiple businesses and is not just a developer.”
White Hawk joins Clary Fields in Sapulpa, Okmulgee Country Club, Scissortail in Catoosa, Emerald Falls in Broken Arrow and Cotton Creek in Glenpool as Tulsa area courses that have closed since 2013. Around Oklahoma City the list includes Coffee Creek in Edmond and Silverhorn and Brookside in Oklahoma City. At least 10 other courses have closed throughout the state since the last one opened, which was The Patriot in Owasso in 2010.
Of the public courses remaining in the greater Tulsa area, all are municipally owned except Forest Ridge. One private course could be closing this year, as Meadowbrook Country Club has also been purchased by developers. It has been announced to the membership that the course will remain open through the summer of 2019 but no further commitment given at this time.
Rodich said the White Hawk pro shop inventory was largely gone but the course is attempting to sell the golf cars it acquired in 2018. Anyone interested in an individual or group purchase should contact superintendent Kevin Rokey at email@example.com.
Past White Hawk stories from Golf Oklahoma: