Published: Thursday, May 15, 2008
Nile heads over the hill
The Shriners-owned golf course, which became a public course in 1996, is trying to bolster its profile as a family friendly, fun course as it turns the age of 40 this year.
MOUNTLAKE TERRACE -- Forty years ago, a group of Shriners decided to fulfill a longstanding dream of building a golf course on a large piece of Shrine property between Lake Ballinger and the new I-5 freeway in south Snohomish County.
The Shriners could have engaged in a lavish construction project, although that would have been at odds with their fraternal organization's altruistic spirit. Preferring to direct their excess monies to more charitable endeavors -- specifically, supporting the hospitals that provide free medical care for children -- the Shriners set about doing much of the construction work themselves.
Work parties cleared the land of rocks and brush, and the result was a nine-hole private golf course that has since evolved into a much-used 18-hole public layout that is celebrating its 40th birthday this year.
"As more people learn about this golf course, it's becoming more and more popular with the public," said Richard Kovac of Kenmore, the 2008 board president (potentate) at the Nile Shrine Center. "We're getting more and more public play out here."
One obstacle, though, is the continuing perception that Nile is a private golf course, as it was until 1996. Part of that probably has to do with the name -- officially, it is Nile Golf and Country Club -- but these days Shriners make up only about 15 percent of the play at Nile.
Shriners still receive certain privileges, among them discounts on green fees and the right to buy annual passes unavailable to the public, but otherwise the course is pretty much like any other daily-fee venue.
"There are still a few dinosaurs here who want to convert it back to a member-only course," Kovac said, "but for the most part (Shriners) realize the value of having it open to the public." Proceeds, he added, "generate revenues to run the course and the center here."
Nile is not a long course, measuring 5,001 yards and playing to a par 67, so big hitters "will probably not like to play here," said head pro Randy Puetz. "But it's a great course for the intermediate players, like seniors, juniors and women. And we get a lot of couples.
"It's an enjoyable place to be," he went on. "It's not a typical public course. The layout is interesting. It's not back and forth, back and forth. Every hole is different. There are some really good holes and some really easy holes, so it allows people to play and score. But it's a challenge also."
Nile did about 40,000 rounds in 2007, "and that's been pretty consistent over the last five or six years," Puetz said.
Most of the play comes from south Snohomish and north King counties, and includes a lot of the people who also frequent nearby Lynnwood Golf Course, Everett's Walter Hall and Seattle's Jackson Park.
Nile's location, in fact, is an obvious asset. Situated near the southwestern boundary of Mountlake Terrace, but in close proximity to Edmonds, Lynnwood, Shoreline and Lake Forest Park, "we're right in the middle of everything," Puetz said.
The goal, he said, is to boost the rounds to 55,000-60,000 rounds in the next few years. One strategy is to continue offering coupons and other incentives -- one popular promotion allows kids to play for free with parents after 3 p.m. on Sundays -- while also advertising aggressively. The Shrine Center expects to put up an electronic message board along 244th St. SW, sometime next month to help attract new golfers.
And by bringing in new customers, there is also the opportunity to spread the word about the good work of the Shriners, Kovac said.
The golf course "is probably our most valued asset and one of our most cherished assets. It is also very much a public relations asset, and we'd like to make it more so. I think it could lead to increased membership prospects," he said.