Golfers return to Bald Eagle Golf Club in Point Roberts, Wash., after two years of shutdown due to COVID-19. Photos courtesy of Bald Eagle Golf Club
On a recent drive to work at Bald Eagle Golf Club in Point Roberts, Wash., Tracy Evans was greeted by a mundane yet unexpectedly joyous sight.
“Oh, my goodness, the pictures I was taking … it was just amazing,” gushed Evans, Bald Eagle’s general manager. “Passing the 11th fairway, golfers. On 12 — more golfers. Then 13 — more golfers. The parking lot
was busy, and we had people lined up to check in. It was exciting to see the action again.”
Bald Eagle GC, the only golf course on a tiny 4.7-square-mile geographic anomaly that’s physically connected to Canada but for all other purposes belongs to the United States, closed on March 16, 2020, when the pandemic was just starting to upend
the world and nations were locking down and closing borders.
It finally reopened June 15, 2022.
“I’m excited for sure,” said Rick Hoole, Bald Eagle GC’s superintendent and a 16-year GCSAA member who was profiled in a previous GCM feature in early 2021. “It’s so good to see. This is what I do it for, right? It makes it harder to get stuff done, but I’m so glad to see golfers out there. For the most part, they’re all happy, just glad to be out there. It’s
a unique golf course.”
Talk about an understatement.
In the “Before Times,” Bald Eagle GC was unique. In pandemic times, it was downright otherworldly.
The Point cut off
Point Roberts (pop. 1,200) is the jutting tip of Tsawwassen Peninsula just south of Vancouver, British Columbia. It was formed by the 1846 Oregon Treaty, which established the 49th parallel as the border between Canada and the U.S. The only way to reach
“Point Bob” is to drive 25 miles through Canada, take one of the twice-weekly flights from Bellingham, Wash., or board a private boat. When the world’s largest land border was closed because of the pandemic in March 2020, it turned
Point Roberts — a popular destination for Canadians in general and Vancouverites in particular — into a ghost town.
Though flights were still permitted between Canada and the U.S., land and sea crossings were prohibited (or at least severely restricted) for 19 months.
Through it all, Hoole was isolated among the isolation. He was the only person on the Bald Eagle GC payroll, nearly single-handedly maintaining the course’s 200 acres.<
“You get used to it,” says Hoole, noting he did have some volunteer help on Tuesdays throughout the shutdown. “You get into a flow of things, get into a routine. It wasn’t too bad. It got to the point I quite enjoyed it. I had
the place to myself.”
For a month earlier this year, he didn’t even have that. Once it became obvious that what Hoole hoped would be a short-term lockdown would stretch into months and then years, he shifted from keeping the course playable to bare-minimum maintenance
to ensure it would be salvageable. “Basically, I just looked after the greens with what little money we had,” he says. Greens were mowed to winter height, and the rest of the course was mowed around 2 inches.
When the border reopened to vaccinated Canadians in November 2021, the club’s overseas ownership decided it was too late in the season — though the course is usually open year-round, the bulk of the rounds are played in the spring through
fall — to be profitable.
Hoole was the only staffer still on the payroll. Evans, recently promoted from assistant general manager to GM, is also a real estate agent whose office is in the clubhouse. She didn’t get paid for two-plus years of work she did assisting Hoole
with paperwork and bookkeeping and “making sure bills got paid.”
Rick Hoole, a 16-year GCSAA member, was the only staff member on Bald Eagle Golf Club's payroll during the pandemic. He now manages a staff of five.
‘They were going to sell the course’
Early in 2022, just as Hoole was gearing up to get the course playable again for a spring reopening, the decision was made in late February not to reopen. Hoole — the loneliest man on “America’s loneliest golf course,” as coined
by Golf.com — was laid off.
“They were going to sell the course,” Evans says. “That’s how it was for the month of March. Finally, the owners made the decision to reopen. I had to convince them. I told them, ‘You’re going to lose out on your investment.
You need this course to open. You need to get the course back up and running and maintained with the proper equipment.’”
The decision to reopen was made in mid-April, with mid-June the targeted opening. Hoole had roughly two months to undo more than two years of bare-bones maintenance and a month in which it went essentially untended.
“It was left alone,” Hoole says of the course during his layoff. “March is when the weeds start coming back in the bunkers, so they were in bad shape. It was cold, so the grass didn’t grow that much. The rough grew to 2 1/2 to
3 inches, where I was keeping it at 2. The greens … bentgrass doesn’t like cold weather, so it didn’t grow much. But as you know, it takes time to bring grass down to playable height. We’re just catching up on the fairways
Another struggle: staffing. Hoole used to oversee a staff that would peak around eight to 12 members in the busy season. Now, squeezing the most he can out of his $160,000 budget, Hoole feels fortunate to have a staff of five: “They’re all
in their 60s, of course,” Hoole says with a laugh. “I’m hoping desperately to add to my crew. My mechanic is experienced, but all the other guys are just grass-cutters. But I’m lucky to have ’em.”
Bald Eagle GC is slowly returning to its pre-pandemic glory after two years of shutdown and minimal maintenance.
A positive trajectory
Labor issues loom large across the golf maintenance industry, but in Point Roberts, they’re potentially crippling. Bald Eagle GC can only hire Americans, and Point Bob’s population is painfully finite. As the border opened and the traffic
began to flow, so did the competition for labor as the Point’s other businesses sprang back to life.
“Rick really had to scramble to put his crew together,” Evans says. “Same with the clubhouse, where I work. Rick had to bring one of the maintenance staff from Arizona. Rick paid for his ticket himself. A lot of employees moved away
during COVID. The clubhouse staff lost three people back to the lower 48. Some people took jobs with other companies. It was like starting all over again.”<
That wasn’t quite the case for the course, though Hoole acknowledges it’s not as pristine as it was in the summer of 2019, when it was at its best and COVID-19 wasn’t even a whisper. Tees, he says now, “are not in good shape, but
they’re playable.” Fairways are a bit rough, and the rough is rougher. Golfers currently play to five temporary greens; cool temperatures have kept the course’s bentgrass from growing, though Hoole says optimistically, “Summer’s
supposed to be here Tuesday (June 21). We’ll see.”
The course doesn’t employ a golf pro (“That’s just an expense we can’t afford,” Hoole says) and clubhouse hours and services are limited.
Then again, golfers are only paying $35 per round.
“We got it up to playing condition, but it’ll take another year, or at least the rest of this year to get it back in good shape,” Hoole says. “But golfers understand what’s going on.”
“Most of the golfers are OK with it,” adds Evans. “We got some feedback that some people aren’t took thrilled with it. We gave ’em a comp card and said, ‘Come back in a month.’”
By 2 p.m. on opening day, Hoole said he counted 70 signups on the tee sheet. A day later, the tee sheet had 120 signups, and for the Friday of opening weekend, 171 times were taken.
“The numbers are climbing,” Evans says. “It’s just a matter of continuous growth. Hopefully we’ll be back on track in a good way by the end of summer.”
Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s senior managing editor.