Circle Bar Golf Club in Oakridge is a unique experience. The people who play there regularly take course ownership literally, and in more ways than one. You see, Circle Bar Golf Club is a non-profit organization.
I asked Sharon Lose, clubhouse manager and one of only three paid employees at the course, how being a golf course that operates as a non-profit works. She explained that the course is built on land that was sold to the Circle Bar Golf Corporation for $90,000 in 1954. Shareholders, mostly members of the community who have purchased shares in the course, own the Corporation. Individual shares cost $1,000.
The Corporation is governed by an elected board. The board is responsible for the disposition of funds as it deems necessary to maintain the land. An added benefit of being a member of the board? $45 per month buys you unlimited golf!
The Corporation leases the land the course is built on to the Circle Bar Golf Club for $2,000 annually. The Golf Club is a not-for-profit organization and it quickly became clear that it took this designation seriously as I overheard conversations with the early morning patrons.
“Coffee?” One course member asked.
“Twenty-five cents.” Was Sharon’s quick reply.
“Same cup? Free.”
And it’s not just the coffee that’s cheap. On the morning I arrived at Circle Bar a few members of the Women’s Club were preparing to play their round. Before one of the members began I watched her pay her “yearly dues” to the Women’s Club: three dollars. The surprises didn’t end there.
Members enjoy a number of benefits. Members of the Women’s Club golf for only $1 per round and their yearly dues are paid back to them in the form of vouchers for snacks and drinks from the clubhouse. Men’s Club members play for $6. The general public benefits from low greens fees as well. Everyone is welcome to play 9-holes for $15 or 18-holes for $20.
“So, membership is basically free?” I asked.
“No, our members work.” Sharon said.
Members of the Women’s Club undertake a variety of course beautification projects throughout the year. They tend flowerbeds and maintain areas of the course where they feel a “woman’s touch” is needed. Likewise, the Men’s Club is responsible for undertaking projects like building a new deck off the clubhouse or a bridge over the creek running through the course. Men’s Club members also take turns volunteering with the paid staff mowing fairways and assisting with course maintenance.
I was astounded by the goings-on at Circle Bar and I couldn’t help chuckling at the notion of communal golf. Communal Golf? I had never heard of such a thing, but it seemed fantastic, and I hadn’t even stepped out to the first tee!
The work of the Men’s and Women’s Clubs shows. The course has a very open feel that can only be accomplished with a significant amount of mowing; much more than only two staff could manage. There are mature trees, but not so many that they really challenge you unless you hit a very errant shot. The grass is closely mown past the out-of-bounds markers. The lack of really deep rough made the course forgiving to play, which was good, because most of the holes required significant length to your game.
The signature holes of the course were undoubtedly the two par 5’s. Both measure over 500 yards, which is a challenge for most players. But yardage doesn’t tell the whole story here. Both par 5’s work uphill towards the clubhouse, making them play significantly longer than their yardage. Average players will need to hit three solid shots to reach and experienced players are likely to miss the green even after hitting two excellent shots.
Speaking of missing greens, the size of the greens is another theme at the course. The theme is they’re small. Every approach shot requires accuracy. Although the greens were small they weren’t too difficult to read, and the closely mown grass made getting up-and-down a reasonable proposition.
From the “self-pay” box located just off the first tee, where golfers can put their green’s fees in an envelope and play using the honor system, to the quirky way the course operates, Circle Bar may have been the most unique course I visited during my research.
If you find yourself traveling over Highway 58, or if you just want to take a quick trip to the mountains, I recommend a stop at Circle Bar Golf Club in Oakridge to experience communal golf.