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LCGG: Emerald Valley Golf Club

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Excellent players compete at Emerald Valley.

Emerald Valley is the ideal course for public players looking for great conditions at an economical price. It’s not the ideal course for the raw beginner; it’s challenging for even the best players.

The course, located about ten minutes south of Eugene, frequently plays host to some of the most prestigious and hotly contested tournaments in the region. When I visited Emerald Valley I spoke with Todd O’Neal, General Manager and Head Professional at Emerald Valley. Over the past few years the course has hosted the Pacific Northwest Golf Association Men’s amateur tournament, which is the largest amateur event in the Northwest. Said O’Neal;

“Last year this event brought the top three amateurs in the world, all Walker cuppers, to Emerald Valley.”

Emerald Valley also hosted U.S. Open sectional qualifiers, Oregon State men’s and women’s stroke play championships which brings in the best players in the state. This is in addition to the numerous prestigious junior and high school championships which take place at Emerald Valley every year.

To attract tournaments like this requires Emerald Valley to have a number of amenities in place. One of the first things that needed to be in place was an improved reputation. Emerald Valley has been around for a long time. In 2002 the course was purchased by Jim Pliska, former University of Oregon golfer and, along with his father, owner of the “Space Age Fuel” gas and convenience store franchise located in the Portland area. When Pliska purchased the course it wasn’t in very good shape, and he knew that a lot of work needed to be done. Since purchasing Emerald Valley, Pliska has been the driving force behind a number of changes that has helped the course conform to the expectations of tournament players and thus, attract some of the most prestigious tournaments in the region.

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In 2005 an entirely new irrigation system was added. Several new tees were added to give the players a better perspective as they sized up each hole. Additionally, bunkers have been added all over the course to aid in changing the shape of the fairway. These changes have improved play by forcing players to make tough decisions as they manage each hole. There are twelve new fairway bunkers which challenge players off the tee, as well as sixteen new greenside bunkers which make many approach shots much more difficult. The sum of these changes has refined the course into a track that is incredibly upfront with you about how difficult it is. There isn’t a lot of hidden information at Emerald Valley, nothing to really catch the player by surprise.

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The greens are well maintained, aerated often, and are rife with subtle movements; making them fast and challenging to read. According to O’Neal

“Greens are our number one priority.”

Though the greens are a reasonable size, the landing areas on the greens at Emerald Valley are much smaller than at the average course in Lane County. Many of the greens have either false fronts or multiple tiers. Even if your approach manages to land on the green, there’s no guarantee that you will two putt or even that your ball will remain on the green.

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Emerald Valley has an excellent learning facility.

“We have four PGA pros on staff. We turn out top quality players through our “get golf ready” program. Graduates of this program include Olympic gold medal decathlete, Ashton Eaton, who took lessons in advance of a Golf Channel special he appeared in.”

One of the holes which typifies a straightforward shot into a difficult green is number seventeen. The hole is a 182-yard par 3. There is a large pond in front of the green and two bunkers, one front left and the other front right. The green has a false front which runs back-to-front. You must land your ball on the back half of the green for it to say up. A shot that doesn’t make it to the back half of the green could run down the front of the green to a bunker, the rough just in-front of the pond, or, if disaster strikes, all the way to the water. However, with all of the incentives to play the ball to the back half of the elevated green a player needs to be careful not to hit over the green. The consequence of doing that is having an uphill shot towards all of the danger at the front of the green.

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The truly intimidating thing about the seventeenth hole at Emerald Valley, as well as many of the other holes, is that nearly all of the danger a player will face is apparent from the tee. You do not have the luxury of blissful ignorance at Emerald Valley.

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All of the improvements to the course, as well as the day-to-day maintenance, require a lot of labor. However, Emerald Valley attempts to keep costs relatively low, so the cost of a round is within reach of many. So, how is Emerald Valley able to keep costs low and course quality high? To keep labor costs low they speculate on young talent to maintain the course. They hire individuals fresh out of school who are solid golfers themselves. Because Emerald Valley has built a reputation as a course which fosters a high level of competitive play, and because of the exacting standards which they require their course to maintain, their young talent is able to improve their resume and move on to better positions after a few years. Said O’Neal,

“The theory we have is that this is not their last stop. After they leave Emerald Valley they will move on and up. We have three former employees currently with the OGA, everyone who comes here is trained well and works hard. There’s no sense of entitlement, all top management, everyone, makes a sacrifice.”

Emerald Valley puts so much work into the course because they want the player’s experience to be fun. And, at Emerald Valley, they believe for the course to be fun it must play fair. Emerald Valley is a challenging and fair course, perfect for the golfer who would like to evaluate their game against a test taken by some of the best golfers in the world.

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