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John Reitman

By John Reitman

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Repurposed course stands as an example of what has plagued golf


For about a millisecond 10 or so years ago, Emerald Falls Golf Course had a bright future.
Designed by Jerry Slack, the course in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma opened to plaudits by raters and reviewers.
Then reality set it.
Recession and a real estate market that had caved in doomed the property near Tulsa just seven years after it had opened.
The loss of Emerald Falls is of little significance in and of itself. It's not Southern Hills, and few, if any, outside the Tulsa area will mourn its loss. But it is a snapshot of what was wrong with golf when money to chase that quest to "build a course a day" was all but free. And it makes you wonder where some people in the golf business turn for advice.
The history of Emerald Falls has been an exercise in bad timing, poor judgment and seemingly uninformed decision-making since the course opened more than a decade ago.
It is one in a long line of Exhibit A's of what can happen when real estate developers turn their focus on making a quick buck on land deals rather than understanding the nuances of a unique and tough-to-get-your-hands-around business like golf. It's a story you've read over and over in the past 10 years, and one you'll continue to read about again and again.
Located about 25 miles east of Tulsa, Emerald Falls was a real estate golf course that opened in 2007 . . . on the precipice of an economic recession that continues to influence the golf industry to this day. 

The course was set for a redesign by Jack Nicklaus and, it was thought at the time, would open about a year-and-a-half later as the centerpiece of the resort. First Fidelity Bank thought otherwise."


Few expenses were spared in building Emerald Falls, site of the high school state championships in Oklahoma in 2010. The greens were an A-1/A-4 bentgrass mix (no doubt a challenge to manage in Oklahoma's hot summers) and fairways were Zorro zoysia. Native rock mined during construction was used throughout the property to line ponds and as features on tees on the course that was named one of the best new layouts of 2008 by Golf Digest.
Like many real estate golf courses, the Emerald Falls was built not as a golf experience first, but to entice people into buying real estate and building homes in the surrounding development. When home sales lag and the brand new golf course does not turn an immediate profit, things have a way of spiraling out of control quickly in this business. 
Indeed, the writing was on the wall.
The ensuing economic woes led owners Lucia Carballo Oberle and her husband, David, to close the course just seven years later, and those who played there have been waiting for a savior ever since. The new owner of the real estate development recently put to rest any thoughts of reopening the golf course. Instead, Capitol Homes, which bought the development last fall, plans to start building new homes on vacant lots around the golf course, which is being repurposed as a park that can be utilized by residents of the community and surrounding area.
Emerald Falls closed in 2014 when the Oberles announced plans to begin construction on an adjacent $122 million resort. The course was set for a redesign by Jack Nicklaus and, it was thought at the time, would open about a year-and-a-half later as the centerpiece of the resort. First Fidelity Bank thought otherwise.
With the Oberles already saddled in debt over the project - only 35 homes had been built on the 200 available sites - foreclosure proceedings ensued shortly after the closing, squashing plans for the resort and the redesigned golf course. 
Loss of jobs is regrettable, but repurposing the golf course was the right move, albeit one that was avoidable. It's a sad story we've heard hundreds of times and will hear a hundred more on the course to self-correction.


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