New owner to continue tradition at Kenai Golf Course

Playing through

Posted: Thursday, February 01, 2007


  Gordon Griffin, the new owner of the Kenai Golf Course, works Tuesday on a remodeling project in the pro shop. He bought the course earlier this month. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Gordon Griffin, the new owner of the Kenai Golf Course, works Tuesday on a remodeling project in the pro shop. He bought the course earlier this month.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

The Kenai Golf Course has marked the end of an era, but not the end of a way of doing business.

Dick and Shirley Morgan, the pair who founded the course in 1985, have sold the 18-hole layout to Gordon and Debbie Griffin. The sale of the course, which measures 6,816 yards from the tips, was finalized Jan. 22.

Dick Morgan said his management philosophy for the Kenai Golf Course has always been to keep the course in good shape, to continually improve the course and to keep prices as low as possible.

“I didn’t want it to be run as a cliquish type of thing,” Morgan said. “I wanted people of all walks of life to be able to enjoy golf and go out and golf.”

The result has been a course that welcomes weekend hackers — at least if they don’t mind losing a few balls — while at the same time giving pros stiff challenge at events like the Kenai Chrysler Golf Championship.

Morgan said his vision has been getting worse and worse the last 10 years, so he could no longer run the course. Gordon Griffin, who has been the general manager of the course since September 2004, and Morgan entered into serious discussions about a sale after the course closed for the winter in 2006.

“I wouldn’t have sold it to just anybody,” Morgan said. “It wasn’t a financial thing completely, although that entered into it.

“I wanted somebody that could continue to operate it more or less as a family course — somebody who could maintain and keep a good course.”

The city of Kenai owns the land on which the course sits and every building on the course with a foundation. Griffin acquired the lease to the land, the right to do business and other items on the course, like all the golf carts. Morgan and Griffin did not want to disclose the price of the sale.

Griffin worked for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District for 25 years. When he retired about six years ago, he managed the school theaters in Kenai, Soldotna and Nikiski. He has come out of retirement recently to help the school district out.

Griffin has been playing at the Kenai Golf Course pretty much since it opened. Last year he won the Combined Kenai and Birch Ridge Golf Associations Tournament. When the Peninsula Clarion did a story on Griffin’s retirement, he said in the story his goal was to work at the course. That led to a call from Carol Morgan and a job working in the clubhouse.

“I take this as a big responsibility, personally, because Dick Morgan has done a lot for the city of Kenai in developing that course,” Griffin said. “I feel a great deal of responsibility to keep it maintained and operable in every way possible.”

Doug Jung, who has known Griffin for 20 years and has played at Kenai Golf Course since it opened, said it should be business as usual.

“I think it will be a good deal,” Jung said. “Gordon has been the general manager for the last couple of years and he’s done a good job with the course.

“He’s got it going in the right direction and I think he’ll keep it going the right way. He’s got a lot of good ideas.”

Morgan and Griffin discussed ideas for improvement of the course before the sale. Griffin said many of their ideas were the same. Among Griffin’s goals are:

n To improve and maintain the newly constructed ladies tee boxes.

n To constantly increase the watering capacity so more area away from the greens and tee boxes can be watered.

n To continue a project started 2 1/2 years ago to remove stumps, dead trees and improve the rough so wayward shots have a better and better chance of being found.

n Maintain and improve the quality of the greens.

n To start a project, expected to take about three years, that will create a short-game practice area with greens, greenside sand traps and fairway bunkers. This area will be created between the driving range and the No. 8 fairway.

Griffin said he hopes the Kenai Golf Course tradition of volunteers helping with some of the projects continues.

“Through the volunteer efforts of people we’re able to keep the costs low, for one thing,” he said. “It also fosters camaraderie and ownership in the course.

“There’s a lot of people that are really excited about the course and love the course, and have a keen interest in making sure the course continues to be improved.”

Morgan said he is proud of how his brainchild turned out.

“I feel that I took a wooded area, and a sand pit, and made something very nice out of it,” he said. “The city ended up with a first-class facility that they can be proud of.”

Jung said Kenai golfers owe Morgan a huge debt of gratitude.

“He’s the founding father of golf, at least in Kenai,” he said. “He put golf on the map in Kenai. Dick wasn’t in it to make a profit, he was in it to have a place where people could play golf.

“A lot of people couldn’t have afforded to play if Dick charged what he should have charged. Dick wasn’t in it for the money. He was in it for the love of the game and seeing people have fun.”

Jeff Helminiak can be reached at jeff.helminiak

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