(Photo above: Keith Cyrus, Connie Cyrus, Pam Cyrus-Mitchell and Kelly Cyrus in front of the Aspen Lakes Golf Course clubhouse | Photo by Steve Kadel)
Family-Owned Business Maintains Award-Winning Golf Course
One of Central Oregon’s showcase family businesses is celebrating two decades of success in the competitive local golf world while seeking ways to stay on top in the future.
Aspen Lakes Golf Course just east of Sisters opened its first nine holes for play in 1997 and the second nine holes in 2000. It is owned by the Cyrus family, who trace their history to relatives who survived the arduous trip from the Southeast U.S. along the Oregon Trail to Scio to begin farming in the mid-1800s.
Keith Cyrus and sons Matt and Brian — later joined by sister Pam — were the partners who made the family’s first foray into golf. They purchased 1,084 acres just east of Sisters in 1987 and, with help from others in the family, began constructing a golf course by hand. The Cyrus men and women had experience as farmers and later in heavy equipment work, which gave them the skills needed to contour the land into an inviting green oasis.
Pam Cyrus-Mitchell explained that the family was looking for a new business endeavor when the idea of golf arose. The sport was enjoying a stretch of heightened popularity at the time, with up to 300 new courses opening nationwide as Aspen Lakes debuted.
“There was more demand for golf,” Pam said of the early years. “The economic downturn certainly had an impact on demand but we are fortunate to be in an area that has tremendous depth of quality in golf courses and that helps keep Central Oregon competitive nationwide.”
Aspen Lakes has flourished due to hard work by family members and the course’s idyllic setting at the foot of the Cascades. Pam said it was natural for everyone to take part in the physical work of developing the course.
“My dad loves to get on a ‘dozer,” she said. “We did most of the dirt work ourselves. The whole family got involved, whether it was operating the big machinery moving dirt, digging trenches, running the dozer shaping bunkers, driving dump trucks and water trucks or picking rocks. There was an opportunity for everyone to be involved.”
They worked with talented golf course architect William Overdorf, whom family members called “a true artist.” He sculpted Aspen Lakes into its existing contours, although the Cyrus family members had input too. Kelly Cyrus, wedding and events coordinator for the business, recalled times when someone would suggest angling a fairway a certain way to provide a mountain view. She said Overdorf was always receptive to that kind of suggestion.
With deep roots in the land, the Cyrus family emphasized a soft touch in shaping the golf course. They let the natural setting dictate where the course went, not the other way around.
“It blends like a watercolor,” Pam said. “It seems like the course fits.”
One change has involved watering. Instead of frequent short waterings, the course now gets longer soakings on fewer days. That leads to a deeper root structure, which is healthier for the plants and has resulted in advancements in water conservation.
Keith Cyrus said things began with “a rare piece of dirt that lent itself to what we wanted to do. I think we did an outstanding job given it was our first go.”
Keith, who is not a golfer, added of the development phase, “I didn’t look at it as a job. It was fun.”
Wetlands were created in some places, an addition that has resulted in a thriving redwing blackbird population for golfers to enjoy.
An estimated 60 percent of those who play the course are from outside the immediate area. Seattle, Portland, the I-5 corridor provide most of the visitors, Pam said. The family began developing the property as an eventual destination resort, and still holds to that goal.
“To do that, we need to provide overnight lodging,” Pam said.
That addition has been blocked, at least in part by some local opposition, family members said. They believe lack of lodging has caused them to lose some wedding bookings and other groups.
Despite that, weddings remain a significant part of the business. The grounds have stunning views of the Three Sisters mountains, catering services are on-site and there’s use of the 26,000 square-foot clubhouse. Brand 33 at Aspen Lakes restaurant offers a bar and lunch menu, dinner menu, and Sunday brunch. It’s a great place for birthday celebrations, anniversaries and lots of other events. A full wine list is available as well.
Aspen Lakes also has 115 one-acre parcels of land for home sites. All but four have been sold, with owners having built on 80 plots. About half of the residents live at Aspen Lakes full-time while the other half go south during winter months.
Kelly Cyrus, the company’s wedding and events coordinator, believes much of the company’s success comes from customer service.
“It’s like we’re welcoming them to our home,” she said.
Matt Cyrus echoed her words, saying, “It’s customer service whether it’s golf or another business. We want people to have fun.”
He emphasized the family designed a golf course that would stand on its own in the long term, although overnight lodging remains a desired addition.
“We’re still working in that direction,” Matt said. “It was the original business plan.”
Besides maintaining a top-level golf course for 20 years, the family has been a valuable member of the local community through its charitable giving. Over the years, Aspen Lakes and the Cyrus family have donated to a myriad of charitable causes and community needs. Donations and contributions have included cash, donation of facilities, equipment use, labor, even water rights.
The golf course earned awards from the start, including a spot in Golf Digest magazine’s Top 10 Best New Public Golf Courses and a ranking in the magazine’s Best New Affordable Courses in the U.S. Brainstorm Magazine ranked Aspen Lakes as No. 2 in the Pacific Northwest for Best Overall Experience.
Red Cinder Sand Traps
Red cinder sand traps are a unique feature of the 7,302-yard course. Rather than having sand trucked in from another state, the Cyruses decided to crush Central Oregon cinders to U.S. Golf Association standards for the traps. It saved money and is another way to use the local landscape. Matt said the red traps “became one of our best marketing tools.”
Rob Malone is director of golf at Aspen Lakes and brings a strong career background in banking. Howie Pruitt is in charge of player development — organizing ladies groups, “golf for newbies” sessions, the Wednesday Fun League and other events.
Malone is in his seventh season with Aspen Lakes, which he jokes “is a whole lot more fun than banking.” He said the charm of the golf course is that no two holes present the same problems to solve. Because of the way the course is designed, players don’t see a lot of other people even on busy days.
“It feels like you’re on a private course,” Malone said.
As it looks for ways to attract new players and retain longtime customers, Aspen Lakes is constantly looking for new niches to fill. One recent addition has been rental of GolfBoards, a platform on wheels that is powered by a lithium-ion battering. GolfBoards replace traditional golf carts, with players standing up on the platform to simulate the feeling of snowboarding or surfing.
The new product received Golf Digest’s 2016 Editor’s Award in the New Age category because it leads to faster play and has 30 percent less impact to turf than traditional carts. It garnered the Best New Product award at the 2014 Professional Golfers Association merchandise show.
Those who’ve used GolfBoard at Aspen Lakes report that, in addition to its other attributes, the mechanism is simply fun to operate, Pam said.
Whether or not the golf facility reaches destination resort status, Keith Cyrus feels satisfaction when he looks back on the venture.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “So many people told me it would never work. There’s been a lot of sweat equity. One of our strengths is having the entire family coming up with ideas.”
Pam added, “We are so appreciative of our staff. They truly care about Aspen Lakes and take a great deal of ownership in making it a success. We could not do this without them.”
Aspen Lakes Golf Course
16900 Aspen Lakes Drive
Sisters, OR 97759
CEO: The entire Cyrus family.
Number of employees: 60 to 70 during peak season.
Product/Service: 18-hole public golf course, wedding site, food catering and residential land sales.
Hot News: Rental of electric-powered GolfBoards, which replace traditional golf carts and simulate snowboarding or surfing on the fairways.
Outlook for Growth: Good, with the recent hiring of Laurie Farley to solicit new user groups to the golf course.