UNION — A youth golf tournament returned to Eastern Oregon for the first time in 15 years, drawing a crowd of out-of-town visitors to Union.

Buffalo Peak Golf Course hosted the 91st Bob Norquist Oregon Junior Amateur tournament from June 28 to July 2. More than 100 of the state’s best junior golfers flocked to the scenic fairways in Union, bringing a positive economic impact to the local lodging, dining and business options in the county.

“People that normally wouldn’t come here could see Union. There were comments from everyone saying how beautiful it is and how they plan to come back,” Union County Commissioner Donna Beverage said.

First-time event

Dana Londin, a golf professional for more than 25 years, took over as general manager of Buffalo Peak in February of 2020 and played a large role in drawing the tournament to Union. The last Oregon Junior Amateur tournament in the region took place at Wild Horse Golf Course in Pendleton, but Union had never hosted the tournament before this year.

“There’s not a lot of junior golf that’s been to this side of the state,” Londin said.

Londin has known Oregon Junior Golf Director Shanda Imlay for years, which helped bridge the gap between the tournament and a first-time venue. Buffalo Peak conducted drone footage of the golf course in Union and sent it off to the Oregon Golf Association.

Imlay, a PGA professional for over 35 years, accepted Buffalo Peak’s bid and cemented Union as the tournament’s first Eastern Oregon host in the last 15 years.

“When I first got here, it was important to me to bring something here to recognize Buffalo Peak as the facility it is, because it is truly one of the best facilities I’ve been associated with as far as the quality of the golf,” Londin said.

The tournament drew top youth golfers from across the state, with ages ranging from 18 years old to as young as 8 years old. With most of the golfers coming from areas in the western and central parts of the state like Portland and Bend, the tournament marked a first-time visit to Eastern Oregon for most of the competitors and their families.

“I really liked it, even though it’s a much different style of course than I’m used to,” said Brody Grieb, a golfer from Bend. “The courses I’m used to have a lot more trees, so this was a lot more fun.”

Local impact on lodging, restaurants

While the tournament drew in hundreds of competitors, Buffalo Peak did not receive a huge revenue boost as might be expected.

“I give the golf course away,” Londin said. “We did it more toward the advertising of the course because you can’t buy the press we’re getting.”

According to Londin, having the golfers and their families see the course in person and walk the greens is a more effective promotion for the course than any other method.

“The kids have loved it, but I would have had no other way to get this many young golfers here,” Londin said. “This right here will pay for itself tenfold in the long term.”

In addition to the exposure to Buffalo Peak, the crowd of golfers and family members visiting for the tournament flocked to local lodging and dining in and around Union. The Historic Union Hotel sold out of rooms for the event, and other visitors booked hotels in La Grande and other surrounding cities.

“They could not have been more pleasant,” said Charlie Morden, owner of the Union Hotel. “It was great to have them and probably increased my normal business by 40-60%.”

The historic hotel in downtown Union hosted golfers and their families in addition to officials who traveled to host the event through Buffalo Peak. The crowd of visitors provided a noticeable increase in business at local restaurants and stores during the tournament’s downtime.

“It was nice having an activity back and bringing in some business on account of new people,” LJ Brewskis owner LaVelle Braun said.

According to Londin, the crowd of golfers enjoyed dining at LJ Brewskis and packed the restaurant in the later days of the tournament. At the Union Market, owner Mike Colkitt noticed an increase in the sales of sunscreen, ice and medications as a result of the tournament.

“I thought it was great exposure for the golf course and the city itself, if not the whole county, because people were coming from all over the place,” he said. “Dana has just done a fabulous job.”

Elite golf in Union a huge success

Golfers, families, officials and hosts all considered Union’s first time hosting the Oregon Junior Amateur tournament a success. Imlay noted that the course itself promotes a particularly effective playing field for matchplay in a tournament format due to the advantages and disadvantages presented across the challenging holes.

“Everything has been positive, and I love that the community has gotten behind this event,” Imlay said. “The volunteers have been great and Buffalo Peak management and staff couldn’t be any better. It’s a small-town community feel that I just love.”

The event ended Friday, July 2, with nine champions being named across girls and boys age brackets.

“Moving forward, I think we can definitely have bigger events,” Londin said. “It hasn’t been here in a lot of years and it was an easy decision to accept the bid and host the tournament.”

Following an extended period of limited tourism and local business due to the pandemic, the Oregon Junior Amateur tournament brought some normalcy back to Union. In a city mostly known for hosting the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show and Grassroots Festival every year, the golf tournament proved that new events also can be successful in Union.

“It takes me back to when I was playing,” Imlay said. “I think the parents and players have been very surprised as to how well Eastern Oregon can host a major event.”

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