Conditions improving at Sequoyah golf course
The new management at Sequoyah National Golf Club in Cherokee had hoped to start turning a profit within a year of taking the helm in the fall of 2014 — and while the course is still operating at a loss, the light at the end of the tunnel is drawing near, manager Kenny Cashwell said.
“We’re ultimately weather-dependent on where we wind up this fiscal year, but we’re on pace to have potentially the best year ever,” Cashwell said.
Finances for the course, which is owned and subsidized by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, are “significantly better” than they were in 2014, Cashwell said, and the course is once more earning rave reviews from customers. Since Atlanta-based Sequoia Golf Management took over a little more than a year ago, all reviews logged on TripAdvisor have given the Cherokee golf course a five-star rating, with customers using phrases like “a must play,” “stunning” and “an engineering marvel” in their reviews.
The course had deteriorated significantly in the months before Sequoia took it over, Cashwell said. Tribal Council fired the previous management — Troon Golf — in 2014 after concluding that the course should have made more progress toward becoming profitable since it opened in 2009. The tribe created the course as an amenity for tribal members and a draw for tourists to complement the casino, but councilmembers were growing tired of propping it up with tribal funds.
Though current information about the course’s tribal subsidy was not available as of press time, originally the tribe had been keeping it afloat with an annual contribution of $1.2 million and a $500,000 line of credit.
When asked why it’s taken longer than anticipated to get the course operating at a profit, Cashwell responded that “the biggest factor has got to be the fact our reputation struggled based on the summer of 2014.”
The course was in terrible condition when Sequoia took it over, Cashwell said, with brown grass, non-existent tee boxes and weeds ruling the day. TripAdvisor reviews from that time period back up his assessment.
“Don’t waste your money as this course is at least two years away from being playable,” a reviewer wrote in October 2014.
“55 dollars worth of rip off!!!!” declared an August 2014 review.
It’s taking some time to win those customers back, Cashwell said, with the peak visitation of 17,000 in 2013 falling to 15,000 for 2015. But the course is looking good, and the reputation will come with time, he believes.
“We have grass,” Cashwell said. “We have grass everywhere, which is what we want.”
An expanded shop inside Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort has also helped things. The larger store includes space for customers to try out putters and clubs before purchase.
“Things are going well,” Cashwell said. “The golf course is back in fantastic condition.”