Gene “Bunny” Mason

An autobiography – April 2006

ABOUT SCHS

I was born in Moro Oregon, December 15, 1927, the youngest of eight children. We grew up in Salem, Oregon and were active in sports at Salem High School. In 1945 I tied for First State Golf Champion with Judge Robert E. Jones. In 1946 I played football, basketball and golf. I enjoyed all sports but found that golf was my passion. After high school I worked for a time for J.C. Penney Company: turned pro in 1949, working for the Walla Walla Country Club and stayed there until 1951. Worked for a great mentor, Jimmy Russell, and found my wife of 54 years, Mary. She and I were married in 1951.

Once I became a professional golfer, I never looked back. In 1951, I was hired by the Salem Golf Club as Pro, and stayed there until October 15, 1960, when I was invited to serve Columbia Edgewater Country Club. I’m still a professional teaching pro with Columbia Edgewater. I spent a few years between 1972 and 1992 working for some really interesting folks …

In August of 1970, Mike Hollern, Chairman of Brooks Resources Corporation, and Bob Harrison, President of Brooks Resources Corporation, hired me as Golf Development Consultant for their new venture, Black Butte Ranch. I was still employed by Columbia Edgewater, but worked with Brooks as a consultant until 1972. I returned to Columbia Edgewater in 1992.

The original plan was to build a nine-hole golf course and a large number of tennis courts. Tennis was a big game in the 1970s. But we worked things out in a hurry. We ended up with thirty-six holes of golf before it was done.

I worked a small amount with Bob Graves (Robert Muir Graves) on the design of the Big Meadow course at the Ranch. Then I designed Glaze Meadow with the help of my great friend Bob Rickabaugh.

When it came time to hire a golf professional to manage the golf courses, I was asked how much it would take to get me. Little did Harrison know that I might have paid them for the job! As neither of these gentlemen (Mike Hollern and Bob Harrison) had knowledge of the golf professional trade, I was commissioned to write my own contract. It must have been OK, as it stood twenty-three years with practically no changes. My reporting obligation was to the President of the Board of Brooks Resources and no other. That feature was of great value as I lived through, if memory serves me, nine general managers at the Ranch in twenty-three years.

I still have a letter in my files from Bob Harrison, in which I think he was expressing the thought that I was making more money than appropriate. He must have been right, as he was one of the brightest guys I ever worked with. Bright, but a little absent minded. He was driving to the valley (Willamette Valley) one morning with another party when he was apprized that there was a deer in the road some 300 yards ahead. He hit the deer!

He was a wonderful guy who left the company early on to do great things in his own right. We had a going away party for Harrison when he left with a few “roast” type speakers prior to his final words to his former associates. When Harrison finally got the microphone, Mike McNeil stepped up and asked who wanted a beer. Every last man got up and left the room, leaving Harrison to speak to the janitor.

The Big Meadow golf course filled up very fast, even though the tennis craze was in full swing. Early property sales were outstanding and people took advantage of some of the greatest bargains imaginable. The only glitch of any size was caused by the gas shortage. Even with a wonderful sales staff, featuring Australian expatriate, Haze Wells, Towner Menneffe, Mike McNeil and the late Ron Lettenmier, we had to go on the road.

In about 1974 we started having owner oriented parties in the valley. We (Brooks Resources) hosted the cocktail hour and the owners paid for their dinner. I think we stared with three dinners a year. We ended up going to twelve dinners a year, including going from Seattle to Palm Springs. I think we entertained some 2500 people the last year. I made home movies for these dinners with a hand-held Super 8 camera. We spliced together what we thought would entertain people and help sell the product. It seemed to work, the lots were selling.

We all have to work under a bit of pressure from time to time, but try sitting through dozens of meetings with two, not one, superiors who possess total recall. As I earlier stated, Mike Hollern is one of the smartest men I know, the other is Bill Smith. Early on Smith was Hollern’s Executive Assistant and for a short time General Manager of Black Butte Ranch. Bill graduated from the University of Colorado and earned an MBA at Stanford. While my IQ is just a bit higher than my shoe size, these two remember every single word or number they ever heard. Mike dazzled Dartmouth College as a hockey player and a brilliant student. I believe his second degree was Stanford, too. When he first graduated from Dartmouth he started in radio, for which he must have been great. He’s a wonderful public speaker with a big-time radio voice. Anyway, Brooks Scanlon was able to drag him away from all that and bring him to Bend, where he has done so much to develop the community in the healthy fashion it has enjoyed. Mike also held the chairmanship of ODOT for a number of years. He’s an outstanding public servant and a wonderful boss.

To go back a few years, I won the State Professional Championship at the Bend Country Club in, I believe, 1961. I was asked to speak to a service club the next day. It was my pleasure to predict that the whole world would be coming to Central Oregon soon. I distinctly remember my old friend General Bob Thomas labeling me as a heretic and an enemy of the people. In retort, I predicted that there would be twenty-five golf courses in Central Oregon before I died. At that time there were four nine-hole courses. There are now approximately 30 courses and more coming. As far as I know, I’m still alive, if slow moving.

Shortly after coming to Black Butte Ranch I got into golf course design work. I had the pleasure of doing about twenty projects, including Glaze Meadow, Aubrey Glen, Persimmon, and Skamania Lodge, to name a few. Haven’t got one right yet, but will keep trying.

Over the years we were fortunate enough to have some fine young people on the payroll including Craig Griswold, Mike Davis, Pat Fitzsimons, Derrick Johnson, Rick Gloor, Marti Loeb and my right arm Carly Seitz, shop manager and secretary.

Superintendent Robert Rickabaugh, from day one until retirement, was an inspirational man of unending talent. Starting as a laborer in construction on Big Meadow, he finished as General Superintendent over both courses. Later John Alexander took over the job (he is currently superintendent of Waverly County Club) with Gus Johnson and Jerry Kessel working the two courses. Johnson and Kessel are still at Black Butte Ranch today and doing a wonderful job on their own.

The success we had in the development of Golf Operations was immensely helped by the quality of people I was able to recruit. First and foremost was my lifelong best friend, Sidney B. Harman. Sid left the Yakima Elks Club the same time we came to Black Butte Ranch. At an unbelievably youthful 65 years of age, he did not want to retire. He was with us as the finest teacher, player and public relations practitioner until his death in 1988. Every golfer can dream of shooting his age, but only one out of thousands ever succeed. Sid did it every year from age 63 until death took him at 80 --- probably 750 times. He was the finest fly fisherman I ever saw, too. Gentleman was the one word.

On the other side of the coin, we lost one of God’s great works when Mt. St. Helens blew away Bruce Faddis. Bruce was our baby: tough as a rat with a heart of pure gold. At age 26, he was my Big Meadow Superintendent with a great future. After he was killed by St. Helens’ explosion, I started a memorial fund at Oregon State University to benefit agronomy students. It’s the Bruce Faddis-Sid Harman Memorial, now administered by the OSU Foundation. Each school year a couple of deserving students get some financial aid from the fund, which was largely donated by the good folks at Black Butte Ranch.

The development of Black Butte Ranch golf was for some years a classic in the industry. Initially I did not like Bob Graves’s seed specification. So to be sure we did not make a serious error, we called in the best expert I knew, John Zoller. Hollern, Smith, Zoller and I met at the Big Meadow course, prior to spring 1971. Management indicated that price was no object as long as we got the best. Zoller advised creeping bent grass seed, so that is what we did. Dead wrong – it turned into steel wool. We had to poison out all of it and start over in 1972 with Oregon rye and fescue, but mostly native blue grass. Central Oregon is blue grass country and you can be thankful for that. It took us making the mistake to find out.

Early on the engineering company that was in charge of all construction had put a foreman in charge that was not too sharp at reading golf blue prints. When I was out of town, he built four greens up-side-down on the back nine of Big Meadow. They all had to be regraded. We had a lot of fun building the first nine with an unlimited budget, using the Brooks Scanlon logging road crews who thought every fairway should be flat. Wrong!

The second nine was a new deal. We were running out of cash. And dirt from the lake was not topsoil. Net result was that, to this day, you are subject to hitting the footings of Mt. Washington with a deeply dug divot.

In spite of our sometimes clownish efforts we came up with what people wanted – a beautiful course that anyone can play. We opened the first nine, spring of 1972; second nine, spring 1973.

Sometime, in about 1974, Brooks expanded the Ranch size by purchasing 700 acres that became the Glaze Meadow section. Old cow poke, Carl Campbell, had cared for that land for many seasons. Campbell told me I would live to see the lovely springs on that parcel dry up one day. Seemed impossible, but he was right as they disappear several years during draught, only to come back stronger than ever in the high water table years.

In 1974 I was commissioned to design and build nine holes in the Glaze Meadow addition. It was to be the last golf built. By the time we opened in 1976 property sales were so good I was told to do the second nine. The good fortune to have such a lovely piece of ground is deeply appreciated. As Brooks was still in the timber business, I was required to pay out of the budget for every tree over 24 inches diameter that I left standing.

Those holes opened in 1978 and golf was sold out within a few months. Brooks was generous to allow me to leave enough of those big ponderosas to maintain the “big forest feel.” (They were worth approximately $1500 each.) When you design a golf course you can expect to be examined by every hacker who owns a set of clubs. The first hole at Glaze Meadow has had me pilloried in all the halls of the land. To this I say, “A golf ball goes where you hit it.” Golf is not a straight line game.

When Brooks Resources sold the golf course assets to the homeowners association my contract went with the deal in its original form. Some owners were disappointed to find they still had no say in golf “policy matters.” Frankly, they would have just cost themselves a lot of cash. Every time a self appointed committee would come to me with a proposal, I would get out the statement and show them the damage to the bottom line.

By treating every owner the same way and taking care of the renter and guest who contributed over 65% of our income, golf operations provided over $10 million to the bottom line the last ten years I was there. Not possible with all the competition now in the area. Still, the sale by Brooks Resources of the golf courses to Black Butte Ranch homeowners association was the best land deal for those homeowners since Manhattan Island was sold for a handful of beads.

In 1992, I found it was best to turn the job over to J.D. Mowlds, my assistant and right arm for the previous nine years. I still had a couple of years on the contract, but with four golf courses under design and construction it was time to move on.

Brooks Resources had their ups and downs over the years. Like the Canyon Lakes deal in Kennewick, Washington. We bought into the development about six months before “WOOPS” collapsed with some 2000 big paying jobs down the drain. The past few years have all been up for Brooks Resources with Mike Hollern at the wheel. Bill Smith stayed with the Canyon Lakes deal on his own and weathered things long enough to see the area change from atomic energy to great Wine County.

Brooks expected the best of their people and I can say they were absolutely great to work with.

Thanks for the ride.
Bunny Mason


Copyright © 2006 Sisters Country Historical Society