Echo Golf Course Has New Manager

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Echo Hills Golf Course has a new manager after 37 years. Kevin Newell succeeds Randy Sperr, who recently retired. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Newell)

After nearly four decades as the contract manager at Echo Hills Golf Course, Randy Sperr retired March 31.

However, he isn’t prepared to say farewell to the fairways. Sperr said he would help the new manager, Kevin Newell, by providing a link to his 37 years of knowledge at the course.

Newell, 46, who started March 11, commutes to Echo Hills from his home in Benton City, Wash. He served as a lieutenant in the Navy from 2000 to 2005 with the Global War on Terror and then left the reserve forces in 2009.

Newell, who began golfing at around age 15, had been looking for a career change and saw the Echo Hills contract manager position on the Indeed website. He said he liked the challenge of running a business and decided to apply.

Keven Newell, left, is the new manager at Echo Hills Golf Course. He succeeds Randy Sperr, right, who retired after 37 years on the job. (McKenzie Rose/Hermiston Herald)

“I didn’t think I would get an interview, to be honest, but I ended up getting the interview and the job,” he said.

Upon assuming this role, Newell has some new plans for Echo Hills. He said he wants to expand the clubhouse merchandise and concessions and establish a stronger online presence.

The city already ordered 10 new golf carts and hired six part-time clubhouse employees and one seasonal groundskeeper. The Echo City Council approved a resolution April 9 to sell additional food items.

“My goal is to build on the solid foundations Randy has established,” Newell said.

Newell predicted his biggest challenge would be maintaining the course’s small-town charm while promoting growth. He said he does not want Echo Hills to become commercialized or corporate. One of the ways Newell plans to accomplish this is by continuing Sperr’s support of youth programs, including providing the high school golf team with free access to the course.

Although Newell knows this position will include challenges, he is excited for the opportunity and hopes to honor Sperr’s legacy.

“Randy has done so much in establishing what this course is and means to the community,” he said. “In my opinion, it has become a sanctuary for the game of golf, our customers and the season pass holders.”

Sperr putts into retirement after 37 years

Sperr, 73, who grew up in Milwaukie, moved to Stanfield on July 1, 1984, with his wife, Karen Johnson, when they bought the Stanfield Main Street Market. They owned and operated it together until their divorce in August 1987, with Johnson assuming sole ownership. When the Echo Hills position opened up in October of that year, Sperr teed off with what he thought was a temporary position.

“I came over to fill in for three months and I’m still here,” he said.

The third Echo Hills contract manager, Sperr soon got to work with renovations. His primary goal was to make the course greener, reasoning it would attract more golfers. He said the course only had a few Russian olive, locust and pine trees, so he started by planting more than 600 trees — and then installed an irrigation system. He said numerous people pitched in, including community members, farmers and city officials. He said their efforts seemed to pay off.

“We went from no members to a tremendous outpouring of not only members but also green fees (drop-ins),” Sperr said.

In 1988, he replaced the hand lines and quick couplers with a fully automated irrigation system, which enabled him to widen the fairways. He said all this work required a great deal of time and effort. With only three part-time employees in the clubhouse and one part-time groundsman, Sperr said he would often come home exhausted. However, he was glad he did it.

“I loved it,” he said. “This has been the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”

One aspect he enjoyed most was tailoring the course to his liking. For instance, Sperr said he made the greens softer than what golfers encounter on most of the courses in Eastern Oregon.

“If you hit a good shot,” he said, “I want you to be rewarded.”

Sperr said he decided to retire because he wanted to be more involved in his children’s and grandchildren’s lives, and have more time to enjoy activities, including traveling. He said the thing he would miss the most is the day-to-day contact with the people who provided tremendous help at the course over the years.

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