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New owners emphasize C-Falls greens open to all golfers

by BRET ANNE SERBIN
Daily Inter Lake | June 21, 2020 1:00 AM

Many area business owners are discovering local customers are the key to sustaining their business throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Tom and Gerlinde Waters were ahead of the curve when they took over Meadow Lake Golf Course in Columbia Falls last August with the goal of attracting local golfers to the long-running attraction.

“Our vision was for Columbia Falls people to know this was a public golf course,” Tom insisted. “That was our intention from Day One.”

The couple bought the golf course at the end of last summer when the previous owner retired after running the course for about 30 years. Though not avid golfers themselves, the Waterses had a goal to connect the local community with the facility and bring the business up to date.

“We want to cater to the valley,” Tom reiterated. “We want to make it grow. We want to make it more of a valley-friendly golf course.”

Connecting with valley residents is a top priority for the couple, who each moved to the area years ago from out of town: Eastern Montana in the case of Tom and—just slightly farther afield—Austria, in the case of Gerlinde.

Over the years, they’ve grown to love the Flathead Valley, and Tom has become so dedicated to renovating the course that he hasn’t even had the chance to play the holes himself.

The golf course is a separate entity from the Meadow Lake resort, but the Waterses acknowledged the nearby lodging can make it seem as though the amenities are reserved for out-of-town visitors, rather than valley residents. While they certainly expect tourists to contribute a major portion of their business, they’re focused on bringing awareness to the community that the course is open to the public and eager to serve local golfers.

A big part of this effort is revamping the golf course and its accoutrements, which have remained somewhat stuck in the past for many years. “It was due for an update,” Tom noted.

They added a spacious, brand-new outdoor patio where visitors can watch the action, enjoy their expanded kitchen menu and relax with the aid of the newly acquired liquor license. The Eagles Nest Bar & Bistro now features additions such as panini sandwiches and one of the best margaritas in the valley, according to Gerlinde.

They also rearranged the Pro Shop to make the store feel more spacious and added an indoor golf simulator to ensure year-round opportunities to golf in Columbia Falls.

Tom said the simulator, which is set up similar to a bowling lane, is one of few such devices available in the valley. During the chillier months or unfavorable weather, golfers can use the machine to virtually golf on about 30 courses from all across the world—including Meadow Lake.

In the spirit of increasing awareness and accessibility at Meadow Lake, the Waterses also started men’s and women’s summer golf leagues, and they hope to continue the leagues during the off-season, too.

“The league has helped get the word out more,” Tom reported. He said Meadow Lake has recently attracted new golfers and locals who hadn’t visited the course in many years, in part spurred by the new leagues.

Tom said the newcomers and returning golfers have told the new owners they “feel very welcome” at the course these days. A lot of locals have rediscovered there is a public golf course tucked just a few miles off of U.S. 2., they said.

Despite the influx of new business, the new owners lamented the COVID-19 pandemic has put a serious damper on the start of the season. They opened up for the spring season on April 17, but Gerlinde estimated business is only at about 30% capacity right now, largely due to travel restrictions and a general decline in public activities. They’re hopeful the course will get busier if the weather improves and the pandemic passes.

Meadow Lake is one of two courses that host the Montana Governors’ Cup Golf Tournament every year. This year’s event is scheduled for July 31 through Aug. 1, and the Waterses are already looking forward to the occasion bringing golfers to the course. Tom added they have “visions of having more events” and Gerlinde is optimistic these initiatives will continue to popularize the golf course among the local population as well as visiting golfers.

“Hopefully it’ll get better,” Gerlinde said as she sat on the patio and gazed out on the scenic course.

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at (406)-758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.

Meadow Lake Golf Course will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 24. The course is located at 490 St. Andrews Drive, Columbia Falls.

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Even the geese know when to take cover as they wander the waterways of the Meadow Lake Golf Course in Columbia Falls Wednesday. (Jeremy Weber/Daily Inter Lake)

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A peaceful and quiet morning greeted golfers on the ninth hole of the Meadow Lake Golf Course Wednesday. (Jeremy Weber/Daily Inter Lake)

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Tom and Gerlinde Waters have been hard at work upgrading the Meadow Lake Golf Course in Columbia Falls since purchasing it last year.

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A peaceful and quiet morning greeted golfers on the ninth hole of the Meadow Lake Golf Course Wednesday. (Jeremy Weber/Daily Inter Lake)