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Meadow Lakes head professional has completed coursework that he started working on in August of 2011

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Zach Lampert stands with a driver near the second tee of Meadow Lakes Golf Course. Lampert, who is the head professional at the course, recently finished all of the coursework for his PGA certification. Zach Lampert became the head professional at Meadow Lakes Golf Course when he was just 24.

Running a golf course is a daunting task, regardless of age, but is a demanding task to give to someone that age.

"I was fortunate that Steve Forrester and the city had the confidence to give me that," he recently said. "I was pretty young to be handed the reins of the whole operation."

Still young at just 31, Lampert recently completed a major milestone in his young golf career.

In April, he finished the final course work of the Professional Golfers' Association Apprenticeship Program, becoming a PGA Associate.

"The logo is very important in our industry," he said. "Having a PGA presence at your facility, I think that it bolsters your credibility."

Lampert, who began working at the golf course while still in high school, began work on the apprenticeship program in August of 2011. Course work is divided into three levels. At each level, participants travel to Florida for a series of seminars, then return to their home golf course to do an extensive work portfolio. Once that is satisfactorily completed, there are a series of tests before the participant can advance to the next level.

It is rare for someone to become a head professional before having completed the apprenticeship program.

Lampert noted that typically there would be about 50 individuals attending the seminars in Florida, and of those 50, no more than one or two besides him would already be head professionals.

That made for some unique challenges for Lampert.

On the one hand, he was more familiar with the day-to-day operations of a golf course than many of the individuals in the program. However, on the flip side, he had more responsibility and consequently less time to devote to the program.

"It's different, because we probably have more experience in a lot of areas from some of the other guys, so we have an advantage there," he said. "For example, I do my own budget with the city, and a lot of them have not even seen one because they are the third guy in line, so that gave me an advantage. But on the other end of it, with more responsibility on the golf course, I devoted less time to the program, and that's why it took me more time to get through it than I had originally planned. I ended up doing most of the course work in the off season."

Participants have a maximum of eight years to complete the program.

Lampert said that he initially planned on finishing the program in just three or four years.

"It took me more time than I originally planned," he said. "I had planned on getting through the fast track and being done in three or four years. Instead, it took me six years, or whatever."

Lampert added that if not for the help of Vic Martin, a lifetime PGA member who has helped with teaching at Meadow Lakes for the last several years, it would have been even more difficult to make the time to work on the course work.

"Vic teaches," he said. "He's not real involved in the operations side, but he teaches, which has been a great help. I don't know that I would have been able to get through the program if I didn't have somebody like him that was able to devote a lot of time to teaching."

Lampert added that although he learned a lot of information while going through the PGA Apprentice Program, it hasn't led to any major changes in the way that operations are being run at Meadow Lakes.

"I wouldn't say that anything was a major change because before I became head professional, I was working for people that were PGA guys that had been through either the same program or an older version of it," Lampert said. "So they kind of passed the knowledge that they had on along the line. I can't think of anything specific that I changed."

Although the coursework from the program may not have led to any obvious major changes, Lampert said that it was still important to complete the program for a number of reasons.

"There is a lot of good information," he said. "It's a good program. The logo is very important in our industry. To be able to say that you are PGA affiliated, a professional, carries more clout than somebody who maybe doesn't have that. When people think of golf, even if they are not golfers, they immediately see PGA, and that has a value."

Lampert added that the PGA affiliation will allow Meadow Lakes to host tournaments that the course might not have been able to attract otherwise.

Locally, he has seen little difference since completing the program.

"It's kind of funny," he said. "A lot of them were surprised. They said 'Oh gosh, I thought that you were already done with the program' because of my position. But I think that on a state level, they were happy to see that done."

Becoming a PGA Associate and having the PGA logo at Meadow Lakes has already led to the course hosting the Oregon Pro-Am, and Lampert expects it to lead to additional tournaments and exposure for Meadow Lakes in the future.

Although local golfers are unlikely to see any major changes because of Lampert receiving his PGA credentials, it has led to one change that may make a big difference in the long run.

One of the first things that Lampert did after receiving his certificate was to hire an assistant professional.

"You can only have one person in the program," he said. "If it is the head pro, then you can't have an assistant pro until you finish the program."

Upon completion of the program, Lampert hired Jared Lambert as an assistant professional at Meadow Lakes.

Lambert's duties will primarily include teaching and player development.

"He's going to focus more on juniors and player development and stuff like that to help build the next generation of golfers," Lampert said. "It will allow us to provide more services to kids and adults. I mean, our PGA junior team doubled in size this year, so we have two teams and 24 kids that are in the program."

Lampert expects that the emphasis on player development will eventually help the high school golf program, where he is the boys head coach. But more importantly, it will help generate more customers for the golf course in the future.

Meadow Lakes Golf Course was developed as part of the City of Prineville wastewater treatment system.

Now that the wetlands have been completed, the course plays a less vital role in wastewater treatment, but it still impacts how the course is run.

"It's kind of secondary now," Lampert said. "Now the golf course is the main thing and wastewater is secondary. Our capacity is not a critical as it was when they opened the golf course, but it still impacts how we manage the course."

As head professional, Lampert is responsible not only for operations at the course, but also the day-to-day operation of the restaurant, course maintenance and upkeep, developing a budget, and all of the other aspects of running a golf course.

However, he is quick to point out that he has a great staff that helps with day-to-day operations.

Course superintendent Steve Reynolds takes care of the course itself, and Lampert said that he does a great job.

"I think that our greens are as good as any," he said. "I would put them up against any public course in the state as far as their condition year over year. Steve does a great job."

In addition, Lampert noted that the course is maturing. Trees that were not a factor in how the course played are now large enough that they are coming into play.

Meadow Lakes has removed one of the ponds and is in the process of removing bunkers that double up on some holes.

Lampert said that the changes are helping to reduce maintenance costs and helping to make the course more playable.

"People come to play the course thinking that since we have lower-priced greens fees than a lot of our competitors that they are not really expecting the golf course to be so nice," he said. "Then they play, and we get a lot of compliments, and they think the course is really nice."

Lampert added that in addition to making quality golf available at a budget price, Meadow Lakes is also working to expand the restaurant services that they offer.

"We always strive over there for the highest-quality food and service," he said.

With the addition of more tournaments and an emphasis on fundraisers, along with the availability of a large banquet room. that has led to increased business for the restaurant.

Lampert noted that one of the things that he is most proud of since becoming head professional is how well the course is doing financially.

"The city wants us to self-fund our own capital and be self-sufficient, which is a realistic task," he said. "I think that's always been our goal."

As a result, Lampert has worked hard to cut costs without cutting services.

As a result, the course is running the largest balance that it ever has.

That will become important in the near future. Not only does the age of the course mean that there are additional maintenance costs, but Lampert noted that within the next few years, the irrigation system will need to be replaced.

"We have a 25-year-old irrigation system that is going to be replaced here in probably the next five years," he said. "That's a major capital investment that we are trying to get out in front of and not have to go out for a big loan. That's going to be one of our big challenges."

Lampert added that due to the wear and tear that a golf course goes through with age, that may make for additional maintenance costs in the future. At the same time, as the course matures, it may become both more aesthetically pleasing and more challenging to play, making Meadow Lakes more attractive for tournaments and out-of-town golfers.

"We have tried to make improvements on the golf course here and there," he said. "Small things that aren't necessarily huge costs. Changes that make the golf course better, whether it's improving a low-quality turf area, or general maintenance stuff. We try to do something every year that makes the golf course better. Having the PGA logo is just one more of those things."

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