What Happens to Old Golf Courses?

Blooms Park was General's Ridge Golf Course until 2019
Blooms Park was General's Ridge Golf Course until 2019
Source: GoogleMaps

Virginians began playing golf in the 1890's. The owner of The Homestead in Bath County first played the game on a 6-hole course established in 1884 across the state line at White Sulphur Springs, and opened his own 6-hole course in 1892. That may be the first golf course in Virginia.1

What is now the Washington Golf and Country Club may have organized as early as 1892. It initially leased land on Arlington Heights, now occupied by the Colonial Village Apartments on Wilson Boulevard, before purchasing its current property in 1908. At the "Club of the Presidents," Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, and Calvin Coolidge went out past near Rosslyn to play golf.2

The first statewide golf tournament in Virginia was held in 1904, with participants from four of the seven clubs then in the state. After the event, leaders from Lakeside Golf Club (Richmond), Roanoke Country Club, Hampton Roads Golf and Country Club, and Norfolk Country Club organized what became the Virginia State Golf Association. The other three clubs active at the time were the University of Virginia Golf Club, Alexandria Golf Club, and Washington Golf Club. The Hampton Roads Golf and Country Club had organized in 1893, so it may predate the Washington Golf and Country Club and be the state's oldest golf club.3

The first golf course in Richmond initially used tomato cans for cups. The game was played at impromptu locations, before courses were designed for that purpose.

Major Lewis Ginter opened a golf course at his Lakeside Park as an amenity for guests at The Jefferson, his hotel in the city's downtown. A group of bicyclists, the Lakeside Wheel Club, adopted golf and assumed control of the course after Major Ginter died. The emergence of competing clubs, the Hermitage and The Country Club of Virginia, led to the dissolution of the Lakeside Country Club organization in 1910. However, the golf course did not disappear. New enthusiasts restarted the club in 1917, and it survives today as the Jefferson Lakeside Country Club.4

In the 1990's, the demand for tee times exceeded the capacity of the existing private clubs with golf courses. Residential developers decided that incorporating a new golf course within their planned subdivisions would increase the sale price of the new houses, or at least speed the sale of lots and houses within a golf enclave. The Washington Post noted in 1991:5

Aging baby boomers who once beat a path along jogging trails or tennis courts increasingly have been turning to golf as their preferred exercise...

...Developers at six of the Northern Virginia golf-home communities alone -- Virginia Oaks, Robert Trent Jones, Bristow Manor, Stoneleigh, Catharpin and Balmoral -- are preparing to drill 2,592 rather small holes on golf greens built on 4,520 manicured acres and surround them with 2,260 upscale single-family homes and town houses.

Interest in golf declined significantly within three decades.

Some golf courses have been sold and revitalized by their new owners. In 2009, Donald Trump purchased the Lowes Island Club in Loudoun County for $13 million. He acquired it from the bank which held a mortgage loan, which the private club could not repay. Trump renamed the course "Trump National Golf Club, Washington D.C." and opened up vistas of the Potomac River by cutting down over 400 trees; more trees were removed from the floodplain in 2019 to enhance the viewshed further.

Trump also installed a plaque that claimed the site was known as the "River of Blood" because of Civil War casualties. The historical claim was not accurate, but not every tale told on a golf courses is grounded in solid facts. Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and a member of the club, suggested reporters should focus on the needed and expensive renovation of the course rather than the details on the plaque.6

instead of closing, Lowes Island Club was revitalized after purchase by Donald Trump in 2009
instead of closing, Lowes Island Club was revitalized after purchase by Donald Trump in 2009
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

In 2016, there were 15,014 golf courses in the United States. Of those, 25% (3,670) were private and 75% (11,344) were open to the general public. The number of courses in 2016 was 6% less than the 16,052 courses in 2005, but the 2,300 alternative golf facilities such as Top Golf driving ranges provided a wider number of locations for golfers to play.7

Since the costs to maintain golf courses is high and demand has not matched expectations, some have closed and been converted to other uses. According to the National Golf Foundation, the number of golf courses peaked in 2006. Between 2006-2018, the number declined 7%. In 2019, the foundation reported the trend had continued:8

Golf is the No. 1 outdoor pay-for-play, individual participation sport in the U.S...

On the supply side, the course closures that have outweighed new openings since 2006 are part of an ongoing correction within the industry. A total of 198.5 18-hole equivalent courses closed throughout the U.S. in 2018, while 12.5 new 18-HEQ opened, a net reduction of 1.2% in the world’s best-supplied market...

This balancing of supply and demand is one that many course owners have taken advantage of thanks to soaring real estate values, often choosing to sell their property as part of a planned exit strategy. Development activity remains concentrated on renovations rather than new construction.

The Golf Club of Virginia at Beacon Hill opened in 2001 and closed in 2006, even before the impacts of the 2008 Great Recession.

The golf course was built with million dollar homes on over 1,000 acres near Paeonian Springs in western Loudoun County, on land that had once been owned by radio personality Arthur Godfrey. US Open champion Johnny Miller designed 27 fairways and greens to offer green space views for the houses. The houses were sold successfully, but the golf course failed. The initiation fee for the Golf Club of Virginia was $50,000, and too few members joined. Operating costs exceeded revenues, and it closed after just five years of operation. In 2007 real estate scammers claimed they had a buyer to re-open the course, but their $5 million Ponzi scheme resulted in just arrests and jail time.

The Golf Club of Virginia real estate was listed for sale at $2.5 million, but did not sell for eight years. In 2014, the adjacent Beacon Hill Home Owners Association bought the land for $1, plus $25,000 required to pay off the property tax bill. The home owners association later considered a proposal to lease the course so a new private club could be started, "Belle Terre Golf at Beacon Hill." Plans included using the former 12,000 square foot home of Saudi Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud (who had purchased Arthur Godfrey's land) as the clubhouse, but ultimately the land was left as vacant open space for use by residents and their guests.9

the Golf Club of Virginia made adjacent houses more valuable, but the club failed as a business within just five years
the Golf Club of Virginia made adjacent houses more valuable, but the club failed as a business within just five years
Source: Beacon Hill Community Association, Beacon Hill Golf Course Map

the Golf Club of Virginia closed in 2006 and is now open space for the Beacon Hill Home Owners Association, west of Leesburg
the Golf Club of Virginia closed in 2006 and is now open space for the Beacon Hill Home Owners Association, west of Leesburg
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

The market for golf courses was saturated by 2007, but the Battlefield Golf Club managed to open that year in the City of Chesapeake. Construction was heavily subsidized by Dominion Power, which trucked millions of dollars worth of fly ash to the site for landscaping.

The ash was a waste product resulting from burning coal to generate electricity at the Chesapeake Energy Center. Between 2002-2007, Dominion transported 1.5 million pounds of ash 11 miles to the site. The ash was sculpted by bulldozers to create a rolling landscape with hills 35 feet high on the normally-flat Coastal Plain. Earth excavated for the ponds on the course was placed on top of the coal ash so grass could grow.

coal ash was sculpted into mounds and depressions to create interesting topography for golfers at the Battlefield Golf Club
coal ash was sculpted into mounds and depressions to create interesting topography for golfers at the Battlefield Golf Club
Source: Dominion Generation, Post-Construction Ash Fill, Soil Cover And Groundwater Evaluation Report (December 17, 2009, Figure 5)

A golf course was preferred over houses at the location. The golf course was constructed two miles west of Fentress Air Field, where US Navy pilots practiced landing on an airstrip configured to resemble an aircraft carrier. The Department of Defense had threatened in 2005 to abandon Naval Air Station Oceana and Fentress during the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, unless local jurisdictions limited housing development near the airfields.

Erosion at the course exposed fly ash, and neighbors filed lawsuits based on contamination of the drinking water aquifer from heavy metals in the ash. Dominion Power spent $6 million to connect local residents to the municipal water system, while the Chesapeake City Council declared the fly ash to be a "public nuisance." The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality arranged for Dominion Power to test 19 groundwater wells for arsenic, mercury, lead, selenium and other toxic materials.

The landowner who negotiated the original deal with Dominion for the fly ash had sold the property to others who wanted to operate a golf course. He sued to regain control, close down the course, and force Dominion Power to reclaim the site, saying:10

I had been paid to take the ash... I really wasn't interested in owning and operating the golf course...

Who would want a golf course that has a half a billion dollar environmental liability and is losing $100,000 a month? If I buy it, I can shut it down and force them to remediate it... Had they told me about the risk of building that golf course I wouldn't have done it.

The Environmental Protection Agency concluded in 2010 that there was no threat to human health from toxins leaching out of the coal ash into the aquifer. That finding undercut the $1 billion lawsuit filed by nearby residents. The attorney for the owners of the golf course told the local newspaper:11

The EPA found that there is no health hazard with either the groundwater or the surface water on the golf course... So if you hit a bad shot, it's perfectly safe to fish your ball out of the lake.

The Battlefield Golf Club stayed open, but in 2018 the 18-hole Cahoon Plantation Golf Course seven miles away finally closed. It opened in 1999, and Wallace Cahoon never made a profit before he shut it down.

Original plans called for building 36 holes. The footprint was reduced to allow construction of the Eagle Pointe at Cahoon Plantation housing development. Plans to replace the last 18 holes with more housing were dropped in 2016, in part because residents at Eagle Pointe objected. One resident commented after the Cahoon Plantation Golf Course closed:12

Anytime you buy a home in a golf course community, that golf course adds a certain amount of value to what you paid for your home... If that golf course goes away, it will have some impact.

Dominion hauled coal ash 11 miles from the Chesapeake Energy Center (1) to the Battlefield Golf Club (2), two miles away from Fentress Air Field (3)
Dominion hauled coal ash 11 miles from the Chesapeake Energy Center (1) to the Battlefield Golf Club (2), two miles away from Fentress Air Field (3)
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

The Highland Springs Golf Course on the eastern side of Richmond opened in 1969, and was originally named "Confederate Hills." It closed in 2009, as the economic recession reduced the number of people willing to pay for a round of golf.13

Highland Springs in 2004 vs. 2017
Highland Springs in 2004 vs. 2017
Source: Google Earth

Fauquier County's only public golf course, Kastle Green, opened in 1998. It closed in 2011, after the bank holding the non-performing mortgage loan sold it and the new owners foreclosed on the property. A year later, the former clubhouse was vandalized using devices appropriate for the site:14

Golf clubs were used to break windows, décor, computers, TVs and other equipment and furniture...

Kastle Green in 2008
Kastle Green in 2008
Source: Google Earth

Kastle Green in 2019
Kastle Green in 2019
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

The Virginia National Golf Club lasted only between 1999-2012. When it closed, the Civil War Trust purchased the land. The golf course had been constructed on the site of the July 18, 1864, Battle of Cool Spring. Shenandoah University assumed responsibility for managing the land, and established the Shenandoah River Campus at Cool Spring Battlefield to serve as an outdoor classroom.

Few people lived near the course, and its primary attraction was the vista of the Shenandoah River rather than the quality of the course. The difficulty of attracting enough customers was illuminated by a review of scenic golf courses around Washington, DC that was published as Virginia National Golf Club was closing down:15

Virginia National Golf Club is so far off the beaten path in Bluemont, Va., you'll swear you took a wrong turn.

southern half of the Virginia National Golf Club in 2011
southern half of the Virginia National Golf Club in 2011
Source: Google Earth

eight years later, it was a preserved Civil War battlefield managed by Shenandoah University
eight years later, it was a preserved Civil War battlefield managed by Shenandoah University
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

The Hilltop Golf Course started as a chicken farm, then a sand and gravel quarry at the corner of Telegraph and Beulah roads in Fairfax County, next to Fort Belvoir. When the sand was exhausted, the quarry was repurposed as a construction and demolition debris landfill. In 2000, 50 acres of the landfill were closed. The Hilltop Sand & Gravel Company open a 9-hole course plus driving range in 2003, with four par-4 holes and five par-3s. Holes 3, 4, 5, and 7 were located on the landfill, and no trees could be planted in order to protect the plastic membrane in the landfill cap.

The decision to build just a 9-hole course reflected the competition from other courses, including the Laurel Hill Golf Course built on the site of the old Lorton Prison. The Hilltop Golf Course never expanded to the planned 18 holes. The owners proposed building up to 572 homes instead, but were unable to get that rezoning plan approved. The golf course closed in 2015, after the landowners got approval for the Hilltop Village Center mixed used development anchored by a Wegman's grocery store.16

Hilltop Golf Course was located on the site of a construction and demolition debris landfill between 2003-2015

Hilltop Golf Course was located on the site of a construction and demolition debris landfill

Hilltop Golf Course was located on the site of a construction and demolition debris landfill
Hilltop Golf Course was located on the site of a construction and demolition debris landfill
Source: Google Earth

The Colonial Golf Course opened in 1995, expanding opportunities to play in the Williamsburg area outside of the large resorts there. It lasted until 2007, then operated intermittently. In 2014, several years after it had closed permanently, burglars stole 24 batteries from the stockpiled golf carts and sold them to a local recycler. Workers still maintaining the clubhouse had installed security cameras, after attempts to steal copper pipes from the building.17

empty parking lot in front of the Colonial Golf Course clubhouse indicates the facility has closed
empty parking lot in front of the Colonial Golf Course clubhouse indicates the facility has closed
Source: GoogleMaps

In Stafford County, the Cannon Ridge Golf Club opened in 2003 as part of the Celebrate Virginia North real estate project at the end of Celebrate Virginia Parkway on the northern bank of the Rappahannock River. Cannon Ridge was planned as a 54-hole golf complex and training facility managed by Mainline Golf, but only 18 holes were built.

The land was leased by the Silver Companies to a golf course operations business, but it did not choose to renew the lease at the end of the 2012 season. Cannon Ridge Golf Club was closed for four years until a new lessee re-opened it in June, 2016. That operation lasted only until December, 2017.

The Silver Companies decided to build new housing on Pod G, as the site was designated on development plans. Plans for the Cannon Ridge Golf Club were replaced with plans to build The Villages of Greenbank, with three gated communities. The proposed 1,177 homes for people age 55 and greater would cover the golf course and an adjacent soybean farm on the west. Much of the golf course would be left as open space, a Greenbank Farm Interpretive Park with interpretive exhibits on Native American and Civil War history. Access to that park would restricted to Villages of Greenbank residents, but the county would have the option of acquiring the park and opening it to the general public.

As described by the developer seeking approval of the rezoning that would eliminate the golf course:18

Mainline [the golf operations company chosen by the Silver Companies in 2003] completed construction of the first course in 2004 but was unable to obtain financing for the additional courses. Over the next 8 years, annual play at the golf course averaged 30-40% lower than projections, ultimately forcing Mainline to close the course and surrender its lease to the property owner in 2013.

The course reopened under new management in 2016, but again did not generate sufficient revenue to maintain operations and pay rent and real estate taxes due on the Property. Cannon Ridge closed on December 1, 2017, and after millions of dollars in losses maintaining the golf course, the Owner has decided to seek other uses for the Property.

the Cannon Ridge Golf Club, Pod G in the Celebrate Virginia North project, closed for good in December, 2017
the Cannon Ridge Golf Club, "Pod G" in the Celebrate Virginia North project, closed for good in December, 2017
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Silver Companies proposed replacing the 18-hole Cannon Branch Golf Club in Celebrate Virginia North with Greenbank Farm Interpretive Park
Silver Companies proposed replacing the 18-hole Cannon Branch Golf Club in Celebrate Virginia North with Greenbank Farm Interpretive Park
Source: Stafford County Planning and Zoning Department, RC17152130; Reclassification - The Villages at Greenbank Proffer Amendment (p.25)

The Westpark Golf Club in Loudoun County closed abruptly at the end of September, 2019. No buyer had appeared in the previous two years for the club, located at the intersection of Route 15 and the Route 7 bypass.

Westpark Golf Club, though located in wealthy Loudoun County, closed in 2019
Westpark Golf Club, though located in wealthy Loudoun County, closed in 2019
Source: Westpark Golf Club

After assessing the potential costs, the Town of Leesburg declined to purchase the course and maintain it for public use. Instead, a developer planned to build 96 townhomes on 11 acres and give the remaining 130 acres to the town for protection as open space. That required rezoning the 141 acres where only 27 houses were currently permitted, a proposal one member of council described as "trading housing for parkland."

Neighbors objected, and the Leesburg Town Council denied the rezoning required for the housing development. A local businessman agreed to purchase the property, place almost all of it in a conservation easement, and sell that property to the town at a reduced price in order to create a public park. However, in June 2020 a tie vote by the Leesburg Town Council blocked further discussion of accepting the offer. One of the "no" votes said regarding parkland acquisition, in the economic climate during the COVID-19 pandemic:19

It's not a priority for me.

Leesburg Town Council rejected rezoning Westpark Golf Club to permit 96 townhomes, a proposal one council member described as trading housing for parkland
Leesburg Town Council rejected rezoning Westpark Golf Club to permit 96 townhomes, a proposal one council member described as "trading housing for parkland"
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

During the boom times for building new golf courses, the City of Manassas Park partnered with the Prince William County Park Authority and converted Union Mill Park into an 18-hole golf course. It opened to the public in 1996. The county closed it after the 2019 season because expenses exceeded revenue by $250,000 annually. Shutting down, rather than maintaining the golf course until the lease with the city expired in 2027, saved Prince William County $2.5 million dollars even after the county paid Manassas Park $490,000 to cancel the lease.

Manassas Park acquired control of what was known then as General's Ridge Golf Course, and renamed it Blooms Park. The city kept the 270-acre site open for public use. It chose to manage the former golf course for open space and passive recreation, maintaining a 3.4 mile trail network for hiking. The city planned to repurpose the golf cart storage barn as offices for the Electoral Board and Registrar.20

former fairways at General's Ridge Golf Course in January, 2020
former fairways at General's Ridge Golf Course in January, 2020
former fairways at General's Ridge Golf Course in January, 2020

Other golf course closures have had a greater impact on nearby residents. The 563-home Virginia Oaks community in Prince William County was built in 1999 with the Virginia Oaks Golf Course, designed by PB Dye, as a major amenity. As in many similar communities, developer ultimately transferred the "common area" land to the home owner's association but retained control and ownership of the 167-acre golf course.

It was built just east of the Robert Trent Jones course, which opened in 1991. It has been very successful, serving as a stop on the PGA Tour and hosting four President's Cups. On the other side of the Robert Trent Jones course, the Stonewall Golf Club opened in 2001 to anchor a third golf community on the edge of Lake Manassas. The private Robert Trent Jones and the public Stonewall Golf Club were popular, and Virginia Oaks was unable to compete with them.

Virginia Oaks was one of three golf courses on the edge of Lake Manassas, and the only one to close
Virginia Oaks was one of three golf courses on the edge of Lake Manassas, and the only one to close
Source: GoogleMaps

After a drought in 2015, inadequate maintenance of the Virginia Oaks Golf Course fairways, greens, and bunkers caused golfers to criticize the experience and to spend their greens fees elsewhere. The owner attracted a new restaurant to open in the clubhouse in March 2017, but the golf course shut down that summer. The restaurant was authorized in the zoning ordinance as a supporting use for the golf course, but not as a stand-alone operation, and it was forced to close in December. The restaurant owner commented:21

We went into the location and developed our business plan based on it being a restaurant that had a golf course behind our patio... so we were very surprised when it disappeared just a couple weeks after we opened it... I wish I had known that would happen.

the last review posted on Golf Advisor for Virginia Oaks Golf Course
the last review posted on Golf Advisor for Virginia Oaks Golf Course
Source: Golf Advisor

Prince William County had authorized development of the Virginia Oaks community in 1995, with a proffer agreement which specified the land planned for the golf course would stay as open space rather than be used for constructing houses. The golf course owner ultimately decided to convert the property into a nutrient bank. In 2019, trees were planted to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous flowing into Broad Run/Lake Manassas and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. The broker to sell the credits for reducing nutrient runoff, Conservation Plus LLC, committed to maintain 400 stems/acre.

Creating a nutrient bank ended the possibility of maintaining the 18-hole golf course. The landowner then proposed to sell the clubhouse and other facilities.

The Virginia Oaks homeowners offered to buy the golf course land, the clubhouse, and other property not already sold. The offer was $1,750,000, and required each homeowner in the community to pay an additional $720/year in dues. The proposal stated that Conservation Plus LLC would remain responsible for the trees already planted for nutrient reduction. For the Virginia Oaks property owners to acquire a private park with five miles of walking trails for their exclusive use, 2/3 of all homeowners had to vote in favor of the purchase in December, 2019.

In February, 2020, the Virginia Oaks Association acquired 166 acres. It then filed for county approval to revise land use restrictions ("proffers") designed around the outdated golf course use, such as reclassifying the former golf course clubhouse as "Community Facilities" to allow for weddings, parties, and other uses.22

Converting fairways and greens into a nutrient bank was not a new concept. In 2016, a real estate developer organized a company, Renovo, to repurpose failing golf courses. Renovo purchased the Royal Virginian Golf Course in Goochland County and the River's Bend Golf Club in Chesterfield County near Henricus Historical Park.

The golf courses were closed and the land placed in conservation easements. Costs to buy the golf courses were offset by tax credits and deductions from conservation easements, stream restoration, wetland mitigation and nutrient credits. The partners in Renovo already had high incomes, and they invested in the company to obtain tax benefits from conservation rather than revenue from golf operations.

The real estate developer commented regarding the conversion of the River's Bend Golf Club into protected open space:23

Thanks to Tiger Woods and the real estate bubble a while back, golf courses were over built all over the country, including in Virginia... I love golf, but there are too many courses and they're all killing each other.

The risk of a high-end residential development ending up with a failed golf course operation was clearly identified by the developer of the Bristow Manor Golf Course in Prince William County, when he first built that course. His strategy was not to focus on the benefits of creating a golf course in order to sell houses, but rather to sell houses to finance development of his successful golf course. The developer sold 23 lots on two cul-de-sacs to generate the capital needed to build the golf course, and it was still thriving when Virginia Oaks failed.

The Bristow Manor Golf Course developer had noted back in 1991 how his priority was to manage a golf course rather than sell houses:24

Most golf-home communities run the risk of developing beautiful houses that sit next to a business that isn't making money... After a while the management company can't earn enough to maintain the course and the houses begin to lose value.

The Goose Creek Golf Course opened in 1952 in western Loudoun County, at the confluence of Tuscarora Creek and Goose Creek.

Goose Creek Golf Course, just before closure
Goose Creek Golf Course, just before closure
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), Leesburg VA 1:24,000 topographic quadrangle (2016)

A real estate development company purchased the Goose Creek Golf Club in Loudoun County in 2000, and operated the golf course for 15 more years. The developer planned to build single-family detached homes, townhomes, a hotel and restaurant on nine holes, and reopen a nine-hole golf course. It ended up selling the front nine holes to another company which built the planned 158 residences and renamed the site "Woodlands at Goose Creek," while the former back nine holes remained undeveloped.25

outline of holes at the former Goose Creek Golf Club in Loudoun County, being replaced by streets for Woodlands at Goose Creek subdivision in 2020
outline of holes at the former Goose Creek Golf Club in Loudoun County, being replaced by streets for Woodlands at Goose Creek subdivision in 2020
Source: GoogleMaps

As Goose Creek Golf Course was rezoned for houses in 2015, the community of Brambleton five miles to the south abandoned plans to build a new public golf course. Its 2020 vision document made clear how golf-related projects had gone from amenity to burden for real estate developments:26

There are far too many under-utilized golf courses already in Loudoun County and in our region. Ultimately, if a golf course were constructed, the significant cost associated with operation and maintenance of that golf course would be borne by the community association and each of our residents.

In 2012, plans to close the Reston National Golf Course and build houses on the property were blocked by community opposition. The first Reston Master Plan adopted in 1962 had designated both Reston National Golf Course and nearby Hidden Creek Country Club as Permanent Open Space. A grassroots group, Reston Rescue, filed a lawsuit that ended the golf course owner's effort to declare that it had the right to build houses without going through the Comprehensive Plan Amendment and rezoning process to authorize a change in land use.

New owners purchased Hidden Creek Country Club in 2017 and operated it for golf and tennis, but the 2019 purchaser of Reston National Golf Course continued to seek an opportunity to build houses. The site was especially attractive because of the new Metrorail Silver Line, with two stations located within one mile of the course. Reston Rescue's opinion was clear:27

These developers purchased the properties at an order of magnitude lower than prices for land zoned for development, so the developers would reap a huge windfall if the zoning were to be changed to allow for housing. The fact that they overpaid for recreational space with zero density is not our concern.,/dd>

construction of two Silver Line Metrorail stations dramatically increased the speculative land value of Reston National Golf Course
construction of two Silver Line Metrorail stations dramatically increased the speculative land value of Reston National Golf Course
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), Vienna VA 1:24,000 topographic quadrangle (2019)

Back in 1997, the Osprey's Golf Club was developed as part of the amenity package for new housing units in the Belmont Bay mixed-used residential and commercial development, at the mouth of the Occoquan River in Prince William County. It survived until 2015, after which local residents were allowed to use the land as a passive recreational park. The developers of Belmont Bay said the golf course had never made a profit:28

We've been supporting all of these losses over the years with sales of real estate to subsidize to keep the golf course open... The revenue is just not there. The sound business decision would have been to close it down years ago.

When Prince William County prepared a new land use plan for the North Woodbridge area, the county suggested converting a portion of the former Osprey's Golf Club into a disc golf course.29

after the Osprey's Golf Club property closed in 2015, the land was used as a passive recreational park by local residents
after the Osprey's Golf Club property closed in 2015, the land was used as a passive recreational park by local residents
Source: Prince William County, North Woodbridge Small Area Plan (2019)

Only one Virginia golf course has hosted the PGA Championship. Sam Snead, born in Ashwood near Hot Springs, won the tournament in 1949 at The Hermitage.30

The private Hermitage Country Club had opened that course in 1916, after moving from Richmond to Henrico County. The first hole required driving across the Richmond-Ashland Trolley Line.

The club sold the space-compressed course to the county in 1977, after developing two 18-hole courses in Goochland County. Henrico County re-opened the 18 holes next to Lakeside Park as the Belmont Golf Course, and it became one of the few championship courses that allowed general public use. On the first hole, power lines still followed the path of the trolley. Golfers whose ball strike those power lines are allowed a second shot, without penalty.

The county expected fees paid for golfing rounds would make Belmont Golf Course a self-sustaining public recreational site. After 2000, the county lost money on operations in every year except 2008. The number of rounds played peaked at 55,000 in 1992, but dropped to 22,000 in 2018. Of the 7,000 golfers using the course in 2018, 3,000 were Henrico County residents.31

Nearby residents and fans of the Belmont Golf Course advocated for the county to make the course a destination for sports tourism, where ancillary revenue from out-of-town visitors would offset the subsidy required to maintain the course. They noted that other parks required a greater subsidy per acre, and that the golf course generated more revenue from user fees than all other county parks combined.32

Belmont Golf Course, before closure in 2019
Belmont Golf Course, before closure in 2019
Source: Henrico County, Henrico recommends leasing Belmont Golf Course to The First Tee of Greater Richmond (December 10, 2019)

In 2017, one supporter of restoring the original 18-hole course used for the 1949 PGS Championship noted that it had been designed by A.W. Tillinghast, one of just six architects in the World Golf Hall of Fame:33

Today, Belmont Golf Course is like an abused Frank Lloyd Wright house. It's architecturally important but begging for a restoration. Properly restored, this Tillinghast design could become one of the golf world’s foremost municipal facilities...

...A successful revitalization of the course would also stimulate the local economy. Belmont sits two miles off of interstate 95, the highway that connects the eastern seaboard. Often using this route are golfers heading to destinations in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida. Belmont and Richmond would provide a great stopping point along the way.

Belmont Golf Course required a lower per-acre subsidy than other Henrico County parks
Belmont Golf Course required a lower per-acre subsidy than other Henrico County parks
Source: Preserve Belmont

When Henrico County advertised for a public-private partnership to construct an arena that would support basketball and indoor sports, plus activities such as high school graduations, one development group proposed building it on the Belmont Golf Course. The 18 holes would be replaced a $291 million mixed use community with residential and commercial buildings, plus an amphitheater and a whitewater course for kayaking/canoeing. Within one week, community objections killed that proposed end of the golf course.34

developers proposed replacing Henrico County's Belmont Golf Course with a mixed use community, including an indoor arena, in 2018
developers proposed replacing Henrico County's Belmont Golf Course with a mixed use community, including an indoor arena, in 2018
Source: Henrico Citizen, $291M mixed-use proposal would remake Belmont, Lakeside (October 20, 2018)

Henrico County was losing $250,000/year at Belmont Golf Course when it closed it in late 2019. In 2020 the county signed a 20-year lease of the facility with First Tee of Richmond, which already had facilities in the City of Richmond and Chesterfield County. First Tee planned to retain 12 championship holes and open a par-3 "short course" along with a driving range and putting course. First Tee budgeted for a $4 million renovation, including $750,000 contributed by the county.35

Henrico County lost money on Belmont Golf Course every year since 2000 (except in 2008), and closed the facility in 2019
Henrico County lost money on Belmont Golf Course every year since 2000 (except in 2008), and closed the facility in 2019
Source: Henrico County, Belmont Golf Course

Belmont Golf Course in Henrico County, where the PGA Championship was played in 1949, could have become a mixed use development
Belmont Golf Course in Henrico County, where the PGA Championship was played in 1949, could have become a mixed use development
Source: Henrico Citizen, $291M mixed-use proposal would remake Belmont, Lakeside (October 20, 2018)

In 2020, the new owners of the 1,720-acre Bay Creek development at Cape Charles on Northampton County converted the back nine of the second golf course there into a nature preserve. The irrigation infrastructure was removed and 350 acres were placed in a permanent conservation easement. The decision reflected a realization that, while "golf was everything" when the project was built in the 1990's, current homebuyers were more interested in trails and birdwatching.36

Warren County has struggled with keeping the Front Royal Golf Course in operation. Land for that course was donated during the Great Depression by the family of William Carson, head of the Virginia Commission on Conservation and Development. He was the driving force behind the creation of Shenandoah National Park. Carson designed the golf course, and the Civilian Conservation Corps built it and along with a club house in 1938. The course is nine holes long, but the layout features dual tee boxes so golfers can play in reverse and get an 18-hole experience.

Warren County assumed direct responsibility for managing the golf operations in 2005. Since 2014, the course has been losing about $136,000 annually. In 2018, the county received a proposal to lease the land for use as a wedding venue, with hiking trails and other recreational activities replacing the golf course.

Front Royal Golf Course has nine holes, but tee boxes allow golfers to play in reverse to get an 18-hole Par 70 game
Front Royal Golf Course has nine holes, but tee boxes allow golfers to play in reverse to get an 18-hole Par 70 game
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

The county considered asking a court to modify the condition in the Carson's family's donation that required maintaining the golf course. However, heirs of the Carsons objected to that strategy and filed suit, claiming the land was only leased to the county and not gifted in fee simple.

The county then focused on leasing the Front Royal Golf Course to a private operator, and paying the operator $100,000 annually. That would reduce annual losses, but the supervisors ultimately decided against the lease. Operators of nearby golf courses had suggested the proposed cost was too high, while some residents objected to leasing a public facility without getting any revenue for the county.

the nine-hole Front Royal Golf Course was next to the Shenandoah River, north of I-66
the nine-hole Front Royal Golf Course was next to the Shenandoah River, north of I-66
Source: Warren County, Request for Proposal

The county administrator projected that closing the county-operated golf course would save $200,000/year. That would help to cover part of a budget shortfall resulting from a $20 million embezzlement at the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority, and end a continuing subsidy at a time when the coronavirus pandemic had reduced tax revenues. The county required the potential operator to continue to allow public use of the William E. Carson Trail along the edge of the river, connecting to the county's Rockland Park.

the William E. Carson Trail connected the Front Royal Golf Course to Rockland Park
the William E. Carson Trail connected the Front Royal Golf Course to Rockland Park
Source: GoogleMaps

The proposed 2020-21 Warren County budget assumed that the Front Royal Golf Course would be leased by someone willing to pay as little as $1, or the course would be closed. Either way, it still faced a lawsuit from the heirs of the Carsons over ownership of the land.

Warren County tried again in 2020 to find someone willing to offer recreational activities at the Front Royal Golf Course, with no cost to the county
Warren County tried again in 2020 to find someone willing to offer recreational activities at the Front Royal Golf Course, with no cost to the county
Source: Warren County, Request for Proposal

Another potential operator then offered to keep the course open, and to pay the county $1 a year for the lease. The operator would make the county's last required $20,000 payment on the current annual golf cart lease, but also requested Warren County provide an annual $10,000 subsidy for utilities and pay up to $10,000 for repairs in each of the first three years.

One of the co-owners of the company making the proposal had been successful at Marriott International, and was confident he could get bookings for the banquet hall. Roughly 30 people expressed support for the lease, while five opposed it. In June 2020, the supervisors finally chose to reject the proposal and close the course. The decision also meant the county would have to contest the claims of the Carson family that the golf course must be maintained.37

The Royal New Kent Golf Club opened in 1996, and was proclaimed by Golf Digest to be the best new course that year. It closed in 2017, but reopened in 2019.

The new investors committed over $2 million to revive what they claimed as the "the truest representation of an Irish links in America." They doubled the price for each round of golf, and marketed the "Golf Ireland in Virginia" experience to Northern golfers driving down I-95 to play the famous courses in North Carolina.

Also in 2017, the owner of the Royal New Kent Golf Club had closed two other golf courses in the area near the Colonial Downs racetrack. New investors reopened both of them as well.

After the Golf Club at Brickshire closed, the adjoining home owners association purchased in 2018. Two-thirds of the owners of 1,100 lots in the home owners association agreed to commit $2 million to protect the centerpiece of their community, even though only one-third of the lots had been developed with houses. There was no equivalent homeowners association interested in purchasing the Royal New Kent Golf Club; those 18 holes were not surrounded by houses.

The Golf Club at Stonehouse was the last of the three courses to find a new buyer and re-open. Like the Royal New Kent Golf Club, the holes were separate from nearby residences and no home owners association was interested. A local golf enthusiast acquired the course for $800,000, a steep drop from the $5 million paid for it in 2001 and the $16.3 million price paid in 1997, one year after Golf Club at Stonehouse opened.38

the Golf Club at Brickshire was surrounded by houses, in contrast to the Royal New Kent Golf Club
the Golf Club at Brickshire was surrounded by houses, in contrast to the Royal New Kent Golf Club
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

unlike the Golf Club at Brickshire, the 18 holes of the Golf Club at Stonehouse did not snake through housing cul de sacs
unlike the Golf Club at Brickshire, the 18 holes of the Golf Club at Stonehouse did not snake through housing cul de sacs
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Values of golf clubs have fluctuated with changes in demand. The Crossings in Henrico County, near Virginia Center Commons, was originally constructed as a nine-hole expansion of the Hermitage Country Club in the late 1950's. It was an 18-hole course when sold for $5.2 million in 2002. The value rose to $10 million when sold again in 2008, but dropped to $2.4 million in 2014 and $1.75 million in 2016.39

Three of the four golf courses in Lancaster County have closed. The Tartan Golf Course opened as a nine-hole course in 1959 and added nine more in 1972, but went into bankruptcy in 2010 and then closed. The King Carter Golf Course finally closed in 2018. The bank which foreclosed on the mortgage in 2010 had sold it to a new owner that year, and he kept it open for just one summer season.

The Tides Inn opened its Golden Eagle Golf Course in 1976, but shuttered it in 2018. Local residents formed a limited liability corporation and partnered with The Tides Inn to re-open the course in 2019. Membership almost doubled in part because the only other local public course (the King Carter Golf Course) had closed, and in part because:40

Many people in the community didn't want to see this golf course disappear... They really rallied the wagons.

the King Carter and Tartan golf clubs closed, but the Golden Eagle was revived in 2019
the King Carter and Tartan golf clubs closed, but the Golden Eagle was revived in 2019
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

The Tides Inn closed the Golden Eagle in 2018, but it re-opened with local support in 2019
The Tides Inn closed the Golden Eagle in 2018, but it re-opened with local support in 2019
Source: Facebook, Golden Eagle Golf Course

Perhaps the most unusual survival story for a Virginia golf course is in Buena Vista. The city financed construction of the Vista Links Golf Course by creating the Public Recreational Facilities Authority, which sold $9.2 million in revenue bonds in 2005. Fees from users of the course were projected to generate sufficient income to pay for operations and maintenance, as well as repay the bonds. Bond holders were guaranteed $660,000 in annual payments by ACA Financial Guaranty Corp., insuring the bond buyers would not lose their investment. To support that guarantee, Buena Vista used the golf course, city hall, and the police station as collateral.

The golf course failed to stimulate residential and commercial development, and the city's tax base was reduced by a continued decline in manufacturing. In 2010, city officials negotiated a deal with ACA Financial Guaranty Corp. to pay only 50% of what it owed on the bonds, forcing the company to pay $330,000 a year to fulfill its commitment to purchasers of the bonds..

In December 2014, City Council decided to stop making lease payments to the Public Recreational Facilities Authority. By that time, the city had spent over $4 million to support golf course operations. The suspension forced ACA Financial Guaranty Corp. to pay bondholders 100% of the the promised interest on the insured bonds.

The company sued the city to restart the lease payments to the Public Recreational Facilities Authority, in part because Buena Vista's default on the golf course bonds was selective. The city continue to pay all of its other obligations for other revenue bonds, general obligation bonds, leases and loans.

However, courts ruled that the city had only a moral and not a legal obligation to make revenue bond payments for Vista Links Golf Course. The bond insurer's only recourse was to assume ownership of the golf course property, plus the city's police station and city hall which had been offered as collateral.

Taking ownership of a money-losing golf course, plus two buildings which had minimal potential for generating income from leases, was not likely to offset the $660,000 in annual costs. However, the bond insurance company was reluctant to set an example of allowing a city to default. ACA Financial Guaranty Inc. was unwilling to accept that it would have to absorb a loss on the contract, and sought to stretch out the repayment deadline so ultimately it would collect all the planned funds from the city. According to the city's attorney, however:41

This is not a city obligation... This is the authority's obligation. If you check the authority’s balance sheet will find they have a zero balance.

since the end of 2014, Buena Vista has refused to make payments on the revenue bonds sold to build the Vista Links Golf Course
since the end of 2014, Buena Vista has refused to make payments on the revenue bonds sold to build the Vista Links Golf Course
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

One former golf course ended up as a "solar farm."

The Lynwood Golf and Country Club was created originally in 1947 as a private 9-hole course for DuPont employees in Martinsville. The company opened the world's second nylon plant there in 1941, to make nylon stockings. The golf course was expanded to 18 holes in 1965, when the demand for nylon stockings was still high.

The big factory closed and manufacture of nylon there ended in 1998. The course closed at the end of 2011. The Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. advised them that extending the lease would make it harder for DuPont to sell the property.

In 2020, the city sold the property to a solar energy developer, and agreed to build a short transmission line to connect the site to the grid. At the same time, the city authorized a second project to install a a 9-megawatt battery storage facility. Electricity produced at the former golf course was projected to be cheaper not just because the energy source will be from the sun; transmission costs to deliver electricity from a local site would be dramatically lower.42

after the Dupont factory closed in 1998, the Lynwood Golf and Country Club survived 13 more years until 2011
after the Dupont factory closed in 1998, the Lynwood Golf and Country Club survived 13 more years until 2011
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Links

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Cannon Branch Golf Club was within Pod G in the Recreational Business Campus (RBC) rezoning for Celebrate Virginia North in Stafford County
Cannon Branch Golf Club was within Pod G in the Recreational Business Campus (RBC) rezoning for Celebrate Virginia North in Stafford County
Source: Stafford County Planning and Zoning Department, RC17152130; Reclassification - The Villages at Greenbank Proffer Amendment (p.4)

Cannon Ridge Golf Club could morph into Greenbank Farm Interpretive Park, next to over 1,000 new housing units
Cannon Ridge Golf Club could morph into Greenbank Farm Interpretive Park, next to over 1,000 new housing units
Source: Stafford County Planning and Zoning Department, RC17152130; Reclassification - The Villages at Greenbank Proffer Amendment (p.8)


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