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

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 1991:1

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. Since the costs to maintain golf courses is high, some have closed and been converted to other uses.

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 in 2019 because expenses exceeded revenue by $250,000 annually. Closing the facility, 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.2

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

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:3

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 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.4

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. His strategy was not to focus on the benefits of creating a golf course in order to sell houses, but intead to sell house to finance development of a successful golf course. He 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 Brisow Manor Golf Course developer noted back in 1991:5

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.

Links

References

1. "Developers Go For The Green, Linking Golf And Housing," Washington Post, June 22, 1991, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/realestate/1991/06/22/developers-go-for-the-green-linking-golf-and-housing/2c8c7b58-c108-4216-a605-fc0949b36447/ (last checked January 11, 2020)
2. "Blooms Park," City of Manassas Park, https://www.manassasparkcommunitycenter.com/blooms-park/; "Why have so many DC-area golf courses closed since 2005?," WJLA, June 17, 2019, https://wjla.com/sports/why-have-so-many-dc-area-golf-courses-closed-since-2005 (last checked January 11, 2020)
3. "Future unknown for closed golf course in Gainesville," InsideNOVA, December 14, 2017, https://www.insidenova.com/news/business/prince_william/future-unknown-for-closed-golf-course-in-gainesville/article_214a66e4-e0e8-11e7-a0f2-339100896866.html; "Robert Trent Jones Golf Club," Golf Digest, https://www.golfdigest.com/story/robert-trent-jones-golf-club; "Stonewall Golf Club at Lake Manassas," Top 100 Golf Courses, https://www.top100golfcourses.com/golf-course/stonewall-golf-club (last checked January 11, 2020)
4. "Landscaping and Nutrient Bank," Virginia Oaks, http://lovevaoaks.com/faqs/landscaping-and-nutrient-bank/; "FAQS (Official HOA Board Version 1)," Virginia Oaks, http://lovevaoaks.com/faqs/ (last checked January 11, 2020)
5. "Developers Go For The Green, Linking Golf And Housing," Washington Post, June 22, 1991, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/realestate/1991/06/22/developers-go-for-the-green-linking-golf-and-housing/2c8c7b58-c108-4216-a605-fc0949b36447/ (last checked January 11, 2020)


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