Golf club board reacts to effort to cut funding

Chaz Spencer, of Front Royal, tees off outside the Front Royal Country Club in Front Royal on Thursday. The Front Royal Golf Club Advisory Committee on Thursday agreed to sweeten the benefits offered to patrons with associate memberships as a way to attract more users. Rich Cooley/Daily
Golf carts are lined up outside the Front Royal Country Club. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County’s golf club survived an attempt this week to take away some local funding.

But members of the Front Royal Golf Club Advisory Committee on Thursday agreed the county needs to generate more revenue and interest in the decades-old facility. The committee voted at its meeting to sweeten the benefits offered to patrons with associate memberships as a way to attract more users.

Committee members also reacted to an effort by two county supervisors to strip the facility of local funding that subsidizes the club’s operations. Supervisors Archie Fox and Thomas Sayre tried Tuesday to tie ending the subsidies to the approval of the county’s fiscal 2018 budget.

County Administrator Doug Stanley told the committee that he and County Attorney Dan Whitten plan to draft a request for proposals that would seek input from anyone interested in taking over the facility. North Fork District Supervsor Daniel J. Murray Jr. told his board Tuesday that someone approached him expressing interest in running the golf course.

“Our commitment is that the original 60 acres be used for recreational purposes including golf,” Stanley said Thursday. “If the board wants us to take a look at us not doing that we can look at that. Doesn’t mean we’re going to do it.”

However, the club could change its financial situation by leasing or selling 40 acres not tied to recreational use, Stanley noted.

“We’ve been running a deficit,” Stanley said. “We know that … The reality is that almost any public golf course out there, there is some subsidy.”

It’s not unusual for a third party to manage a public golf course, Stanley added.

The golf course is not the only facility operated by Department of Parks and Recreation that runs at a deficit, Stanley said in response to a question from member Jennifer McDonald, executive director of the Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority. Dan Lenz, director of Parks and Recreation, said the county’s pool runs at about 80-85 percent. Stanley noted that the golf club ran at about 85 percent in some years.

“I think if we were at 85 percent, the concern wouldn’t be there right now,” Stanley said, adding that the club is at around 60 percent.

The county subsidizes the operational costs of the golf club, allocating roughly $70,000 – or less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the county’s overall budget – to keep it running. The club’s fiscal 2018 budget assumes $247,016 in revenue but $327,282 in spending.

The club competes with five other courses in the area, Stanley said. When the county took over the club, many of its longtime users who kept the facility going, aged out and stopped playing, he added.

Committee member Joe Swiger pointed out that faces in politics change and future supervisors might not feel the same way about the club. Swiger said he didn’t think the county could sell the club property and to attempt to do so likely would attract legal challenges.

McDonald said she doesn’t see the situation as the county subsidizing golfers.

“I see this as a way to subsidize economic development because you have 40 acres of property to be developed, so you’re not subsidizing golfers,” McDonald said. “We make these investments all the time.”

The Civilian Conservation Corps built the Front Royal Golf Club in 1938 on land donated to the county by William Carson with the course built to his design. The clubhouse built in 1998 replaced the original Corps structure destroyed by a flood two years earlier. The golf club is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Front Royal Golf Club features a public course on the Shenandoah River. The course has two sets of tees with nine putting greens to provide a total of 18 holes playing to par 70. The clubhouse includes a banquet room, pro shop, commercial kitchen, rental hall and snack bar.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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