County explores closing golf course

FRONT ROYAL – County officials hope a judge will allow the county to close the government-funded Front Royal Country Club golf course and use the land for recreation activities that would include new hiking and biking trails.

The nine-hole golf course was donated by Agnes and William Carson to the Front Royal Country Club in the 1930s, and the club turned over its operations to the county in 2005.

Both times the course changed hands, County Attorney Dan Whitten said stipulations in the deed required that the golf course stay open and that the land be used for recreational purposes.

He said the county put out a bid twice, once last year and once this year, to lease the golf course operations. Both times the county received one response, and terms could not be agreed upon last year. The bid received one response again this year, and it proposed eliminating the golf course.

Whitten said the Board of Supervisors recently filed a declaratory judgment regarding the golf course. A legal notice regarding the case must be advertised for 50 days, and it will go to Circuit Court June 21. He said the county would argue that the requirement of keeping a golf course “is no longer necessary.”

He said the main reason that stipulation was included in the deed is that it was once the only local golf option. Now, it is one of six country courses, and the county consistently loses money funding its operations. He added many golfers prefer 18-hole courses.

In place of the course, the bid calls for opening bike and walking trails and planting trees. Whitten said the proposed bid would eliminate costs because there would not be as much full-time staff and there would be less maintenance required.

“Basically, it costs money to operate the golf course. This would be a way where it wouldn’t cost the county as much money,” Whitten said.

County Administrator Doug Stanley said, “the reality is that with golf on the decline across the country and more competition, less competitive courses like Front Royal are finding it harder to survive financially.” He added that the county covered only about 60 percent of the course’s operational costs over the last three years.

Whitten said he would not say who submitted the bid, and that discussions are in the initial stages. He said the closing of the course is still “speculative” and noted there is money for course operations in the proposed county budget. He added that although the county would be leasing the golf course, it “would probably be helping maintain the property jointly with the outfit that would be leasing it.”

Although the golf course was not discussed during this year’s budget process, Supervisor Archie Fox motioned last year for the county to defund the course. The motion failed 3-2, with Fox and Supervisor Tom Sayre the two in support of defunding.

If the judge rules in favor of removing the golf course requirement and a contract with the bidder is signed, the supervisors will hold a public hearing regarding the matter.