Close the county golf course, or not? Plan to close the Front Royal Country Club draws some heat at public hearing

Golf carts are lined up outside the clubhouse at the Front Royal Country Club on Wednesday. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Citizens shared their thoughts Tuesday with county officials on why the Front Royal Country Club’s golf course should not close. 

Of nine speakers during a  Board of Supervisors public hearing, eight opposed the course’s potential closure.

Supervisors Chairman Tony Carter called for the public hearing so citizens could learn why the county wants to close the course and of revitalization attempts. He also wanted to hear viable alternate possibilities.

The supervisors cannot vote to close the course unless granted permission to alter the land’s deed by Warren County Circuit Court Judge Clay Athey.

William and Agnes Carson in 1938 donated the Front Royal Country Club to the citizens of Warren County in memory of their deceased child, William E. Carson, Jr.

The deed stipulates that the land is used as a “year-round recreational center including a public golf course.” It adds that the land should promote the health of citizens, visitors and, more specifically, Randolph Macon Academy students, where Carson Jr. was a student.

County Administrator Doug Stanley presented the county’s case for closure during a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation. He said when the county took over the course in 2005 it had every intention of persevering the landmark. He said, however, it is losing too much money and has had an average annual deficit of $110,000 since 2013.

A recent role for proposal garnered one bid from an unidentified party to whom the county may lease the property. That bidder may use the course for hiking trails, a jet ski rental, a wedding site and a chip and put golf green.

Stanley said the interested party would also like to plant trees. He said this reforestation would allow the selling of nutrient credits to private entities, which would be invested into developing other areas of the property.

County Attorney Dan Whitten said after the meeting that the county is not legally required to conceal or reveal the bidder’s identity.

Several speakers during the public hearing inquired why the county would close the golf course when other Parks and Recreation facilities also do not generate money.

Stanley responded that other facilities are used by more citizens and do not require as much upkeep. He added that membership drives the golf course and there is not enough.

Yates Hall said during the public hearing that rumors floated about for years regarding the course’s closure and that does not enhance membership. 

“You all have allowed people to assume this place is going to be closed,” he said.

Ernie Tugman said the course was seemingly set up to fail and noted that 25 new members signed up in January. Upon being notified that the course may close, those memberships were canceled.  

“I know when you come to court…you’ve got to really show your books, how your figures have dropped…Do you really want to make money?” he said.

Stanley responded after the meeting that new members were notified that the county was “looking at other options” for transparency and that a potential rebate was offered.

Tim Elshire noted that the course closed in winter 2017 during three traditionally cold months that turned out to be warm. He said 35 members relocated to other golf courses, which resulted in annual losses of about $50,000.

Speakers also said that recently the course has been poorly maintained, which has included browning greens and long grass. Stanley responded that there has been unprecedented rainfall this summer, a shifting staff and a recently blown engine on the fairway mower.

Richard Traczyk, former supervisors chairman, was the lone speaker to support the course’s closure.

He said it should be made beneficial to more citizens and the county attempted every angle to solve the deficits. He said the problem is lacking membership and visits by non-member players.

Nancie Williams, the lawyer appointed guardian ad litem to represent the citizens of Warren County and Front Royal in court also spoke. 

She said local litigation is a “full contact sport” and the county will have to prove lost revenue and membership with documentation beyond a PowerPoint.

After the meeting, Stanley responded by saying the numbers are not made up and have been audited. He said there would be no problem proving that in court. 

Williams added after the meeting that Stanley’s presentation is irrelevant regarding whether the deed can be changed.

Deidra Bellu said the public hearing was a waste of time and the board has its mind made up.

Carter noted that the next step is going to court and the county remains open to suggestions. 

“You were heard, and we will listen to you and see what we can do,” Carter said.

All supervisors were present at the meeting.