FRONT ROYAL – A private business wants to assume management of the county-owned Front Royal Golf Club, which has operated at a loss for years.
Mike Byrd, president of New Direction Golf Management, explained during the Board of Supervisors' Tuesday work session how his company would revamp the golf course in exchange for a $100,000 annual payment from the county.
If the supervisors opt to lease the course to the company, County Administrator Doug Stanley explained the county would make the payments for three years. When that contract expires, the terms would be up for renegotiation.
Stanley said the county assumed management in 2005 upon being requested to do so as the course suffered through financial woes. When the supervisors agreed to the request, Stanley said the county paid off about $450,000 in debt owed for construction of the course’s new clubhouse. That debt, he said, was recovered by selling right-of-ways and easements to a company building a power line in the area.
Then, the county leased about 40 acres next to the course to Dominion Power for $100,000 per year as the company constructed its power plant and that money was put toward the course’s bottom line, Stanley said. Since losing that revenue upon the plant's completion, the course has operated at an average annual deficit of $138,577.
This is not the first time the county has attempted to rid itself of the golf course. In 2018, the supervisors wanted to lease the land to an unidentified party that would use it for hiking trails, a wedding venue and other recreational activities. The land, however, was donated to Warren County citizens in 1938 with the stipulation that it be used as a golf course. So, the county began litigation seeking a deed amendment that would remove the golf course requirement. Before a judge rendered a decision, the county dropped the request.
Stanley said Byrd’s offer is “the best thing that I think we’ve seen” since initiating attempts to lease it. He said Byrd thinks outside of the box and brings the new ideas necessary for a nine-hole golf course's survival.
Byrd said his company is built on the passion for golf and aims to create and develop golfers while sustaining their interest in the game. While golf courses have steadily closed since 2004, he said that the game has not been in a better place for 30 years.
He said baby boomers and younger people are two demographics whose interest in golf is growing, adding that children should have the option to participate in golf if their hometown offers other sports. He noted that a Stafford County youth league he helped start five years ago now has 300 members.
Byrd said if his company is chosen to take over the course, it will “lead this community in golf.” He described plans to develop players and initiate programs to attract golfers who "don't even know they're golfers."
Byrd noted some of the course’s assets include the newer clubhouse, which he said would be renovated if the county accepts his offer. He added that the course is in good condition with scenic views and a great location next to the shops off Winchester Road. He said it has “been my dream” to have a golf course so close to a major consumer hub. Normally, he said golf courses are isolated and “now we have to capitalize” on its proximity to the stores.
Byrd added that he paid $4 to play the course, which is way too low for a “high-quality course.” Other weaknesses, he said, include past marketing efforts, not offering a player development program, the small parking lot and its lack of a driving range.
“We have to admit our weaknesses before we can overcome those,” he said.
With proper marketing, he said golfers can be drawn to the area and in turn visit shops and restaurants.
“We hope that everybody will benefit from it,” he said.