FRONT ROYAL – A public hearing will be conducted at 7 tonight at the Warren County Government Center regarding whether the Front Royal Golf Course will continue operating by being leased to Virginia Golf LLC.

The land on which the course sits was donated for public use by William and Agnes Carson in 1938 with stipulations that it provide recreational activities including golf. The county assumed management in 2005 and the course went on to eventually lose $100,000-plus annually for several years. In pending litigation, heirs of the Carson families are claiming the county was leased the land and does not have full ownership.

Earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors opted to stop funding the course's operations as of July 1.

Virginia Golf, which is owned by two of the course’s volunteer workers Louis Nicholls and Ray Nash, seeks to assume the course’s management in a $1 per year lease agreement. Nash is the course’s current superintendent while Nicholls has an extensive background in marketing and sales for Marriott.

The course has been the subject of ongoing conversations among the supervisors, and the board recently declined allowing the New Direction Golf company to assume management in exchange for an annual $100,000 county contribution.

Virginia Golf hopes to lease the course for what Nicholls said during a previous work session would include county assistance of $25,000 annually, with reductions in that contribution in subsequent years. The company would also obtain a $100,000 credit line and use the owners’ personal funds for operational expenses.

County financial assistance being sought includes $10,000 for golf course chemicals, two years of utility payments, internet and six months of Direct TV. Other requests include that the county place $30,000 into escrow for potential equipment repairs during the first two years and provide $2,500 per month “to lease equipment to supplement the 30-year old machines,” according a Virginia Golf proposal. The company also wants the county to repair drainage issues on two of the course’s holes, replace a pump station, plow snow and provide some landscaping work.

Supervisors Chairman Walter Mabe said via telephone that he believes the assistance being sought would cost the county much more, up to perhaps $40,000 annually.

Mabe added that if the lease were granted he believes Virginia Golf should fund all operational costs.

"To me that would be a real lease," he said.

Mabe also expressed concern regarding what would happen if the Carson heirs win their pending litigation.

During a previous work session, Tony Carter was the lone supervisor expressing support of the lease.

If the lease is executed, the proposal states that the county could save about $350,000 over the next three years and potentially make money in the future. The proposal projects $246,258 of operational expenses in the first year and a net profit of $58,813.

The proposal notes that Virginia Golf especially wants to uphold Carson’s original vision of the land being meant as an overarching recreational facility.

Virginia Golf’s mission, according to the proposal is retooling the course’s operations “to not only make the facility profitable but also enhance the lives” of county citizens “by providing an inviting and affordable recreational outlet for golf, fishing and boating.”

To increase revenues, the proposal mentions plans to execute “an aggressive” marketing campaign to increase usage of the clubhouse’s banquet room. Other plans for additional revenue include ensuring that citizens are aware of the boat ramp, building new and repeat business, targeting new golfers through a publicity campaign, installation of driving range nets, providing rental clubs, offering golf instruction and more.

The proposal allows Virginia Golf to cancel the lease if the course fails to operate at a profit over any three-month period or if an unforeseen event substantially interferes with the course’s operations. Additionally, the agreement could be canceled by Virginia Golf if “any issue arises affecting the viability of the LLC’s interest in the golf course” stemming from the pending litigation between the county and Carson heirs.

– Contact Josh Gully at jgully@nvdaily.com