Warm winter brings welcome surprise for area golf courses

What a difference a year makes.

Last February, over two feet a snow basically shut down the five local golf courses (Shenandoah Valley, Blue Ridge Shadows, Sly Fox, Bowling Green Country Club and Front Royal Golf Club) in Warren County.

But this January and February, the area has enjoyed near-record warm temperatures, and that has been a boon to the local golf industry.

Golf in general, has suffered a downturn in recent years, both nationally and locally as rounds per year have dramatically dropped.

Aging baby boomers have long fueled the growth of the game, but as those golfers reach an advanced age and/or die off, there hasn’t been enough younger golfers to fill in and pick up the slack.

Local courses in Warren County have tried to soften the blow this winter by taking different measures.

Bowling Green County Club, which has two 18-hole courses, decided to completely shut down the South Course clubhouse and operate entirely out of the North Course clubhouse.

Shenandoah Valley, a 27-hole facility across the street in Rockland, closed down their grill room and sold refreshments out of the pro shop.

Front Royal Golf Club, the county’s oldest course, took more drastic measures by closing the course for January and February.

Of course, no one could have predicted the warm weather the area has experienced the past two months.

“It’s been that good,” Shenandoah Valley Golf Club co-owner and general manager Richard Runyon said. “I don’t really know how to put it into words. As tough as the business of golf is right now, I don’t know how any golf course can survive without the type of winter we just had. Not saying that we might get a tremendous amount of rain coming up, but we will have a banner year if the weather continues to cooperate.”

The National Weather Service has stated that February was the warmest on record and received the third lowest amount of snowfall in the past 150 years.

“We are up in rounds over 300 percent from last February,” said new Blue Ridge Shadows general manager Brian Jones. “The great weather has also allowed us to really promote our associate membership and membership programs as well. With more folks getting out more often in what is typically a slow time, there has certainly been more interest in such programs.”

Several Front Royal Golf Club members have done just that this past winter.

Not having their home course available to play with golf carts, many of the members have been playing their rounds at Blue Ridge this winter, and some have decided to stay.

“Would I have went and played Shadows and heard about the deal if [Front Royal Golf Club] was open? Probably not.”, former Front Royal Golf Club member Matthew Sperry said. “The decision to close for two months was not a very good one because this has been one of the greatest golf winters I have seen since I have played the game.”

Sperry said the club should have been open, depending on the weather forecast.

“The country club will always be my home,” Sperry said. “It’s where I learned to love and play the game. I hope they can stay open or find someone who can money manage a golf course better.”

Warren County Parks and Recreation Director Dan Lenz said the Front Royal Golf Club staff has heard no negatives about the closing of the course, and de- fends the decision to close the facility for two months.

“We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience, but felt the closing was necessary for the long term survival of the club,” Lenz said. “We need to strengthen the club’s membership and this starts with the exist- ing members.”

Lenz stated late last year that the decision to close for January and February would save the club money on heating and electrical expenses, as well as staff reduc- tion.
On the flip side of that argument comes the opinion of Bowling Green Country Club general manager Adam Engley.

“These bonus off-season rounds and rev- enue generally help offset the losses we forecasted during the winter months,” Engley said. “The unseasonably warm weather has benefited Bowling Green Country Club and all courses in the valley.”

It could be argued that Front Royal Golf Club lost an opportunity this winter, generating income from green fees and cart rent- als ($28 per cart for a twosome). The FRGC leases the golf carts and must pay a rental fee even during the down times of winter.

But the decision to close, made late last year by the county, remained firm despite the warm winter.

“Typically over the past several years the Front Royal Golf Club has not done well financially during January and February, and thus the reason we were closed,” Lenz said. “The recommendation was to close the clubhouse to cut costs and save on-going expenditures.”

Lenz said the county is continuing to work toward a goal of making the golf course a break-even operation and reduce the need for taxpayer support.

“It was a tough decision,” Lenz added. “If a member chooses joining another course, that is their privilege. The county of War- ren thanks the members and regular play- ers for their continued support.”

Several golfers have still golfed at Front Royal, walking only, but member or not, none have paid for the use of the course the past two months.
The other four courses have reaped the benefits that only a mild winter can bring.

“The weather has been a real bonus in terms of business,” Jones said. “And the mild winter has also allowed us an opportunity to continue to improve the conditions on the golf course. Our staff has been able to continue to renovate the sand traps and clear brush around the property to improve playability and get us a head start on spring.”
Co-owner Louis Carrozza of Sly Fox agreed with Jones.

“The warm weather has generated revenue in a season that usually has little to none,” Carrozza said. “It has been a huge lift for us as a new business that started late in the season and has been investing heavily in improvements.”

Carozza said, like Blue Ridge Shadows, that Sly Fox (formerly Jackson’s Chase) has used the warm weather to help prepare the course for the spring.

“The weather has allowed me to keep more staff during the off-season and allowed our ground crews to continue im- proving the grounds,” Carozza said. “While it is still too cold to do any work on the fairways and greens, it has allowed us to start on the spring clearing, so that if the weather continues to warm, we will be able to devote our full attention there in the next few weeks.”

Sly Fox, after opening last fall under the new ownership, will have a grand opening at the end of April.

With the competition fierce for golf rounds across the country, Warren County is a microcosm of what is going on nationally, and the mild winter has only been a plus.

“The golf business has been down the past few years,” Runyon said. “When you have a mild winter like this, a golf course has to take advantage of it.”

“The key to success of courses in the Valley is having good weather in the spring and fall,” Engley said. “We certainly prefer the warmer temperatures over the cold and wet winters we’ve embraced the past few years. It’s great to see the bonus play and it provides a good start to the year.”

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