Successful Muni Downsizing / Conversions?

I’m on a committee looking at ways to try and improve our muni (Gypsy Hill in Staunton, VA). It’s 18 holes - originally 9 holes that were built about 100 years ago, and expanded to 18 about 50 years ago. They must have mixed the routing together, because “the turn” is after 14. There’s no driving range, and the land is extremely hilly - I almost never play there because I find the layout to be pretty awful. The course is in the middle of a fantastic park, and it seems that all of the flatter land is used for the playgounds, ball fields, pool, pond, etc.

There’s no driving range - just a small practice green. Rounds have trended down for the last 10 years, from the 10,000 or so range steadily down to the 6-7000 range for the last few years. The cart fleet is 20 years old and they’re limited on tournament size because so many carts have died.

The course doesn’t even come that close to covering it’s operating expenses, much less service the debt on the irrigation system. This by itself isn’t a deal breaker - it’s a municipal course after all. However, it seems to be getting harder and harder to get the (increasingly political) city council to view it that way. The course has been on the chopping block for years.

We’re a town of about 20,000 nestled in a rural county. There is another privately owned 18 hole daily fee course in town that’s also been barely hanging on for years, as well as an 18 hole country club that seems to be doing okay. The neighboring town of the same size (about 15 minutes away) also has an 18 hole private club. I don’t see how our area can possibly keep that many golf holes occupied.

I’m the radical of the group - most of the committee seems most interested in trying to just improve operations - i.e. somehow get a new cart fleet, a modern POS, and revise the pricing model. I didn’t grow up here, so unlike the rest of the committee I don’t have any emotional ties the course. I’d like us to consider reducing the footprint of the golf course itself and change it from a (in my opinion) lousy 18 hole course into more of a golf “facility”. Perhaps sell off one corner of the property adjacent to a neighborhood for real estate development. That might net enough to pay off the irrigation system. Convert another section into a driving range, and get creative with the middle section. Maybe a par three course, maybe a mix of holes - let the topography decide what can best be done. Install some really nice bike racks for the kids and fill up the range and course up with a junior program. I really think this could get a lot more bodies on the property, making it a true amenity for the community.

I’m curious if anyone knows of some cities that have successfully done anything like this. If so, how did they get it done politically? It’s easy to find articles about localities that have tried propping up their courses for too long, then they just get completely closed down. I’ve also ready about places that already seem to be where I’d like to see us go, but I don’t know what the path is to get there.

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Henrico County elected to do a similar thing to Belmont Golf Course. The county came to an agreement with the First Tee of Richmond. They took the 18 hole layout that lacked a practice facility and are in the process of taking first 6 holes and converting it to a 6 hole short par 3 course while adding a range and expansive putting green. I hope it works, for it is the only public municipal course in the county, which is pathetic seeing as it surrounds the capital of the state.

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Bobby Jones Golf Course in Atlanta did this, albeit with quite a bit of public and private funding. They turned a tree-lined, dangerously packed in 18 hole layout into a fun, modern 9-holer and a driving range. Obviously a different geographical situation, but it’s proof it can be done

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This is interesting. I like the ideas that you have and think it would be good. keeping an eye on this one. Muni golf is the best and needs to be kept alive.

Good luck with this project. There are some severe obstacles, one being the hills and need for carts. In Cleveland there is a facility called Washington Learning Center Golf Course. It is part of the Cleveland Metroparks, a First Tee hub. Big range, huge putting green, short game area, and it is merely an executive 9 holes. 4 par-4s, 6 par-3s.

I love this layout for practicing and walking an easy nine. If they could mix in an element of trying to get people to stick around after dark I think that could help. Putting “course” on the green, lights, bar. Its not going to be Top Golf, but finishing a twilight 9 then getting a burger and a beer followed by putting around would be a cool night.

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Second this. Their Instagram gives some great insight into the work they are doing.

And yes, our lack of a municipal scene is tragic so the success of Belmont is really important to the area.

I didnt even realize this course was in staunton and I’ve played just about everything within a 100 mile radius of roanoke public wise

Looking at it on Google Earth, it looks like there’s a whole park facility around it with baseball fields and a little lake. I’d say definitely knock it down to 9 holes with a practice area (driving range, putting green, chipping area). A par 3 course would be great to connect it with the other facilities as it would open it up to families with younger kids to enjoy as well.

@MuniChanger The Fried Egg has done a few good podcasts on this topic… I think these might give you some Ideas and talking points. I think you are talking a total Paradigm shift which is a big shift for municipalities and would take a very passionate advocate (insert your name here)

I really Liked this one with Andy Staples:

You might also look in any article about Popogo in AZ, Winter Park, GoatHill

definitely look into what winter park and goat hill did. they’ve clearly had massive success in this area.

Cursory look; close the place.

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Thanks for all of the replies - lots of really good information.

I’m a fan of the Fried Egg podcast already, but I will definitely go back and listen to the episodes mentioned by @KRApplebury.

@paroutfromhere and @KRApplebury I was in Winter Park a couple of years ago and wish that I had known about the course then (this was before I knew about NLU and had watched the videos). We have friends in Orlando, so whenever we get back down there to visit again it’s totally on the list.

Richmond dudes @SammyShaf and @nickp - I checked things out online and that looks like a great project. The Love group just redid Birdwood “here” in Charlottesville and I’ve heard good things.

I’ll definitely check out Altanta and Cleveland as well.