You’ve read many things in this issue touting the good and wholesome attributes of municipal golf. And although I have not worked at a true municipal facility, I have worked in the public golf sector. More important, I’ve enjoyed many rounds on several municipal golf courses.
Although not my first, Blacksburg Municipal Golf Course (aka The Hill) reigns supreme in my muni experiences. It’s a nine-hole course overlooking Blacksburg, Virginia. In fact, the second green sits on the highest point in the town limits and the course is the original site of Blacksburg Country Club. The town purchased the course from the club in 1971 when the club decided to build an 18-hole course in the valley. The townsfolk won access to a great course originally designed by Ferdinand Garbin that day, and just a few years ago The Hill was renovated by Lester George.
During my undergraduate and graduate school days at Virginia Tech, we were also blessed with an 18-hole course on campus, Virginia Tech Golf Course (it’s since been reduced to 9 holes due to university expansion). This too was a true municipal course, only it was owned and operated by the university as opposed to a town or city. Truth is, the university is a small town. With your student ID, it cost $5 or $6 to walk. For a student studying turf, life was good with 18 holes on campus and 9 more less than 10 miles away.
I grew up in rural southwestern Virginia playing golf mostly where I worked, Lake Bonaventure Country Club. But just about every other round I played with friends was at local municipal courses. I have many fond memories of the no-frills golf I experienced in those days, and now that I’m much older I’m saddened to learn many of those charming 9-hole courses have closed or no longer exist.
My favorite municipal course in the United States is Coronado Golf Course on the island of Coronado, across the bay from San Diego. I first experienced this course in 2013 while attending the Golf Industry Show and loved it so much my wife and I played it again in 2016 despite all the other options and golf opportunities in the area. We even booked a round there last year, but, unfortunately, had to return home sooner than planned and were not able to enjoy its beauty once more.
I believe Coronado does approximately 60,000 rounds annually. I can’t even begin to fathom that number. At Carolina Golf Club, we accommodate a little more than one-third that total. When I was assistant superintendent at Augustine Golf Club in Stafford, Virginia, we boasted nearly 40,000 rounds annually and it was a major hurdle and challenge to get work accomplished. I can’t begin to explain the respect I have for Phil Fitzgerald and his team at Coronado. I have no idea how they manage to keep that gem of a golf course in such fine shape considering the turnstiles are always turning!
In some respects, municipal golf courses are the most important golf courses in the world. They serve as valuable green spaces, natural habitats and places of recreation for tenants. Communities congregate and escape the stresses and/or distractions of daily life at municipal golf courses. Plus, they serve as great learning centers, introducing the next generation of golfers to this grand game.
Just minutes from my office door sits the Dr. Charles L. Sifford Golf Course at Revolution Park, a 9-hole course that is also home to The First Tee of Charlotte. Although it’s owned and operated by Ratcliffe Golf Services, Inc. as opposed to the city, its purpose to the community and role in the game is no different. Did you know the late Charlie Sifford won the GCSAA’s Old Tom Morris Award in 2007? And he caddied at Carolina Golf Club when he was a teenager.
Winter Park Golf Course may be the most talked about municipal course of late. Just a few minutes northeast of downtown Orlando, the 9-hole course has been renovated and subsequently revitalized a community. It’s a model for what is achievable when folks with good intentions put their mind to something. I had hoped to experience it during the recent Golf Industry Show, but my busy schedule didn’t jive with their busy tee sheet (a good problem for them), so I’ll have to wait until next time.
Do you remember back in elementary school trying to learn the difference between principle and principal? My English teacher said a principal is your pal. Well, I think municipal golf courses are pals to golf, and the game always has room for more pals.