Good news in the business of golf course operations has been in short supply over the last decade or so. Each year since 2006, more golf courses have closed than opened, and in the last several, there has been an annual net golf course loss of 100 or more in the United States.
Most of the casualties have been mediocre courses, but there have been several high-profile losses, some of them particularly devastating to golfers who like to seek out some of the more unusual examples of our preferred playing field.
Located about half an hour northwest of Williamsburg, Va., Royal New Kent Golf Club and The Tradition Golf Club at Stonehouse stood out as prime examples of the toll an economic downturn took on an overbuilt golf market. Both courses, designed by the late Mike Strantz, closed in 2017 as their owner, Traditional Golf Properties, aimed to sell them off, along with the nearby Golf Club at Brickshire. The "Brickshire Community Association" bought the course last March for $2 million, and Wingfield Golf Management, a Greenville, S.C.-based owner/manager group, purchased Royal New Kent last June for an undisclosed amount and plans to reopen the course this April in the wake of a restoration to Mike Strantz's original vision. Wingfield manages Brickshire and owns the nearby Club at Viniterra, a Rees Jones design.
Compared to Brickshire, at least, Stonehouse went for a song: just $800,000 according to Michael Schwartz of Richmond Biz Sense, to former member Joe Sanders, who lives in nearby West Point. The deal sounds even better juxtaposed with Stonehouse's $16.3 million price tag in 1997, a year after it opened.
While Wingfield's post-purchase investment into Royal New Kent is estimated at around $2 million. Sanders plans to put $1.4 million into Stonehouse's refurbishment. Sanders owns his own construction company, and plans to save money by using his own expertise and enlisting his own personnel in the project. Stonehouse is expected to reopen in July 2019, whole Royal New Kent will reopen in April.
While Royal New Kent affects an Irish links-like look in places, Stonehouse is more of a parkland course, with some dramatic elevation changes and ravines creating drama in the routing.
One common challenge for Royal New Kent and Stonehouse's new owners will be dialing in the maintenance of both courses. Strantz was a visionary golf course architect, and his designs hew to the more maintenance-intensive end of the spectrum. Deep bunkering, wide fairways and large greens are hallmarks of both courses, and it will be interesting to monitor reviews from our discerning readers, who have commented on the decline in conditioning at both facilities in recent years.
(Note: Despite his small body of work, Mike Strantz's page on our site is more popular than that of any other golf course architect. To learn more about his courses, click here.)
As someone whose own interest in golf course design was awakened by Mike Strantz (at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue Golf Club, his two designs in Pawleys Island, S.C.), I'm thrilled to see these two courses saved from redevelopment. As golfers become more educated about golf course design, Mike Strantz's legacy is set to shine brighter, with his two Virginia courses playing their own crucial roles.