Heritage Oaks giving it away

JGFitzgerald -- December 4th, 2008

An ad in last Saturday’s DNR listed groups and businesses that donated goods and services to Rockingham County Weekday Religious Education, the Bible Bus. Among the donors: Heritage Oaks Golf Course. Yeah. That golf course.

77 Responses to “Heritage Oaks giving it away”

  1. Renee says:

    I’m having trouble with the DNR website right now, but I saw this:

    “Valley Residents Pick The Best Of The Best

    Heritage Oaks Golf Course

    Readers’ favorite golf course is right here in Harrisonburg.

    “I think it’s because it’s always in fantastic condition,” says David Johns, golf director. “Also it has a fantastic layout.”

    Johns says between 23,000 and 25,000 rounds of golf are played on the Heritage Oaks course per year. He describes the course as a good blend of links-style and traditional tree-lined holes.

    “You use every club in the bag,” says Johns, a PGA professional.

    The par 70 course can be played in four hours or less. This is important because people with limited time to devote to golf can get through the course in a half-day, Johns says.

    With rates of $23 to $26 for 18 holes, Heritage Oaks is the least expensive course in the city, Johns says.”




    When people cite the return to the city, they often mention the First Tee program, which could still exist on a 9-hole course.

    Also, I think someone should mention that it is the least expensive round of golf around, but that’s because the cost of a round is subsidized by taxpayers. I’d be interested to know how much the average Hburg resident pays per year towards the course, and what percent of those people get benefits from it. I also don’t see anywhere on there that there is a higher fee for non-residents… so Hburg taxpayers are also paying for people outside the city to get a cheap rate?

    If anyone has numbers, please post them!

  2. Renee says:

    “Johns says between 23,000 and 25,000 rounds of golf are played on the Heritage Oaks course per year.”

    Ha, because of our earlier conversation, that instantly made me think “and how many of those were given away for free” :)

    That comes out to at most $650,000. How much does the course cost to maintain? And are real profits made from the pro shop and sales other than greens fees?

    I wonder how much would be saved by chopping it in half? – at first I thought it might not save much compared to maintaining 18 holes, but I think the savings in fertilizer, water, gas & maintenance for mowers, etc. for 9 holes would probably add up to be significant.

  3. Renee says:

    Another thought – what about a mini-golf course? There are a ton of kids around here, and that wouldn’t take up a lot of land, and I imagine cheap to maintain.

    With the Bull Pen gone and that other mini-golf course looking abandoned, are there any in the city at all?

  4. Renee says:

    Also, (sorry to be posting so much, I’m interested since I live so close to the golf course) – this guy says there are successful 9-hole city-run courses in Wisconsin (and it’s cold up there!)


  5. Emmy says:

    Lowell, I tend to think that most residents wouldn’t vote, but I think it’s a good idea.

    Renee, Mulligans has a mini golf course. My kids went there a few times this summer with the Rec Center. I miss the Bull Pen and think opening the place up to more things is a good idea.

  6. Lowell says:

    Has anyone ever conducted a poll of Harrisonburg voters on this issue? I’m not talking about a DNR type of survey, but about hiring a professional polling firm.

  7. Renee says:

    So it makes $658,414/yr and costs $1.1 million/yr. No private golf course would stay in business that way.

    Estimating the population here at 45000, that would be a net loss of $24.44 per resident per year, ironically about the price of a round of golf. (I know that’s not exactly right since not everyone pays the same amount of taxes, and not everyone in the population works, but you know what I’m saying.)

    So someone living here for 5 years that has never used the golf course has paid $122 so a small percentage of Harrisonburg residents (and some non-residents) can play golf “cheap”.

    I wonder if cutting the course in half to 9 holes could come close to cutting the costs in half?

    Add in a mini-golf course, a banquet/conference facility, a walking/jogging/biking trail, some picnic shelters that can be rented, and maybe a pavilion that can be used for concerts in the summer and ice-skating in the winter like the one in Reston, VA, and I think it would become a bustling city park.

    Also, I think people coming from outside of the city to the “park” should pay at least 10% more for activities/rentals. Then, us taxpayers could feel like we’re getting some sort of discount for helping pay for the place.

    I hesitate to suggest a mini-water-park since they’re usually ugly… but one I grew up going to in Manassas did not take up a lot of land and had 2 standalone waterslides (one slow and loopy, one straight and steep) and was always packed.

    I think the mini-golf would have to be a classy cute course rather than a hokey-clowny course to keep the place looking nice. I just think there is a way to do it that makes it a place for fun cheap entertainment that could make money even during this bad economy, without totally having to ditch the golf course completely, and without uglifying the area any further.

  8. Lowell says:

    I must tell you that I find it a great pleasure to read your thoughts and ideas and to have this conversation with you.

    It is refreshing to look to the future with someone who is interested in examining possible solutions rather than focusing on disagreements of the past. Opinions vary considerably on this issue, but my belief is that most Harrisonburg folks would support a way to make things work yet at the same time are very concerned about throwing good money after bad.

    I have knocked on a boatload (Joe’s word) of doors in many/most/all neighborhoods in the city since 2003 and I find Harrisonburg residents overwhelmingly thoughtful, reasonable, and interested in sustainable progress. People in the city want the city to do well, and they want to believe in and be able to support the council.

    I think Deb is absolutely right in questioning the marketing plan and its effectiveness and even the possibility of making the course successful at all in its current manifestation. Deb is insightful and has a tremendous understanding of economics.

    What you are proposing are ideas which would potentially benefit not only city resident as far as activities go, but could also be a benefit to the wider community as well for recreation while benefitting residents with increased revenue to offset costs.

  9. JGFitzgerald says:

    If I seek a quote for a car, and it looks too good to be true, I know the small print is going to offer me an options package that includes hubcaps, pin-striping, and an engine. But when a government golf course claims the best cost in a city that has no other public course, with no mention of cart rental, and only an estimate of the number of rounds played, I wonder how soon that same government is going to allow a new strip mall on land the mayor owns. The idea of a government marketing something in a disingenuous fashion is scary, and leaves one worrying they’re going to say “Mission Accomplished” any minute.

    The mission here of course is to pay off the bond. If losses are greater than the bond payment, it would be cheaper to close the thing. (That’s where people start talking about the intangible value of First Tee and talking about how much the pool costs.) The estimate in the 1999 National Golf Foundation study was that it would take about 30,000 rounds a year to pay for itself. The bond payment is (somebody correct me if my memory’s wrong) $639,000 a year.

    I suppose they have to market the damned thing to golfers. But I can never tell if they’re doing that or still marketing it to the taxpayers.

  10. Frank J Witt says:

    Renee, our idea are great…but realistically how many property owners out there would agree to allow that to happen. I think it would be cool to have more stuff for my girls to do, but the “Not in my backyard” mentality will likely prevent this from coming to fruition.

    Put it together and bring it to vote as Lowell mentioned. Bets losing more money, every year.

  11. JGFitzgerald says:

    DNR appears to be back online. HO lost $626,000 in FY08, $5M since it opened. http://www.dnronline.com/details.php?AID=30827&CHID=1. The story also reports, “The course finished fiscal 2007 with 19,235 rounds, compared to 21,110 for fiscal 2008.” Seems at odds with Johns’ figures.

  12. Renee says:

    Frank, I think if the proposal was drawn up and had a small simple classy park-like feel (rather than an amusement-center feel), a lot of people in this neighborhood would be happy to have it in their back yard.

    Think this:
    and this:

    Not this:
    or this:

    Every house has kids here, and I think if it were done right, and wasn’t a super-expensive major-construction thing, few would have a problem with it. The land there is big enough to space things out. A small banquet center could be on one end with the 9 holes of golf, a mini-golf course wouldn’t take up more than the space of 1 hole of golf, and as long as the concert pavilion was designed for small local events, and not huge concerts, it wouldn’t create too much noise.

    Also, lots of people walk/bike around our neighborhood, a lot of kids play out in the street. A lot of cars are parked in the street, so it’s hard to see a kid running towards the street from their yard, and they dart out and almost get hit all the time. Also, I see groups of moms walking toddlers and they have to move everyone over every time a car is coming. If part of the golf course was a public walking trail and park area with nice trees, I know I’d use it very often, and I’m sure a lot of parents would rather walk with their kids back there than in the street.

    I think that should be the first improvement – to take down the no trespassing signs facing our yards and open up some of the golf trails to the public for walking. Once people start enjoying that land again, they might think some additional activities back there would be nice.

    Of course, I think a lot more people in town would use it than just the families in my neighborhood.

  13. David Miller says:

    I’m catching up on reading and just got to Lowell’s post. I wanted to offer the following response. By putting the size facility you suggest on that property you would substantially reduce the surrounding property value which was the whole point of the golf course in the first place.

  14. David Miller says:


    Your ideas are great but I’ll make one argument that is sure to have Lowell cringing. When I was growing up and someone suggested bulldozing my childhood playground and backyard to put in a golf course, I objected and was ignored completely. I therefore suggest that we build whatever we feel like and cram it down the current resident’s throats thereby ensuring that our fellow man/woman feel exactly like we once felt.

    Or I could come back to reality and suggest the following, bring the land back to its natural beauty and everyone wins. We could house a large dog park, re-extend Hillendale’s walking trails, enlarge Hillendale’s biking facility and my favorite would be to take the kids out of the youth program and teach them how to fish in the lake. This would be a more “local” sport (if you can call either one a sport) anywho…….

  15. Peppa says:

    In reality, if that land was not a golf course it would have become another housing development. It’s beautiful and preserved in a sense.

  16. David Miller says:

    It would not have become a development because it was owned by the city.

  17. Peppa says:

    Oh, my bad. Then they would have sold it to JMU.

  18. Renee says:

    David, I’m all for returning it to its natural state as an alternative to any other development – as long as there are walking trails!

    Oh, and a dog park, I hadn’t thought of that, but it’s the perfect place for one! As long as it’s in the center of the property and out of smelling-distance from the neighborhoods :)

    I think something with the “feel” of the JMU Arboretum would be nice. Somewhere that people could go to lay around and read or play with their dog, but also is nice enough to host a wedding.

    The reason I suggest keeping 9 holes of the golf course is so all of the money sunk into it already doesn’t go totally to waste, and they can still use all of the mowers, sprinklers, etc. on something – and also so those that like the golf course can’t complain too much, and the city can still say it has a golf course.

    You can do a whole lot with even half of that land. (But if the city voted to do away with the golf course completely and regrow the forest that I hear they bulldozed, I wouldn’t be sad at all!)

  19. David Miller says:

    Me either, and amen

  20. JGFitzgerald says:

    Sell it, let the buyer do what they will with the land.
    Sell it, with the buyer required to operate it as a golf course for ten years.
    Lease it. (If the business leasing it goes broke, the city’s stuck with a golf course.)
    Sell half, turn the rest into parkland.
    Keep it, lose some money.
    Obviously, none of these is a really good option. (That’s not new.)

  21. Lowell says:

    Thank you for beginning the list of options Joe. Harrisonburg needs to view a full list of the possibilities and the drawback associated with each.
    Do you know how much has been put to the project thus far?

  22. Gotleib says:

    Another option:
    New management and marketing. If other golf courses can operate successfully in the black, whay can’t HO?

  23. JGFitzgerald says:


    A boatload.

    Didn’t you do the reading?


  24. JGFitzgerald says:

    OK, OK. Onagerian guess? Five or six million so far. Maybe a little more.

  25. The Valley Progressive says:

    Onagerian? What does this have to do with sex stories?

  26. JGFitzgerald says:

    An onager is a Syrian wild ass. Onagerian guess is another way of saying SWAG.

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