This is a dead dog,” said Chairman Corey Stewart, R-at large. “We need to put it out of its misery.”

Corey Stewart’s dead dog analogy describes how he feels about being in the golf course business. The Park Authority operates 3 public golf courses: Prince William Golf Course, Forest Greens and General’s Ridge. The courses lost a million dollars this year.


Not one has ever turned a profit, Ellington said. The smallest reported loss was $25,000; the largest, which came this year, was $1 million.

“They’ve been an average $600,000 in the hole over three years,” he said.

It’s not the operations side of business to blame, Ellington said. Rather, debt service continuously eats into revenues.

“Operations has been on the green side,” Ellington said. “It’s been positive all these years. How much we took in for revenue and how much we spent, we’ve been healthy. But our ability to cover the debt is our problem.”

Just this month, the Park Authority took steps to recoup the losses and eliminated 12 full-time positions and cut operating costs by $150,000. Expected savings are $370,030 — but that’s a far cry from the $1.08 million needed to pay the debt balance on the three courses, Ellington admitted


It sounds like Corey Stewart might be on the right track here. Who wants to buy some golf courses?

19 Thoughts to “Dead Dog Golf Courses”

  1. Opinion

    Corey is right… we need to turn these Golf Courses over to the private sector. I see nothing in the State or Federal Constitution granting Virginia Citizens the right to play golf (and yes, I am an occasional Golfer.)

  2. Opinion

    Correction… we need to determine the best economic value of the real estate in question and then follow a course of action to recover Prince William County’s investment in these properties. That doesn’t necessarily mean Golf Courses will be the result. Wal-Mart, anyone?

  3. Moon-howler

    When considering a golf course, I had totally overlooked the Wal-mart idea. A golf course might be the easiest thing to sell. Demolition is cheap–non-existent.

  4. First, the dead dog hit me the wrong way. Rotten image.

    Second, the idea of replacing a park with development set me off. Isn’t Stewart supposed to be the anti-development guy?

    Why not do something else with these parks? We own the land. There must be a better solution.

  5. Poor Richard

    Isn’t a dead dog already beyond “misery”?

    Perhaps Corey was attempting to address two issues at once,
    the costly golf courses and the crowded animal shelter.

  6. Last Best Hope

    Golf courses are like parks, valuable for many reasons, not only for the bottom line. Without public golf courses, it will be a rich man’s game.

  7. anona

    Development doesn’t have to mean homes. Why not turn one or more of the courses into sports fields? We need more fields;we already own the land; and the locations already have great grass. They could just smooth out the bumps, fill in the little holes and we’d be ready to play soccer or football. Of course I’m simplifying what is probably much more complicated. But it could solve two problems: stop the yearly loss at the golf courses and provide more active recreation spots. I’d rather my kids run around kicking a ball on county property than see a bunch of homes go up at that location.

    The leagues pay to use fields so is that part of the park authority business more profitable than golf?

  8. Opinion

    Interest rates are at historical lows… perhaps now is the time to renegotiate the Golf Course’s financing to reduce the real problem: servicing the debt.

    It’s a math problem… (IMHO) we should pursue re-negotiating the debt against other alternatives and go with the one that provides the best return on OUR money (and it’s all our money). Personally, I think the County should get out of the recreation business. I see nothing in the State or Federal Constitution granting Virginia Citizens the right to baseball diamonds, soccer fields or parks.

    Let the land go to the free market and demand will drive its ultimate use. Personally, I think ball parks and soccer fields (other than associated with school programs) should be in the private sector under a pay to play model. The County’s involvement should be restricted to zoning and tax breaks to ensure some percentage of available space go to privately owned public recreation facilities.

  9. Anona, I like your idea. But I think some of that space should be reserved for passive recreation as well. Refinance and re-think the usage. Don’t give up the parks we have!!

  10. Moon-howler

    Opinion, Publically owned land often eyes only profit and forgets the other uses of land. At least that is what I am learning from Ken Burns this week.

    I am still thinking of what Poor Richard said. That didn’t even hit me when I posted.

  11. Moon-howler

    Will someone describe the debt service and how it relates?

  12. Opinion

    Ken Burns did a great job documenting our National Park system. I assume you know where most of the land came from? Skyline Drive, a National Park I use often and truly enjoy, has a most interesting back story. Suggest anyone interested stop at the Dickey Ridge visior center to get the “back story”. It’s the “rest of the story” when Government obtains too much power… and the story has been repeated several times.

    Debt service refers to funds required to meet interest expenses and principal payments during a specific time period. The County’s ability to service its debt is estimated by comparing cash flow with debt service. (FYI, our Triple A bond rating reduces the cost of money which is a component of debt service expenses… a good thing). Renegotiating the debt at a lower interest rate, longer term, lower principle, or some combination thereof reduces the cost of debt service. The point with the golf courses is that income doesn’t cover expenses (which include debt service expenses). Note that debt services expenses is an important component of determining our property tax rate.

    The Conservative’s point of view==> less is more. I’m not a big believer in County Government owning large amounts of real estate. That’s (IMHO) not its proper role.

  13. Elena

    Well, good for Corey. However, the LAST thing we would want to do is develop these golf courses into high density developments.

  14. Moon-howler

    Thanks for providing some back ground. I don’t understand how the golf course portion is separated out from the rest of the county.

    The Skyline Drive story has its tragic parts. Many mountain families farmed and eeked out an existence up there. When the land became an NP, those families were removed, driven off their land, often at gunpoint, and forced to relocate. Many ended up down in Charlottesville and Waynesboro to be ‘civilized.’ Most of the kids had almost no education.

    What is the story you know, Opinion?

    Yes, Ken Burns did a great job. I have enjoyed every segment thoroughly. I hope to enjoy the remaining 3 equally as much.

    Grand Teton NP was one of the last fights and it lasted for years. I will always come down on the side of the NPs because if it isn’t owned by the govt, it often falls into ill repair and there are no guarantees it won’t go to developers.

  15. anonguy

    The county can’t refinance the loans because they have already been refinanced once. State law prohibits localities from restructuring the same debt more than once. The county has refinanced essentially all of its debt that is older than six years to take advantage of lower interest rates, including the debt for the golf courses. All of the newer debt was incurred after the AAA bond rating was approved.

  16. Moon-howler

    Thanks anonguy, for clarifying that issue.

    All the nuances of municipal debt sort of leave me in the dust. I will be the first to admit that debt service is simply not something I clearly understand and I do not think I am alone.

  17. Pat.Herve

    why were the golf courses designed to be not self sustaining?? If the golf course cannot pay its own way, the cost of the service should rise. I am an advocate of Government owning open space AND recreational space – it is the funding stream that seems off kilter here.

  18. Moon-howler

    Is there a chance that the golf courses would end up out-pricing themselves?

    I am a proponent of government owning open space and recreational space also. I don’t trust private ownership of those places that are for all of us to enjoy as well as our posterity.

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