Fate of South Wales Golf Course uncertain
© Culpeper Times
For more than 50 years, this public course has served as an oasis in Jeffersonton for local golfers in several counties and the District who found it a relaxing and reasonable place to play golf.
John Hagarty, who lives in the South Wales subdivision and is an avid golfer, was saddened to learn that South Wales Golf course will be closing. Hagarty heard the news from a friend and confirmed with one of the managers at the course that Sunday, Sept. 28 will be the last day of operations.
After a half century of operation, the public golf course in Jeffersonton will close at least for the rest of the year and possibly for good. For Hagarty, this is a first. “In my time playing there, it's always been open all year except for inclement weather.”
The popular golf course, located about eight miles north of Warrenton on Route 229 just over the Culpeper County line, recently changed operating hours. Once a seven-day operation, the course now closes on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Grounds keepers and managers say owner Kenneth Thompson is undecided what to do with the course, which is nearby the proposed Clevenger's Corner development. But the course will close at the end of September and likely remain closed through the winter.
The grounds crews will remain on the job through November they said, but it was unclear whether the course would reopen in the spring.
South Wales owner Ken Thompson said Wednesday that the golf course would most likely just remain closed for the winter. The golf business, he said “has been rough,” and last winter was particularly tough.
“I'm going to close for the time being,” Thompson said. “I've got a couple things I may have in the back of my mind that I'm going to look into. The golf business is not that good. Consequently, I've been looking at it and some changes I want to make.”
“Basically, it's just not worth having people there all year long,” he said. “I'll probably open in the spring. Right now I'm doing a lot thinking and planning, and seeing if anything new hits the horizon.”
He said he's in regular communication with Pulte about the developer's plans for Clevenger's Corner, which would incorporate part of the South Wales property. The developers most recent request to Culpeper County includes using the South Wales Golf Course entrance.
“They want to build around it, but the trouble is they don't have the zoning,” Thompson said. “Maybe during the winter something will take place, at the same time there are many, many things that are happening right now, but none have come to fruition. So I'll just sit and ride the winter.”
“For a host of local golfers, this will eliminate a lot of their golf,” said Hagarty of the public course that has been in the community since the 1960s.
“We've heard rumors about that for years but nothing recently. That is something that we wouldn't necessarily be notified about since it is privately held and the owner may be trying to sell,” said Culpeper County county administrator Frank Bossio.
Culpeper County Planning director John Egertson echoed the same sentiments.
“No, that is nothing that we have heard about,” said Egertson.
All around the golf course
The area surrounding South Wales golf course has been on the radar screen off and on over the years. The county's initial approval of Clevenger's Corner, a residential and commercial development project, more than a decade ago never materialized largely in part due to the economy.
The original plan included about 1,400 acres that Centex owned for residential use and another 500 adjacent acres including South Wales Golf Course that had been planned for commercial use.
Last May, Centex Homes, now a division of Pulte Homes, filed a rezoning request with the county in hopes of getting the project moving forward.
The new request eliminated the commercial focus with an application to build 762 single-family dwellings on quarter-acre lots instead. Traffic flow was also amended with the new plan. Rather than entering directly onto State Route 211, traffic would enter and exit at the current, but improved South Wales Golf Course entrance on State Route 229. There would also be another new entrance on Route 621 to the south.
When the supervisors originally voted to approve the project in 2004, the commercial aspect was a key component to the plan. Originally planned for retail and a major grocery chain, the sentiment was that retail, along with housing, would add to that corner of the county and perhaps entice residents to shop locally rather than traveling on Rt. 211 to Fauquier County.
Where is Centex today?
“Their application is active,” said Egertson. “They did file a request to amend the proffers on the portions of that development they owed...they amended to proceed with building houses.”
Coincidentally, Egertson said Monday that they have received a new “box of stuff” from Centex which will be reviewed and shown to VDOT.
“Eventually this may get to the planning commission and then on to the board of supervisors,” said Egertson who noted that while Centex's application is still active that months will go by and there is little contact between the developer and county officials.
Loss to golfers
For local golfers, there may have been impeding signs. Normally open seven days a week, several weeks ago, it was learned that the course was now closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
“This is a real tragedy for golfers in Culpeper and Fauquier counties. That place was an absolute oasis of affordable golf. Just a beautiful place to play,” said Fauquier Times sports editor Peter Brewington who not only follows the sport of golf locally for a living but enjoys playing.
“It’s on such a gorgeous piece of land, with rivers and hills and trees. It’s a special golfing experience,” said Brewington, who said he played there at least once a week, often walking nine holes for just $12.
With its wide fairways, South Wales is not considered difficult. But it attracted a dedicated constituency of golfers who have been coming for a casual, low stress experience in a quiet, natural setting. Deer and wild turkeys are frequently seen on both the front and back nine.
“I’d see a lot of working class guys stopping by in the afternoon. There would always be five or six cars or trucks there whenever I came, which isn’t bad,” said Brewington. “It’s just a shame it can’t keep going as a no-frills course. That’s been the beauty and charm of it.”
South Wales was designed by noted golf course architect Ed Ault in 1960 whose company has created dozens of golf courses in Virginia and beyond.
“South Wales’ patchy fairways are a far cry from the immaculate carpets found on more expensive courses, the playing conditions were always consistent, the grass always mowed and the greens well tended to,” added Brewington.
For the every-day golfer, South Wales kept their pricing reasonable with weekday fees generally around $30 and less. The most South Wales charged for a weekend round was $38. You could walk 18 holes for around $18.
“I’d say with little hesitation that South Wales may be the most inexpensive golf course in the Washington, D.C., area,” said Brewington.
Should South Wales close, it would be the second local golf operation to call it quits. Citing financial problems, Kastle Greens Golf Club in Midland closed in 2011, leaving Fauquier Springs Country Club as Fauquier County’s only course.
“As a golfer, Kastle Greens was hard to walk and a little difficult for the average Joe golfer. Plus it was sort of off the beaten path to get to,” said Brewington. “I’d like to think South Wales still has a chance. It’s at the intersection of some fairly prominent roads and seems in pretty good shape to me.”
If Thompson follows through to sell the course, Brewington speculated that probably the best hope for local golfers was that someone could buy South Wales and continue to maintain it as a low cost, low overhead operation.
“It’s hard to envision someone coming in and doing major upgrades and trying to take it to the next level, but I’d like to think someone who loves golf and has a sound business plan can come in and keep it as a cheap course. It’s a great golf course. The holes are unique, it’s relaxing golf in a wonderful pocket of the world,” Brewington said.
Other golf options
The closing of South Wales would leave Culpeper Country Club as Culpeper County’s only course.
Perhaps some budget-conscious golfers who enjoyed South Wales could migrate to Rapidan Golf Club in Locust Grove (formerly Somerset), another low key course that has a well-regarded layout and inexpensive prices. Prince William Golf Course in Nokesville is the nearest cheap course heading north, with Virginia Oaks Golf Club in Gainesville dropping its prices noticeably in recent years. Front Royal has an abundance of affordable courses like Jackson’s Chase, Shenandoah Valley, Front Royal Golf Club and Bowling Green Country Club.
Locally, high school golf teams have relied on the public course on and off as a place to play.
"While it wouldn't have a direct effect on our team, it would be sad to see it close. We have used South Wales as a alternate practice site when there are other activities going on at the [Culpeper] Country Club," said Kevin Baker, the golf coach of the Eastern View Cyclones team.
“Everyone that’s ever played South Wales owes Mr. Thompson a debt of gratitude and a beer or two for maintaining that place as long as he did,” said Brewington. “It’s upsetting. I’m going to miss that place tremendously. It really is like a death in the family.”
Thompson heads a group that owns not only South Wales golf course but surrounding acreage.
Steve Campbell contributed to this article.
South Wales Golf Course
18363 Golf Lane
Jeffersonton, Virginia 22724
18 Holes, Par 71
Terrain: Mostly flat
Year opened: 1960
Designed by Ed Ault (1908-1989), a leader in golf course architecture