By C.V. Moore
In the face of the threatened closure of Hawks Nest Golf Course, county and state leaders have pledged to attack the issue from several angles.
The state has said the course will be closed at the end of the golf season, but local leaders hope to keep the facility open by engaging stakeholders, creating a sustainability plan, building the membership base, and improving marketing.
“I think it’s important,” Sen. William Laird, D-Fayette, recently told the Fayette County Commission. “The Upper Kanawha Valley has contributed to the economic engine of the state in terms of its mineral wealth for years. They’ve taken an awful lot out of the Upper Kanawha Valley (...) and we owe it to the citizens there to make that facility open for public use. I think we can get it done if we work together, but we’re going to have to work pretty quickly.”
County Commission president Matthew Wender agreed and called the golf course a “neglected step-child” of the state park system.
The county recently received a letter from the state confirming what they already suspected was the state’s intent to close the golf course on June 30, due in large part to an operating deficit. Three years ago, that deficit was $164,796 for the summer. But the most recent season saw a reduction in the deficit to $78,530, and a modest increase in revenue has been noted since 2010.
The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has operated Hawks Nest Golf Course since April 2000. The land is privately owned by Brookfield Energy.
“Rounds played and revenue generated have been minimal,” wrote Department of Commerce Secretary J. Keith Burdette in the letter. “Furthermore, the golf course does not generate any additional spin-off revenue at nearby Hawks Nest State Park, such as overnight stays at the lodge or through the park’s other amenities and services.”
Finally, the buildings and grounds at the course are in need of major renovation. A Planning, Engineering and Maintenance report for 2012-2013 calls the degree and intensity of required repairs “astronomical.” Burdette also writes that it’s questionable whether state funds could be legally spent to improve a privately-owned property.
"While the DNR is willing to continue to operate Hawks Nest, we cannot do so without significant local support on an annual basis,” the letter concluded.
The Fayette County Commission sent a response to the state expressing why they think it should remain open and questioning the lack of targeted marketing and cross-promotion of the facility. They also offered to be a partner with the state financially by building a much-needed maintenance building on site, though they declined to any ongoing financial obligation.
Most recently, Laird and Sen. Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier, sat down with the governor’s chief of staff and conveyed the importance of the recreational facility to the Upper Kanawha Valley.
“We told him we were aware of the financial considerations involved, but that we’d like the opportunity to be more proactive in attacking the problem to see if it’s possible to sustain operation of the course,” Laird reported to the county commission.
He also spoke with Burdette and pointed out that closing a golf course right in the middle of the golfing season didn’t make sense.
Burdette indicated that he is willing to keep the course open through the current golf season, which winds up around September.
In the mean time, Laird says creation of a plan for the long-term sustainability of the course is crucial.
“I think the folks who use the Hawks Nest Golf Course need to be a part of the solution. (...) We need to be proactive in attacking this and engage the membership base,” he said.
The course currently has 38 season pass-holders. If each was challenged to recruit one additional member, that would be a start, said Laird. Creating a formal association would also help in advocacy work.
The park’s performance evaluation published in Aug. 2009 put the course’s self-sufficiency at 17 percent, compared to the benchmark standard of 60 percent.