Management of a Henrico golf course soon could swing over to a third party and be taken out of the hands of the county.
A request for information was released by Henrico County last week, seeking ideas from outside operators interested in taking over day-to-day operations and maintenance of Belmont Golf Course.
The request for information process – different from a usual request for proposal – signals the county wants ideas to consider before making a more concrete decision.
Henrico previously said it was pondering options for leasing the course to an outside operator or finding other recreational uses for Belmont’s 125 acres, at 1600 Hilliard Road near the intersection of Brook Road.
Those ideas were born out a county leadership retreat earlier this year and follow years of losses at the public daily-fee course, which opened in 1916 as part of Hermitage Country Club and become county-owned in the 1970s.
“Belmont enjoys a historic past and has been an important part of the regional golf landscape for 40 years,” the RFI states. “However, Henrico County has determined that the direct operation of a daily-fee public golf course is not a desired core function of local government.”
That century-old historic past thrust the course into the local and national spotlight in recent months, after the county had sought to renovate Belmont’s bunkers. Those planned upgrades, which have since been shelved, drew the ire of some golf course architecture enthusiasts who argued the repairs would have further buried the influence of its designer, renowned course architect A.W. Tillinghast. Detractors also argued that ideas to capitalize on that history by restoring the course should be considered.
The RFI document was made public May 3 and has a deadline for outside parties to express interest by June 15.
Those interested can meet with the county and tour the course May 23.
The document states the county would maintain ownership of the property and is looking for a long-term lease with an operator, along with other “creative” ideas.
“The county is also open to other options for the best operation of Belmont, including creative approaches to management of the facilities, changes in the services offered at Belmont, or hybrid solutions.”
The RFI also includes financial and operational stats on Belmont. It states the course ran at a loss of $176,000 for fiscal year 2017, with 24,000 rounds played. Rounds played have declined each year since 2013, when it hosted 32,500 rounds.
It cost just under $1 million to run the course last fiscal year and the county previously has said Belmont has been operating at a cash loss most years since 2000.
The course’s peak was in the 1990s, when it had around 50,000 rounds annually.
Handing the operator keys to an outside party isn’t unprecedented at Belmont. The RFI documents state the county used a third-party operator for the course from 1977 through 1985. It also had farmed out management of the pro shop and snack bar until 2017.