The field of competitors jockeying for a chance to take over the century-old Henrico County-owned Belmont Golf Course is down to five.
That’s the number of companies that submitted proposals this month in response to a county-issued RFP for a contract to lease and operate the daily fee course at 1600 Hilliard Road, all with the goal of turning around an operation that has steadily lost money for well over a decade.
Neil Luther, director of the county’s Recreation and Parks Department, said he could not identify the five respondents or the details of their proposals, citing the ongoing process.
The five respondents were among the dozen or so groups that showed up for a mandatory meeting held last month that was required for any party interested in responding to an RFP.
Those in attendance at the meeting included golf course management companies of all sorts, such as national firms Billy Casper Golf, Brown Golf Management, KemperSports and Nebraska-based Landscapes Unlimited; and regional and local competitors such as First Tee of Greater Richmond, Williamsburg-based Golf Business Advisors, Up to Par Management in Lexington and New Direction Golf Management in Fredericksburg,
Luther said his department is evaluating the five proposals, with the goal of taking the most promising one to the county Board of Supervisors in December. The goal is to have the board award the contract in time for the operator to take over Belmont by Jan. 1, 2020.
The contract would come with a 20-year lease to operate the course, while the county would retain ownership of the 125-acre property.
The lease would include operations and maintenance of Belmont’s 18-hole course, practice putting area, pro shop, snack bar and meeting space. It does not include the neighboring county-owned tennis courts, rec center and surrounding parking lots, which Henrico would continue to operate and maintain.
The RFP calls for the county to forgo any lease payments or revenue share from the new operator, while also setting aside $500,000 in county funds to pay for renovations of Belmont’s bunkers, a project the county already had approved but shelved while it weighed options for the course’s future.
The county also expects the new operator to close the course for renovations, including the bunker work, and plan to reopen for play in April or May.
The county also would provide up to $250,000 in additional capital funding in years two, three and four of the lease, with the operator having to seek permission before spending the money.
Approaching the green
The operator would be required to contribute annually a minimum of 5 percent of Belmont’s gross operating revenue equal to or above $1 million into a capital reserve escrow account. That account would be set aside for capital improvements and major repairs that will help preserve the course’s future, according to the RFP.
The new operator will have the ability to set new fees for daily play and to sell alcohol onsite, which has been prohibited under county ownership and is seen as having held back the course financially in recent years.
The operator would be required to provide a fleet of golf carts and pull carts, and a PGA Class A golf professional to work onsite.
The RFP also calls for the creation of a citizen Belmont Golf Advisory Committee to “apprise and advise the Board of Supervisors on all operating issues and concerns arising during the term of the lease and operating agreement.”
The committee would meet regularly and would include a county-designated representative.
Luther said the RFP shows the county has a clear view of exactly what it wants from the new operator and those requirements will determine the choice in the end.
“A lot of it comes down to who we think is the best legacy operator that we would trust for the long term,” Luther said this week.