A common refrain lately at Glenwood Golf Club has been “one last round.”
Nearly everyone walking into the clubhouse earlier this week to check in for their tee time uttered some variation of that theme.
They’re all indeed there for one last round, as Glenwood is closing permanently today after 95 years.
Longtime owners Frank Adams and Harry Griffin are making the bittersweet decision to sell the course’s 121 acres to a developer, a deal that will allow the business partners to retire after decades in the golf business.
For Adams, who’s also the course’s director of operations, the closure means the end of a 53-year run at Glenwood, accounting for more than three-quarters of his life.
“I started as a teenager mowing grass. My dad worked here as a laborer,” said Adams, 68. “Then when I graduated community college, I got a job at a bank and my boss at the time, Joe Cochrell, offered me more money to stay (at Glenwood) than the bank was going to pay me. So I stayed.”
Griffin, a career golf pro, came to Glenwood in the early 90s, though he knows his tenure pales next to Adams’.
“I’ve only been here 30 years,” he said laughing.
“He’s a newbie,” Adams said jokingly.
Built on what had been a dairy farm, Glenwood opened in April 1927 at what’s now 3100 Creighton Road. It was designed by golf course architect Fred Findlay, whose other creations included Meadowbrook Country Club in Chesterfield and Farmington Country Club and Keswick Club in Charlottesville.
Glenwood’s original clubhouse was the dairy farm’s old farmhouse. It burned in the 1980s and was replaced by the clubhouse that still stands today.
Griffin, Adams and then-general manager John Cook bought the club from the Cochrell family in 1996. They paid $4 million, according to Henrico County records.
“Back in those days owning a golf course was a special thing,” said Griffin, 67. “It was a golf pro’s dream.”
But the day-to-day tending to a golf course isn’t for the faint of heart. And it’s certainly not for non-golfers.
“Running a golf course … you have to really love golf because it’s a very time-demanding operation,” Adams said. “You’re open from sunup to sundown seven days a week. We’re only closed one day a year. You miss a lot of family functions.”
“You mean all of them,” Griffin said.
The camaraderie of the longtime partners is evident, as is the rapport they’ve built with all the golfers coming in to pay their respects with one last round. Adams and Griffin seem to know just about everyone who comes in by name.
“These guys know our names. We know their names,” Griffin said.
Added Adams: “We’ve had maybe not the best course all the time, but I feel like we’ve had the best staff all the time. One thing I tell all my employees is, ‘Remember, everybody that walks in that door has the day off. They don’t want to see a sourpuss.”
There have been ups and downs for Adams and Griffin during their time at Glenwood.
The course had its heyday in the ’90s, when it would see 40,000-plus rounds in a year. In more recent years it averaged about half of that, though the pandemic golf boom gave business a boost.
They hit an odd rough patch in the late ’90s, when a serial armed robber was regularly hitting Glenwood. He’d hide out on the course and rob golfers at gunpoint. It got so bad that Henrico sent out cops to go undercover as golfers and borrow clubs from the course to look the part.
The robber was eventually caught in a tragic ending elsewhere in the city, but not before he shot a Glenwood golfer in the leg. That golfer sued the club, trying to hold it liable. The case went all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court, attracting attention from landlords and businesses nationwide as a potential precedent of property liability law.
Glenwood ultimately was not held liable, but the robberies and shooting hurt its reputation for a while.
“People were calling it ‘Gunwood’ instead of Glenwood,” Adams said.
While Glenwood has never formally been listed for sale, Adams and Griffin said they’ve regularly had offers from developers over the years, including one that nearly went through if not for the Great Recession.
But this most recent offer from Godsey Properties came at the right time. Adams and Griffin are ready to hang it up and are able to retire and they bought Cook out of the business when he retired years ago.
“We’re old,” Adams said.
“We just don’t look it,” Griffin said with a laugh.
Godsey is planning to convert the property into a 290-home subdivision, plans for which were approved by Henrico County last year.
Adams and Griffin have seen the wave of development headed their way for some time, accentuated by the recent demolition of the nearby Creighton Court housing projects.
“It used to be a crummy neighborhood but it’s getting better,” Griffin said of the surrounding area.
“It’s a unique piece of property and as the city of Richmond has grown this way, I think it’s a great opportunity,” Adams said.
The sale to Godsey is set to close later this summer and Adams and Griffin have hired auction company Dudley Resources to sell off the equipment and fixtures. They’ve already sold all the golf carts.
With their last day at Glenwood approaching, the duo said they aren’t exactly sure what emotions they’re feeling.
“Bittersweet,” was the best description Adams could conjure.
“I think it’s going to take a while for it to set in,” Griffin said. “I think right now it’s more sweet than bitter. That could change. It’s going to be tough knowing you don’t have to be here every day.”
Adams glanced out the window of the clubhouse as he thought more about it. “I look out and either my dad or myself planted 90 percent of those trees,” he said.
Griffin said he’s looking forward to spending more time with his new grandchild and traveling with his wife, who just retired as a school teacher.
Adams said he’s simply looking forward to having a day off for once on Independence Day.
“It’s funny, a regular golfer came in and said, ‘Why don’t you at least stay open through the Fourth of July weekend?’ I said, ‘no.’ She said, ‘What are you going to do on Fourth of July?’ I said ‘I don’t have any idea. That’s the whole point.’”
Adams normally has his day off on Thursdays, but he said he couldn’t miss bidding the course farewell on its last day today.
“I just want to make sure I hit the last shot on the course,” he said.
Griffin said he wants in on that action, too. “We’ll do a synchronized shot,” he said.