Sunday, April 15, 2007

Golf and Potential

Golf and Potential

The City of Roanoke wants to eliminate Countryside golf course in order to build some houses and unlock some retail space within the city limits. One of their contentions is that since annexation is currently blocked by the state, the city has little opportunity to grow. I completely disagree with the city’s strategy and plan, but that argument is for another blog. In this one, I’d like to share what I see as a great, untapped potential that’s waiting to be unlocked, Countryside Golf Course.

I believe that Countryside could serve two great purposes as a golf facility. It could provide the citizens of Roanoke affordable access to a top-flight golf course, and it could provide Roanoke City an extremely high quality and accessible destination for travelers.

In order to understand its potential as a destination, I believe you have to appreciate fully what Countryside once was. When the course was first designed and built in 1967 by Ellis Maples, it was a championship course with many distinguishing features.

The course was defined by water. Lakes or streams impacted play on nine of the eighteen holes. The second, sixth, seventh, and sixteenth holes all had lakes that directly impacted play. In addition, Ike’s Creek meandered through many holes on the front nine. Almost forgotten these days was a small stream that flowed from Ranch Road near the twelfth green across Mattiponi and below the tenth tee box. Taken as a package, Countryside boasted more hazard water than any other course in the area.

Unfortunately over time, many of these water features have been altered or completely erased. The pond next to the second green has slowly filled with silt to the point that it is now a mud flat, instead of picturesquely framing one of the most tempting holes on the course. The lake that guarded the sixth green and stretched to foot the seventh tee was filled in. The resulting affect was to make the sixth hole a lot less challenging. The small seasonal stream on the tenth and twelfth holes was rerouted through drainage pipes under the fairways.

In addition to water features, Maples was a master at utilizing the fairway bunker in his designs. Some of those original bunks survive in the course to this day. The classic bunker twins on the twelfth fairway are typical of Maples’ design. His bunkers were all beautifully shaped and positioned like spider webs in a garden. Over the years, many of the bunkers have been filled in.

Various other changes have happened to Countryside over the years. Most notably was the removal of key trees on the seventh and fourteenth holes. Also, the third hole was radically altered when Frontage Road was extended to Hershberger Road. The tee box was shifted and the hole was effectively shortened as a result.

I believe that if Countryside can be restored to near its original design, it can become an attractive stop for golf tourists and business travelers. With the airport nearby and many outstanding hotels within just a couple of miles, Countryside is poised to be a destination that can demand premium fees. Since Countryside is owned by the city, it would also offer the city the great opportunity to allow its citizens affordable access to the course. There is no doubt that Countryside as a golf facility, with people talking about its impending closure and with the course not being fully maintained, is still attracting huge crowds of golfers and making money.

I know this much, if Countryside is razed in favor of development, it can never easily unpaved. So much that was and could be would be lost forever in favor of ill-conceived and thoughtless notions, but that’s a blog for another day.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Commentary

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