Fragile golf economy claims another victim

        “Hey Buddy, wanna buy a golf course?”  These days, most any of us could afford to buy one of the dozens of distressed golf courses that are on the block.  Private club members and municipalities alike would like nothing more than to unload them –- even for the nominal price of a dollar -– as long as the new buyers will pay to operate them.

        Therein, of course, is the rub.  Golf courses are expensive to operate

Green fees can run as low as $25 at Vista Links -- cart included.

and at the mercy of such fluctuating expenses as oil prices, equipment repairs, and seasonal labor costs.  And until the economy starts to trim unemployment rolls, rounds played will not support the over-supply of courses around the country.

        It was not so long ago that golf seemed like a no-lose proposition (like real estate, eh?), a way to attract residents to a golf community or even a town.  To hype sales, the most aggressive developers built their designer courses before the first houses were in.  Towns like Buena Vista, VA, used a similar model, commissioning some darn nice courses on cheaply acquired (or even donated) land in an effort to not only attract new residents but also to keep happy the ones they had. 

        Unfortunately for Buena Vista, the town opened its course, Vista Links, in 2004; the timing could not have been worse, coming shortly before the economy tanked.  The town borrowed more than $9 million to build the course and set up the infrastructure, such as sewers and roads, for a proposed adjacent neighborhood.

        Vista Links is an attractive sprawling links-style golf course on farmland at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The course  serves as a practice facility for Washington & Lee University’s golf team and features

The bank also holds the note on Buena Vista's police station and main admin building.

significant elevation changes and a wide open layout, with impressive vistas across the course (thus the name).  Green fees are in keeping with the course’s rural location, with a low of $25 –- cart included! -– on Mondays and Thursdays.  Annual passes for townspeople are under $1,000.

        Rick Jacobsen, who trained in the Jack Nicklaus shop, designed Vista Links.  Tim Gavrich, a rising senior on the W&L golf team, reviewed the golf course in this space in July 2007.  Click here for that review.

        As of this writing, Vista Links’ fate is unclear.  The town’s police station and main administration building are in foreclosure as well.  If you should be passing through Lexington, VA, on Interstate 81 in the near future, Vista Links is definitely worth a play.  Just make sure you call first ((540) 261-GOLF).


The short par 4 4th hole at Vista Links gives a good sense of the character of the former farmland, and it includes the old barn as backdrop.

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