Nonprofit will manage course, oversee $4 million renovation
Henrico County has agreed to lease Belmont Golf Course to The First Tee of Greater Richmond, which will maintain and operate the course and oversee an immediate renovation in keeping with its historic design.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Dec. 10 to approve the 20-year lease agreement, which will take effect Jan. 1.
“As a county, with the full participation of the Board of Supervisors and with strong engagement from the community, we’ve been working on a long-term plan for Belmont that makes sense from both a recreational and a financial sense,” County Manager John A. Vithoulkas said in announcing the agreement. “I’m pleased to report … that we have a proposal that accomplishes these goals.”
Henrico, which bought Belmont in 1977 to offer affordable golf to the public, held meetings this spring to seek community input on its future.
The golf course, at 1600 Hilliard Road in Lakeside, has not generated enough revenue to cover its operating costs for years. Play has dropped from about 50,000 annual rounds to about 23,000 rounds during the past 20 years.
Officials noted overwhelming community support for keeping Belmont as a public golf course and said The First Tee of Greater Richmond would bring both resources and expertise to the project. The nonprofit is a chapter of The First Tee, a national organization that promotes youth participation in golf and values, such as honesty and integrity.
The local nonprofit was one of five groups that responded to Henrico’s request for proposals, issued in August, for private operation of the course.
“This agreement aligns perfectly with The First Tee’s mission and our focus on youth development and strengthening the character of our community,” said Brent Schneider, CEO of The First Tee of Greater Richmond. “We are excited about this partnership with Henrico County and opportunity to create an inclusive, innovative and welcoming facility for everyone. Belmont has a tremendous history, and we look forward to honoring the golden era of golf course architecture with the improvements we will make.”
The Richmond chapter operates two golfing facilities in the region — the Tattersall Youth Development Center at The First Tee Chesterfield Golf Course in Chesterfield County and the Elson Redmond Memorial Driving Range in the city of Richmond.
In Henrico, the organization already serves 44 schools and nearly 24,000 students through the annual First Tee National School Program.
Under the lease, Belmont is expected to become a home for Henrico’s high school golf teams and will accommodate community groups, such as the Henrico Police Athletic League.
The First Tee of Greater Richmond has committed $3.25 million for a complete renovation of the 18-hole course. Those funds will be combined with $750,000 already set aside by Henrico for improvements.
Officials with The First Tee plan to meet with the community and to work with Love Golf Design, founded by former PGA golfer Davis Love III, on a redesign that would begin in early spring.
The golf course is expected to be closed during construction and to reopen in spring 2021. The Belmont Recreation Center and tennis courts are not subject to the lease and will stay open.
The First Tee is planning a course with 12 championship holes in the tradition of architect A.W. Tillinghast, who designed Belmont in 1917, then-known as Hermitage Country Club. It also plans to add a driving range, a six-hole, par-3 “short course,” a short-game practice area and a putting course.
The project also would include building renovations to provide an improved pro shop, concessions and space for youth programs.
“As the site of the 1949 PGA Championship and a major landmark for Lakeside, Belmont Golf Course represents a valuable part of Henrico’s story,” Brookland District Supervisor Dan Schmitt said. “I’m pleased we have found a partner who is eager to reinvest in Belmont in a way that is respectful to its historic design and is fiscally responsible to county taxpayers.”
Fairfield District Supervisor Frank J. Thornton thanked the community for its input on Belmont and said the planned improvements have the potential to expand public access to golf as well as develop the bodies, minds and characters of county youth.
“Belmont Golf Course has a rich and powerful history, but that does not mean its best days should be in the past,” he said. “By working with The First Tee of Greater Richmond, we have an opportunity to improve the course and attract the next generation of players to this wonderful game.”