Archive for May, 2020

Hundreds of golfers flock to safe venue

Jimmy Mauro, the general manager of the South Wales Golf Course in Jeffersonton, has no experience as a hospital administrator. But after the rigors of trying to maintain a safe and “squeaky-clean” clubhouse and golf course during the COVID-19 crisis, he might have some relevant qualifications.

From early morning until the gates close at sunset, Mauro and his staff are cleaning, disinfecting, and making sure his customers practice social distancing.

Mauro is doing repeat duty at South Wales. He was the head pro back in the 1990s and a former member of the PGA. He is also a retired federal police officer.

“We are seeing a lot of players from around the region playing here since many courses are closed. I’m getting players from Northern Virginia, Maryland, and, of course, our loyal tri-county golfers,” said Mauro. “It’s gratifying.”

The governor has allowed Virginia golf courses to remain open. A typical course is up to 200 acres in size and groups of four or fewer are generally 150 yards or more away from each other.

Tommy Thompson owns the golf course. A third-generation home builder, his grandfather was a carpenter, and his father Ken was a professional builder as well.

Upon graduating high school, Thompson picked up a hammer and never looked back. Today, he owns Benchmark Homes, headquartered in Richmond. When asked how he is keeping the course operating, he said, “If it wasn’t for my staff, we wouldn’t be there. They are a very dedicated crew committed to serving the public.

“I do everything from afar since I live in Richmond. I talk to Jimmy two and three times a day to assess the situation. It’s not only Jimmy and the clubhouse employees, but our course superintendent, Johnny Smith, and his guys who are keeping the course looking great. It’s a total team effort,” Thompson said.

What’s different today from six weeks ago? Almost everything except the players’ handicaps. The changes start as you walk up the steps to the clubhouse.
A table outside the clubhouse displays the COVID-19-inspired course rules.

“We permit only one golfer at a time inside the clubhouse and in the restrooms. But that’s only the beginning of our COVID protocols. We sanitize each credit card and pen every time they are touched,” said Mauro.

The club serves no hot food. Only packaged candy, crackers, chips, soft drinks, and beer are available.

“All range balls are disinfected with Clorox and Dawn detergent after use,” Mauro said. “There are no water coolers on the course because we do not want players touching them. Ball washers have also been removed. I even sanitize the handrails as you walk up the steps to the pro shop,” he added.

One change most players readily embrace is six-inch sections of swimmer’s noodles that are placed in every hole on the greens. The blue foam inserts block putts from dropping into the hole, so if the ball just grazes the foam, it’s in. The flag pin is never touched.

When carts are returned after a round, everything a player touches is sanitized, including the floorboards.

Mauro said, “We intend to do everything we need to do to stay open. We are adhering to all state and federal guidelines for golf courses. All of these actions are for the health and safety of our guests. I also need to protect my employees too.”

When carts are available, it’s one player per cart. But due to the high volume of players, all the carts may be in play by mid-day, especially on weekends. In those situations, a player can walk or elect to ride with another player.

“I had 118 players last Sunday and only 34 carts, so it’s obvious, on occasion, we can’t always assign a cart to a single player,” Mauro said.

“The public is suffering from cabin fever. Almost everyone coming here thanks us for keeping the course open. Over 300 players a week are enjoying golfing in some of the nicest spring weather in years.”

Mauro said his rates are as competitive as most courses in the region. Weekday rates with a cart are $39; $44 on weekends. Seniors, law enforcement personal, veterans, first responders, women, and juniors pay $35 and $40 respectively.

The players
Mauro said that compliments on the course conditions have been numerous. “It’s the best shape it’s been in in years,” he said.
Indeed, it’s not hard to find players eager to share their take on the course and its conditions.

Ron Philips, a retired U.S. Army command sergeant major, lives in Haymarket. “I golfed the last three weeks here and have found everyone well-trained in the disinfection process. Jimmy is down-to-earth and takes care of your needs. The course is in good shape. It’s the only one I’m going to play until this thing clears up,” he said.

Ron Rosson, lives in Richardsville, Virginia and is an off-from-work machinist. He said, “The course has come back from a few years ago. It’s very playable today. The more you play it, the easier it becomes. The course staff is doing an excellent job.”

Jason Kidwell is the owner of Explore Kitchens and lives in Mclean. “My good friend went to Langley High School with me and now lives in Sperryville, so this is his home course. I’m out here because they have closed most of the Fairfax County park golf courses.

Once a week, I come out here to play with my buddy. South Wales is absolutely fantastic and has fast greens. It has one of the nicest staff I’ve encountered at any of the courses I’ve played,” he said.

South Wales’ general manager sums up his goal of staying open, “We want golfers to come out and get away from this terrible virus. We want them to relax for four or five hours and have a good time.”

Published April 2020 in the Fauquier Times.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

Planning for the new normal

Posted on May 19 2020 | By

Business owners envision a different tomorrow

The Nation is in suspended animation due to COVID-19, but the American can-do spirit will prevail. The winds of positive change will ultimately billow the sails of the economic ship of state and move the country forward. But it will take time.

Here’s how four county businesses view the lockdown and recovery.

Claire’s at the Depot
Claire Lamborne owns her restaurant like Tiger Woods owns his swing. The eatery is part of her very core, and she will fight to make certain it endures. To that end, she will again reopen for curbside service.

Her curbside service was offered for a short time when the economy was first placed in lockdown. But managing a crowded staff in a tight kitchen led to her suspending it, to the disappointment of her loyal customers. Now she’s back.

While answers to many questions about the recovery process are yet to be answered, she will not wait until they are to revive an income stream. “My accountant doesn’t have answers to my questions, and I need to find a tax attorney,” said Lamborne.

“In the interim, I think we solved some issues with the carryout and will soon offer it again.”

Lamborne thinks she can work around the tight kitchen issues while keeping her staff safe. While she has 36 employees, only mostly kitchen staff will be brought back at first. She believes curbside service will last longer than some people think.

Lamborne said, “Before we were trying to do food hot and that became very difficult. This time we’ll be doing curbside meals that are cooked and ready for reheating at home with instructions on how to reheat.”

The new approach allows for preplanning menu selections and calming the previously busy kitchen scene.

Will Lamborne’s new world mean a delay in her retirement plans? “Oh, my gosh, yes! The value of my business has dropped, so now I plan to work till I’m 80-years-old. I’m healthy, so hopefully, I’ll be able to that.”

Her closing thought on when she does reopen is she won’t be able to accommodate as many diners as before. “I think there will still be social distancing. We’ll need to get those patio chairs and tables painted,” she said, laughing.

Great Meadow Foundation
John Hochheimer is chairman of the board of the Great Meadow Foundation. He said they have had to cancel or postpone several of their planned events. The largest one to date is Gold Cup. It has been rescheduled for June 20, assuming conditions permit.

Twilight Polo was supposed to start May 23, but the potential new start date is now June 13. “Honestly, all of our plans depend on what the Governor recommends and what the requirements will be once the stay-at-home policy is lifted,” said Hochheimer.

“Our revenue is down some 20 to 25 percent.” He underscores the foundation is hurting because the delayed events are the core of their revenue. Nonetheless, the staff of seven is still working, and the gates are open.

“People are welcome to come out to Great Meadow and walk the grounds and exercise their dogs individually and in small groups. It’s largely a wait and see situation.” Fortunately, much of what was unfolding at the spacious outdoor venue was just ramping up.

Rescheduling the more significant events later in the year will save many of the season’s activities.

Several smaller events, like the National Rocket Contest, will be rolled over to next year’s schedule. Most of the cancelations are based simply on the unknown. Groups need to plan weeks or months in advance. Not knowing how the future will unfold leads to cancellations.

“We’ll continue to update our website when things are rescheduled. And we do welcome visitors to come out and enjoy the grounds. But I ask that people clean up after themselves and their pets,” said Hochheimer.

Fauquier Springs Country Club
Shawn Rogers is the general manager of the venerable club that was established in 1957. It has about 325 members. The facility has a restaurant, pool, tennis courts, and a golf course. While the restaurant is closed it is offering carryout service.

“One of the major complications we have seen throughout this situation are the protocols we’ve had to put into place to keep our club going. The Virginia Department of Health has been fantastic as to what we needed to implement.

“The Governor has allowed us to keep the golf course open, and our number of rounds are up. Every cart is sterilized before it goes out, and only one golfer per cart is allowed. We’ve removed the sand-divot containers from the carts and anything else a player might touch.

Players are not allowed to touch or remove the flag pin during play.” Rogers said.

The club’s most substantial revenue producers are its banquet and event operations. “We have been severely hurt in those areas. A lot of weddings and special events have been rescheduled. In March and April, we lost $150,000 in revenue. Every day this goes on, we are at risk of losing even more.”

Rogers thinks the country club will survive without difficulty for two to three months. After that, it will become more problematic. “Right now, we’re OK. But not as OK as we should be.”

Fauquier County Chamber of Commerce
Joe Martin has no medical degree, nor does he carry a black medical bag and a stethoscope. Still, he knows the pulse and temperature of the Fauquier County business community.

For over a decade, Martin has served as the president of the Fauquier County Chamber of Commerce. He has successfully guided the organization’s 530 members through robust economic growth. Today, he’s a whirling dervish working to keep his “family” safe from harm.

“We have a weekly conference call with numerous regional leadership organizations strategizing on how to address the critical issues facing us. I’m also on Zoom calls daily with local, state, and federal agencies for the same purpose.

“The communication outreach across these dozens of organizations has been phenomenal. One minor but important aspect of all of this is we’ll be using these communication technologies from here on out,” said Martin.

To focus on real-world concerns and seek advice from chamber members and their guests, a monthly virtual luncheon is hosted by Martin, where attendees go “around the screen” and share successes, struggles and challenges. It’s an opportunity for one story to answer dozens of questions.

Martin finds it reassuring in such stressed times that most of the groups and individuals he’s interacting with generally have a positive feeling about the future. But the pain experienced by small businesses is of particular concern to him.

The downturn will end, and Martin, in concert with the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, is working on a recovery plan to help make it happen.

Martin muses, “The recovery is not going to spring back overnight. It will be a slow and methodical process of likely a year or more. Yes, there will be pent up demand, but it will not be an explosive recovery. But it will happen. Staying focused and positive is key.”

Published April 2020 in the Fauquier Times.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES