Over a million golfers can’t be wrong

By Posted on Apr 26 2019 | By

For almost six decades storied South Wales Golf Course has shot par

Golf course designer Ed Ault was a native Washingtonian who combined a love of the game with a champion’s skill to rise to the top of golf course design in the 20th Century.

By the end of his career, he had designed 98 memorable venues. Among the first of his jewels was the South Wales Golf Course in Jeffersonton.

Arnold Palmer played an exhibition round there the year the course opened and almost reached the 640-yard par 5 18th in two shots. Whoa.

To play here is to walk on hallowed ground.

Ault and his partner Al Jamison were hired by the officers of Bolling Air Force Base in 1958 to build the course. It opened in 1960. History doesn’t record if a colonel’s first tee shot was a slice, hook or line drive but to the ensuing legion of golfers an often-heard refrain is, “One of the best layouts anywhere.”

Pedigree always shines through. Even sixty years later.

In 1965 the course passed into private ownership and in 1988 sold to a group of businessmen that included Ken Thompson. The Thompson family eventually became sole owners.

The Family
Tommy Thompson is a third-generation builder. His grandfather was a carpenter and his father Ken a professional builder. Upon graduating from high school Tommy Thompson picked up a hammer and never looked back.

Today, he owns Benchmark Homes headquartered in Richmond where he and his wife, Maria, live. The couple has four adult sons, ages 32 to 21.

In the late 1980s, the Thompson’s purchased the South Wales golf course and land west of Route 229 subdividing it to create one of Culpeper County’s largest subdivisions; 340 homes grace the community where all the street names reflect towns and villages in England.

In 2008 the golf industry nationwide encountered a perfect storm when the recession reduced disposable income.

Couple that blow with an oversupply of courses nationwide, an aging population no longer capable or interested in the game, and perhaps most importantly, a declining interest of the younger generation in chasing the white ball.

What resulted was a trifecta one might call the “golf course blues”.

Ken Thompson, frustrated with a marginally profitable business, closed the course in the fall of 2014 and died a year later at the age of 88. His son Tommy Thompson understood both the legacy of South Wales and its potential for revitalization and had his longtime greenskeeper Johnny Smith simply cut grass and keep the layout viable.

In April 2016 he reopened the course and invested in improving the turf, sand traps, and irrigation. “We’ve done a lot of reseeding and planting of Bermuda grass which thrives well in hot, dry weather.” Of course, 2018 was anything but dry with over five and a half feet of rain.

“Last year we lost 90 days of golf due to the weather,” said Thompson. One might posit that to make a small fortune in golf today you have to start with a large one.

In fact, Thompson can be viewed as a golfer’s best friend by embracing an industry buffeted by challenges on all fronts. Yet he’s willing to keep the course open. “I’m looking at a goal of 12,000 to 15,000 rounds annually and growing from there. In the years ahead this region will see continuing development so play will naturally pick up.”

In the golden age of golf, South Wales could post 30,000 plays a year.

The challenge
The good word in golfing today are the seniors who are still the most avid players and integral to the game’s success. But as that cohort ages, as in the past, it will impact the viability of the industry. The biggest challenge is attracting younger players.

“The millennials, between 21 and 35, are simply not playing golf at the pace they used to. This year we are offering an all-day golf package of unlimited play. Players can golf the entire day for $55 on weekdays and $65 on weekends,” said Thompson.

Travel to courses east of Warrenton and a single round could cost upwards of $90 on weekdays and $120 on weekends. And chances are you’ll be surrounded by homes.

South Wales is the ultimate country layout where deer, turkey, and even an occasional black bear can be seen ambling about. Oh, and never is heard a discouraging word.

Another new offering is Annual Unlimited Play. At the beginning of the season, the price was $1,300 for the entire year. Each week into the season the fee drops on a prorated basis. Under the program, a round of golf would cost $14 for a single player. Bring a buddy and the fee drops to $10.

Social media is an avenue to scoring an even better deal: free golf. Each week the South Wales Facebook page announces the names of two players who have liked its page as winners of a free round.

“Our Facebook messaging goes out weekly to up to 6,000 people. Those who have liked us are eligible for the free offer,” explained Thompson.

Each Thursday a group of golfers gathers to play a round that emphasizes fun over competitiveness. They are always looking for new players to join them. The highlight of the day is the 19th hole get together on the club’s deck overlooking the 18th fairway.

Jimmy Mauro is general manager of the club and doing repeat duty as he was the head pro back in the 1990s and a member of the PGA. He is a retired federal police officer.

“I use to try and qualify for the U.S. Open, the Kemper and other tournaments,” said Mauro. If it’s a lesson you are in search of, Mauro is the man to see.

Mauro also emphasizes that golfers over 55 receive a senior discount—$33 on weekdays and $38 on weekends. That same discount is offered to ladies and members of the military, law enforcement, and firefighter community.

Today he is the face of South Wales. Walk through the door of the pro shop and chances are he’ll be smiling and greeting you with a, “Hey, how are you doing!” Play a few rounds and he’ll know you by name.

Tommy Thompson’s message to both skilled players and duffers is, “We’ve tried to bring comfort and quality to South Wales.

“We are a public course and welcome all level of players. We are looking to keep South Wales alive and operating and hopefully getting the number of players that will make that happen.”

And the challenge for the players? Simply come out, have fun and support a legendary club who has its eye on the next sixty years.

For information on rates, course layout and more visit https://www.southwalesgc.com/ Or line up for some free golf by liking its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SouthWalesGolfCourse/?epa=SEARCH_BOX

Published in the April 24,2019 edition of the Fauquier Times.       



Categories : HAGARTY TALES