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The Homestead opted to close the least expensive and least renowned of its three golf courses.
The Roanoke Times | File 2010
The Homestead has opted to close the Lower Cascades golf course.
Friday, May 10, 2013
This was supposed to be the golden anniversary season for The Homestead resort’s Lower Cascades golf course.
Well, the place never made it to 50.
In yet another sign of struggling economic times in the nation’s golf industry, the resort’s owner, KSL Capital Properties of La Quinta, Calif., permanently closed the course last month and is attempting to sell the 830-acre tract in Hot Springs.
“Right now, it has not been sold,” longtime Homestead director of golf Don Ryder said Tuesday in reaction to rumors that the property was recently purchased.
“I can say we’re not going to open it this season. That’s about as far as much information I can give you at this time.”
The course designed by noted golf architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. hasn’t been in operation since last Labor Day weekend, when it was shut down two months earlier than scheduled. Ryder noted that none of the course employees lost their jobs with the resort, with most now working with the hotel.
The Lower Cascades is one of three courses on the Homestead property. The others are the highly acclaimed Cascades Course, which is perennially ranked among the top 100 U.S. courses by major golf publications, and The Old Course, which opened in 1892 and has the distinction of having the oldest first tee in continuous use in the United States.
Like most U.S. clubs and courses in the past five years, the number of daily rounds played has fallen off at the Homestead. In the end, the decision was made there was no need to operate a third course when the number of rounds could be covered by two courses.
The sudden demise of the Lower course has been a blow for those accustomed to playing the par-72 layout that opened in 1963. Before his death in 2002, golfing great Sam Snead hung out much of the time at the Lower Cascades after his long career slowed in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
Snead’s nephew J.C. Snead said his famous uncle, who died in 2004, would have been devastated by such news if he were still alive. Snead, whose 82 PGA Tour wins still rank No. 1 all-time, shot 60 on the course at age 72.
“Sam played down there all the time,” Snead said. “That golf course, the shots fell on the right holes for him. … For gambling, he felt like he had the odds on winning down there by way the shots fell.”
J.C. Snead, 72, who won eight PGA Tour titles and four times on the Champions Tour, said the decision to close the course and sell it “is really a shame.”
“I don’t understand it,” he said. “If they had kept it open, they would have had to put in a new water system and that’s going to cost somewhere between $500,000 and $800,000. They never upgraded since they built it. …
“But, you know, the hotel has changed so much in that they sell all these packages and they give free rounds … well, where in the hell do you think they play? If they had put the value of the round in there it wouldn’t have shown a loss.
“… I do know that golf courses all over the country are in tough shape. … The list of prestigious golf courses that had people waiting in line on the list to get in, there’s no line anymore. I guess up here it’s the same thing.”
Snead, a multisports star at Bath County High School, said many of the golfers in Hot Springs and the surrounding area preferred playing at the Lower, which had lower greens fees than the resort’s other two courses. Plus, the Lower’s open layout was more forgiving for the average player.
“It was a nice, good golf course … fun to play, good shape,” Snead said. “It’s not really what you’d call a hard golf course. The Upper Cascades, I think, is one of the finest courses in the country. It’s not the hardest golf course in the country. It’s the kind of golf course that if you play well — if you’re a good player — you could shoot a low score there. But if you spread it around a little bit, you can’t score at all.
“The first 15 years the Lower was open, they had the best tees of any golf course in the country,” Snead continued. “I tried to get them years ago to plant some more trees. If they had planted more trees on several of the holes it would have been one hell of a layout. …
“Now, here it is 50 years later, the pin oaks they planted down there when they first built the golf course in the last couple of years were really starting to come into play. And now there’s not going to be a golf course anymore. It’s unreal.”
Troutville resident Ben Harris and a bunch of his golf buddies often made the trip up U.S. 220 over the years to play the Lower Cascades.
“We were up there recently, and right now the place is just a pasture, they’re not even mowing it or anything. And it’s sad,” Harris said. “I’m sure it’s a money thing.”
Harris played the Lower Cascades for the first time in the late 1960s when he was a member of Lord Botetourt High School’s golf team competing in a tournament.
“It was a big highlight to go there,” said Harris, noting he was big Sam Snead fan. “I’ve followed that golf course all along. The place had a lot of sentimental value to me. I think it’s one of the most peaceful places on earth.
“It’s a place where you can go and not hear the traffic hum, you can hear the wind and really get into the essence of the nature part of golf. … It was a sacred place and I felt like I was playing on sacred ground there.”
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