Virginia to open Independence Golf Club, home for amateur golf

Virginia golfers will celebrate their independence next month. That is, Independence Golf Club – the new $20 million home for Virginia amateur golf.

PGA sections and state amateur golf associations have developed similar state “golf houses” in the past decade, sometimes collaborating, but none is quite like what the Virginia State Golf Association and its foundation are about to unveil in Richmond.

By early November, the VSGA is scheduled to open its 260-acre Independence Golf Club and Learning Center, an upscale public facility that offers an 18-hole, 7,134-yard, par-72 course designed by Tom Fazio, and an additional nine-hole, par-3 course also designed by Fazio.

Other amenities at Independence:

• A 24,000-square-foot Jeffersonian-styled “Charles House,” which features golf operations, a dining facility, VSGA administrative offices, a library and museum, and a college-styled educational center that can accommodate 75.

• Two residential cottages, primarily designed for junior golf campers.

• Double-ended range and practice area.

• Turfgrass research center.

According to VSGA Foundation members, green fees likely will be $50-$75 for the 18-hole course. Juniors, though, can play the Short Course for $1.

The focus on juniors is the essence of the project, say several VSGA Foundation officials.

“I describe Independence almost as a place for kids, but grown-ups can come too,” said John Crowder, a member of the VSGA Foundation fund-raising/steering committee.

The youth component entails, in addition to the amenities, year-round weekend camps and at least 12 weeklong summer camps where the focus is golf and life skills teachings. There also will be caddie training and scholarship programs.

All of this will be made available to juniors and young adults of all socioeconomic backgrounds and playing ability, according to VSGA officials. More than 320 member clubs will donate time and staff for the various programming, Crowder said.

In one way, this is Virginia’s effort to help grow the game and shape the future.

“The spirit now throughout the golf association and others is think globally, act locally,” said Crowder, who runs Raleigh, N.C.-based Tournament Promotions Corp. “Everybody knows to grow the game, you must take local steps and do your part.”

More than 400 donors feel the same, one reason the VSGA Foundation has surpassed its opening-day fund-raising goal of $10 million. To date, the VSGA Foundation has raised nearly $14 million of its $18 million capital campaign, according to Eddie Swink, another member of the Foundation fund-raising committee.

Among the project’s largest backers is the U.S. Golf Association Foundation, which donated $100,000 to the Short Course, and the USGA, which committed a $2.5 million interest-free loan.

One factor that certainly helped on the USGA front is influential VSGA Foundation board member Harry Easterly Jr. Easterly, a Richmond native, was a USGA Executive Committee member from 1968-77, including a stint as president the latter two years.

“This is a worthy project,” said Easterly, who helped establish the USGA Golf House in Far Hills, N.J., 30 years ago. “We’re looking to develop young men and women. It’s a fine public golf course that anyone can play. . . . I think it could be the beginning of something that will be a model for the future.”

Interestingly, not far away is the Richmond First Tee complex, an 18-hole course and practice facility that opened a year ago with a similar mission. But Independence Club officials say the two facilities will complement, rather than compete against, each other. They also say there is sufficient philanthropic aid in the region to support both.

“Our relationship is very amicable. As a matter of fact, we will wind up continuing their (The First Tee) education,” Swink said. “Kids who graduate from their program, now have a place to come play, and it’s called Independence.”

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