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New Ownership, Golf Course Changes Highlight New Outlook For Hunting Hills

Looking back toward the clubhouse from the middle of the new par-4 dogleg-left 10th where golfers will be able to pick up food and beverages during their round.

Golf at Hunting Hills Country Club has new ownership, several golf course changes and a new marketing approach that is already hitting the ground running.

It’s the biggest thing to come to the Southwest County club in decades.

A limited liability company, Hunting Hills Community Real Estate LLC, purchased the golf course that is estimated to cover 150 acres in the middle of one of Roanoke’s long-time exclusive neighborhoods. The transaction, valued at $1.9 million took place in early July and was underwritten and supported by members who wanted golf to be preserved in the same spot since its opening in the early 1970s.

According to officials at the club, the course will remain leased to Hunting Hills Country Club for decades to come, overshadowing concerns that the former owners that built Hunting Hills were actively looking to sell the golf course acreage which had been coveted by developers for years.

Hunting Hills was built in 1971 under the guidance of the late Gordon Willis Sr., and with the 50th anniversary on the horizon, general manager Duke Edsall has the pieces in place to drive the club forward with exciting changes to the golf course and a new marketing approach to attract members.

Private country clubs, including others in the Roanoke Valley, have struggled financially as families have expanded their interests, and the cost of golf course maintenance has risen significantly.

“Today, a country club is in the entertainment business,” Edsall said during an exclusive interview at the club. “We have programs for those from 2 years-old to 75 years-old. The more you offer, the more success you will have.”

When Edsall arrived at Hunting Hills two years ago, he realized the need for change.

“Two years ago the golf course needed major improvements. We hired Chuck Cooke as course superintendent and he was able to bring the course back to life. He was able to grow grass where I never thought grass would grow. The course is in beautiful shape and players have noticed the improvements.”

Edsall noted that there were around 7,000 rounds of golf played on the course in 2016. That number grew to 9,000 in 2017 and the goal is to get it to 12,000 rounds per year.

The new layout at Hunting Hills will feature the former tenth hole as the opening 459-yard par-5 hole, giving the average golfer an opportunity for a par or birdie to start their round.

“There’s several ways to increase golf play and attract the overall mix of new club membership,” Edsall explained. “We are offering new membership options for golf and dining, and we are actively seeking special golf events and charity events to showcase our club. We’re looking for special luncheons, group meetings and weddings.”

Likewise, Hunting Hills has just introduced its open play policy that allows non-members to play its course. Effective August 1st, 2018, the program offers a $95 golf membership ($45 for those under 18 years) that allows a player 12 rounds of golf a year, only requiring you call for a tee time in advance and providing reduced green fees of $35 Monday-Thursday ($20 for 9 holes) and $45 Friday-Sunday ($25 for 9 holes). Lunch during your visit, including the choice of club sandwich, salad bar or hamburger is available inside the clubhouse grill room and bar for $10. Players can choose to dine before or after their round with the open play membership.

“We want to increase our flow of golfers without interfering with our core membership,” Edsall pointed out. “A lot of golfers don’t play at one course exclusively, and we want them to try our course. We want them to see everything Hunting Hills has to offer; dining, swimming, tennis and our clubhouse facility. We’ve already had 16,000 people at our pool this summer and I expect to break 20,000. We typically have 500-700 people at our Monday swim meets and they buy our food. We have 200 swim team members. It’s all part of the fun for families.”

“It’s what it takes to succeed as a full-fledge country club; taking every asset on this site to maximize revenue.”

Along with the recent changes to attract golfers, dramatic changes to the course are rapidly evolving. The old #10 hole, formally a long, narrow par-4 seen from Hunting Hills Drive, has been converted to a par-5. And, the former par-4 18th, which required a drive across Crossbow Circle amid traffic, has now been shortened to a 170-yard par-3 across the canyon fronting the multi-level green.

The course is also going to “flip” its outward and inward nines, making the new par-5 the opening hole, the new par-3 the ninth hole and an inward nine that finishes with a series of four straight par-4 links.

“I played about 25 rounds thinking about how we could improve our layout,” Edsall said. “Formally, you would finish #9 and head to #10 that wasn’t convenient to the clubhouse. Likewise, our old #1, which was one of the toughest holes on the course, was a difficult start to anyone’s round. Now, you’ll start with a par-5 which will be straight and allow even the average golfer to start their round with a par or birdie. Players enjoy beginning their round with that opportunity.”

“We’re also going to implement a novel idea with the new layout. Players can phone in a food or beverage order on hole #9, and when they arrive to the dogleg-left at #10 adjacent to the clubhouse for their second shot (formally the #1 hole), our staff will deliver their order for pickup.”

“It’s all about delivering new concepts to the country club experience. You can’t be afraid to think outside the box. It’s an exciting time at Hunting Hills.”

Bill Turner

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