Praising Lakeview

A Scenic Best-Buy in the Shenandoah Valley

January 19, 2005

In the 1980s the economy boomed with real estate speculation, and developers built golf courses all over the place. In the 90s, the dot-coms were on fire and developers built golf courses all over the place. Those days of prosperity were celebrated with upscale daily- fee golf courses—open to the public, at least to people who are willing and able to pay $50-$100 to play golf. But in the days since 9/11, the stock market seems to be looking over its shoulder, and the golf industry has gotten a little soft. In times like this it is a good old, rural, inexpensive, take a pull cart, and grab a hot dog at the turn type of golf that appeals to people. Welcome to Lakeview Golf Club.

I recently played Stonewall Golf Club outside of Gainesville, Virginia, which is one of those high-end courses. At Stonewall you take a cart equipped with GPS that tells you how far you are from the pin, play eighteen scenic and well-designed holes (some of which share Lake Manassas with the elite Robert Trent Jones Golf Club), admire a few $800,000 homes along the way, have your clubs cleaned after the round, and finally go into The Brass Cannon to have a cold beverage and a look at whatever game is appearing on the big screen. It makes for an enjoyable experience.

lakeview1The normal fees to be pampered at Stonewall are somewhere around $110, though they have a weekday/winter/twilight price of $40, which matches the peak rate at Lakeview.

Granted, when you arrive at Lakeview, if you wait in the parking lot for someone to pick up your bag, you are going to miss your tee time (and if someone does come and pick up your bag, be prepared to give a physical description later). We hit from mats, not turf, at the driving range. The carts might not pass a white glove test and do not have global positioning (but they do beep if you go in reverse). The clubhouse is a little cramped, and starting to show some wear and tear after almost 25 years. And do not expect baked brie and wine in the concessions area.

But Lakeview offers 36 holes of enjoyable golf, with beautiful Shenandoah scenery, and what it lacks in amenities it makes up for in old fashioned, no nonsense, daily-fee golf. The course is almost always in good condition. And you can walk all 36 holes, with a sandwich and soft drink in between rounds, for less than $30.

Lakeview has come a long way since the J. Fred Simms Farm was turned into a nine-hole course in 1963. The current owners, Lakeview Development Corporation, took over in 1964, adding a second nine by 1967. In those days a converted chicken coop served as the pro shop, and the safe was a golf bag they kept in club storage.

There were no golf carts back then. Dave Gooden, now the Head Pro, remembers pulling dandelions out of the greens with a pocketknife to work off his membership as a kid. It was a simple, blue-collar type of place.

Bill Jenkins, a retired Cadillac salesman from Washington D.C., worked in the chicken coop and exemplified the no-frills approach to service. When someone called to ask what the weather was like, Jenkins replied, “Look out your *!#*! window.” There’s no repeating what he said when someone called to ask, “What day do you have the Wednesday Special?”

Hank Dorman, who has been President of Lakeview for 17 of the last 20 years, bought his share of the golf course for $1,036. One of the original investors (who bought the share for $1,000) decided there was no future for Lakeview after there were only 9,000 rounds played the first year. Now, having survived the last 40 years, they regularly host over 50,000 rounds per season. Good luck trying to get a share of stock these days.

Since the 1960s Lakeview has matured. Eventually there were golf carts, irrigation, and a real pro shop. In 1976 they added another nine holes. The final nine was opened in 2002, and these days the staff is much friendlier (if I do say so myself).

lakeview2Times have changed in the Shenandoah Valley as well. While it is not quite Northern Virginia, the houses being built around the newest course go for about $400,000. Farming is not the only business around here any more. There are three more golf courses available to the public in the Harrisonburg area now. But despite it all, Lakeview remains the best buy and most enjoyable place to play. It still has a simple, rustic charm.

Lakeview will never host a pro tour event. It could use a little touch-up and a few more bunkers here and there. There is no shoe shining. No 15,000 square foot clubhouse. No impressive practice facilities. There is nothing fancy about Lakeview.

But the course has prospered for 40 years, through strong economic times and weak economic times, by applying a fairly simple concept: provide a good product at a low price. Golfers do not call it “upscale”, they do not call it “world-class”, but they do call it for tee times. That is because Lakeview exposes what golf was, is, and probably will be for a long time to come—a sport that appeals to a lot of people when it is affordable to a lot of people.

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