Monday, May 28, 2012

Great Round of Golf Today

I played my best round of golf ever today at Countryside.    In general, my drives were straight and true, except for that encounter I had with the apartments on #2  (sorry about the sliding glass door:).  I also had a bit of a problem with the interstate on #4.  I hope I didn't cause any car damage,  but it looked to me like the ball bounced cleanly once in the eastbound and once in the westbound lanes without hitting any cars.

On # 6,  I placed the ball within two feet of the cup and sand the birdie putt.  I love that hole.  #7 also offered me a rare birdie.  After a solid drive,  I managed to roll the ball to the fringe on my second shot and chip it close for my third.  

#12 was memorable.  I drove the mounds and rolled it dead center halfway down the hill.  Then I stuck the tiny green on my second shot.  Somehow, miraculously,  I sank the 20 feet putt for an eagle.

The rest of the round was unremarkable except for when I fed the snapping turtles on the 16th.  The course seems to be holding together pretty well considering.  The greens are a bit slow and the t-boxes are a bit rough.  I didn't see anyone else out there today.  I guess that's not that unusual for a hot afternoon.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Disappointing...a Matter of Definition

The Roanoke Times ran an all-to-brief article on yesterday's incredible council meeting where a stacked deck of cards was put in place to deter citizen input.

"It's very disappointing to think that we have people who were so closely involved in this issue who are obviously so interested in being heard, but not so interested in hearing other people's ideas."

~Councilman Bill Bestpitch

Really? Disappointing? Disappointing? Does the councilman know what disappointment means?

Here's what disappointment means:

  • Finding out that your retirement plans have gone up into a foggy haze as your property value plummets.
  • Being promised time after time that your views will be considered only to find them flat-out ignored.
  • Being invited to the dinner but offered no utensils.
  • Being abandoned.
  • Experiencing broken promise after broken promise.
  • Constantly forced to face a loaded deck of cards and exposing the trick every time.
  • Listening to elected officials tell you one thing while eating your hamburgers and then watch them turn around behind closed doors and do something completely different.
That's what is disappointing. I'm sure others in the neighborhoods around Countryside could add more.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Not Lost Cause...Lost Course

Not Lost Cause…Lost Course

In 2002, Grammy winning recording artist, Beck, recorded the song, Lost Cause.

Lost Cause

Your sorry eyes; they cut through bone
They make it hard to leave you alone
Leave you here wearing your wounds
Waving your guns at somebody new

Baby you're lost
Baby you're lost
Baby you're a lost cause

There's too many people you used to know
They see you coming they see you go
They know your secrets and you know theirs
This town is crazy; nobody cares

Baby you're lost
Baby you're lost
Baby you're a lost cause

I'm tired of fighting
I'm tired of fighting
Fighting for a lost cause

There's a place where you are going
You ain't never been before
No one left to watch your back now
No one standing at your door
That's what you thought love was for

Baby you're lost
Baby you're lost
Baby you're a lost cause

I'm tired of fighting
I'm tired of fighting
Fighting for a lost cause

On Friday June 25, The Roanoke Times editorial board proclaimed that Countryside is a lost cause. Writing about the recent news that the bid for the Market building renovation came in well under budget, the RT said, “There is no bad news -- unless those hankering for the city to reopen Countryside Golf Course attempt to convince Roanoke City Council to divert the savings to that lost cause.”


Three years ago when I began this blog, the battle of Countryside was already in full swing. Roanoke City had already bought the golf course with the idea of callously developing the property as some kind of office, residential, green space model. When the actual residents dared stand up to question why their input was NEVER solicited, the city backtracked and tossed a nine-hole executive golf course into the plan. Presumably by throwing them a little bone, the residents would just shut up. However, with battle lines drawn, the residents fought hard to keep the golf course open.

Toal Brothers, the nationally known contracting group, decided against getting involved in the project, and the city’s plans began to unravel. Yet, though it all, the city remained blind to two inescapable realities: Real vocal city citizens lived in the Countryside footprint, and the golf course was very popular and profitable.

Finally, after many twists and turns; highs and lows, the city finally came onboard with the idea of owning and operating a municipal golf course. All that was needed was a finalized lease agreement with Meadowbrook. After riding high in November, the residents were slapped by the cold, hard reality that the city would not finalize the lease, and Meadowbrook was forced to walk away in February.

The carnage of the city’s callous decision goes much deeper than the overgrown vegetative scar that lies along the gateway to The Magic City. Residents, long held in limbo, are now held in a permanent purgatory; trapped by decreasing land values, they can’t sell their homes. Who would want to buy a beautiful home adjacent to a boarded up, untamed golf course? The residents aren’t beyond shaking their heads in fury or tearful sadness. Little victories still buoy them-Ken Saunders maintaining his own one-hole par 3 championship golf course or Linwood Caldwell mowing the twelfth fairway. But these victories, ultimately, are shallow and temporary bandages on a gaping wound.

With the Market Building slated to come in way under budget, one could argue that there is now capital improvement project money available. Residents had been lead to believe that the closure of the golf course is a done deal. In fact, they’ve been told that the course simply could not be reclaimed, even if they wanted to. But that’s simply not true. I’ve pointedly asked a friend of mine, who holds a degree in landscape design from Virginia Tech and currently works the golf course business, to give me his informal assessment of the course. Specifically, I asked if him if it was too late to reclaim the course. He replied (June 17),

“I definitely think Countryside is salvageable. With the greens only being an inch high you could probably have them reconditioned by the end of the fall. The fairways will probably take a big longer. The rule of thumb as I have come to understand it is that when cutting to a groomed level you don't want to cut it back more than a third of its height, as you begin to condition it back into shape. I would probably cut the greens at the same level for about 4-6 days, then spray a broad leaf herbicide over them. Doing this would help from over stressing the turf at once... which is your biggest concern. A similar approach to the tee boxes and fairways would need to be taken. In all it is going to take a little bit of time and money to recondition the course. Everything is probably going to have to be hit hard with pre-emergent herbicides next year, because I am sure they are over run by annual grasses right now that will have lots of overwintering seeds.

I feel with the kind of money that could be available, there is way more than enough to get the job done. If work was started in the next month or so there shouldn't be any problem getting it ready.”

But who would run it? How about Meadowbrook? They walked away, but it’s come to my attention that they must not consider the course a lost cause. Scott Beasley, Meadowbrook Vice President, recently shared with Countryside Neighborhood Alliance president, Valerie Garner, that

We had an internal discussion today (Monday June 21) and if the funds were made available, we would be willing to get back involved under the original terms. They might need to be modified slightly but the majority are still good.” (used with permission from V.Garner)

Three years ago I wrote a series of pieces for this blog sharing a vision for the Countryside property. That vision hasn’t changed, despite the proactive county developing a multigenerational center nearby. I will say again what I said then, “In my opinion, the city has a gold mine. It doesn't need some monster retail/housing development. It needs a recreation facility, and the blueprints for it are already there. They need to open their ears to the community and their eyes to the possibilities.”

That vision encompasses a fully developed Countryside golf and recreational center. Imagine the possibilities. People flying into or driving into our valley would see this gem glistening on the hill with views of the entire area. The golf course, restored to its original Ellis Maples’ designed championship quality, would anchor a recreational complex that would be unrivaled in Southwest Virginia. In addition to the course, a community recreation center with meeting rooms, basketball courts and exercise rooms coupled with an indoor/outdoor swimming complex across the street from the flagship William Fleming High School could be developed. Such a facility would serve Roanoke City citizens from all across the valley in addition to drawing business from travelers and residents of surrounding localities. These visitors would pay real dollars to use the services. Local high schools, including William Fleming, would have access to the pool. The schools outside the city would pay for access. With such a facility, lucrative basketball and volleyball tournaments as well as local and regional swimming meets could be courted. Walking trails and bike paths could be added. The tennis facility could be renovated and restored to a prominent place. Without a doubt such a recreation and community center would serve as an anchor for an area of the city that has been long neglected, from its first days after annexation in the late 1970’s when promised curbs, gutters, and sidewalks were forgotten and passed by.

I have every confidence that a revitalized Countryside Golf and Recreation Center would be a star financial draw in The Star City. Four years ago, when the city was bandying about strip mall development schemes, Roanoke County took a leap and developed Green Ridge Recreation Center in a gutsy public/private partnership. I’ll never forget sitting in on the early development meetings in the county; they had such a positive vision. Now, their vision has paid dividends. People are flocking to this place, and it has far exceeded all revenue projections. Despite the risk, they went for it. My hope, along with one of my COuntryside friends, is that the city council gives Countryside “…a chance ... have vision ... don't be such weenies - take a chance like BOS did on Green Ridge Rec center.”

In this new age of financial stress and economic downturn, why on Earth would the city want to develop a recreation center? Schools are hurting; closing. Teachers are being laid-off. Employment and wages are stagnant. Taxes are high. People are angry. Why build a recreation center now? Face it; it’s a lost cause.

The Roanoke Times suggests that

If a surplus does remain when this project [Market Building] is complete, it should be used to counter the need for future borrowing, not for projects council has already decided are not priorities.”

I beg to differ with these sentiments. On the contrary, not going forward with a revitalized Countryside Recreation Center vision is myopic. It’s the kind of thinking that will doom Roanoke to be another lost, aimless middle-sized city. With the new council ready to take charge, the time is now to revitalize Countryside and restore it for the benefit of the entire city and community.

The incoming council members seem to understand the dark, deep history of the Countryside battle between previous councils and the neighborhood alliance.

Bestpitch said he's learned from the Victory Stadium debate, which contributed to his failed re-election campaign in 2004. If he did it over again, he said, he'd push for more public involvement and transparency.

As a once-again incoming council member, Bestpitch said he wants to apply that lesson when Countryside Golf Course comes up again.

"I don't think that's a decision that should be made until we have lots of citizen input and feedback on that," Bestpitch said.

Ferris -- who approaches his first term on the council with no prior experience in elected office but with a long legal, business and personal history in Roanoke -- expressed a similar opinion.

"I think we need to have some public hearings," Ferris said. "And I don't mean a public hearing before an ordinance is enacted. We really need to put our ear to the ground, talk about options and what citizens want those options to be."

When it does come to a decision on Countryside and other issues, Ferris said, "I don't think we'll always agree on everything, but I can promise we'll all do our best to make it collegial, to make it productive and constructive, to not let the discussion disintegrate into some of the problems we've seen with councils of years past. I think the council the last two years has been on the right path. Roanoke Times June 27

Councilman Trinkle understood the frustrations of the residents and the need for resolution way back in 2008,

"The bad in my mind is that this discussion has been going on far too long and has impacted those who live in the area and have lived with uncertainty for many years. One worry, historically based, is that with long discussions and debates the bold option gets whittled to a mediocre option not at all in keeping with original intent and thus doomed for failure." [ July 8, 2008]

It seems, the city is staring down the throat of Trinkle’s apocalyptic forecast.

Countryside is NOT a lost cause. It’s just the sort of the bold option for which Councilman Trinkle wrote back in 2008. But if the council doesn’t act in favor of restoration, Countryside will simply be a lost course with the cursed property doomed to breed discontent.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sure Would Be Nice

It sure would be nice
to erase the wisps
to bend the blades
to see rabbits
dodging white balls

It sure would be nice
to find the plums
to feel the jet wash
to wake the snapping turtles
sleeping in the ponds

It sure would be nice
to reopen Countryside
to invest in a community
to see golfers
playing golf

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Last Round

My brothers and I took our trained monkey out onto Countryside Golf Course last weekend. The monkey held the camera as we reminisced. Part one of the video covers the first six holes.

Here is part 2 of The Last Round. By this point, the trained monkey was too tired to hold the camera, so I took over. Holes 7-12

I'll have the last segment uploaded to YouTube sometime soon. I apologize for video quality issues. I don't have access to the finest equipment.

Monday, March 29, 2010


I took my trained monkey out to the course to film some of the sediment in the stream along Frontage Road where the RPZ towers intersect the creek. I noticed a lot of sediment along the Frontage Road stretch. There currently is not as much sediment beside teh seventh green; however, with the stripped hillside, I see a greater potential for the hill to wash away into the stream.

Sunday, March 28, 2010



Friday’s rain gave way to a hard freeze Saturday morning. Cars were glazed over with a thick, crusty coating. The frozen grass melted as the sun erased the shadows. One thing came to my mind. Golf.

Countryside Golf Course closed on March 1, and I never had the opportunity to say good-bye properly. Today was my day. Together with my two brothers, I ventured onto the forbidden course and documented my last round. Eventually, I'll have the video we shot from that last round here on this blog.

As my brothers and I walked the course, we stepped back into time and relived memories from our youth. From the time I was merely seven years old, Countryside/Arrowood was a part of my life. Lazy summer days were spent walking around my very own playground. I grew to know every square inch. Though I would never develop the talent for golf that my brothers or father displayed, I could walk that course blind. Every trap. Every bush. Every tree. Every meadowlark’s nest in the tall grass on #12. Its beauty was what I measured every other course I visited against.

As I walked today, I found little to cherish. The course looked sad and pillaged. Left to decay. Yet despite it all, the plum tree on the third hole is in bloom.

John McCutcheon recorded a song he called “Elvaton” on his album “How Can I Keep From Singing?” back in the early 70’s. That song has always resonated with me. It’s about a small town in South Carolina that was flooded to make way for the production of nuclear fuel. For a long time, I never could find any reference to the town of Elvaton being taken over by the government. However, I recently uncovered this song with exactly the same lyrics. As you will see, the name of the town is Ellenton, South Carolina. It was a town of 6,000 quiet souls before their government came and destroyed their lives.

What happened to Ellenton reminds me, to a smaller degree, of what’s happened to my Countryside.

Death of Ellenton

Where the broad Savannah flows along to meet the mighty sea,

There stood a peaceful village that meant all the world to me.

The home of happy people--I knew each and every one,

My kin folk and all the friends I loved---the town was Ellenton.

But the military came one day and filled our hearts with woe.

"We'll study war right here," they said, "The little town must go."

Then they came with trucks and dynamite. The din and dust rose high.

I stood and gazed in silence as I watched my hometown die.

They brought bulldozers by the score where children used to play,

Pushed over all the trees we loved, and scraped the flowers away.

Now the homes are gone--the schoolhouse too--the sweat and toil of years,

And with them all the joys and hopes of past and future years.

The little church was hauled away. The fields are brown and bare,

And in their place a mighty plant. They build the H-bomb there.

Now the smoke hangs o'er the valley like the mist before my eyes,

Has been there ever since the day I sa

Oh, the friends we know and love, we'll meet upon some other shore,

For Ellenton--fair Ellenton is gone forever more.