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Golden Eagle Golf Course is no longer endangered

Golden Eagle Golf Course is no longer endangered


by Megan Schiffres

Hidden in the midst of a vast, dense forest, it can feel like the outside world has vanished, leaving behind nothing but ancient oaks and tranquil waters. The whirring of traffic, murmuring of many voices, and the incessant beeping of contemporary technology fade and are gradually overtaken by a chorus of birdsong that swells and falls with the gentle whispering of the wind as it sweeps over the rolling hills of the Golden Eagle Golf Course.

Situated only about a mile off Route 3 in Irvington, this public golf course represents both escape and connection to the community of the Northern Neck. Founded in 1976, the Golden Eagle was designed by architect George Cobb,  creator of the Par-3 course at Augusta National where the Masters Tournament is annually held.

The 400-acre property of the Golden Eagle features 18 holes spread out over 130 acres of golf-able grass. The course forms two enormous loops, one wrapping around and across a 50-acre lake and the other which weaves through wooded vistas and around scenic ponds. The two loops meet to create a figure eight, at the center of which is perched the Golden Eagle Grill, a casual restaurant which offers a bird’s eye view of the course and surrounding wildlife from its stately and sweeping porches.

Golden Eagle Golf Course is no longer endangered
From left, Don Nelson, Gayle Nelson and Sterling Caudle test the club’s new carts at the 5th hole, overlooking Irvington Lake.

This place, for many in the region, is their foundation, their connection to nature, sport, and community. The club offers both a casual weekend getaway and is the site of important events, from business meetings to picturesque weddings. Open to both members and walk-on players, the Golden Eagle connects and accepts people of all skill levels to the game and community of golf, and is a landmark of Lancaster county.

That’s why the community was so shaken when, last August, it was announced that the course would close in October  2018. Natalia Davis, director of communication for Enchantment Group, a hotel management and development company which owns and operates the Golden Eagle through the Tides Inn, said they decided to close the course in order to reinvest their resources into developing projects at the Tides Inn.

The announcement of the course’s closure came only weeks after the only other public golf course in the region, King Carter Golf Course, was sold and shut down. However, members of the Golden Eagle, many of whom became members after King Carter abruptly closed, were not ready to see the club end without a fight.

Initiated by Bill Young and Doug Monroe, a group of 29 club members and local investors came together to form a company, The Golden Eagle of Irvington LLC, and resolved to save the club from extinction.

“They all thought this was a hotel course. They didn’t realize that the community was that involved,” said Young. “Many of us older guys moved here in the first place to play golf.”

The LLC partnered with Enchantment Group and the Tides Inn, who still own and manage the Golden Eagle, to take over the role of guarantor for the club. In other words, the LLC is now financially responsible in the case that the club doesn’t meet it’s budget revenue requirements.

“If we could guarantee them that they weren’t going to lose money, then why not keep it open?” Young said.

Over a series of meetings between the LLC and Enchantment Group, they worked together to develop the club’s budget for the upcoming year. The LLC agreed to be guarantor for the next three years, with the option of extending the agreement by one year increments for an additional two years.

“We want the Tides Inn to take the golf course back and keep it open. We want to prove to them that this course not only can break even, but can actually maybe make a little money, and also prove to them how important it is to the hotel,” said Young.

According to Davis, although the financial structure in three years’ time has not yet been determined, it is Enchantment Groups’ intent to keep the course open.

Golden Eagle Golf Course is no longer endangered
The Golden Eagle’s namesake is perched at the entrance to the club house.

The LLC and Enchantment Group will be working together over the next three years to improve the membership and awareness of the Golden Eagle by hosting more regional tournaments, introducing young people in the area to the sport, and by creating an online presence for the club. Since the LLC began partnering with Enchantment Group in February, membership at the Golden Eagle has almost doubled from 70 to 130 members. According to Young, they’ve achieved this through a concentrated local campaign to get the community invested in the future of the course by appealing to members of local homeowners associations, speaking at chamber of commerce meetings, and involving local corporate members.

“Just the game itself is worth it but the second part is, losing the course in the situation that the community is in now would be a hard thing to take, not just the golfers but everybody,” Young said.

Since February the club has also purchased new golf carts and has done some much-needed maintenance to the cart paths in order to improve the experience of golfers making their way across the course.

For Young and many members of the LLC, the Golden Eagle is not just a place to play golf. It’s a community hub, a home away from home. And he said one of the main reasons the LLC’s efforts to save the club took off was because members and investors didn’t want to see the people who work there lose their jobs.

“Those people were part of the reason why we wanted to do this in the first place, because everybody felt like those were top citizens and they didn’t deserve getting a release like that at the end of October with Christmas coming and everything else,” said Young.

Three staff members integral to the operation of the Golden Eagle, golf pro Don Nelson PGA, Golden Eagle Grill manager (and Don’s wife) Gayle Nelson, and golf course superintendent Sterling Caudle, inspired enormous support from the community, without having to ask for it.

“I would say there’s a good chance they wouldn’t have tried to negotiate anything if he and I weren’t willing to stay. And Gayle,” said Caudle.

Though not directly involved in the negotiations to keep the Golden Eagle open, these three staff members were consulted by the LLC on what it takes to run the club day-to-day. They each perform essential services across the course, interacting with golfers and members at every stage of their experience at the club. The casual, tranquil atmosphere cultivated at the Golden Eagle is largely the result of their seamless yet easygoing service to their customers, who they welcome with friendly smiles and playful banter.

“Our success here is that we treat everybody like family. We’re friendly, we try to help in any way we can,” said Don. “This year we’ve got a lot of people who don’t even play golf get a social membership to support the club.”

A former competitive golfer, Don is responsible for giving lessons, organizing tournaments, and coaching several golf teams that use the Golden Eagle. He’s an easygoing man who’s quick to laugh and is always ready to provide a quick swing tip or stance adjustment when asked.

Gayle keeps even non-golfers coming back to the restaurant again and again for her quick wit and approachable attitude, in addition to the fresh local oysters they serve.

Caudle, who is responsible for maintaining the Golden Eagle’s rolling hills and meadows, jokes that he shares his office with the wild animals that call the course their home.

“It’s full of wildlife. Eagles, foxes, deer, coyote, it’s a wildlife preserve you might as well say. They treat it that way,” Caudle said.

The breathtaking beauty of the course’s location combined with its elegant design are part of what Don Nelson and Caudle think attracts people to the Golden Eagle. Deep in the forest, surrounded by natural splendor and good company, the club is a rare oasis far removed from the fast-paced, crowded environment of everyday modern life.

“They come out here to play at their own pace and not feel rushed or have to wait on every shot,” Caudle said. “It’s not a golf factory out here at all and that’s a nice thing.”

Tides Inn updated to reflect nautical culture

The winter season has been a transformative time for the Tides Inn, a luxury resort on the banks of Carter Creek in Irvington. Although the hotel was closed to customers for months, inside the space, much has changed.

Golden Eagle Golf Course is no longer endangered
The updated lobby of the Tides Inn brings the deep blue of the Chesapeake Bay and the sandy yellow of the beach inside to greet visitors of the hotel with a nautical color scheme.

The lobby of the Tides has been refreshed and updated to reflect the nautical culture of the area, with a color pallet of deep blues and sandy yellows which draw elements of the picturesque landscape inside the inn’s entryway.

“This area is a no wake zone, Stormy, our dock manager, will tell you that. So that water will always be peaceful like this and we really want our guests to feel that retreat when they’re here,” said Natalia Davis, communications director for Enchantment Group, the hotel development company that owns and manages the Tides Inn.

From the lobby, guests are immediately greeted by a stunning view of the water below, and are able to see more of the creek because some foliage blocking the view has been removed.

The common area of the Tides also has been redesigned with elegant maritime decor and cozy furniture made of warm, dark brown wood reminiscent of an old timber sailboat. The space includes a large bar overlooking the waterfront, a grand piano, a bookcase full of games for children, and comfortable lounge areas to rest and enjoy the view. The meeting room where weddings and other large events are often held has also been updated with new paint, carpets and curtains.

The Inn also is creating a new culinary experience for its guests this season with a modern coastal eatery offering casual local cuisine called Fish Hawk. The new eatery will replace the poolside restaurant Commodore’s beginning the second week of May.

Fish Hawk will feature panoramic views of Carter Creek and provide a more casual, communal dining experience than has previously been available at the Inn, which includes four other completely different dining options to its customers, all with their own menus and styles.

Golden Eagle Golf Course is no longer endangered
A fire pit and private pier offer customers of the new Fish Hawk restaurant a variety of beach-side activities.

“They’re going to be completely different, and that’s the idea behind it. I think they all should be fun but particularly the new restaurant down the hill, Fish Hawk, is going to be fun, louder music, funkier food, a bit more playful. And up here a little bit more refined, but at the same time not pretentious,” said John Welch, new executive chef.

Welch was hired in February to take over all five food outlets at the Tides, and has been working with the existing staff to update old favorites and introduce new dishes to the resort’s restaurants. Chef Welch studied at the California Culinary Academy and has worked as executive chef in hotels across the country including the Wentworth by the Sea in New Castle, New Hampshire. He’s passionate about farm-to-table cuisine, and says he’s excited to incorporate local produce and seafood into the menu.

“The more local the product the better the product is,” said Welch. “I’m just excited to work with the product that’s right outside the door here, the crab and the oysters, I’ve never been around this many oysters in my life, there’s no doubt about that!”

Beginning this season guests of the Tides Inn can also enjoy picnics on Carter Creek by booking an afternoon on the resort’s two new Duffy boats. The Duffy boats were added to the Tides Inn fleet this winter and are available for both sunset cruises and group outings.