A chemical engineer in Hartford County, Timothy Vale, and his website designer wife, Patti, introduced a novel idea for the Country Club of Woodbridge to the Board of Selectmen last month. Their idea is to revive the golf course, but with a virtual component, allowing players to play partially on the physical course with its real challenges, and partially in a virtual reality.
Nexus Golf, as the enterprise would be called, would lease about 50 acres from the town’s Country Club property to accommodate a nine-hole course, which can be played as a full-size 18-hole course thanks to the addition of simulator stations. The existing club house would be eliminated, they said, but the plan is to build a modern clubhouse with glass and steel, overlooking the greenway.
The simulators would allow people not only to play a round a lot faster than on a traditional 18-hole course, but would also provide feedback about each shot they take. The virtual games would be partially played in sheds.
“It’s a solution the whole town can get behind,” Vale said, adding that it will attract younger players as well as those who want to improve their technique. The proposal would still allow the town to develop the rest of the 153-acre property any way it likes, including a park with hiking trails, if it chooses.
The town would be getting regular income from the lease, Vale said, adding that according to his research, a fair market lease price would come in at just under $7,000 per month or $83,888 per year. The new golf course would rejuvenate the property, which at this point is minimally maintained by the town’s park crew, but many residents complain about the property being overgrown and neglected.
The proposed course would not compete with the neighboring Tradition Country Club at Oak Lane, he said, since it’s not designed to be a professional golf course. Their proposal is for a family-friendly activity, complete with food trucks, and maybe as a small-scale musical entertainment venue and night golfing.
Introducing a fresh new concept is the only way to bring golf back to the property, Patti Vale said, adding that it would offer jobs for Woodbridge residents, “moms in particular.” “It’s a very new, patented idea,” Tim Vale added. They have no experience running a golf course, but they have an idea and enough entrepreneurial spirit to give it a shot.
A standard in the golf industry is that you need to record 24,000 rounds in order to turn a profit, and when it was still in operation, the Country Club of Woodbridge attracted as many as 30,000 rounds. But even if they do not immediately reach those numbers, they would be able to sustain the business with as little as 22,000 rounds, he said, “because our expenses are so much lower.” Given that this is a 9-hole course, they would be using less chemicals, less water and generally less maintenance.
Development would be in two phases, starting in January 2021; with phase 2 starting in the fall of 2021. Phase 1, as he outlined in his presentation, starts with a 13-acre lease for a 3-hole practice loop, four indoor simulators in a shed; and four outdoor simulators with netting; also an amphitheater with stadium seating; a snack shack and bar area; restrooms.
Renewing the sprinkler system and renovating the maintenance building are also part of this first phase. Construction of the buildings would start in January 2021, and construction of the course next spring, mostly along the ridge parallel to Woodmont Road.
Phase 2 would start in August 2021 with construction of the 9-hole golf course and two additional indoor simulators in a shed; and in October of next year, construction of a new clubhouse with wine tasting room and bar. The golf course would stretch out to the east and southern boundary of the property, including the pond, the sledding hill and hiking trails, should the town decide to install them.
The capital investment they are planning to make is $1.2 million for Phase 1, which they would pay out of pocket, Vale said. As for Phase 2, they envision a capital investment of $2.4 million, for which they are looking for investors,” and some have shown interest,” he said.
An all-virtual indoor golf club called Nexus Golf opened in New York City. But unlike that exclusive, members-only club, the Woodbridge facility would be open to anyone curious enough to try it out. “This is the best property for what we want to be doing,” Tim Vale said. “We know this is the future of golf and we are going to take golf into the future.”
Details have yet to be negotiated. Town Counsel Gerald Weiner said if the lease is for more than a year, it is treated as a sale and subject to a special town meeting.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent