Army OKs public access to Cardinal Golf Course

Photo By Terrance Bell | A golfer chips a ball back onto the green during a past intercollegiate tournament held at Fort Lee’s Cardinal Golf Course. The Army has approved a request to open Cardinal to the public, which increases the possibility for more competitive events as well as regular players, providing the additional revenue it needs to meet rising maintenance and improvement costs.



Story by Patrick Buffett 

U.S. Army Garrison Fort Lee Public Affairs 

FORT LEE, Va. – The Army has approved a Fort Lee Family and MWR request to open Cardinal Golf Course to the public.

Providing details, Tom Green, Business Operations and Community Recreation officer for the directorate, said patron expansion is vital to maintaining profitability and sustainability.

“Over the past several years, our annual membership has dropped from a 650 average to around 450,” he said. “Conversely, operating costs continue to climb.”

A big example of late being fertilizer, which is a petroleum-based product. Labor costs are rising amid efforts to meet the $15 minimum wage. Last year’s replacement of 90 worn-out golf carts came at a cost of $406,000. The list goes on.

“The average annual cost to operate the course wholistically is right around $1 million,” Green said. “We’ve been floating at or just under the break-even point for the last 10 years, so it was pretty much inevitable for us to head in this direction because a category C facility has to pay for itself. Ideally, we’re hoping to hit an 8 percent above net target … meaning about $80K in profit, which can not only be used for Cardinal upgrades but also spread across the Fort Lee FMWR enterprise.”

Cardinal has been in operation since 1947. The original 18-holes are a “masterpiece of traditional mid-century design,” reads a promotional flyer that will be distributed throughout surrounding communities in the next few weeks. Nine additional holes were added in 2002.

“I believe there are somewhere around 32 Army-operated golf courses in the U.S., and we were among only five not open to the public,” Green shared. “One of the requirements for gaining that approval is endorsement from surrounding community leaders, which was met with hesitancy in the past because it would compete with nearby courses like Rivers Bend, Jordan Point and Prince George. Those have since closed, leaving only Dogwood Trace (in Petersburg) and Fort Lee in this area.”

Making public access to Cardinal much more desirable to local community leaders who can now promote it as a “shared municipal product.”

“It always feels good when we’re able to give something back to the communities that support us in so many other ways throughout the year,” Green acknowledged. “It creates a beautiful partnership and builds on the perception that we’re part of the community rather than a fenced-off area where nobody is welcome.”

Green acknowledged the fact that not everyone will be happy with the public access decision – especially those who view the low density of course players here as more exclusive and personal, or an entitlement of military service. That train of thought, though, is at odds with sustainability as noted earlier. Without sufficient revenue to pay for grounds and facility upkeep, conditions at Cardinal would decline followed by loss of desirability to play there.

“We want Cardinal members to recognize positive outcomes such as opportunities for previously unauthorized friends and family members to play, chances to meet other players who love the sport, and the potential for more tournaments, for example,” Green said. “We think it will create excitement as well since the number of people interested in golf is on the downslide.”

Building on the latter comment, he confirmed that Cardinal offers individual and group lessons. Its popular summer offerings include a “Nine and Wine” program that allows participants to socialize and play, even if they have never picked up a club before. Every Wednesday through Sept. 21, evening “Hump Day Scramble” events are planned in which singles and twosomes are blind paired into four-person teams that compete for prizes.

“Cardinal does offer special membership pricing for tournaments and other events, so that’s another important benefit to keep in mind,” Green added. “As far as annual membership cost, it’s set at $900 per person or $1,450 for families, which includes everybody living in the same household under age 23. Both packages are unlimited play, so that can average out to a pretty low cost if they’re on the course 50 or 60 times throughout the year.”

He noted a price increase will take effect Oct. 1, again to meet rising course maintenance costs. The membership fee does not include golf cart rental, tournament fees or food and beverages.

Residents of neighboring communities interested in Cardinal membership should familiarize themselves with installation access requirements detailed at An FMWR representative at 804-734-2899 also can explain the process

First-time visitors must complete a background check (vetting) at the Visitor Control Center, open Monday thru Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. A visitor pass that is valid for one year is authorized for non-DOD-affiliated Cardinal members. A pre-vetting form that can be emailed to the VCC also is available at the installation access site.

All visiting Cardinal Golf Club members are expected to follow the code of conduct rules provided in a downloadable document at Visitors are not authorized to shop at the commissary or post exchange or purchase fuel from the Exchange service station. Restaurant facilities on post are open to all visitors.

The Cardinal Golf Club is located in building 11810 on A Avenue. The facility includes a full-practice range, a fully stocked pro shop and a quick service restaurant. Additional info is available at 804-734-2892.

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