What once was a thriving hub of activity now sits in silence.
All that remain at the Three Eagles Golf Course at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base are memories. Memories of good friends getting together for a rousing — yet competitive — game of golf. Memories of golfers gathering for a spirited tournament, which garnered them prestigious bragging rights.
The base’s 60-year-old golf course closed Thursday. It wasn’t an easy decision for base officials, but one that was financially motivated.
Lt. Col. Kristina Rennie with the 4th Support Squadron explained that Three Eagles Golf Course ran entirely on nonappropriated funds, money generated in-house, and not dollars given by Congress to operate the base’s mission.
But it had been losing a significant amount of money for many years. So the decision to close Three Eagles was not a legislative one and not a government issue. It was strictly a business decision, Rennie said.
“It’s not an easy decision and not something that we came to overnight,” she said. “It’s something that we thought long and hard about, and at the end of the day, we made it and determined that for the purposes of business, community and financial, that this was the decision that we could not step away from.”
“For years, it was very well utilized,” Dan Hayes, community services flight chief, said of the golf course. “I can’t tell you exactly when they started noticing a decline, probably within the last seven or eight years.”
But revenue did begin declining, he said.
“When a golf course’s fees, rounds and charges start going down, so does revenue,” Hayes said. “When revenue goes down, so does maintenance. When maintenance goes down, the golf course gets bad. And it just starts spiraling.”
Having several other golf courses in the community also meant a lot of competition for the Three Eagles Golf Course.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks also contributed to the golf course’s downfall.
“All of the conditions just tightened up for getting guests on base,” Hayes said. “It used to be you could call the gate and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got Mr. So and So coming in’ and they would let them come straight on to the base just by showing an ID. All of a sudden, you can’t get them on even if they’re in your car. That’s when you started seeing a lot of Air Force golf courses decline.”
Three Eagles was an 18-hole championship course for active duty military, retirees, National Guard, Reservists, Department of Defense civilians, Non Appropriated Fund civilians and their families. But guests were also allowed to play with an eligible member.
The course will be missed by a lot of people who used to play there.
“If you start looking at some of the social media that we’re seeing, it was very important to them because a lot of people have been here a long time, especially retirees,” Hayes said. “It was a place for years and years and years that they spent time and had relationships with other people that are out there every day. You can see that it hurts a lot of people as far as emotionally.”
Hayes, a professional golfer for almost 25 years, said he hates to see any golf course close, but he’s also a businessman, and when he sees demand and revenue going down, it’s just a sound business decision to close it.
Hayes said he’s already seen groups of retirees who are avid golfers going to the off-base courses. Although the base is not recommending any one course, it is reaching out to civilian golf courses to offer a military discount to their players. Lane Tree Golf Club has already agreed to offer the discount.
The golf course may be sitting idle for now, but that won’t be for long.
“The area that sits within where the clubhouse sits and it goes around this 2-mile running trail, that area we’re looking at repurposing for fun, recreational activities that can be enjoyed by airmen, their families and any of our authorized patrons,” Rennie said.
Rennie said the base is looking at putting paddleboards into the old golf course’s water features. And it’s looking into potential funding for a zip line course, as well as a ropes course. There will be a disc golf course that a team of professional disc golf players will design, as well as a foot golf course, a game that’s played with a soccer ball.
“We are also looking at gardening,” Rennie said. “We have a little spot out there where we’re going to teach classes. So folks who might not have a green thumb now can potentially grow one themselves.”
The base driving range and the old golf course snack bar will remain open.
“We’re losing a niche of people as far as the golfers, but we’re stressing what’s going in there is geared toward a lot of family activity,” Hayes said. “I think that’s going to benefit us and benefit the airmen here a lot.”