Lease on Life: New owner gives Olde Mill Resort and golf course injection for growth

        During the Great Depression, many businessmen made killings.  Some killed themselves, by doing two and a half gainers out their office windows.  Others made a different killing by taking what cash they had on hand and investing it in severely depressed assets, including property.  These days failed investors don’t jump from windows nearly as often as they apply for bailout money.  But those who have conserved their cash still buy up depressed assets, among them golf communities.  Just yesterday I received an email from a representative of a group of investors looking to purchase developer lots in golf communities.  They are betting their patient capital will help them make a killing when the economy straightens out.

        I write this from the Olde Mill Resort in Laurel Fork, VA, a community 30 years in the making but stuck on the runway until one of those prescient-type investors bought all 900 acres and the golf club two years ago.  Never heard of Olde Mill?  Neither had I until I did an Internet search earlier this week, looking for a residential golf community to visit on my way to Chapel Hill, NC.  The reviews of their golf course caught my eye, so here I am.

        I am glad I stopped because Olde Mill is an interesting story, with a beautifully conditioned mountain golf course and sharply priced real estate.  The two-bedroom, two-bath condo I am staying

I had not heard of Olde Mill, but I am glad I stopped there.

in is owned by the resort and available for sale for just $209,000.  This morning I awoke to watch last night’s full moon, a bright orange, descend beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west.  Below the deck of the condo is the 18th green of the Ellis Maples designed and Dan Maples renovated layout.  Although inside and out the condo unit is standard fare for a resort -– which is to say designed for short-term comfort, not long-term stimulation -- $209,000 is nevertheless a fair price.  Golf pro and real estate sales director Bo Goins told me that most owners of the limited number of units at Olde Mill can expect to net about $5,000 in rental fees during the April to November season, enough to pay for their homeowner fees and monthly golf club dues, with a little left over for a few meals at the surprisingly good resort restaurant.  (I had a nice pork tenderloin the first night and a creditable spaghetti and meatballs on Italian night; this is, after all, rural Virginia, not Little Italy, but the chef has been well trained.)  The resort handles all the maintenance and housekeeping for the condo rental units for about a 40% cut of the revenue.


The par 4 10th hole at Olde Mill Resort.


        Olde Mill is new owner Norris Mitchell’s first foray into golf community ownership, although his real estate portfolio includes hundreds of properties (apartments buildings, hotels and a few residential communities).   Those who worry justifiably about the financial health of developers should find comfort at Olde Mill.

        "He [Norris Mitchell] paid for Olde Mill out of his own pocket,” says Bo Goins.  “And we have no debt.”

        Mitchell is reported to have purchased the golf course and 900 surrounding acres just two miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway for about $8 million.  He immediately set about renovating the golf course, which was originally designed as part of a church retreat in the 1970s.  According to Goins, Olde Mill was the first golf course that the respected architect Dan Maples worked on with his dad, Ellis, after Dan was graduated from college.  In 2008, Dan was commissioned to renovate his father’s course, and he called in his son Brad, just graduated from college, to help him.  Total cost to Mitchell of the golf course and other enhancements was a reported $12 million.


Options off the tee at the #1 handicap par 5 13th are limited.  The only reasonable play is a tricky shot over the trees and down the right side.


        The Olde Mill layout is a wild ride in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with some blind drives and large and severely sloping, lightning fast greens.  An ornery greens superintendent has plenty of opportunities to fool with the resort guests.  Today, for example, the pin on the par 4 6th green was on a knoll at the far right rear of the enormous green.  My 30-foot first putt made it to about three feet short before it made a slight right turn and came back down the slope past my feet.  Mindful that the 10 feet of green beyond the hole sloped down to the back, I got my second putt a foot closer -- which only served to give it a foot more of momentum on the way back down; it returned past my feet and off the front edge of the green.  Based on the speed and slope of the greens, the new course and slope ratings Olde Mill awaits in the coming weeks should be severe.  My guess is that the slope rating from the white tees, a mere 6,200 yards, could be as high as 133.

        The golf course is characterized by some extremely tight landing areas that, in some cases, force you to leave driver in the bag but other times require a driver to give you a chance of flying past trouble.  On the #1 handicap 13th hole, a par 5, the water on the left looks reachable with a fairway wood; the trees on the right side of the fairway beg for a driver over them to reach a slope that should kick the ball down toward the fairway.  Left is dead in the water, but right is dead in the woods.  The 13th should remain the toughest hole when the course is re-rated.

        Condo units in a new building under construction behind the 18th green start at $239,000.  Town homes at 3,000+ square feet with beautiful views of the fairways below start in the mid-$400s.  For single-family homes, land and structure are sold as a package, at a total of $175 to $200 per square foot (land included).  For $500,000, you will live quite well at Olde Mill.  For less than $900,000 you will live like a baron.  I walked through an impressive 5,500 square foot “spec” home with killer views and every conceivable extra (wine cellar, granite wet bar in the “man cave,” 20-seat entertainment room) and fully furnished by a local decorator, for $850,000 (plus $30,000 for the optional furnishings).  I have toured less substantial homes in places like Asheville and Chapel Hill for almost twice the price.

        Of course, Laurel Fork is neither Asheville nor Chapel Hill, and isn’t even Lynchburg or Roanoke.  The closest towns are named Floyd, Hillsville and Meadows of Dan.  The nearest supermarket is 15 minutes away and the closest airport of consequence, in Greensboro, NC, is about 75 minutes.  And when the golf course closes for the season around December 1, the resort pretty much does the same, except for meals on the weekends (things get back to full operation again in March).  Nevertheless, Olde Mill will appeal to second-home owners looking for reasonably priced real estate, an intriguing and nicely conditioned golf course, and a developer who has the temperament, and the financial profile, to be in it for the long haul.


        If you would like more information about Olde Mill, please contact me.  Next spring would be a good time to consider taking advantage of Olde Mill’s reasonably priced “discovery” package, currently priced at $249 for a couple of nights, golf, breakfast and other extras included.


From behind the 4th green at Olde Mill.

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