Steve Belton has been on the job as the new manager at Piney Valley Golf Course for a little over a week.
“I’m just getting acclimated to Army golf,” Belton said Saturday.
Belton brings more than 32 years of experience in the golf business to Fort Leonard Wood, including the past 20 as a general manager. A Professional Golf Association member, much of Belton’s career has been spent at premier golf courses at the Lake of the Ozarks, including 12 years at Tan-Tar-A Resort, 17 years at Osage National Golf Resort and three years at Old Kinderhook Golf Resort.
While this is his first stint running an Army golf course, Belton is very familiar with PVGC. Born and raised in the Waynesville area, he graduated from Waynesville High School in 1979.
“I played high school golf here,” Belton said. “I’m familiar with the area, and many of the people who still live here.”
Helping Belton get used to his new surroundings Saturday was Army Golf Program Manager Mike McCoy, who oversees the Army’s 42 golf courses, which includes 31 courses within the continental United States and 12 courses overseas.
“The purpose of this trip is just to acclimate (Steve) here, welcome him aboard and try to answer a lot of questions about how the Army runs its golf courses. It’s been a good visit,” McCoy said.
Like several other Army golf courses, PVGC has fought to increase its offerings and attract new players after several challenging years of declining memberships. However, McCoy said that, overall, the industry seems poised to battle its way back.
“Army Golf, overall, is pretty healthy,” he said. “I think we’re finally getting to a point where it’s finally bottomed out and getting ready to come back on an upswing.”
He said one of the chief obstacles faced by nearly all U.S. courses is getting players who live outside an installation access to golf courses located inside the gates.
“Everybody has the gate-access situation they have to deal with. That’s a challenge for the majority of our golf courses, especially those here in the states,” McCoy said. “Some of our golf courses are located off-base. They’re open to the public and it’s easier for them. Bases like (Fort) Leonard Wood, you have to come through the gate to get to the golf course, and it’s a little bit away from the gate once you get here, so it has some additional challenges.”
McCoy said one way some courses have solved that problem is to institute educational programs to help players get annual gate passes.
“Things like having a yearlong pass, for example, really help,” he said. “So, (players) don’t have to go through a lot of trouble at the gate every time they come through. They get their pass; it’s good for a year, and then they feel a little bit better about it. So, the more we can socialize that and get that to work — that seems to help a lot of our places.”
Belton said in addition to addressing access challenges, he also hopes to start new programs to increase youth participation and increase female participation at the course.
For now, though, Belton said he is impressed with the present state the course is in.
“It’s amazing how far this golf course has come, especially over the last six to seven years. Joe Manucci as the course superintendent has done an outstanding job,” Belton said.