Council to vote on golf plan Hobbit's Glen course may bar non-residents

September 23, 1992|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

It's noon on a steamy weekday and the greens at the posh Hobbit's Glen Golf Course are crowded indeed. Despite the humidity, groups of players dot virtually every fairway.

That is exactly why John M. Hansen, chairman of the Columbia Council, says he has proposed that come Oct. 1, people who don't live or work in Columbia won't be sold certain types of memberships to the popular course off Harper's Farm Road. His proposal is up for a vote tomorrow night at the council meeting.

"The course has just gotten too overcrowded. I'm sending up a signal flare that the radical overcrowding has to be dealt with."

The proposal has some golfers bristling -- and worrying -- that it won't be long before only those who pay an annual assessment to the Columbia Association, namely Columbia property owners and businesses, will be allowed to join the golf club.

Mr. Hansen doesn't discount that view; in fact that's his long-term plan.

"In my judgment, ultimately, we'll have to ban any new non-assessment players," he said. Eventually, he'd like to extend that ban to all Columbia Association-operated facilities.

Ellicott City resident Donald Dunn, chairman of the Hobbit's Glen Golf Committee, is among golfers who oppose the Hansen proposal.

Mr. Dunn argues that barring new non-Columbians from joining the club won't solve the problem of jammed greens. And worse, he says, the Hansen proposal is an ominous sign of what may be down the proverbial path for golfers who don't own property or work in Columbia.

"I've talked to a lot of golfers, and the consensus is this proposal itself is a non-event. They are only getting a few new non-Columbia Association memberships a year. So it's not going to solve the crowding problem," says Mr. Dunn.

What is also jarring, says Mr. Dunn, is that the proposal is yet another signal that some on the council view people who don't live or work in Columbia as "undesirable outsiders" and want to ban them from joining association-operated facilities.

Barring non-Columbians from joining the club would result in disruptions to social groups who have played together for many years, Mr. Dunn says.

"Columbia is not Croatia and Hobbit's Glen is not Bosnia-Herzegovina. We all look alike," he says. "They've got to stop and analyze what's really going on. If they eventually move all the non-CA people out of that club, there's going to be a big loss in revenue. That will translate into higher membership fees and other costs for the people who can join."

Mr. Hansen's proposal would result in a drop in revenue to the club, a Columbia Association staff report concludes. About $16,000 in lost membership fees and other membership spending would occur the first year.

The proposal would no longer allow the most popular memberships at Hobbit's Glen -- called annual and daily memberships -- to be sold to people who don't pay the association's annual fee. The fee is charged to owners of homes, apartments and businesses in Columbia.

The plan would not affect those who hold memberships now; they could renew.

Apartment dwellers and employees of businesses are considered by the association as being association members if the apartment or business owner has paid the annual fee. If so, they are allowed to join association-operated facilities, such as pools, health clubs and the golf course.

Rates for association members are usually significantly lower than the rates charged to those who do not pay the fee. At Hobbit's Glen, rates for non-association members have risen about 10 percent each year since 1989 in an effort to discourage such memberships.

An annual individual membership at the Hobbit's Glen Golf Club is $1,266 for a Columbia Association member. For a non-member, the same membership is $1,809 annually. Annual membership plans don't require the golfer to pay greens fees and give them some preferences for weekend tee times, as well as other amenities.

Daily membership plans, which require players to pay greens fees each time they play, are $446 annually for non-CA members and $312 for members.

The only association membership plans that would still allow non-Columbia Association members to join Hobbit's Glen are "package plans." People purchasing these memberships pay one annual fee to use a variety of facilities, from tennis courts to pools, operated by the association.

Mr. Hansen says that eventually he'd like to bar non-association members holding package plans from Hobbit's Glen.

Mr. Dunn says he and other non-association golfers at Hobbit's Glen worry that even if Mr. Hansen's proposal isn't approved tomorrow night, the council will continue to raise membership fees for non-association members in the effort to thin their ranks.

A study on golf demand by a consultant hired by the Columbia Association concluded that the Columbia Council's strategy of rate increases for non-association members has had significant success in trimming those memberships from the ranks at the Hobbit's Glen course.

The study found that in 1989, almost 54 percent of Hobbit's Glen members were not association members. By 1990 that figure had dropped to 33 percent.

The solution to the crowding problem at Hobbit's Glen, argues Mr. Dunn, isn't banning non-CA members, but building another golf course. The course he alludes to is Fairway Hills, a $5.5 million, 18-hole regulation-size course that the association has proposed building in the Dorsey's Search neighborhood -- which, incidentally, Mr. Hansen says he would propose be exclusively for association members.

"The board is micro-managing this issue of overcrowding. They need to look at the big picture. The big picture says build another course," argues Mr. Dunn.

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