Carroll Park grows to 12 holes, but retains cozy charm

John Steadman

June 23, 1993|By John Steadman

It's Baltimore's working-man's country club, a golf course located between an interstate highway, a railroad track and the Montgomery Ward & Co. warehouse.

The setting doesn't suggest a prestige address or a neighborhood swirling in affluence. Commuters leaving the city for the suburbs look down on it from an elevated expressway and see this island of green that breaks up the monotony of old buildings, truck terminals and industrial enterprises.

That's Carroll Park, a nine-hole golf course since 1924, a place where blacks, before integration, were first permitted to play, but only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Carroll Park is one of five public courses now under the supervision of the Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp. and is receiving the attention it was for too long denied.

Because it was only nine holes meant it was in fifth place on the priority list of city-owned courses, but that has changed. An additional three holes have been worked into the facility so Carroll Park, as of yesterday, is now 12 holes, not nine. Imagine, a 12-hole golf course, or what the space can accommodate.

It's an interesting concept. Golfers can play six holes on the front side, six on the back and, if desired, use a crossover system to give them a regulation 18. The leadoff foursome yesterday, after a ribbon-cutting and luncheon, played 12 holes in one hour, 54 minutes.

For years, downtown businessmen and salesmen told their offices they had "important appointments," but instead headed for the convenience of Carroll Park and a fast nine holes. It was a quick escape, a getaway, even a hideaway from the boss.

Henry Miller, chairman of the board of the Municipal Golf Corp., is enthusiastic over the improvements.

"The design was by John Newman, who is the superintendent at Forest Park," explained Miller. "This is the only course of the five we operate that hasn't made money even though over 70,000 rounds yearly are played there. Green fees were only $4.50 but now they are at $6 and this should mean we'll be able to do other things in the future."

Nick Gardner, the pro, and Carroll Park superintendent Steve McKisson are elated over what has taken place.

"It's a unique arrangement, 12 holes, maybe the only one of its kind in the country," said Gardner. McKisson hopes for a driving range and six more holes.

The same thought also has occurred to Miller, to executive director Lynnie Cook and to city councilman Joe DiBlasi.

"I don't know what use Montgomery Ward is making of its property," said Miller. "It doesn't serve as the huge retail outlet it used to be. If the city ever got use of that land for recreation, we could absolutely fit in another six holes."

The origin of the idea to put a golf course in Carroll Park came about in 1924 because of the interest of J. Cookman Boyd, president of the Baltimore Park Board. Ten years later, blacks were permitted there for the first time but only on a limited three-days-a-week schedule. It was under this restriction that Joe Louis, the heavyweight boxing champion, played there numerous times with his Baltimore friends, William Adams, professional Walter "Chink" Stewart and Rodger H. Pippen, sports editor of the then-Baltimore News-Post.

Pippen was annoyed that the greens were of rolled sand. Adams recalled it wasn't until the writer shamed the city into upgrading the putting surfaces that grass was installed. In 1948, with Adams helping to show the way, all of Baltimore's five public courses were opened to blacks but only after an extensive battle in the courts.

The creation of the three new holes came about by turning what used to be the ninth hole into a par 4 and a par 3, plus clearing out an overgrown area of wild growth for a new par 4 and a par 3. Result: a 12-hole course. Miller placed the total cost at around $250,000.

There's no way Carroll Park will ever challenge the great courses of the city and state. That's not what it's supposed to be.

"But it's improved so much," said Charles "Chuck" Thomas, "that you can't even put a figure on it. It's almost unrecognizable from the place I knew 25 years ago."

The golfers of Carroll Park deserve the best of conditions, as boxed in as they might be. There's pride in what has been accomplished. A little "postage stamp" of a golf course is spreading its arms through the urban squeeze and looking all the better for it.

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