Country club laments lack of helicopters bringing presidents to play golf

May 31, 1994|By Michael James | Michael James,Sun Staff Writer

IJAMSVILLE -- Amid the steep hills and holly trees at the aptly named Holly Hills Country Club, the golfers want to know: Why aren't the presidential helicopters allowed to land there anymore?

"George Bush played golf here six times. Sometimes he came by helicopter, sometimes by car," said Mike McGinnis, the course's golf pro. "In all that time, no one ever made a big deal out of it. The reporters would even be here watching him putt the 18th green."

Pictures of Marine One -- the name given a helicopter when the president is aboard -- are proudly displayed in the Holly Hills clubhouse, a presidential-looking building with 30-foot white pillars over looking the course.

"We're hoping President Clinton will still want to come and play here. It's a great course," said Mr. McGinnis, 55, who played golf four times with Mr. Bush and once ate dinner with him at the White House.

Situated in this sleepy town just minutes from the antique shops and trinket stores of New Market, Holly Hills golf course became the scene of a national controversy last week when White House aides flew there on a Marine One helicopter and shot a round of golf.

David Watkins, the White House director of administration, resigned amid pressure from the Clinton administration after a photo was published in the Frederick News-Post showing him and others boarding the chopper.

Alfonso Maldon Jr., head of the White House military office, also was on the golf junket and has since been reassigned.

The use of the helicopter was assailed by Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Republican from Western Maryland, who accused members of the Clinton administration of "believing they are part of a privileged class" engaged in "a climate of arrogance and abuse of power."

But Holly Hills officials and some club members saw the affair differently.

They maintain that the White House staff came to the course to test it for President Clinton, whom they had invited to come and play.

Mr. Watkins' resignation letter described the golf trip as an appropriate effort to make sure the president enjoyed Camp David.

"It seems to me they'd want to check this place out before they came here with the president," said a woman picking up a golf cart Sunday outside the Holly Hills clubhouse. "As a taxpayer, I don't feel any outrage about them flying helicopters here. They've done it before."

Holly Hills caught the gaze of Mr. Bush four years ago as a result of its location, directly on the flight path from the White House to Camp David, near Thurmont.

The club has roughly 250 members from around the Baltimore-Washington area, although none are White House staff members, club officials said.

The story around the clubhouse is that Mr. Bush looked out the window one day and saw Holly Hills. Shortly afterward, Mr. McGinnis' wife, Janet, was approached in the pro shop by two Secret Service agents who asked whether it would be all right if the president played golf there that afternoon. It was the start of a half-dozen Western Maryland golf outings for Mr. Bush, who liked his Holly Hills hat so much he wore it around his retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine.

One 1990 trip even caught the attention of Golf Digest writer Dan Jenkins, who accompanied Mr. Bush, then-U.S. Rep. Marty Russo, D-Ill., and football great Walter Payton in a foursome at Holly Hills.

Mr. Jenkins wrote in the September 1990 issue, which had a picture of a Marine One helicopter on the cover: "I must tell you that Marine One is a nice way to travel. [It is a] cushiony, comfortable, remarkably quiet chopper. Out the window I think I might have noticed some other choppers flying escort.

"We landed somewhere in the Maryland hills and got into a limo with the president. Then in a 15-vehicle motorcade that included a SWAT van, we rode through the countryside. When a president goes to play golf, it involves a bit more than donning the old cleats."

Holly Hills Country Club, formed in 1977, was purchased in a multimillion-dollar deal last year by Kember Sports Management of Northbrook, Ill. The club is about 150 members below the membership level it wants and had been hoping a visit from President Clinton would spark interest.

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