New courses and soaring prices take toll Upscale sites multiply, but players are on wane

August 25, 1996|By John W. Stewart | John W. Stewart,SUN STAFF

For years, the call was for more golf courses; now it is for more golfers.

For some 20 years before the early 1990s, Maryland in general, and the Baltimore area in particular, were rated near the bottom of any listing of new golf course development. Only a handful of area courses were built during that interval, and loud were the cries that more were needed.

During the past five or six years, the number of private and public facilities has mushroomed, and more are under construction and on drawing boards.

During the same time period, industry figures indicate a drop in the number of golfers in the United States to around 25 million, off nearly 3 million.

Both the private and municipal sectors are into the game, one that seems to feature such popular phrases as "upscale" and "high-end" daily-fee golf courses.

One such is The Timbers at Troy in Elkridge. A daily-fee public course owned by Howard County, it is ready for its public opening Friday.

The 18-hole facility, featuring bent-grass tees, fairways and greens, plus a clubhouse and driving range, will carry fees ranging from $23 weekdays for county residents to $37 (weekends for nonresidents). Carts are available but not mandatory.

Four sets of tees provide yardage from 4,900 to 6,652, playing to a par 36-3672. The course, carved out of 206 wooded acres, provides a series of tree-lined fairways and includes streams and areas of protected wetlands.

The year-old River Downs GC in Carroll County is another upscale facility ($44-$55 to play), one that has been well-received and where play has been steadily improving, according to professional Mike Amtsberg.

Two new Baltimore County courses, both under construction, will be considered upscale when they open.

The Baltimore County Revenue Authority, created some 40 years ago to build, finance and run public facilities, was asked to get into the golf business last year. It took over three existing courses, plus Diamond Ridge II, and later, the partially built Greystone course.

Greystone, in White Hall, is expected to open next spring, with a clubhouse to follow. Diamond Ridge II, which adjoins its older namesake in Woodlawn, is about one-third completed and targeted for a late 1997 opening.

The county has brought in Billy Casper Management to help in the transition.

"We are trying to improve our management practices," says George Hale, executive director of the revenue authority. "We have raised our basic fees, and the two new courses will be higher when they open. Higher fees mean higher expectations, and we want to meet that challenge."

Recent area openings include two privately owned, upscale daily-fee operations -- The Links at Challedon in Mount Airy ($38 weekdays, $48 weekends) and South River Golf Links in Edgewater ($50 weekdays, $60 weekends).

The under-construction list includes two privately owned developments, Waverly Woods on Marriottsville Road and Bulle Rock between Aberdeen and Havre de Grace.

When Queenstown Harbor Golf Links opened five years ago, its $35 tab was the highest public daily-fee course in the state, and, at $60 for weekends, it (with South River) still is No. 1.

"Our rounds were down last year, and since the Birney family opened South River [it owns both places], play is off here," said Trent Wright, Queenstown's professional. "It's like the business boom when everybody overbuilt. Now golf is being overbuilt in this area."

Hank Majewski, a golf course owner/operator and a past PGA of America officer, said, "The PGA is concerned because golf is costing the average person too much.

"If you don't get the figures, you can't maintain the course. The condition deteriorates and play goes down. Combine fewer players with more courses and you are not creating new business; you are simply taking away from something already in place."

Pub Date: 8/25/96

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