Golf event drives town to distraction State Farm Classic will affect traffic, neighborhood access

June 04, 1998|By Rod Coffee and Dana Hedgpeth

During the past 22 years, Chester Gee has seen plenty of people pass through the quiet Hobbits Glen neighborhood he calls home.

But he has never seen anything like the estimated 120,000 spectators expected in Columbia for the State Farm Senior Classic golf tournament scheduled June 29 through July 5. "I hope they can accommodate everybody to keep it from becoming an event of inconvenience for those who live here," said Gee, whose back yard adjoins the first fairway at Hobbits Glen Golf Club.

That was the concern of about 150 residents who came to a Tuesday night meeting, asking questions of the organizers of the event about possible problems with traffic, noise and parking when the Senior Tour visits the serpentine streets of Columbia during a holiday weekend.

One homeowner questioned how he would get dozens of guests to his house along the course for a 4th of July barbecue. One elementary school PTA president wondered how school buses for a day camp would weave through restricted streets.

"I do wonder how real estate agents will get to my house," said Chris Christensen, who is selling his $250,000 house along Wood Elves Way. "Nothing like this has ever happened in Howard County. Having ESPN there for three days maybe my house will get sold."

Rosie Lijinsky said she considered going away for the week and renting her $400,000 house to a golf enthusiast. "It's a fabulous, contemporary house, complete with a swimming pool," said Lijinsky, who lives on High Hay. "It's gorgeous." EMCEE Sports officials explained that visitors' cars will not be allowed into the Hobbits Glen neighborhood. They will be directed to a farm along Route 108 near Manorstone Lane that will be turned into a temporary parking lot.

From there, atrons will be shuttled to the clubhouse on Willow Bottom Drive.

For Hobbits Glen residents, the Columbia Association will run a shuttle through restricted streets to the clubhouse.

Overflow parking will be available at Merriweather Post Pavilion as organizers try to keep cars off the streets of Columbia.

4 passes per household

Each Hobbits Glen household is to receive four passes that will allow direct access to the neighborhood during the tournament.

"The parking permits will prevent someone from being parked in your driveway and any gridlock in getting to your home if you live in Hobbits Glen," said Nichole Smothers of EMCEE Sports at the meeting.

But that plan did not please neighborhood resident Cindy Garvin.

"I am concerned about visitors who come to see us," she said recently as she pushed her two children in a stroller near the Hobbits Glen clubhouse.

"My husband needs a pass, I need a pass, we have baby sitters, and I'm sorry, four passes just doesn't cut it," she said.

"I look at this as a big inconvenience," Garvin said. "That's always been a nice thing about this area is the lack of traffic. Now traffic is my biggest concern."

Howard County police will be responsible for directing traffic near the event, aided by portable road signs with directional messages that are to be placed along Routes 32 and U.S. 29 during the tournament.

Police say they will adjust the timing of lights along Route 108 to prevent backups.

"There's a great deal of manpower being committed to the traffic effort, and we'll also have officers committed to security," said Sgt. Morris Carroll, spokesman for the Howard County police.

But much of the tournament's success will depend on volunteers.

"The volunteer effort is a very important aspect of all of this," said Lee Corrigan of EMCEE Sports. "We're expecting as many as 1,000 volunteers to be provided to us from the Fore Baltimore Foundation" -- the nonprofit organization that is the official host of the tournament.

So far, about 700 volunteers -- some from as far away as West Virginia and North Carolina -- have paid $70 each to serve as caddies and parking attendants and to work at concession stands.

Christensen, who works for NASA, is taking off four days to help. "They are going to be in my neighborhood, so I figure well join in," he said.

Big-name golfers expected

The Senior Classic is being promoted as the biggest golf event ever held in Columbia.

Some of the best-known names in the sport, including Lee Trevino, Chi-Chi Rodriguez and Hale Irwin, are expected to compete for $1.25 million in prize money.

"Based on the $25 million economic impact that the Kemper [PGA tournament] has on Montgomery County, we fully expect the Senior Classic to bring in at least $15 million to this area," said John Matthews of EMCE.

"This event is a traveling circus of ESPN, golfers and golf enthusiasts," said Bill Neus, superintendent of the course. "People are going to come into town and swing by the mall, buy gas at a nearby station and stop by restaurants in Town Center. You couldn't buy this kind of publicity."

Temporary fences

Late this month, Gee can expect to find a 4- to 6-foot mesh fence running along the back yard of his Hobbits Glen home because access to the tournament will be available only through the main entrance of the golf club.

"We're putting up temporary fences around the entire course to keep people from cutting through the yards of those who live on fairways," Matthews said. "Heck, not even those who live in the neighborhood will be able to just walk in without a ticket."

Gee doesn't think he will mind -- or buy a ticket.

"We think this might put Columbia on the map," he said of the tournament. "I'll just sit on my deck and see what I can see and enjoy the view."

Pub Date: 6/04/98

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