Elusive tee times par for course Golf: If you don't belong to a country club, scheduling a round demands a bit of planning and fortitude.


It is a thinking-man's game. You must devise a strategy, stick with it and avoid spontaneous gambles.

Getting from tee to green? Nope. The task at hand is getting on the first tee in the first place.

Local players shrugged at the recent announcement that Baltimore ranked 294th out of 314 metropolitan areas in number of golf holes per capita. That's not as bleak as New York (314th) or Los Angeles (312) and slightly worse off than Washington, D.C. (280). But however they're stacked, the numbers crunch anyone who doesn't belong to a club, be it country or traveling.

Fact is, the chances of a foursome walking on to Mount Pleasant, the municipal gem in northeast Baltimore, this Sunday morning are only slightly better than purchasing the winning ticket in the $250 million Powerball lottery.

Just ask Melvin Green and Bill Rodwell. On a recent Saturday afternoon, the brothers-in-law got the misguided notion that they could walk on to Mount Pleasant without a reserved starting time the following morning and play. They arrived at 6 a.m. and added their names to the daily waiting list of singles and doubles hoping to replace the rare no-shows.

Green warmed up several times. Rodwell hit the clubhouse grill for two eggs over easy, sausage links, hash browns and white toast. At 9: 15, as starter John Starkloff was discouragingly frank about their chances, Rodwell said, "I'm tired of watching other people tee off," and he and Green headed west on Northern Parkway.

"We drove over to Forest Park and waited no more than 10 minutes to play," Rodwell said. "We teed off at 10: 10 and finished about 3, because the foursome in front of us was pretty slow. I got home about 3: 45. I heard it from my wife when I got home. She couldn't believe we would sit someplace for three hours and still not play. We haven't learned our lesson yet."

The twosome on the waiting list above Green and Rodwell waited four hours -- the accepted standard for a normal round -- and finally got on Mount Pleasant at 9: 45 a.m. What is the lure? Weekend rates of $12.50 to walk, $20.50 to ride, bargains that brought 76,000 paying customers to the course in 1997.

On weekends, though, few of those rounds were spur-of-the-moment affairs.

To reserve a weekend starting time at Mount Pleasant -- which isn't even the busiest of the Baltimore Municipal Golf Corporation's five courses in that Pine Ridge had 84,000 rounds last year -- requires entering a lottery two weeks in advance and the prepurchase of two greens fees.

A couple John Daly tee shots to the northwest, the Country Club of Maryland assigns weekend starting times on the previous Wednesday. Of course, it's a private club. A full individual membership consists of a $7,500 initiation fee and annual dues of $3,070. Membership secretary Christine Grote said that "is middle of the road" for area clubs.

"Our marketing focuses on the time-saving that we can provide the serious golfer," pro John Sarrett said. "People are willing to invest in that."

Go north, walk-on golfer

A few miles to the east, members of the Parkville Golf Club make a different kind of sacrifice to play.

Because of the difficulty of reserving times at the region's municipal courses, the proliferation of up-scale facilities where weekend play costs $51, and a landscape where a $40 fee during the week is considered a find, only one of 13 courses they'll play this year will be in the Baltimore area -- at Bear Creek near Westminster.

Their solution to the tussle for starting times? Go north.

"I'd say 80 percent of our business comes from Maryland," said Susie Zeiler, shop manager at family-run Pleasant Valley in Stewartstown, Pa., which charges $31 for greens fee and cart on weekends.

"We've never done an official survey, but if you take a walk through our parking lot, that's where most of the license plates are from."

How far in advance do clubs, corporations and fund-raising groups have to plan starting times at municipal courses? The BMGCconducts its drawing for dates in January. That's how the Fairway Strangers got the block from 12: 06 to 12: 54 p.m. on Sunday.

The Baltimore County Revenue Authority, meanwhile, will allocate its 1999 tournament blocks this December.

More than a half year ago, the Thai Golf Association reserved Rocky Point in eastern Baltimore County from 10: 30 a.m. to 12: 22 p.m. last Sunday. Before that, the starter squeezed in more than a dozen walk-ons.

Movement wasn't as quick for the walk-ons at Mount Pleasant, where even single players had to wait more than three hours to play. That's how long Frank Kent waited, and he didn't complain. He's familiar with the difficulty of getting in an unanticipated round on the weekend, but some novices don't possess the same patience.

"I get complaints from guys on the weekend, and it's usually the same guys every week," said John Lazzell, the head pro at Rocky Point. "I'll apologize, and tell them, 'No offense, but you've got to plan your life better.'"

Pub Date: 8/06/98

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