Land may let group tee off

Councilman leading campaign to build golf course for youths

May 12, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A golf course for disadvantaged youths may be built in wealthy Howard County as part of a national program to broaden the game's appeal.

Led by C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat and Howard County Council chairman, the organizers hope the Rouse Co. will donate a 50-acre parcel near Interstate 95 in Columbia, sources say.

Gray, who became involved with the private, non-profit First Tee program through the National Association of Counties, is organizing a local county chapter, the first in Maryland. Another First Tee chapter is being formed in Baltimore.

"There was a blossoming of interest after Tiger Woods to make golf more accessible for people of all races, genders and the physically challenged," Gray said. Woods is a young, multiracial professional golfer who electrified the sports world with his tournament victories in 1996.

The Guilford-area property at the southeastern corner of Columbia would be developed as an instructional 18-hole golf course for First Tee of Howard County.

Gray, who is scheduled to become president of the counties association in July, told a group of county leaders Friday that "a private company has agreed to donate 50 acres" to First Tee. He said the group would embark on a $2 million fund-raising effort to develop and operate the course once the land was acquired.

He refused yesterday to confirm the exact location or the donor, but did say that a Rouse-owned parcel, along railroad tracks behind a Federal Communications Commission monitoring station off Oakland Mills Road, is one of several he has considered. Another source close to the deal confirmed that the Rouse site is the one in question.

Other sites he examined earlier, Gray said, were the proposed Blandair Park in central Columbia and a site in West Friendship where a county golf course was proposed.

Gray said a golf course did not fit the county's ideas for Blandair, and the county delayed plans for a golf course in western Howard.

Gray stressed that First Tee is not dependent on help from the county.

He said he hopes to formally announce the project at a news conference by August, which is when fund raising would begin in earnest.

His interest, he said, is to use the program as another way to reach youths 8 to 18 who need to hone the qualities inherent in golf -- performance, pride, patience, determination and integrity -- while opening up a sport traditionally limited to older, higher-income people. "I was 29 before I played," he said.

National organization

First Tee is a national nonprofit based in northern Florida. Formed in November 1997, it is an arm of the World Golf Federation, an alliance of all the major golf organizations, said Kelly A. Martin, managing director of facility development for First Tee.

"It's essentially to open the game of golf and make it more affordable and accessible for those who haven't played before," she said.

The group's goal is to get chapters operating in 100 jurisdictions across the country by next year. Groups are being organized in 70 locations, she said, and about 40 have written agreements with the national First Tee group. The first course is scheduled to open next month in Detroit.

Another First Tee chapter is being organized in Baltimore, said state Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, a Howard-Montgomery Republican who works as a fund-raiser for Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

"You can learn a lot about yourself and lessons on life [from golf]," said McCabe. First Tee, he said, "is a catalyst for a really meaningful program that might help some kids."

Alton J. Scavo, Rouse Co. senior vice president, said First Tee "seems like a wonderful program," though he too refused to confirm the possible land gift. Scavo said a company executive will sit on the First Tee board of directors, and he expects the Rouse Foundation will be asked to donate money. He said the Guilford land is zoned "new town" as part of Columbia, and is designated for employment use.

Joseph W. Rutter Jr., Howard County's director of planning and zoning, described the parcel as "rather awkwardly shaped for industrial use" because of its "sawtooth" shape, stretched along railroad tracks.

The Rouse Co. is working on plans for a large mixed-use housing/commercial development along Route 216 at I-95 in southern Howard County, but Scavo and Gray said there is no conflict.

"Our record speaks for itself," Scavo said, noting that Rouse has contributed land, money and executives' time to Howard County for decades while developing Columbia and other projects.

Sun Staff writer Gady A. Epstein contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 5/12/99

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