New driving range gets into the swing of things

Golfers flock to facility built on Superfund site near city's industrial core

May 17, 1999|By Jennifer Sullivan | Jennifer Sullivan,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

In a baseball town, talk of nine irons, putters and backswings has reached East Baltimore.

Some are dressed in jeans and sweat-stained undershirts, others in the more traditional khakis and brightly colored polo shirts. Men, many of whom have spent their lives molding instead of swinging steel, flock to Superfun Golf Driving Range every afternoon to work on their long game.

The range, at 6501 E. Lombard St., opened without fanfare March 27. Although its motto supports "Good Clean Fun by the Bucket" for everyone, it has been popular mostly with men.

"I come here every day and hit a bucket of balls, rain or shine," said Frank Bolk, a retired Baltimore County Detention Center colonel.

With a cigarette in one hand and his driver in the other, Bolk, 73, said the driving range is "the greatest thing they've done around here for recreation."

It is one of the few sports venues in the industrial core straddling the city line. Next to a new set of softball fields, across the street from a shipping container storage facility, and adjacent to Patterson High School, the lush plot of grass blanketing the site was unimaginable a year ago.

The driving range was built on one of Maryland's 17 federal Superfund sites. Buried deep beneath the distance markers are drums filled with trichloroethylene, lead, benzene and other chemical waste.

"When I got here 10 years ago, we did stories about this area," said owner Richard Sandza, publisher of the Baltimore Guide. "I scratched my head and thought, what a nice place going to waste."

Sandza said many of his friends thought he was crazy, but after three years of working closely with the Environmental Protection Agency and state environmental agencies, he and partners Bernard J. Eckert and Larry Rohrbaugh opened their driving range.

"This is a unique course," said Sandza. "Everything has to be built above ground."

Motioning to the wooden house that holds the cash register, restroom and thousands of golf balls, Sandza said the house is on a dirt mound so the planks would not pierce the sealed landfill.

"Over the whole 10-acre ground is a piece of plastic," said Sandza. Once a month, the EPA takes water samples and tests the water level to monitor the landfill, which was sealed in 1994.

While visiting with friends and working on his game, Harlee Russ, a retired Patterson High math teacher, reminisced about old cars and chemical waste that used to sit in the open landfill.

"You could see it from the school, but there was lots of tree cover," said the part-time worker at Cedar Lane Golf Range Inc. in Baltimore County.

He added the driving range is a good use for the land, which, like much of Highlandtown, had been used as "the dumping ground of Baltimore City."

Construction began on the site last summer and business has been steady since the range opened.

"In Maryland in the past years, there has been a shortage of places to play golf," Sandza said. New courses have been popping up in Baltimore County and, after surveying city residents, Sandza said people showed interest in a driving range.

When he began looking into building a golf facility in industrial East Baltimore, Sandza said he was told "people in this neighborhood don't play golf."

But Myron Sanders, a retired steel worker, said the driving range close to his home in Dundalk is helping keep his game of 35 years in shape for monthly tournaments.

"It's a big question when you're 82 years old and you just play for the fun of it," he said, adding that he plans to visit the range at least once a week.

The Superfun Golf Driving Range is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Pub Date: 5/17/99

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