Developers of public course entering fertile golf market

18-hole facility will be fourth in Harford County

June 28, 1999|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Amid an increased demand for public golf courses and growing interest in the sport, a Delaware company that owns a nationally known golf course is building an upscale public course in Joppa, promising a $7 million to $10 million country club-like facility.

The 460-acre Mountain Branch course, expected to open on Mountain Road next June, will offer 18 holes of golf, including use of a cart, for $65 to $75.

That's a competitive price for a course with amenities such as valet parking, said Davis Sezna, owner of 1492 Hospitality Group.

"I want people to be pleasantly surprised for their value," said Sezna, whose company owns Hartefeld National Golf Club in Avondale, Pa. "We pride ourselves in creating a total package where it's not just a golf course it's an experience."

Golfers -- and economic development officials -- have long noted a need for additional golf courses in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

In 1996, the area was ranked eighth from the last of 309 areas in "public golf course accessibility" by the National Golf Foundation in Florida.

The need for affordable public courses is particularly sharp.

Many public courses are so crowded on weekends that tee times often are available only by lottery.

Mountain Branch will be the fourth public course in Harford County, which has two upscale public courses, Bulle Rock and Beechtree, said Bob Lee, project manager for construction projects in Harford County. Both charge more than $100 per round.

Baltimore City and the surrounding counties have 24 public and 25 private courses, said David Redmond, director of golf for the Baltimore County Revenue Authority.

Few of those public courses are moderately priced, Redmond said. Newer golf courses can cost $5 million to $10 million to build, and that means higher fees for golfers, Redmond said.

"There is a limited supply of affordable golf in our region, and there is beginning to be an abundance of upscale facilities," Redmond said.

Baltimore County's newest course, Woodlands, charges $40 to $60 a game, including a cart. The Baltimore County Revenue Authority course says it has met its projection of 30,000 rounds a year since opening in July.

The county this year was in discussions over whether to purchase the financially ailing Country Club of Maryland, an 18-hole private facility in Towson that includes a pro shop, restaurant and clubhouse. The course would become the sixth public facility in Baltimore County.

Sezna hired the landscape architectural firm Morris and Ritchie Associates Inc. to lay out the Mountain Branch course on the land he owns with Richard Godfrey, owner of Mark/Trece Inc., which manufactures printing plates, in Joppa. Construction began in January.

The course will be modeled after Hartefeld National Golf Club, 1492 Hospitality Group's other course.

Golf Digest named Hartefeld National one of the top 10 courses in the nation in its opening year of 1995 and called it the top public course in Pennsylvania this year.

Unlike the Pennsylvania course, Mountain Branch's land will not be the eventual site for homes. It will remain undeveloped except for a restaurant and banquet facilities.

"We just want to keep it in it's natural splendor," 1492 Hospitality Group spokeswoman Liz Allman said. "It's not common these days."

Allman said he hopes golfers will be attracted to the land's location -- within two hours of Philadelphia; Wilmington, Del.; and Washington.

"There's a great demand for golf, and when [golfers] can have a great experience without having to join a club, it's something that really works," she said.

Pub Date: 6/28/99

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