Public golf plan upsets courses

$15,000 study suggests county open 2nd site

private owners object

July 18, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Golf courses are popping up like daisies in the Baltimore-Washington area, but a new county-commissioned consultant's study recommends that Howard County government build another one.

The $15,000 study by Economics Research Associates of San Francisco provides more ammunition for building a second publicly owned course in Howard County -- an idea that's stirring heated opposition from privately owned, public-access courses near the proposed West Friendship site.

County Executive James N. Robey hasn't publicly stated his preference, though he removed $8 million for the course from the county capital budget earlier this year to await the study.

"I'm leaning," Robey said last week, refusing to commit until he meets with private course owners. County Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a Republican who represents western Howard, said he wants to study the issue before taking a position, adding, "I don't think government should hurt private business."

County recreation director Gary J. Arthur and leaders of the county's golf advisory committee favor a new course, which they say would provide a lower-cost alternative to private courses and provide more options for students, the disabled and the elderly.

But Waverly Woods Golf Club owner Thomas J. Healy says government shouldn't compete with him. "What's very interesting is that they keep claiming the county needs another golf course to provide this service to their own county, but they expect noncounty residents to play there," Healy said.

The proposed 18-hole course would be built on about 220 acres of county-owned parkland south of Route 144 (Frederick Road), just west of Route 32. The land is part of a 321-acre park site slated to increase by 27 acres after the state Board of Public Works approved $431,500 in project open space money last week to buy it. Howard County opened its first public course, Timbers of Troy in Elkridge, two years ago.

The consultant's report says that although 10 public-access courses have opened in the region in the past four years, including six in Howard, Baltimore and Frederick counties, demand is high enough for a new public course charging $22 to $36 in greens fees for Howard residents and $30 to $38 for others. Although several more new courses are in the works, according to the lengthy report, "the market area is still notably under-supplied with public golf," especially on weekends.

According to the consultant, "the region's supply of public-access golf courses has grown at a blistering pace," noting that fees at the new courses range from $30 to $60, compared with $10 to $22 at older courses such as Forest Park in Baltimore or Diamond Ridge in Woodlawn. A new course could prosper despite its "remote" location, the report says, if it is "aggressively marketed" and offers fees that fall between those of the most expensive, newer courses and rates at the oldest, cheapest ones. Estimates are that 55 percent of players at the new course would be Howard residents.

Some advocates for a new course want fees in the $15 to $16 range, prices that Robey and others say are unrealistic today.

"You can't compare a course being built nowadays to one built in Baltimore 50 or 75 years ago," said Donald J. Dunn, chairman of the Howard County Government Golf Advisory Committee.

Robert Rutan, a six-year member of Dunn's committee who left in March, said fees should be less than $20 for a new course. "They're out of their cotton-picking minds. I won't play on it," he said about the consultant's proposed fees. The county should build a bare-bones course for $6 million, he said, and keep fees low.

Owners of the private courses nearby vehemently protest.

"They'll drive us out of business," said Thomas C. Beach, owner of Willow Springs, less than a mile from the West Friendship site. "They got paid to say we need another course," Beach said of the consultants.

He and Nicholas B. Mangione Sr., who with his 10 children owns three courses at Turf Valley near West Friendship, say it's not right for government to compete with them.

"My position is that the county doesn't belong in the business of private enterprise," Beach said, vowing to start a public referendum campaign to defeat a new course proposal.

Mangione said usage is down more than 20 percent at his courses, where a golfer can play for $15 after paying a $500 "B" membership fee. "Timbers pays no property tax. It's not fair," he said. Because public courses pay no property taxes -- and because taxpayers must foot the bill for advertising -- the facilities are subsidized by the public, Beach and Mangione say.

Arthur and Robey said Timbers of Troy is generating enough income to pay off the $10.2 million in 20-year bonds sold to finance it, and the money is not coming from taxpayers.

Pub Date: 7/18/99

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