Don't spoil this good walk

Golf: Mayor O'Malley ought to safeguard a city amenity that delivers cash as well as fun.

January 29, 2002

MARK TWAIN called it a good walk spoiled. A high handicapper, no doubt. Probably never played in Baltimore or contemplated the surprising advantages of urban links.

Quick: Name a Baltimore government operation that provides a popular amenity while turning a profit?

If you play, you know. Over the last nine years, the Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp. has written checks to the city for $3,218,620.90 in accordance with its management contract. In that same period, it made substantial physical improvements.

Operated by a nonprofit corporation but still owned by the city, the courses wind through neighborhoods, preserving open space even for those who don't play. The pros run programs for kids.

People from all over the Baltimore region play for reasonable rates in a sport where some tracks require a bank loan to park in the parking lot. The city courses produce PR worth a million.

Ah, but here's the rub.

Given Baltimore's needs and what he knows of the golf-playing set, Mayor Martin O'Malley wants more money. The city courses tend to be crowded, suggesting that a few dollars could be added to the fees without losing customers. In a bit of pique better reserved for the non-producing sectors of his government, the mayor accused course managers recently of shortchanging kids to pamper golfers.

He's out of bounds.

The managers see other operators in trouble, and there are nearby courses with competitive fees. The city's charter calls for affordable golf and promoting the game among young people. Both requirements apparently are met while the city gets up to $400,000 a year.

That's plenty for the mayor, who should look elsewhere for extra nickels.

The two sides should talk. But everyone should want to preserve an enterprise that makes the city look smart and efficient. Let's not spoil the walk, or the bottom line.

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