Golfers grouse about Hobbit's Glen

Condition of greens sparks complaints to CA board about course management


August 25, 2002|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Angered by suspension of a longtime member who protested continuing turf problems at Hobbit's Glen Golf Course's greens, other golfers have started pressuring the two top officers of the Columbia Association, the course owner, to more closely supervise course management.

"It's supposed to be a premium golf course, but it's gone to Dogpatch," said Walter Morgan, a retired management consultant from Columbia's Bryant Woods neighborhood and organizer of the new pressure group. He said he has been a Hobbit's Glen member since 1976 and plays there up to five times weekly.

Morgan said each one of the five members of the "Ad Hoc Committee from Hobbit's Glen Golf Club" comes from a different social group at the club, some as large as 40 players, and most are longtime friends and members.

The group had a private, 90-minute meeting Aug. 15 with Columbia Association President Maggie J. Brown and Miles Coffman, chairman of the Columbia Council, which is the association's policy-making board of directors.

Coffman, an infrequent golfer, later said: "I played Hobbit's two weeks ago, and several of the green were just ugly. ... [These members] care, and they want a good golf course. They feel hurt and embarrassed by the conditions."

Issues they touched on included maintenance, accountability for course managers, handling of fees, course finances, planning, weekend hours, and application of a toxic gas to kill vegetation on one green that is being experimentally reseeded.

Morgan said the meeting seemed positive, with the two Columbia Association executives taking many notes but saying relatively little.

Brown and Coffman both said the association's staff is to present the board of directors with recommendations on how to deal with the course next month, when a new budget cycle begins. Brown also said the course is more than 30 years old and, like other Columbia Association facilities, needs renovation.

In August last year, the association's staff members told directors that most greens may have to be rebuilt, estimating the cost at $500,000 or more. This spring, about $55,000 was allocated to fix drainage problems at four greens - work several members of the Ad Hoc Committee said had not noticeably improved anything.

"It's a shame, because it's a lovely place," Morgan said. "But after you make your concerns known to management and then hear the same excuses over and over and nothing gets done to fix things, you have to try something else. ... What we keep hearing from them is that everything's an act of God. But, bottom line, all of this is self-inflicted by CA."

Morgan and the others also expressed displeasure with the June 28 suspension of Ben Williams from course play for protesting course conditions. Williams, 62, a retired county school system art teacher who lives in Marriottsville, said he has belonged to Hobbit's Glen since shortly after its opening.

Williams is a 3-handicapper - a good player, runner-up in a playoff for this year's club seniors championship and fourth in the overall club tournament.

He and other golfers contend that the greens troubles began not long after the course lost two prestigious PGA Senior Tour events two years ago.

Morgan and John Luke, another Ad Hoc Committee member, said trouble has been growing for much longer at the course, which charges Columbia residents $1,947 and nonresidents $3,894 for annual memberships - plus $13 to rent a cart for each round played.

Columbia Association golf managers have offered various reasons, among them poor grading, age, several turf diseases and, most recently, drought. Last fall, a U.S. Golf Association agronomist described an outbreak of a turf-killing fungus found there, called fairy ring, as the worst case he had encountered.

But Morgan and other Hobbit's Glen golfers point out that other county courses, including Columbia Association's newer Fairway Hills, as well as many that are as old or older, do not have comparable problems.

"I play all over the place," said Luke, a retired federal auditor and Hickory Ridge resident who has been a Hobbit's Glen member since 1971. "Believe me, our greens are the worst in the state. ... But they're so important to how you score well in golf. I've never felt so frustrated."

Morgan and his group blame, for the most part, those who maintain Hobbit's Glen.

The conditions led Williams to do something he said was not typical of him. He drew up and posted several signs on his 1969 pickup truck on Hobbit's Glen's parking lot while he played a morning round with friends June 28.

Williams called his signs "sarcastic." But, he said, he didn't write "anything negative about the course," his goal being to motivate more golfers to demand changes from management.

"We have great fairways - thank you for not working on them," read one sign. "Silence is consent," read another.

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