Hobbit's Glen message is straightforward: Quit tinkering and rebuild

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

September 01, 2002|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

NOT JUST a few of what some might view as dissidents are turning up the heat on the Columbia Association's top brass over troublesome, deteriorated greens at once-polished Hobbit's Glen Golf Course.

Two ranking members of the new town's golf establishment, as a couple of those "dissidents" might describe them, spoke out in separate interviews last week, too.

Their unequivocal message for the association's top managers and directors was blunter than that delivered publicly, at least, by a small group of angered players last week: Quit tinkering and rebuild.

"You can't stop a bleeding artery with a Band-Aid," said Dave Leonard, a one-time mid-Atlantic PGA executive director who heads Columbia's Golf Committee. "We need to fix Hobbit's Glen, and we need do it for the next couple generations, spanning 40 or 50 years.

"This penny-wise, pound-foolish approach that has been followed in trying to correct all the problems we're seeing on those greens is just too short-sighted, and it's not working."

Ben Clements, who chairs Hobbit's Glen's Greens Committee, took a business tack:

"This golf course is not competitive with others in the area. It might have been 20 years ago, but no longer. This is not a minor problem, and it's not just something that applies only to low-scoring players. It's a matter of the club losing good players and, ultimately, membership and outings that generate revenue for the Columbia Association.

"The guys on that Ad Hoc Committee play a lot of golf, and they aren't crackpots," Clements said emphatically, referring to five longtime Hobbit's Glen members who forced a mid-August meeting with association President Maggie J. Brown and Miles Coffman, chairman of the Columbia Council, over course conditions. The council also is the association's policy-making board.

The Ad Hoc members voiced many concerns about maintenance and course management. The committee was formed after the rare, abrupt suspension by an association administrator of another longtime member who posted several comparatively mild signs protesting course conditions. Robert D. Bellamy, that manager, accused Marriottsville club member Ben Williams of "degrading the golf course and the golf operation," a charge Williams denies.

Clements' Greens Committee is advisory, partly appointed and partly golfer-elected. Unlike such committees at many private clubs, it does not have hire-fire power over course maintenance personnel.

But Clements, a banker and former assistant golf pro who lives in the Beaverbrook subdivision surrounded by Columbia, said, "It's fair to say that almost everyone on the committee feels the real solution is to rebuild all these greens.

"We need to acknowledge that there are budgetary considerations. ... But what the Ad Hoc group did just shows frustration and dissatisfaction by a lot of people."

Leonard's Golf Committee also is partly appointed, partly golfer-elected. It advises association managers on administrative matters involving its two courses, Hobbit's Glen and Fairway Hills, and it usually labors in near-anonymity.

But Leonard, a "low 20s-handicap golfer" and real-estate agent who lives in Columbia's Clary's Forest neighborhood, said that fixing Hobbit's Glen right will require rebuilding all 18 greens and its practice green. And accomplishing that, he said, will mean closing the course for at least a year. He's for doing just that.

"It's a big decision," he said. "There are lots of things to consider, such as what do you do for members if the course is closed. Can you arrange for them to play elsewhere? And what about employees who rely on the course for their livelihood?

"It's also not a matter of just the cost of construction. If you close the course, it's the loss of revenue to the association for that time."

Then he added, certain to tweak a tender nerve with association managers, whose pay and expenses are laid off against all its facilities: "Hobbit's Glen, by any other accounting method except what CA uses, makes money. They say it's losing money, but it just isn't."

Leonard also offered a prediction: "Lots is going to happen in the next 90 days about Hobbit's Glen. What happens in the next three to six months will be crucial. ... But I think that, this time, everyone has the same goal about improving this course."

Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@baltsun.com.

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