Sports complex halfway to completion

Golf range, courts seen as boon to Park Heights

celebration set tomorrow

August 02, 2004|By Ilene Hollin | Ilene Hollin,SUN STAFF

Hoping to use golf to improve life in the inner city, a golf range and family sports complex planned for Northwest Baltimore reaches its halfway point in construction this week.

The nonprofit Park Heights Community Golf Range Inc. will open athletics courts and a playground in Lucille Park to neighborhood children - a crucial step in fulfilling the group's theme of "from the streets to the fairways."

The group has raised about half of the estimated $2.3 million necessary to build the range through private donations and city funding.

The celebration - set for 5 p.m. tomorrow - marks the completion of the $250,000 sports arena, which includes two tennis courts, two basketball courts and a playground in the 4700 block of Reisterstown Road in Park Heights. The golf range, expected to be completed in 2006, will be across the street facing Wabash Avenue. The complex will be known as the Park Heights Community Golf Range and Family Sports Park.

`We are serious'

"Once the first phase got done, and we really started to implement phase two, we had a deliverable to show [the community] that we are serious about going forward and preparing this golf project," said Oscar Cobbs, president of the golf range's board of directors and a Park Heights resident.

The inner-city golf range was envisioned in 1997 by Rodney "Binx" Watts, a professional golfer born and raised in Baltimore. He said he had been disappointed to discover how few golf opportunities exist in the city.

Working with local community activist Bev Thomas, Watts rallied the community to transform the underused park.

"Binx and other volunteers in the golf arena were more than convincing to the community that golf itself could touch so many aspects of individual children's lives," Thomas said.

In a sport where you must call your own penalties, keep your shirttail tucked in and respectfully watch while other players putt, there is a lot of room for kids to grow, Watts said.

"It can make kids into better potential citizens because of self-discipline," Watts said. "It is a game of honesty and integrity."

Limited access

With golf absent from schools and ranges located in the suburbs, city kids have limited access to the sport. A golf range in Park Heights would enable kids to get off the school bus and walk to hit a bucket of balls, Watts said.

"This could be the key to cleaning up this particular part of Park Heights," Thomas said.

Lucille Park is surrounded by a late-night bar and barbed-wire fences. The park also is the scene of a highly visible drug market, community members said.

Not only may the golf range bring other businesses to the area, but construction plans include acquisition of the bar property and demolition of the building.

`Totally youth'

The golf range will be about 5 acres, have 30 hitting stalls, a practice putting green, a pro shop and five short holes, usable when the tees are closed.

"It will be totally youth from its inception to its maintenance," Cobbs said. "That is one of the driving forces."

Children won't just come to play golf and tennis. Park organizers say children will be trained to run the complex. They will take part in every aspect of the corporation, from serving on the board of directors to learning how to maintain the grounds.

"We want kids to learn about the careers that surround the golf experience," Watts said.

Watts said he hopes the range can be self-sustaining and that profits could eventually help put golf into schools.

A prototype

If successful, Park Heights could serve as a prototype for inner-city golf in other regions, Watts said.

City children have basketball and football, but golf could be a new tradition.

"We think it is going to produce a set of young people that are outstanding and will know how to invest into the community," Cobbs said.

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