Closed golf site's future studied

March 02, 2009|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

An unprofitable public golf course in Kingsville could become a regional park with trails, athletic fields and possibly a gymnasium, but not without a battle from golfers who want it to stay open.

Baltimore County recreation officials have scheduled a community meeting 7 p.m. Wednesday at Kingsville Elementary School to help chart the future of the 112-acre course on Raphel Road and a recently purchased adjoining 28 acres.

"We will gather a consensus and lean more toward that," said Robert J. Barrett, county director of Recreation and Parks.

With golfers continuing to argue for the course and residents pushing for more recreational opportunities, consensus could be elusive.

The Gunpowder Falls Golf Course lost money - $250,000 last year - but the property promises recreational benefits to an area hard-pressed for fields and gym space, officials said.

"I have lived here since I was born, and when I played as a kid, we needed space," said Paul Muller, 43, co-commissioner for basketball at Kingsville Recreation Council.

Donald I. Mohler III, a county spokesman, said officials want to put the property to optimum use. "The only thing that is not possible is a golf course," he said.

Hugh McKenna, a 71-year-old retiree who represents "a group of disgruntled and disparate golfers," played on the Gunpowder course twice a week until it closed Jan. 1. The executive course, with 18 holes that are shorter than regulation greens, appealed to beginners, high school golf teams and seniors, he said.

"I can't deny Gunpowder was losing money, but it was never marketed properly," he said. "I know we are fighting an uphill battle, but we are pushing to keep a course there."

The Baltimore County Revenue Authority purchased the property, formerly Mount Vista Greens, for $2.1 million at a foreclosure sale in 2004. The authority, which operates five other courses in the county, invested an additional $1 million in the facility, which includes a spacious clubhouse. About 32,000 rounds of golf were played there each year, but 40,000 were needed to turn a profit, said George Hale, director of the authority, which has transferred ownership to the county.

"We had a good product, but demand at that course never grew beyond the first operating year," Hale said. "A regional park would be the best use for this property."

The White Marsh and Kingsville recreation councils, which use aging elementary school gyms and compete for time on a few fields, would welcome the park, said Shawn Sprole, the county's community supervisor for the area.

"We are all year trying to find places to play," Sprole said. "We have to have to turn away programs."

Kingsville borders Harford County, where one course has recently closed and another is likely to shut down soon, so Gunpowder should stay open, McKenna said. The adjoining acreage provides enough land to keep the course and build a gym and soccer fields, he said.

Barrett will consider all community input, but he did express one caveat.

"There are no capital funds for this project," Barrett said. "It will be inventoried and placed on the shelf until dollars are available."

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