Fore! New golf courses sprouting around region


Leland Snyder, a banker for 20 years, now lives by the sweat of his brow, moving earth to make greens and fairways, and by his faith that the demand for more golf courses nationwide will sustain the one he's building in Hampstead.

"Golf is on the rise, no question about it," he said.

More women are taking up the sport, he said, and more working-class people. The post-World War II "baby-boom" generation is at that stage where it is seeking more leisurely pastimes, and it is playing golf.

"A lot of guys that are 40 years old, they're too old to play softball," said Snyder, who is 42. "Golf is something they can do for the rest of their life."

Others are making the same bet, as golf courses are being built or planned all around the region. But the building can hardly keep up with the demand here, or nationally.

In the most recent survey by the National Golf Foundation in Jupiter, Fla., there were 13,738 golf courses in the United States in 1989, only 1000 more than 10 years earlier. But the number of golfers jumped by two-thirds in those 10 years, from 14.6 million to 24.7 million.

Baltimore County has reckoned a need for 10 new golf courses to satisfy an estimated demand for 1.5 million rounds of golf in the county each year -- more than twice the 680,000 rounds now played on local public and private county courses, said Keene Gooding, a management analyst with the county Department of Recreation and Parks. For a start, Gooding said, the county is completing acquisition of land to add 18 holes to its Diamond Ridge Golf Course in Woodlawn.

Anne Arundel County has bought land for a new course, but can't afford to build it yet, said Joe McCann, director of county Recreation and Parks. He also knows of a private developer who is thinking of applying to build a course for public use.

Howard County has identified two potential sites for new 18-hole golf courses, to be built by the county or a developer, for public use, said Joe Rutter, the county director of Recreation and Parks. A developer is already building a new public course off Md. 97 near the Montgomery County line, he said.

Harford County has no current proposals for new golf courses. Two private plans that were approved two years ago were later dropped.

Nor does Baltimore City have any plans to add to the four public courses within the city limits.

In Carroll County, three golf courses in the approval process or under construction would add to three existing courses, all accessible to the public.

Besides Leland Snyder's Oakmont Green, a 6,400-yard, 18-hole public course, two others are in the planning stages: Challedon, off Md. 27 north of Mount Airy, and River Downs in Gamber.

Golf courses are especially vital as enhancements to selling high-priced housing, said Anne Poissant, a subdivision reviewer for Carroll County.

That is the intended outcome for Oakmont Green, which started as part of a residential development owned by Oak Investment in Timonium. After Oak Investments won all the approvals for the golf course, Snyder bought the 156-acre site in April and started building it a month later. Oak Investment plans to build 89 homes across 126 acres and expects to sell them for as much as $350,000, said James E. Matthews, the company president.

He is working on similar deals to combine residential developments with new golf courses in Baltimore and Frederick counties.

Matthews said the opening of Interstate 795 five years ago and the continued development of Owings Mills in western Baltimore County has made Carroll far more accessible as a site for a suburban golf course. He expects the building lots and the golf course in Hampstead will draw from Baltimore County and city and Howard County as well as from around Carroll.

Snyder decided to build the course in Hampstead after noticing more and more Marylanders appearing at a golf course that his family company built in Spring Grove, Pa., between York and Hanover. Business has doubled in the four years since it opened, he said, with tee times booked solid from 6 a.m. through 3 p.m. most Saturdays.

The site is now mostly wild weeds and dust as earth moving machines shape the terrain between forests, three ponds and a stream that will figure into the challenge of playing. At this point, the future greens are mounds of sand, topsoil and peat, with a gravel base for drainage. The irrigation pipes are still being laid in narrow trenches.

Snyder expects to sow this barren land with rye and bluegrass by early September. The fairways should be in bloom and resounding with cries of "fore" by next June.

Oakmont Green will need enough golfers to put in about 35,000 rounds of golf each year to make it profitable, Snyder said. To help it do that, he has designed the course for faster play, four to five hours per round. It will offer less rough and fewer places for golfers to search for lost balls.

The course will have challenging holes, but won't be treacherous. Snyder, who has a 15 handicap and calls himself "an average golfer," thinks he'll like it.

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