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In a gap between new condominium and townhouse communities along Columbia Road, a hulking machine that looks like a headliner for a monster truck show digs topsoil near a boarded-up, pre-Civil War stone house that one day will be a golf course centerpiece.

The $5.2 million Fairway Hills Golf Course, which will be the nonprofit Columbia Association's second course, is beginning to take shape in an area west of Route 29 and south of Route 108 through which the Little Patuxent River runs.

What were once open fields are now expanses of graded brown earth, and woodlands have become a little sparser as construction crews prepare areas for seeding along the 204-acre, 18-hole course, the former site of the Allview Golf Course, which closed in 1985 to allow for housing developments around its perimeter.

The long battle for approval -- the Columbia Council shelved the Fairway Hills project in 1987 for financial reasons after the association obtained permits -- prompted clashes between environmentalists and golf aficionados, and between proponents in newer communities and opponents in older neighborhoods who both live adjacent to the course.

But now that construction is under way, association construction manager Dennis Mattey said he's convinced that the council -- the association's board of directors -- made the right decision.

"You can see how wide open most of it is, how it fits into the surrounding area," Mr. Mattey said.

"It's a beautiful area with a lot of nice woods, a stream valley and the Little Patuxent River. Some golf course architects design courses that are interesting for the designs themselves. In this case, the natural scenery is what's going to be attractive."

Fairway Hills will run primarily through Dorsey's Search village, but will also extend into Wilde Lake village and Town Center.

The course, intended to relieve crowding at Hobbit's Glen Golf Course, is expected to open by spring 1996, or earlier, depending on how soon the grounds are seeded, Mr. Mattey said. Construction began in February. The association, which builds and manages Columbia's recreational facilities, had been planning a replacement course on the site since Allview's closing. The nonprofit corporation finally obtained the go-ahead for the project from the council and environmental permits last year.

Eight holes have been graded. Within the next two weeks, the 18th hole will be the first play area to be seeded, Mr. Mattey said.

"The 18th hole is supposed to be a hole to remember, the most challenging on the course," he said. "This one will be gorgeous."

Golfers will play uphill on the 18th, hitting over the river toward the clubhouse -- the 3 1/2 -story stone house called Arlington, which is on the Maryland Historical Trust's inventory of historic places. The building, which served as Allview's clubhouse and as a tavern for a short time after that, towers conspicuously among the new Dorsey's Search developments and overlooks the river valley and downtown Columbia.

The association plans to renovate and restore the building, which has been vacant since the mid-1980s and has suffered some deterioration, within about six months, Mr. Mattey said. Plans call for the ground floor to be used as a pro shop, a snack bar and a lounge with a fireplace. A porch will be added facing Columbia Road and the upper floors closed.

Columbia Association will delay construction on three holes in Wilde Lake's Running Brook community while a resident's challenge of an environmental permit remains pending.

Although opponents were vocal during the approval process for Fairway Hills, Mr. Mattey said he has met many adjacent property owners who support the project.

Dana Pescosolido is one of those. "Put it in our backyard. We want it there. We were buying golf course townhouses," Mr. Pescosolido said at an environmental permit hearing last year on behalf of the Forsgate homeowners association.

But some area residents still take offense. "It seems to me like an intrusion into the neighborhood," said Edwin Strakna, a 21-year Running Brook resident. "I don't like the way they're tearing down a lot of woodlands and wetlands."

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