Hillendale douses fire with burning desire


From the ashes of destruction and the crushing morale factor that came with a fire that leveled the building to a hopeless state of twisted girders and devastation has come a new spirit at Hillendale Country Club, which cut the ribbon yesterday on a $6 million-plus clubhouse that is being hailed as one of the most spectacular in the Middle Atlantic area.

It's a striking development that enhances not only Hillendale but will have an impact on what other clubs may do to gain parity. Hillendale was the victim in being burned out but it also is the victor. What has happened is an impressive comeback. No, it's more than that.

This is an incomparable rejuvenation, which has given the club and its members a rightful feeling of pride and reborn confidence about itself. In space, it encompasses 46,000 square feet, almost twice the size of the previous clubhouse.

But this is not about physical dimensions. The appealing way the building was created by architect Gerard Baxter of Bel Air, the Whiting-Turner Construction Co., contract-building manager Bob Volpe and the H. Chambers Co., interior design specialists, have given Hillendale the attractive amenities to take its place among the elite of outstanding golf facilities.

William Clarke, pro emeritus who is well traveled as a former president of the national PGA, conceded that what Hillendale has become is a standard of all-around excellence.

"I've been to most of the great clubs in America, places such as Invernessand Crooked Stick, but none are better than this," he said with grand appreciation for what has been accomplished.

There are seven different serving sections for food and drink, including two spacious bars known as the Overlook Lounge and Sand Trap. Men's and women's dressing rooms have a total of 660 individual lockers, made of alderwood, and carpeting so plush it's thicker than virgin fairway.

The governors of the club took care of space for administrative offices, the inclusion of a William Clarke Board Room, a pro shop, card room and huge window vistas that provide views of the course and the nearby rolling terrain. There's even a private room where young children can be entertained while their parents are playing golf.

"Our members are ecstatic," commented head professional Allen Wronowski. "They are comparing it to resort courses around the world and some rate it with PGA National. Now that's high praise, even going beyond the country club level."

It was on the evening of Aug. 20, 1993, when what was believed to be an electrical fire gutted the former clubhouse, then in the throes of being enlarged in a $3 million expansion project. More than 500 sets of members' golf clubs and bags had earlier been moved by Wronowski and his staff to a trailer to make way for construction crews. The fleet of carts had been quartered in a newly built storage building, or else losses would have been more extensive.

Other clubs, near and far, realizing what Hillendale was up against, extended playing and dining privileges. Now, as one of the first items on the agenda, Hillendale has scheduled "Country Club Appreciation Day" on April 11 and will invite head professionals, club presidents, golf chairmen and superintendents for golf and entertainment.

Hillendale president John Pauliny said: "We intend to do some other things in an effort to reciprocate the clubs that were so gracious to us. It's difficult to say what it will be, but we don't take for granted the assistance they all gave us in our time of need."

That's traditional Hillendale consideration manifesting itself. The club originated in 1923 on property located north of the city line on Loch Raven Boulevard, about a driver and 5-iron distance south of Taylor Avenue.

In 1954, it moved to its present site on Blenheim Road, in Baltimore County, and forged a reputation as one of the best maintained courses in the area. However, in the summer of the fire, it suffered the loss of all of 18 greens because of environmental and treatment problems.

But now the tees, fairways and greens are in excellent condition, plus an enlarged driving range. The recovery not only is complete but Hillendale has surpassed what it previously hoped to have when the fire destroyed the building and hampered the golf operation for 19 months.

Alan Kerry, second vice president, wasn't engaging in golf course vanity but said he sincerely believes Hillendale has become the "most efficient and modern country club in the area." He'll get few arguments.

"There must have been 10,000 hours of volunteer assistance provided by our members," said Kerry. "A committee of our women membership offered a consensus on appropriate furnishings and you only have to look around to see how well it all blended."

Enter the front door and you're in a gallery foyer with Brazilian parquet floors underfoot, but enough of this. Hillendale, in any assessment, has become a thing of beauty. The ill winds that fanned the flames blew someone some good, as the cliche reminds . . . in this case Hillendale.

There's a Phoenix, Md., address for the club but the phoenix, pertaining to Hillendale, is no longer a myth from the primitive past. It has become reality.

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