Should Carroll Take a Swing at Golf?


Carroll's golfers -- as well as those residing outside the county -- are rejoicing over the opening of River Downs Golfer's Club. The first nine holes of this new course outside Finksburg are ready for use, and the back nine holes are scheduled to open in late summer. As word spreads around the Baltimore region, golf-starved men and women are likely to fill up the tee times.

Even though Carroll is blessed with six golf courses, there seems to be a general countywide tolerance of creating more. Virtually no one opposed River Downs while it wound its way through the county's development process. Given a future that calls for choosing between acres of closely packed tract housing or velvety-green golf courses surrounded by luxury homes, many Carroll residents would select golf courses as the lesser of two evils.

Marketing studies estimate that some 165,000 golfers live in an area encompassed by Carroll and parts of Howard, Frederick and Baltimore counties and Baltimore City. Despite the hordes of golfers and lack of courses in the metropolitan area, attempts to build new facilities are often greeted by vigorous opposition. Baltimore County residents, for example, have mobilized to oppose the most recent effort to turn the historic Hayfields farm into a course. Efforts to expand the Baltimore City-owned Pine Ridge course were opposed by environmentalists who said the course would damage the Loch Raven watershed. Plans to build a new course in Columbia, also to open this summer, brought howls, too.

Building golf courses would be one way to maintain Carroll's precious open space. By converting agricultural land to golf course turf, the runoff of sediment into the Patapsco River watershed won't worsen. New golf courses also mean some more houses. To make the golf course development economically feasible, developers often create exclusive subdivisions surrounding the courses. River Downs, a 500-acre development that includes 130 homes, follows this model. The custom homes will range in price from $300,000 to $450,000.

Given the seemingly limitless demand for golf in the region, Carroll may be positioned to fill the need. If the county wants to preserve rolling green fields and lush woodlands, golf courses may be an acceptable substitute for farms and forests in some areas ripe for residential development.

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