A decade in the works, the Columbia Association's second golf course will open Saturday amid cheers from many eager Howard County golfers and jeers from some angry neighbors who view the course as insensitive to homeowners and the environment.
Residents of Wilde Lake village have battled for years against the controversial $5.5 million, 18-hole Fairway Hills Golf Course just west of U.S. 29. They are carrying challenges of liquor licenses and shifts in tee locations right up to opening day.
But Columbia Association officials say they've done everything possible to accommodate residents and design an environmentally sensitive course. Golfing enthusiasts say Fairway Hills will help fill a growing demand for links in the county.
Those assurances do little to appease Pamela McKusick, who claims an unapproved tee shift will bring golfers -- and errant shots -- even closer to her home in Wilde Lake's Running Brook neighborhood, which borders three course holes.
"I live there," Ms. McKusick told the Columbia Council, CA's board of directors, last week. "I'm not just passing through for a round of golf. How about the Columbia Association showing some real concern for my rights and needs?"
Virginia H. Scott, perhaps the project's most strident opponent, who lost an administrative challenge of CA's state environmental permits last year, also said the course is more intrusive than she expected.
"I think they just put it in the wrong place," said the Running Brook resident. "I don't figure the community fight is over yet."
Even golfers describe the 204-acre Fairway Hills as a "tight course" that leaves little margin for error on several holes lined by homes or environmental obstacles.
But Robert Goldman, the association's director of membership services, said if any safety problems occur, CA will "immediately respond the way we have at Hobbit's Glen" Golf Club for 27 years. CA plans to erect screens along two Fairway Hills fairways and has protected other homes with landscaping, he said.
He contends a small opposition group has cost CA time and money to address concerns. "Obviously we didn't do anything we believed would have an adverse impact on residents," Mr. Goldman said.
Many course neighbors agree, saying that they are happy to look out windows at fairways and that CA has responded to their concerns, even adjusting its plans.
"They've been a very good neighbor so far," said Gregory Phillips, vice president of a Dorsey's Search village townhouse community overlooking the course. "I've been impressed."
He said he's comfortable with controversial plans for alcohol being sold from mobile carts or consumed along the course because CA is "held to a different standard than a Bennigan's or a Hooters bar. They feel more responsible to the community."
Craig Burton, a Dorsey's Search resident who lives along the course, added: "I look on it as nothing but absolutely an asset to my property."
And while Columbia Council leaders regret the acrimony the project has caused, they predict the course -- which runs through Wilde Lake and Dorsey's Search villages and is bisected by the Little Patuxent River -- will be a success.
"I really share the sentiments of virtually everyone that it's turned out to be even better than I expected," said Roy T. Lyons, a Columbia councilman and a leader of the Howard County Golfers Association, which lobbied for a new course for a decade. "It's going to be one of the best payoffs CA has had."
The association levies an annual charge on property owners to manage recreational facilities and other services. It gets nearly half of its revenues from facility-use fees -- such as the new golf course where annual memberships begin at $126 for residents and $249 for nonresidents. To play 18 holes will run members $14 on weekdays and $18 on weekends.
Fairway Hills, which features a restored, pre-Civil War building as its clubhouse, will be the county's sixth regulation-length golf course. The others are CA's Hobbit's Glen, Cattail Creek Country Club in Glenwood and three courses at Turf Valley Country Club in Marriottsville.
Willow Springs Golf Course in West Friendship -- a privately run, shorter course -- is a nonmembership facility. The county is building its first public course -- The Timbers at Troy -- in Elkridge, expected to open in fall 1996.
Fairway Hills' back nine holes will open this weekend, and the front nine next spring. The course has been constructed on the former Allview Golf Course, which the Rouse Co. closed in 1985 to allow development of townhouses and apartments. Rouse, Columbia's developer, gave the land to CA in exchange for CA bearing the cost of building the course.
The road to building was as rough as a fairway full of divots. The council tabled the project -- second in cost to the $6.5 million Supreme Sports Club among CA projects -- for financial reasons in 1987. The project was revived in 1990, and studies project high demand and profits within several years.
After several contentious hearings -- and a last-minute proposal to consider another property -- the council narrowly approved the course in March 1993. Later that year, environmentalists and Running Brook residents argued in state hearings that the course would damage the Little Patuxent River watershed, but permits were granted.
Now, Fairway Hills is like the "phoenix rising from the ashes" of the Allview course, said Donald Dunn, president of the county golfers association. "It was a very arduous process. I really didn't know whether I'd live long enough to play on it."