Most government-owned public golf courses in Maryland's metropolitan areas sell alcohol and allow it along their links -- just as the Columbia Association (CA) is proposing in a controversial liquor-license request opposed by somecourse neighbors.
But some regional public golf courses run by quasi-governmental agencies similar to CA in the Baltimore and Washington suburbs restrict alcohol sales, either not selling it at all or limiting consumption to clubhouses. Operators of these courses say their restrictions are meant to guard against abuse, potential accidents and nuisances to course neighbors.
The debate over the CA's liquor license application for its new 204-acre Fairway Hills Golf Course comes before the Howard County Liquor Board Oct. 10. Some of the new course's neighbors are fighting the idea of golfers drinking alcohol so close to their homes and charging that liquor sales are inconsistent with CA's larger responsibilities to their community.
The debate hinges on a much larger but cloudy issue that comes up in other matters involving the nonprofit association: whether its responsibilities are more like those of a public institution than a private enterprise.
The same potential for confusion comes into play with the $5.5 million course, built with debt now borne by all Columbia property owners. The course is open to all Columbia residents for a daily fee, but it also sells private memberships to residents and non-Columbia residents.
The new course, which the association has marketed as a family facility ideal for juniors, is sandwiched among residential developments in Columbia's Wilde Lake and Dorsey's Search villages, west of U.S. 29. CA's other course, Hobbit's Glen, allows liquor on the course.
But some Fairway Hills neighbors say the CA -- which imposes an annual levy on Columbia property owners to pay for its facilities and services -- has a public responsibility to restrict beer and wine sales and consumption to the course's clubhouse.
They say liquor sales -- including possible sales from mobile carts -- could disturb the neighborhood and set a poor example for children.
"If Fairway Hills was out in the country and there weren't so many kids going around and across the golf course, it would be a different situation," said John F. Baker, a member of the Wilde Lake village board, which opposes the CA's request.
But other course neighbors and golfers view the association more as a business serving clients. They say social drinking is appropriate, part of the sport's culture nationwide.
"It's really part of why I came to this community, not to be controlled, but to be a responsible adult," said Kathie Bogle, a Dorsey's Search village resident.
A Sun survey of government-affiliated golf courses in Baltimore city and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Prince Georges and Montgomery counties showed that 13 out of 20 sell beer, but only 11 allow alcohol to be carried on the course. Many of the 11 have mobile refreshment carts or beverage huts.
"We've never experienced any problem," said John Knepley, who oversees three Prince George's County public courses for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, zzTC bi-county, quasi-governmental agency.
But he noted those courses are isolated from residential areas.
But the Montgomery County Revenue Authority, an agency of county government that owns and operates four public golf courses, prohibits alcohol outside snack bars for the two courses for which it sells its own concessions.
Executive Director Anthony Shore said dangerous situations -- such as errant shots -- could arise from golfers drinking beer on the course.
The Baltimore County Revenue Authority, another quasi-governmental agency that recently assumed operations of three public courses from the county's recreation department, doesn't have liquor licenses. Charles L. Kines, a county recreation manager, said officials in the 1970s opted not to sell alcohol there, partly to protect the image of facilities that touted programs for youths.
"We just feel sometimes you have to take a stand -- right is right and wrong is wrong," Mr. Kines said.
And in Baltimore, where the Baltimore Municipal Golf Corporation contracts out concessions for five city public courses, two have liquor licenses and allow alcohol on their courses. The other three subcontractors might not have obtained liquor licenses because "there may be some neighborhood opposition to it," said Jon Ladd, the corporation's director of golf.
Private clubs -- most of which are owned by members or developers -- generally sell alcohol and have only loose restrictions on consumption. Golfers rarely drink to excess while playing, say national golf association officials.
However, decisions are more tricky for public-course operators, said Curt M. Walker, executive director of Minneapolis-based Public Golf Management Association.
He noted that broad liquor licenses may help golf-course operators to control alcohol use better, but added: "I don't think national standards can be placed here. Local sentiment should govern. The only standard applied is usually good taste."