"THERE'S NO better use for land than a golf course," a friend used to say as we strolled the fairways (and more often, the woods and rough) of local golfing landscapes. He was devoted to the Scots game, ever reading and talking about it and watching others play in tournaments and exhibitions.
And he played whenever he could, wherever he could. His enthusiasm for golf went far beyond that for a mere pastime.
When he died, one eulogist suggested that his green pastures in heaven were pocked with golf cups -- and no one who knew the man considered that solemn thought trite or inappropriate.
For Luke, a game of golf was never a good walk spoiled. It was a walk to be savored for its pleasant surroundings, bountiful compensation for the errant stroke, joyful enhancement of the true and straight ball.
There are lots of people with a passion for golf. An even greater number appreciate the visual amenity of a golf course, with its verdant turf and woods, placid ponds and soothing streams.
The intrusions on the neighborhood are relatively minimal: residents who complain about wayward golf balls on their lawn and through their windows are usually the very people who paid a premium price to live next to the golf course.
Golf course shortage
There's a serious shortage of golf courses in the Baltimore metro region, according to one national survey of recreational facilities.
That's evident in the long lines of golfers vying for just the chance to get a tee time on a public course, in the membership waiting lists of private country clubs, in the daily pilgrimages of Marylanders to more available courses across the Pennsylvania line.
All of which leads us to the proposed plans of the three elderly Rash brothers to convert their family farm near Rolling Hills to a golf course and an upscale 50-unit housing development.
The Carroll County commissioners last month approved rezoning of the agricultural land, based on a change in the neighborhood land-use and on a past mistake in rezoning.
This despite the vigorous opposition of Gov. Parris N. Glendening and of county residents who thought the commissioners were supposed to honor Carroll's long-standing commitment to preserve its farmland.
Green vista, no odor
But we're talking about a new golf course here west of Sykesville, a private piece of God's green earth that provides the community with a much more pleasant vista (and odor) than a working farm. It's open space without the burden of public maintenance, or public payments to the owners for easements to keep the land in farming.
The addition of 50 homes to booming South Carroll presumably means more demands on public services, such as schools, roads and other utilities.
But not as much as one might expect. Recall the pleadings of the Rash brothers that they could no longer operate their poky farm machinery on the public roads because of heavy residential traffic (and thus their land was unfit for farming).
Assuming that is true, we would expect that removing those obstructive, unlicensed Rash farm vehicles from the roads would quickly free up the routes to handle more residential traffic.
Specific plans for the development are not available, the rezoning of farmland to residential use was the only point at issue. So I can't further comment on the design or capacity of the proposed subdivision. Except that typical demographics suggest these new upscale homes won't likely be burgeoning with young kids enrolling at the nearby schools.
So maybe the county came out better with the decision to allow the golf course community in South Carroll.
It gets dedicated green space and increased tax dollars and a restricted housing development (which will still have to meet all codes and environmental requirements).
The greater fear
The greater fear, of course, is that this decision of the commissioners (if not overturned in legal challenge) puts a foot in the door for other frustrated farmers who'd rather see their acres chockablock with apartment complexes than cornfields; they can salve their esthetic pain with the developer's money. It's a lot easier for them with the Rash decision in hand.
The future promises a difficult struggle for this county, which isn't even one-third of the way toward achieving its public policy goal of preserving 100,000 acres of farmland as open space amenity for the community.
It will be even harder, given the preachers of property rights who control two of the three votes of the county's board of commissioners.
There is a possible solution to the dilemma, one that my friend Luke might have proposed: Require any new sizable subdivision to include a golf course in its site plan.
Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.