The Robey administration has yelled "Fore," but no Howard County Council members are stepping up to the tee for a proposed West Friendship golf course.
The council postponed a preliminary vote on the $8.8 million project during a capital budget review yesterday,and several members said they have serious doubts about building a second publicly owned golf course. The county built Timbers of Troy in Elkridge three years ago.
"I don't doubt there's a demand for golf [in the area]. Is there that demand in Howard County?" Councilman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, asked Gary J. Arthur, director of the county Department of Recreation and Parks. Half or more of the golfers at Timbers don't live in Howard County, Gray said.
Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, said he is troubled by the golf course's cost, and Republican Allan H. Kittleman, who represents the West Friendship area, is solidly opposed to the project. He objects to the government's competing with private business.
"If we could sell Timbers tomorrow and make back what we put into it, I would do that tomorrow," Kittleman said.
County Executive James N. Robey wants the council to give general approval to the course as part of the budget, but he has said that he won't build it if owners of private golf courses agree to offer lower green fees for the elderly and youths.
Robey needs the leverage of council backing, especially from his fellow Democrats, to get a solid agreement from private owners, who fear competition from the county.
"If it weren't important, I wouldn't have put it" in the budget, Robey said in a phone interview.
"If they don't want to approve it, it weakens my position tremendously. If I were them, I wouldn't have done that to me," he said.
Robey is to meet with several private golf course owners next week.
Raymond S. Wacks, the county budget director, said during the meeting that a vote for the golf course would be preliminary. Construction would require a vote on financing.
"Let us see if we can work with these guys," Wacks said. "If you remove it from the budget, the pressure to do this is over."
Robey announced in November his support for building the course, but owners of private courses that are open to the public, such as Waverly Woods, Willow Springs and Turf Valley, have vigorously opposed the plan, saying another government-owned course would hurt their businesses, partly because it would not be subject to the same taxes.
Arthur and other proponents of the 210-acre West Friendship site say there is a need for an easy course for beginning and intermediate players who can't afford the higher fees charged by private courses.
Arthur told the council yesterday that the new course would cost $6 million for construction and $3 million for start-up costs and financing.
Fees would range from $20 to $36 from March through October, lower than those at Timbers of Troy, he said.
He argued that the demand exists. Timbers has room for more players on weekdays, but up to 200 people are turned away on weekends, he said.
Donald J. Dunn, president of the county's Golf Advisory Commission, has argued that with the county's elderly population expected to triple in the next 20 years, the council would regret not building a second golf course.
"Build it and they will come," Arthur said.
Council Chairman Mary C. Lorsung, a west Columbia Democrat, said that even if the course gets general council approval as part of the budget, it will face tough questions before it can be built.
"If it survives the budget process, the scrutiny is going to be much more intense, and answers are going to have to be much more clear for the next step to take place," she said.
Thomas J. Healy, owner of Waverly Woods golf course, wasn't complaining when the budget meeting ended without a vote.
"I'm happy for now," he said.