As the Columbia Association's board of directors prepares to evaluate the future of the troubled Hobbit's Glen Golf Club, some board members and golf club committee members are saying they would consider hiring a management firm to run the course.
Columbia Councilman Joshua Feldmark of Wilde Lake said he will bring up the idea of outside course management at the board's fiscal 2004 budget retreat Oct. 12 and 13, when Columbia Association staff will present to the board options for repairing the 18-hole course's damaged greens.
"It's something that needs to be on the table with everything else," he said. "I think we owe it to [golfers] to at least take a look at that."
The Hobbit's Glen course, built 35 years ago, has had numerous greens problems, which have caused financial losses. Association golf managers have attributed the damaged turf to a variety of causes, including poor original construction, age, turf disease and drought.
CA President Maggie J. Brown has said repairing the greens is her top priority for next year's budget. The board - which also acts as the council - will approve the budget in February.
Council Chairman Miles Coffman said he thought the board would look at any options that would help improve the course's quality and that fixing the damaged greens should be the primary focus. He said that while Fairway Hills Golf Club has the same management as Hobbit's Glen, the Fairway club does not have similar greens problems. Fairway is a newer course and has a different construction.
If the board could find a management deal that would be advantageous to CA and golfers, he said he would consider it.
"From a standpoint of doing what's best for CA and the rest of Columbia, I wouldn't close out anything," Coffman said.
But Rob Goldman, CA's vice president for sport and fitness, said an outside management company would have to pay CA at least $750,000 to make up the money the association would lose from operations from both Hobbit's Glen and Fairway Hills.
"Our preliminary look at it, because of the fiscal realties, would suggest it's not a viable option," he said.
Goldman said the problems at Hobbit's Glen stem for the physical condition of the greens, which he said need to be rebuilt. He called the managers at the golf courses "some of the finest professionals in the golf industry."
Feldmark, however, said to attribute the course's condition only to physical problems is "short-sighted."
"They didn't have physical problems for a lot of years, and no other courses have those problems," he said.
Dave Leonard, chairman of the Hobbit's Glen/Fairway Hills Golf Committee, said the committee never discussed the possibility of leasing the golf club. He said he's not opposed to the idea, but it's something that "should be considered very carefully."
"If you hire a management group, they're in it to make a profit, and I think a well-managed group could make a profit running Hobbit's Glen," he said.
At the pre-budget hearing this month, Leonard told the board declining use of the course would cause it to lose $165,000 to $200,000 this year. He said the golf committee would likely recommend to CA staff that all of the greens be rebuilt at once, which would require closing the course for at least nine months.
"We hope the staff listens," he said. "We think we have been deeply involved in the process to be educated enough."
Some golfers have become impatient with CA's management of the course and have formed the Ad Hoc Committee from Hobbit's Glen Golf Club to pressure the homeowners association to improve the course's management and greens.
The group was formed as a reaction to Robert D. Bellamy, operations manager for sports and fitness facilities division, suspending club member Ben Williams in June after the Marriottsville resident posted signs in his truck parked outside the club protesting the condition of the greens.
On Thursday, the ad hoc committee sent a letter to the board imploring CA to "create a kinder and gentler staff."
The committee told the board it expected, among other things, the association to be "attentive to CA staff's actions and hold them responsible and accountable for their customer service" and to be "more responsive to member/lien payer needs and inquiries."
The committee has claimed that the course's conditions will not improve without changes in management. Walter Morgan, an organizer for the committee, said hiring an outside management firm is a "viable option."
"We're not getting the management we're paying for," he said.
CA already has leased one facility. After financial losses and low use by residents at the Horse Center, the council hired a contractor last year to run the facility.
The horse center ended fiscal year 2002 $120,000 in debt, which was a large improvement compared with the previous year, when it finished with a $417,000 deficit.
Councilwoman Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills, who said she first brought up leasing the horse center, said she thinks the board needs to thoroughly investigate whether the problems at Hobbit's Glen stem from management or physical issues. She said she would be "absolutely open" to hiring a management firm if that option proved beneficial.
"That would be something that I would be open-minded to because I've been there, done that," she said.
Councilman Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance said he isn't ready to close any doors on how to improve Hobbit's Glen.
"I'd like to leave all options on the table - that ranges from shutting the course to having someone come in and manage it to spending $2 million to repair it in a short period of time to doing nothing," he said. "Frankly, I'm willing to consider all of those."
Feldmark said there might be a possibility that CA is beyond itself in its capability to manage the course.
"We do a lot," he said. "There is a point where you can say you do too much and a lot of programs suffer because you're stretched beyond your means."