George Hale beamed with pride as he watched busy contractors putting the finishing touches on the clubhouse at the recently renovated Gunpowder Falls Golf Course in Kingsville, which opens to the public today.
"A month ago, this was, I think, the dirtiest place on Earth," said Hale, executive director of the Baltimore County Revenue Authority, which is overseeing the $900,000 renovation of what was known as Mount Vista Golf Course. But there are signs of a fresh beginning: revitalized greens, new tee markers and benches, and a refurbished clubhouse.
Bill Cullum, longtime resident pro at the course, calls the transformed property "a first-class operation on par with any public golf course in this county."
The authority, which owns five other golf courses in the county, bought the Mount Vista course for $2.1 million at an auction in January.
The previous owners filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2002, but when they were unable to maintain payments on the property, the bank began foreclosure proceedings.
"We jumped at the possibility to preserve this facility with a total investment of $3 million, when constructing a comparable course would run $5 to $6 million," Hale said.
The renovations will also include rebuilding the bunkers and cart paths and improving the irrigation system - efforts that are expected to continue into next month.
Hale estimates that 45,000 rounds of golf will be played at the 65-acre course each year. The 18-hole course is a "midlength" course, with shorter fairways than those at full-length courses.
Authority officials say they believe Gunpowder Falls will be more successful than Mount Vista because it will operate under the umbrella of an organization that manages other courses. This arrangement, Hale said, will provide better marketing of the course and will allow supplies to be bought at lower costs.
In recent years, Mount Vista was at the center of several neighborhood clashes.
Neighbors opposed the owners' plans to expand the business into a country club with a liquor license.
When the owners were granted a permit to build a clubhouse, they built one that was three times as large as what county officials had approved. Zoning officials didn't require the demolition of the clubhouse, but they did reject the owners' request to expand into a country club.
County officials also rejected the owners' proposal to add lights to its driving range, and Hale said such lights will not be added by the authority.
Although there are no immediate plans to request a liquor license, Hale acknowledges the possibility of seeking the right to serve alcohol to golfers at the course, but "only if there was community support for it."