Friday, July 17, 2009

All Your Golf Course Are Belong to Us

So, can I have the three hours of my life back that I spent at the Park & Planning Commission meeting last night? (Read twitter updates here.) After watching a presentation (PDF) from the board outlining alternative uses for the Sligo Creek Golf Course, attendees heard statements from 39 speakers who, for the most part, were vehement supporters of continuing to operate the golf course as a golf course. One guy even threatened to move out of the county if the golf course is replaced. Each of the pro-golf statements was met with rousing applause from those in attendance.

Unfortunately, immediately following all these heartfelt presentations the board proceed to reaffirm its plans to convert the golf course to some other use. According to the board, they have zero power to actually keep the course open and the meeting was held strictly to consider other options. Perhaps this is true, but it's probably something they should have made clear at the beginning of the meeting. Failure to do so led to some outbursts that were met with angry gavel banging by the board's chairman. They probably should have just let it go at that, but one board member proceeded to state that people are just upset because they are "used to" the course, as it became comfortable like an "old shoe", implying, I guess, that it really ought to be replaced with something better. That particular statement went over particularly well with the audience, as you might imagine.

I can't believe that the whole golf course replacement process is being railroaded through the system with little consideration for those who actually live near the course and use it regularly. It seems like everything else the county does takes ages, since apparently for those projects community input is paramount. Case in point: the new Silver Spring Civic Center. They recently got around to building it after years of discussion, charettes and input from the "community". Why do you think we had the so-called "Turf" for so long? Another example: the library. How long have we been discussing this building and considering dozens of prospective designs? At least ten years, I would guess. In many of these instances the "community" consists of the same five people who show up to every meeting. Last night we had a standing room only crowd of residents who passionately supported the golf course, but who were essentially told, "too bad, so sad" by the planning board.

Hell, there's more county involvement in the stupid $700K library bridge that only a small fraction (the voting portion?) of library patrons really need to begin with. Even the county executive has taken a strong position on the bridge issue. Who in Rockville is fighting for the thousands of people who enjoy Sligo Creek Golf course? Can you imagine if they tried to take away a golf course in Bethesda or Chevy Chase? There would be legions of lawyers headed up 355 to stop the action. Look at their reaction when someone proposed running light rail near their precious country club on land that the county already owns. Maybe The Poors down here in Silver Spring aren't worth the county's precious time or funding. Perhaps it's hard to conceptualize that a fancy sport like golf might be played east of Chevy Chase.

This whole deal is so sketchy and opaque that I'm inclined to buy in to some of the CON...spiracy theories I've heard floating around this situation. Will we be seeing the Sligo Creek Golf Condos in a few years?

So here are the facts, at least as I understand them. It doesn't take a Vulcan to see that logically the Sligo Creek Golf Course was doomed from the moment an agreement was signed with the Revenue Authority:

  • The county signed over the management rights to a facility that can, according to the RA, only be run profitably with a driving range. (Did no one do the math beforehand??)
  • The RA did not have the right to build the driving without county approval.
  • The county would not approve these changes without buy in from "the community".
  • The community would never agree to these changes.
  • The RA will dump a course that it believes cannot be run profitably.
  • If the course is returned to the county, it cannot be run as a golf course according to the county's 30 year (!) agreement with the RA, which effectively means the course can never be used again.
So now a course that happily existed for 50 or so years prior to the arrival of the RA will now be plowed under for some soccer fields or other use, which will no doubt cost the county county plenty of money they claim not to have. Why would the county grant the Revenue Authority power of life or death over our public areas, and why do they seemed disinclined to fight the injustice being perpetrated on Silver Spring? Has the RA specifically said that they don't want the Sligo Creek course to continue operating, or is the county using the lease agreement as an excuse to avoid paying for continued operation without commissioning further study to see if the course can be financially viable on its own? It's not like the alternatives being proposed are cheap. One use mentioned in the planning board's presentation was a swimming pool complex. This is cheaper than a golf course to run?

According to their website, the RA claims to be "dedicated to providing services, products, and opportunities of value that offer enrichment to the community". They must have left out the "when profitable" or "for wealthy citizens only" part.

So, what can you do? has a great page with relevant contact emails. Just don't stay on the sidelines. Remember, if they take away golf now, it's never coming back. I don't even play golf myself, but I always just took it for granted that I'd pick it up eventually, seeing that I had Sligo Creek Golf Course within walking distance of my house.

Not that you should need the motivation, but I'll leave you with this. The seniors part is appropriate.


rb said...

Thanks for your report. I didn't attend and was anxious to see some commentary. Sounds like there's a lot more work to do. In the past Council has listened to residents in protests of some of the nonsense plans for Silver Spring. In this case it is about equal opportunity for people who would have difficulty participating at the larger and more expensive public courses, which generally cater to the well-heeled, equal opportunity for golfing novices, teens, older golfers, and the less affluent. Will any new use serve these same populations or more affluent again?

Silver Spring Penguin said...

Confused: If the revenue authority dumped the golf course, isn't it breaching its lease? And if so, doesn't that negate whatever weirdness was in the lease to begin with?

Sligo said...

No, the Revenue Authority was allowed to drop any course deemed unprofitable, but the county still couldn't operate it. How messed up is that?

marksuffanti said...

Why is the Revenue Authority (RA) closing Sligo? Because they can. I've met RA director Keith "Napoleon" Miller 4 times, and like all small generals they yearn to feel their power. Witness the irony of closing Sligo on financial grounds. In 2009 the RA estimates the following:

Sligo will lose $168,178
Poolesville will lose $231,949
Rattlewood will lose $334,744
Little Bennett will lose $344,467
Hampshire Greens will lose $581,403

Except for Sligo all these golf courses will be given subsidies from the RA.

In fact, the next time diminutive billionaire Dan Snyder flies his jet in and out of the RA owned Montgomery Airpark for FREE he will get a RA golf subsidy. Golfers will donate $438,679 of their greens fees to the Airpark to subsidize wealthy private aircraft owners.

Landing Fee: $0
Take Off Fee: $0
Double Standard Factor: Priceless

The RA can subsidize wealthy aircraft owners and their other suburban golf courses but Sligo gets kicked to the curb Oct. 1? Visit our website to find out how you can stop this injustice.

Mark Suffanti
Founding Member

Robert said...

This is just more evidence that the Planning Board has gone seriously off track (no reference to the Purple Line intended). They are also proposing massively higher densities in new plans, including turning the White Flint area into something with greater density than Tysons Corner but with less parking. And they are proposing to allow all this despite the fact that the infrastructure to support the development isn't in place. Traffic congestion, school overcrowding, etc., will only get worse. But the developers will profit, and that seems to be the only thing that matters even if the quality of life and tax rates for current residents will get worse.

The county council needs to bring some sanity back to the planning process.

Anonymous said...

Unrelated to anything - WTF happened at the American Apparel last night? When I walked by at about 7:50am this morning, one of the big plate glass windows was shattered, and there was a mound of glass on the sidewalk. It didn't appear as if the display itself had been touched or harmed in any way. Attempted break-in? Anyone have any idea?

shane said...

Why is everyone up in arms about saving a golf course? A quick look at google maps and I count 7 other courses in Montgomery County. Golf course account for most of the green space inside the beltway.

Needless to say I think this is a great idea. There is a huge need for good playing fields in Silver Spring. Just because the hundreds of kids that would love a good soccer complex didn't show up at the meeting doesn't mean they don't exist.

Sligo said...


Sligo is the only public course inside the beltway in MoCo.

Chaz said...

American apparel windows seem to shatter pretty regularly.

The Sligo golf situation is pretty ridiculous. Does the RA really care if the county operates the course now, or is everyone just throwing their hands up and saying "rules are rules"?

If the rules are your rules, can't you change the rules? It seems ridiculous that when the will of the constituents is so clear, the powers that be choose to ignore it.

rb said...

How much of a tax break do the private country clubs get for maintaining green space with their golf courses? ...including Columbia Country Club which is protesting the Purple Line running on public property along its border?

Anonymous said...

Well, we now know the reason for the broken American Apparel window. It was an anti-gay "statement":

So, want to take any bets as to who did it? Hateful "urban element," or Republican military type staying at the Hilton?

Anonymous said...

Shutting down Sligo puts more money into the other courses, since the golfers will go, presumably, to another MoCo course. That's why it's being closed. The RA want the revenue to be spread around to the other courses.

As for soccer fields... most of the course is flood plain and the areas that might be used for soccer would probably inflame the local residents.

Also, why does soccer get a free ride but golf must support itself in MoCo? If people in MoCo like soccer so much they should have to pay to use the fields *each and every* time. Make them generate revenue too!!

RIP to golf in the lower east county... First White Oak then Sligo. I'm betting these will not be the last victims, either.

Matthew said...

Apparently, they plan to keep Sligo open for another 12 months until they can go through a (legit) process to figure out what to do with it. See email post below from the Woodside Park listserv:

>Friends and Neighbors:
> I just received a phone call from Council Member Ervin's office informing me that the County Executive has agreed to continue running Sligo Creek Golf Course as such for the next 12 months as they put together a community advisory board to explore ways of generating revenue to do so permanently. Details will follow and the Council will need to send it through all the official steps when they reconvene this fall, but this is a tremendous step. Many, many thanks to all those involved in this process (fight?) for the past two+ years!
> Best,
> -Mike Welsh
> President, North Hills of Sligo Creek Civic Association WelshMJ@yahoo.
> com