The Montgomery County task force charged with deciding the future of the golf course which flanks Sligo Creek has finished its work, and the Sligo Creek Golf Association has posted both the county report and its own reaction to the report’s conclusions on its website this week.
Although some might question further spending on a golf course during such a tight budget year, the SGCA says that their analysis shows the course could be self sustaining without subsidy from the county. Importantly, the SGCA has also drawn up a plan which would require the dedication of “all non-golf course revenue generated on SCGC property to capital improvements at the course,” according to a press release put out last week by the organization.
I’m not sure I agree with all of the SGCA findings and recommendations. I’m still digesting many of them.
I do think, however, that a private operator would be a much better alternative for the management of this course. As the SGCA says, “The course and the community will be best served by a partner who is committed to the continuation of golf operations.”
(For those unfamiliar with the golf course debate, I guess I should explain that many question the sincerity of the entity known as the Montgomery County Revenue Authority, or MRCA. It seems to many observers that MRCA never wanted the Sligo Golf Course to succeed in the first place, and that it has a strangely vested interest in seeing it fail. Many also feel that MRCA never made any real effort to “partner” with the community in the management process.)
I suppose that in an ideal world it wouldn’t be just any private operator running the course, but rather one who would serve the real needs of the community where the golf course is located. I would especially LOVE to see an operator that is familiar with green golf course management, one that embraces modern, low-impact design and touts the benefits of conservation landscaping. That is, afterall, becoming common in the golf course world right now.
A private operator that advertised and actively marketed this course would also be wonderful. One that enhanced its beauty and environmental value would be even better. Best of all would be an operator that embraced the notion of urban golf course management, one that actively pursued educational and recreational partnerships local schools.
Besides, I think many of the local neighbors have found the MRCA’s obfuscation frustrating. A manager that focused on pleasing neighbors in order to ATTRACT them to play would be a real change for Sligo.
There would have to be some county oversight in this somewhat Eutopian vision I have for the course’s future. Without strict oversight, an outside manager could simply pave the entire place or make it a 24 hour mini-golf course. (Something like that almost happened under MRCA’s management!) Although such a place might make money, it certainly wouldn’t achieve any kind of sustainable vision for the greater Sligo watershed.
Let me interrupt myself here to acknowledge that it might seem odd that I care this much about this course. I have never played a single game of golf in my entire life.
But as I’ve written several times in the last few years, this situation is unique. Sligo Golf Course provides one of the few places downcounty where those who *do* golf can play a few holes without driving far. To me this amenity provides an important incentive for keeping a lot of local residents from moving to the sprawling outer suburbs where golf courses are plentiful. Such recreational amenities are essential to making smart growth and the Silver Spring revitalization a continued success.
And having a local course also prevents many dozens of small trips up 270 by golfers. We’ve been told again and again by urban planners that those small trips add up to lots of pollution and congestion, and the entire DC area has been advised more than once to work towards reducing such trips by increasing local amenities in the areas where people actually live and work.
Moreover and on a much more personal note, the course provides a green, open space that might other wise be gobbled up by developers in this already-too-dense location. That’s a whole other kind of “amenity” that all too often goes unrecognized in this area: an open vista not filled with buildings. I ride my bike by the course at least once a week all year long. I understand its value from an entirely different point of view.
There are, of course, ways the green could be improved. Those improvements would include reducing the nutrient load on the nearby creek by reducing fertilizer use, planting more natives and more trees in general along the edges of the course, and installing raingardens at the lowest sections to reduce run-off from the hilly, sloping greens. The course could also envelope or embrace other uses in the off season. The pro shop could sell bike and soccer supplies and snacks to trail users, too.
I continue to find it frustrating that the county is thinking in a very “old school” way about this course. Instead of investing in its future and its sustainability, the county keeps contemplating its demise in favor of fancier courses elsewhere. If the county truly believes in both a restored Sligo and a thriving Silver Spring/Wheaton area, then that kind of thinking has got to stop.