Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2007

Players say plan would chip away at golf course

County could reconfigure holes four through nine at Sligo Creek to accommodate driving range

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Sligo Creek Golf Course regulars say the county’s proposed changes to slice the course by nearly 1,000 yards will lead even the most loyal players elsewhere.

The Montgomery County Revenue Authority’s plans for major renovations at the Silver Spring golf course would keep the site ‘‘executive style,” but would reconfigure holes four through nine for a driving range. Golfers say the most challenging holes on the nine-hole course would be affected.

‘‘Everybody’s been talking about it, and I have not heard one positive thing from the people who actually golf there,” said James Menkhus, a Capuchin Franciscan friar who lives in Washington, D.C. Menkhus, a frequent visitor to the course, said the changes would make the course ‘‘almost a putt-putt course.”

The course’s current makeup of four par 4s and five par 3s would be altered to include seven par 3s and two par 4s. Hole nine, a favorite of golfers, would be split into two holes to accommodate the range. Other changes could include expanding the clubhouse and snack area, and adding one or two mini-golf courses.

Jill Klappenbach, a Chevy Chase resident who plays at Sligo about three times a week, said the course would no longer be worth playing. Mark Suffanti, a Silver Spring resident who comes to Sligo two to three times a week, said the number of regular golfers there would drop dramatically.

‘‘There is no one interested in a course that short,” Suffanti said.

But Keith Miller, executive director of the Revenue Authority, which has managed the courses since taking over the duties from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in 2006, said he was confident golfers would still come. Jon LeSage, head golf pro at Sligo, said the changes would expand the course’s opportunities as a learning center.

Miller said the large number of families with children surrounding the course have expressed interest for a course that catered to them as well.

Louise Hall, a Washington, D.C., resident who has been coming to Sligo for nearly seven years, said the changes were more a ‘‘revenue generator” than anything else.

‘‘Sure, there will be people there. But what this would do is drastically alter the only conventional golf course in this part of the county,” Hall said.

Miller said he welcomed all ideas during the planning process, but had to make sure the course would bring in enough money to support needed renovations.

At a meeting with Miller, Hall and Suffanti Oct. 17, Miller said the course, while it has greatly improved over the last year, is still not in the best shape, and the Revenue Authority needed to do more than break even to finance renovations. The bunkers need to be rebuilt, and the course needs a new irrigation system, which could run the Revenue Authority around $600,000. Driving ranges and mini-golf at courses that include those facilities each contribute between 30 to 35 percent of a golf course’s profits, Miller said.

At the meeting, Miller said between July and August of this year, rounds were up at least 30 percent and revenues were up about 39 percent when compared to the same period last year. But, due to the higher costs associated with maintaining the course and keeping it in good shape, Miller said Sligo Creek would still end the year at a loss of about $170,000.

To make up that difference, Miller said the course would need to host between 42,000 to 45,000 rounds of golf per year. Currently, the course hosts between 25,000 to 28,000 rounds per year.

The 18-hole Little Bennett Golf Course in Clarksburg is predicted to lose about $180,000 this year, Miller said at the meeting. That course, which opened in 1994, had heavier losses in the past but has rebounded stronger than Sligo, Miller said. Little Bennett, which includes a driving range, has also had increased fees.

Miller said the next step would be two question-and-answer sessions with the golfers at Sligo followed by a meeting in mid-December open to the community. That meeting will focus on the results of several studies by consultants hired by the Revenue Authority on residents’ main concerns — lighting and traffic and environmental impacts.

Miller is also still talking to representatives from Audubon International, a New York-based nonprofit that works to promote nature-friendly golf course development, about adapting one of their programs for the Sligo Creek Golf Course. But major renovations would still need to be made, since the program is less about generating revenue than promoting cost savings through environmental measures.

Learn More

Keith Miller, executive director of the Montgomery County Revenue Authority, will be meeting with golfers for question-and-answer sessions on the proposed changes at Sligo Creek Golf Course, 9701 Sligo Creek Parkway, 10 a.m. to noon today and 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday.