Mario DiFranco watches as Michael Key putts on the 18th hole at the University… (Linda Davidson/The Washington…)
The University of Maryland is considering a plan that could replace its renowned golf course with an “academic village” of housing and retail as well as a parkway from Interstate 95 that would create a new entrance to the university.
But the plan has riled neighbors, who say the course is a community treasure that should be preserved. For more than five decades, the 150 acres of rolling green have been a favorite of college students and area golfers attracted by twilight specials. The public course, which recently underwent a $3.5 million upgrade, also attracts neighbors who come to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July and to listen to live bands Thursday evenings.
“It is like this little gem in the middle of College Park,” said Amy Martin, a city resident who also works and attends graduate school at the university. “There is such a spectacular view here.”
But recently, the university has been in talks with a private developer, Brian Gibbons, a 1984 Maryland graduate, about building an “academic village” that would affect the course, which is off Route 193 in College Park.
Gibbons said the plan is to build a “terrapin-themed” route from the university to I-95 that would cut commuter time and lessen traffic on Route 1. It also would include a community with housing for staff and faculty, university-
related office space, a cultural arts center and open green spaces. He said it would be an investment of more than $100 million.
The development would take about 50 acres of the land, he said, which could leave part of the course intact.
“Our concept does not necessarily preclude golf continuing on the golf course, but we would be impacting a portion of the golf course,” said Gibbons, chairman and chief executive of the Owings Mills-based Greenberg Gibbons firm. “I think it will be transformational for the university. It is important to have green spaces that the university uses, and amenities for the students and the faculty and the visitors.”
Gibbons said his firm plans to release the concept plan next week but said it would be months before an official proposal is made. University of Maryland officials said they have scheduled meetings to address the community’s concerns starting next week.
The plan has upset golfers and neighbors, who say the course is an affordable alternative for people who can’t afford to join a country club. The site, which was designated a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary by Audubon International, is also shared by joggers and nature lovers.
“I can get five minutes out there and feel like I am a hundred miles away from the city,” said Barry DesRoches, a 1980 graduate of the College of Business and Management.
“I would be heartbroken,” said Charlie Hodgson, 81, of Silver Spring. “I would probably stop playing golf. That’s how important it is to me.”
In a statement, the university said it “is sensitive to the concerns” about the potential development. “The Greenberg-Gibbons concept, though still quite preliminary, is worthy of consideration as it includes a connector road that would help alleviate congestion on Route 1.”
But opponents fear the plan would create gridlock on Route 193.
“This is a terrible idea no matter how you look at it,” said Del. Doyle L. Niemann (D-Prince George’s), one of several county elected officials who are against the proposal. “Obviously the developer benefits pretty big. The university will have income come in. They will make more money . . . but not enough to justify what they will give up.”
Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) said the county cannot lose the recreational and community facility and divert attention from downtown College Park, where the city and the university have focused redevelopment efforts.
“If you want to do infill development, there are plenty of places where there is already cement and structures,” he said. “To take 150 green acres of golf course . . . is simply a mistake.”
Three years ago, the course was upgraded, including new grass and improvements to golf-cart paths and to the appearance of the holes. The course, which has a $2 million annual budget and about 50 workers, sustains itself with membership dues, daily use fees, funds from special events and donations.
Some students on the university’s golf team say they chose Maryland because of its on-
campus course. DesRoches, a Crofton resident who owns a real estate title company, said regular fundraisers at the course bring in funding to athletic and academic programs at the university. DesRoches got involved with the golf course while organizing a fundraiser that netted more than $750,000 for the business school, he said.
Martin’s husband, Steve, the club’s 2013 champion, said the facility is well-respected among golfers.
The public course is “by far the best in this area,” said Steve Martin, a retired Navy veteran and a course member for 12 years.
Hodgson, a 1954 graduate of Maryland’s school of engineering who has played at the course since it opened in 1959, said playing elsewhere “just wouldn’t be the same.”
On a recent Monday afternoon, Hodgson was playing with Kevin Lee, a 1982 graduate of the business school and owner of a sports store in College Park, and Larry Siu, a local dentist and graduate of the university’s dental school. They lamented the plan to build on the course.
“It would be different if they had a good reason,” said Siu, who has played there for 30 years. “It just seems ridiculous to me to take what is visually nice to the area.”
As Hodgson jumped into the golf cart to move on to the next hole, he spotted a red-tailed hawk.
“Did you see that?” he shouted to his playmates.