Volume 12, Issue 40 ~ September 30-October 6 2004
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Burton on the Bay
by Bill Burton

The Saga of Compass Pointe Golf Course

The golf links lie so near the mill
That almost every day
The laboring children can look out
And watch the men at play.
—Sarah Northcliffe Cleghorn:
“The Golf Links Lie So Near The Mill,” 1915

Obviously 89 years back, Ms. Cleghorn had an ax to grind with men who played on the course while others worked. I wonder what she would write if she were around today — and a resident of Anne Arundel County. Or of Western Maryland.

Surely she would have sent a barb or two, targeting not only men (maybe even women) who chase after little white balls on meticulously watered and manicured fields of green but also planners and developers who create fairways, sand traps, clubhouses and putting greens — often on environmentally fragile lands and at taxpayer expense.

You might say Anne Arundel County’s latest venture into the worlds of Sammy Snead, Arnie Palmer and Ben Hogan is itself in a sand trap — and so are we who find that it’s our bucks keeping it going. The same can be said of state taxpayers who do everything but pay the greens fees for those riding golf carts at Rocky Gap State Park just east of Cumberland.

Can it be that some golf courses are getting a free ride for construction of their greens just as professional sports teams do in much of the nation? Hey, If you know the answer, it’s not a question.

Paying to Play
Before I unload my frustration about neglect of Maryland’s biggest playground — Chesapeake Bay — while we’re billed for what should be for-profit sports and recreational facilities for adults, allow me to respond to critics already tempted to accuse boaters and fishermen of free rides on our waters and hunters on public lands. Contrary to what many might think, boaters, hunters and fishers put their money where their mouths are.

Boatmen pay a fuel tax that goes for waterway improvement. They also add boat registration fees and the sales tax on boats. The same for fishermen. Hunters buy licenses and permits; in addition, they also contribute most funding to purchase and manage the public lands on which they hunt. When you see them enjoying their sport, think not of them as free riders.

This is not to suggest that duffers or spectator sports fans don’t pay. They do, and the tab is unreasonable, but it’s an entirely different concept. Today, professional sports teams virtually insist that cities finance the construction or remodeling of their facilities. Otherwise, they won’t come and will head elsewhere.

Of course, this means the wealthy owners don’t have their funds tied up. Thus they make more moola, enjoy a financial cushion and don’t hesitate to pay greedy players outlandish salaries and bonuses. With their playhouses built and financed for them, all they need do is charge the fans more to watch the play of their stars. And those spectators make a spectacle of themselves by enduring mistreatment. We’ll do anything to get or keep a team in town.

It’s getting to be the same with golf, a participatory sport.

Still Paying But No Playing
Golfers will make any excuse at work to flee to the links to drive an electric cart. That’s their business. But when non-golfers are forced to pick up a hefty part of the tab, there’s surely something wrong. Especially when we’re not forewarned that there would be some digging into our pockets, as in the Saga of Compass Pointe Golf Course, on Fort Smallwood Road in Pasadena, three or four miles east of the Burton homestead in North County.

As sports team owners and fans won’t settle for anything less than a palace with luxurious sky boxes, golf club managers and their golfers won’t settle for anything less than 36 holes.

At only-the-best-will-do Compass Pointe Golf Course, we’re told the tab has already hit more than $3 million. Those millions don’t count an interest-free $1.1 million loan a few months back to cover shortfalls blamed on bad weather delaying the opening of the course.

You may live too far away to try for holes in one at Compass Pointe, but you’re destined to cough up as much as the Burtons. It’s turning out that you and I are expected to be caddies lugging around golf bags filled with not clubs but greenbacks — Ours! Let’s hope management, politicians, bureaucrats and golfers are big tippers.

It would take all of this issue of Bay Weekly, including the ads, to cover all the behind-the-scenes shenanigans in this saga. There’s also the question of whether a quasi-public state agency — the Maryland Economic Development Corp. — has sufficient available funding to finish the last of the projected 36-hole course. It’s such a quagmire that a growing number of county leaders are considering a takeover of the still unfinished and financially bleeding course.

That’s just what we need: a financially stressed government getting into a losing golfing business. Still, they’re counting on us to make up the shortfall for a facility that won’t even be complete until next spring. Why send good money after bad? methinks county officials might ask themselves.

You Think They’d Learn
The Saga of Compass Pointe is typical of what happens when government — state, county or city — gets into the business of sports. The exception is the legendary Green Bay Packers of football fame, which pretty much pays all its own bills, doesn’t gouge its fans, doesn’t threaten to leave and is up front about all its dealings.

Now at Compass Pointe the jackals are at work. It’s a save-my-skin free-for-all. Those who should have known better than trying to get us involved in a golf course on the outskirts of a very upscale housing development plead that many decisions were made without their knowledge. Methinks many more decisions were made with their consent. Was it not their business to ferret out the possible problems and consequences before they sounded their ayes?

Maybe you live in Calvert or some other county. Maybe you figure things like Compass Pointe are no concern of yours. Think again; basically the same thing is going on at Rocky Gap State Park, where the state has gone into hock big time to bail out the magnificent golf course that took a big chunk out of one of the most scenic state parks in the Mid-Atlantic.

You’d think the politicians and bureaucrats would have learned from that example, but you know how they are. The suggestion from this corner is that hereafter the decision makers do their homework before involving taxpayers in any profit-or-loss adult sports emporiums more expansive than a ping-pong table under a canopy. Enough said …

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.