Monday, June 22, 2009

sligo creek closure opens debate about diversity at golf courses

A bridge in Sligo Creek Park. Photo by Jimski.

Downcounty residents are livid over the potential loss of Sligo Creek Golf Course, which will close October 1 after the county's Revenue Authority returns it to the Department of Parks, who says they're legally and financially unable to compete with other public golf courses. The resulting outcry suggests it's not just about golf - it's about playing in a place free of the elitism it's normally associated with.

Located on the Capital Beltway at Sligo Creek Parkway, the 65-acre course has nine holes and connections to the entire Sligo Creek Park system, which stretches from Takoma Park to Wheaton. Together, they're a respite from the surrounding city, a place where everyone from congressmen to busboys are able to enjoy the outdoors. (It was in the park that my parents tried unsuccessfully to teach me to ride a bike at age seven.)

The Department of Parks says they made an agreement with the Revenue Authority to not compete with its courses, which include Hampshire Greens in Cloverly and Northwest in Layhill. They've concentrated on finding new uses for the site, from turning it into a soccer complex to a "disc golf" course - which custom-home builder Bethesda Bungalows, noting the popularity of the Frisbee-based sport, has offered to partially sponsor.

But the community's made it clear that they want Sligo Creek to remain as it is: a place where anyone can play a few holes of golf cheaply and without looking like they just rolled out of the exclusive Chevy Chase Club. In the past month, supporters of the course have started a Facebook group and a website to build awareness and, they hope, get the County Council to intervene.

The website is filled with testimony from local golfers who say they don't always want to make the trip to bigger or more prestigious courses and don't feel welcome there to begin with. "Me and my lady friends do not feel comfortable playing at bigger and longer golf courses," writes "Susan I." of Silver Spring. "The only people of color I see are the Hispanics mowing the grass" at other Montgomery County courses, says "JT" of the District. "Juan," who plays with his friends from Wheaton High School, writes that "we are totally cool with Sligo because a lot of golfers there look like us and don't have real golf shoes neither but love to play golf like we do."

If there's anything that Silver Spring represents to me, it's a tolerance of differences and a lack of patience for the pretention that Montgomery County has a reputation for. But one of the running threads in East County over the past few years - whether it's shutting down youth concerts in Four Corners, targeting "undesirables" in Burtonsville, or dealing with rowdy kids on Ellsworth - has been the issue of who's "welcome" in our community. It seems like Sligo Creek Golf Course is a place where that's never been a problem. All of these people who come there, regardless of their background or circumstances, are united by a love of the game.

We should be working to preserve the Sligo Creek Golf Course, if only to make it clear that we're committed to embracing the diversity in this community, especially in a setting where diversity isn't always cherished.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, June 23rd, the Department of Parks is hosting a town hall meeting to discuss future uses for the Sligo Creek Golf Course, which may cease operations this October. The meeting's from 7:30 to 9:30pm at the Margaret Schweinhaut Senior Center, at 1000 Forest Glen Road.


rb said...

Thanks for bringing the issue to a wider audience. Although not a golfer, I believe this public inside-the-beltway course is important to the community. I would bet this course is more diverse than the other county courses by several measures...age, gender, ethnicity, economic status. I have emailed the county council members, county executive, and park and planning about my support for maintaining the course. Perhaps it is the non-competition part of the contract between the Parks Department and Revenue Authority that should be changed, not the course. I hope others also voice their concern.

Dr. F. said...

Thank you Dan. Well-said as always.

I hope the county comes to its senses. We've already lost White Oak and we almost lost Gunpowder (on the PG-East MOCO border).

Sligo Creek is a beautiful and challenging (at least for me) golf course and I would hate to lose it.

I just can't understand the County's wrong-headed stance on this issue. Keep fighting the good fight.

WashingtonGardener said...

I'm NOT a golfer nor a fan of golf courses using up so much valuable growing soace ;-), but can't see WHY this is demamed that it make a profit to exist. I think that is unfair and elitist, the county subsidizes plenty of other hobbies and doesn't question those expenditures.

BTW Dan, did you see the MNCPPC shopping center redesign contest for architects? I caught it on MoCo Ch 6 today -- 3 spots in the county - two near me Forest Glen & Glenmont. The 3rd, Bealsville, is by my parents -- looking forward to seeingthe choices and how they are implemented. Only quibble - WHY is open worldwide? Think it should be limited to MoCo residents.

Dan Reed said...

No way, I think the contest should be open worldwide. You want to invite ideas from different people in different places, because the right solution may not be in our backyard.

Do you know where I could find info on this online?

Dan Reed said...

And, uh, where's the White Oak Shopping Center on that list? 42 acres, at the intersection of two major arteries and on several bus lines, thousands of people within walking distance, large government installation literally next door . . . sounds like a nice candidate for re-design to me. Beallsville? Give me a break.

WashingtonGardener said...

Dan, not sure where online link is at I saw it through local MoVo Cable show -- I'd call MNCPPC directly asnd ask for contest guidelines.

marksuffanti said...

Thank you for your eloquence and understanding of Sligo's precarious situation in serving a significantly larger portion of minorities, women, seniors, inner city children, low income and the handicapped than MoCo's other "public" golf courses.

Sligo is the only conventional golf course at this end of the county. For a county that prides itself on diversity not one single study has been done by our local leaders to show what the impact of closing Sligo will have on the above population groups.

This is not only the epitome of hypocrisy by our council it promotes the hackneyed notion that golf is the sport of white suburban men.

Mark Suffanti
Founding Member

H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
H said...

Diversity issues and golf? Is this a joke? Are the residents of MoCo so delusional and living in such a bubble of wealth that they honestly believe that what the underserved citizens in MoCo need is golf!!! I would love to see the folks who are so passionate about keeping this environmentally-unfriendly golf course open, put the same energy into the homeless shelters and food pantries of MoCo so that they could gain a clue about what the underprivileged of our county really need.

rab7700 said...

As a newcomer to the golf game I appreciate Sligo very much. Not everyone has the time or $$ to play 18-holes each week so smaller 9-hole courses allow those people (whatever their background or socioeconomic status) to play. In addition, Sligo is known to be friendly to new golfers--also allowing for people who did not grow up with the game to learn & enjoy it.

If you take away Sligo that doesn't leave those who play it with many options. There are 8 18-hole MC County courses and only 1 other 9-hole course like Sligo.

Golf may seem like an elitist sport to some (like H) but for those of us that play know that people of all walks of life & background enjoy the game. Importantly, it is courses like Sligo that really opens golf to everyone. By killing Sligo MC County is making the decision to favor those who have more $$ and time to play while at the same time creating greater barriers for those with less time & money.

Given they are public courses, that just doesn't seem the right public policy decision.

Rebecca said...

Thanks for raising the issue of diversity, Dan.

How can the county consider subsidizing a multi-million dollar soccer complex when they wouldn't consider a small short-fall for a down-county golf course?

And the short-fall is still QUESTIONABLE. The numbers do not make sense.

This golf course has been a staple for the community for more than 60 years.

It is the only course within the Montgomery County system that provides a comfortable and welcoming golf course for beginners, seniors, women, and persons with disabilities.

Maybe the council was just having a bad day when they voted to close the course... they need to go back and reconsider their decision to close our only down-county golf course. And they need to reconsider the decision that will shut so many citizens out of a community amenity that they cannot get any where else.

Karen Goozner said...

There is no objective reason why MoCo should subsidize tennis and swimming but not golf.

This is a beautiful course which uniquely serves youth, minority, low and moderate income, senior and beginner golfers. If this course closes, they lose their equal opportunity to this form of recreation.

This is unseemly rush to trade a down-county pocket change is probably motivated by an effort by County Counsel members, Plan Commissioners and the Revenue Authority to keep a lid on past financial and legal shinanigans which are coming home to roost in this downturn economy.

Save Sligo.