County-Run Courses Shed Subpar Reputation

Paul Paoletti heads to the green on the eighth hole after teeing off across the water at Poolesville Golf Course.
Paul Paoletti heads to the green on the eighth hole after teeing off across the water at Poolesville Golf Course. (By Katherine Frey For The Washington Post)
By Jake Schaller
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, April 28, 2005

Bill Suhosky never had been too impressed with Falls Road Golf Course, the crowded public track in Potomac.

"It was kind of a 'blah' course," said Suhosky, 48, a frequent golfer who lives nearby.

That is, until last summer, when a massive renovation project was completed and Falls Road opened anew, surprising Suhosky and most anyone else who had played it in the past.

Such as Dean Greer, the head golf professional at Laytonsville Golf Course, who grew up near Falls Road and played the course in his youth. When Greer recently played at Falls Road in a pro-am tournament, he felt as if he had never been there before.

"I'll be honest," Greer said. "I didn't recognize the front nine. I was looking around and saying, 'Where am I?' It's not the Falls Road of old. I really like it. All the changes down there are really good."

"It's almost like a brand new course," Suhosky said.

The changes Suhosky and Greer noticed were made over the course of several years and were part of a master plan implemented in the late 1990s to improve the oldest four of the five courses operated by Montgomery County Golf (a division of the Montgomery County Revenue Authority) -- Falls Road, Laytonsville, Poolesville and Rattlewood in Mount Airy. The plan was devised to help the public courses compete with an influx of high-end, daily-fee courses opening in and around Montgomery County -- specifically Blue Mash in Laytonsville, and Worthington Manor and Whiskey Creek, just across the county line in Frederick.

"We wanted to make sure that we weren't left behind," said Marc Atz, the executive director of Montgomery County Golf. "All of a sudden we were competing with another six to eight courses."

Although subtle changes have been made at all the courses, Falls Road and Laytonsville were given special consideration because they absorb more than half the rounds played at MCG facilities. "They've been our workhorses," Atz said. Final course improvements scheduled for Rattlewood and Poolesville are on hold, Atz said.

Laytonsville, which was built in 1973, was the first course that was overhauled. It was given a new clubhouse, a new irrigation system and a new golf cart storage facility in 2001; the course was renovated the following year. All the tee boxes were redone, as were some of the greens, and a new practice facility was built. The course layout also was revamped, with the back nine becoming the front nine and vice versa, and the former back -- "a nine that was pretty easy," Greer said -- becoming a more difficult test.

"Course conditions now are so much better than ever," Greer said. "For a senior to come pay 15 bucks to play golf -- he's on a more expensive course than that."

The remaking of Falls Road Golf Course began in 2002, more than 40 years after the course opened in 1961. The work started with the construction of a new practice facility; the old six-stall driving range that ran parallel to Falls Road was taken out to make way for the course's new first hole. The area where the old first hole's tee boxes and fairways were located became the new driving range with 20 spots to hit balls, and the old first hole's green became a short-game practice area.

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