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Sligo Creek golf club to stay open; plans, funding still undetermined

Golfers tee off last summer on the first hole at Sligo Creek, the only nine-hole course remaining in Montgomery County's publicly run system.
Golfers tee off last summer on the first hole at Sligo Creek, the only nine-hole course remaining in Montgomery County's publicly run system. (Mark Gail/the Washington Post)
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By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sligo Creek Golf Course, the nine-hole Silver Spring course beloved by many for its relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, will remain open indefinitely. The decision, announced Tuesday, is a reversal by the Montgomery County Revenue Authority, which had been saying for more than a year that the course is too costly to operate.

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"Everyone is trying to find a way to keep it open," said Keith Miller, head of the revenue authority, which operates Montgomery's nine public golf courses and its airport in Gaithersburg. He said some details remain to be worked out with M&T Bank, the trustee for the agency's revenue bonds. "All banks are nervous these days," he said.

Miller said plans are in the works for an operating agreement that would extend at least to November and most likely for the next few years.

The decision removes a contentious issue from public debate a few months before the Sept. 14 political primaries. But it raises other questions about county priorities at a time when elected officials are making the first budget cuts in 40 years and furloughing county employees. Funds to keep Sligo open through the fall are expected to come from the course's revenue over the next few months -- the peak golf season -- but other expenses, such as repairs to the sprinkler system and improvements to the clubhouse, would need to come from other sources in the county's budget.

Sligo is one of a handful of inside-the-Beltway golf courses and the only nine-hole course remaining in Montgomery County's publicly run system. Its supporters say it has the most diverse clientele of any county course and is considered especially welcoming to women, minorities and beginners.

Sligo's backers have mounted a sophisticated campaign to keep the course open, challenging the revenue authority's bookkeeping and accounting. They complained that Sligo was slated for closure when other county golf courses, also suffering financially, were not being similarly scrutinized.

Miller has said that the long-term financial prospects for nine-hole courses are not as bright as they are for the county's other courses, each with 18 holes.

Miller has been seeking ways to stanch losses at the county's courses. He had proposed adding a driving range to Sligo with night lights and a miniature golf course, but neighbors objected. He then announced that the course would close last fall.

But County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who was besieged with complaints about the decision to close the course, asked the County Council to approve $150,000 last summer to keep Sligo open through June 30. A report from a county task force suggested finding an outside operator to run it, but the council has not formally reviewed the recommendations.

Woody Brosnan, a task force member and a Sligo Creek golfer, said the course's fans would not rest until a deal is signed.

"People in our group will say, 'Well, that is nice, but are they just putting it off until after the election, and then they will close it?' " he said. "I guess we welcome the news, but with some bit of caution."

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