It was another major media event for Prince George's County. Lots of newspaper reporters and photographers milling around, lots of officials dressed in three-piece suits lining the walls, and the star of the show, professional golfer Arnold Palmer signing autographs.
The occasion for all the excitement was the announcement yesterday of the latest "coup" in County Executive Winfield M. Kelly's continuing search for what he calls "New Quality" in Prince George's. After waiting 45 minutes for tardy reporters and cameramen, Kelly announced that a new residential development full of expensive homes would be built in Mitchellville surronding a 36-hole championship golf course that will be designed and constructed by, Palmer himself.
As part of the complex deal, Kelly said the county would sell 200 acres of county-owned land to the Prince George's Country Club (PGCC) for the country club development. In addition, the county is taking out a lease on the PGCC's property in Landover, with an option to buy the land later. The county wants to build a park in that area inside the Capital Beltway near the District line.
"Everybody wins," said an enthusiastic Kelly. "We get our open space (parkland), we get a country club community and we get Arnold Palmer and his talent and reputation.
For the PGCC, the agreement marks the end of a saga that began nine years ago when stockholders and members began looking for a new site to move their 36-year-old club.
The course, built "on the edge of town" in 1942, found itself increasinglysurrounded in recent years by warehouses and multi-family housing units. At the same time, the club's membership declined.
"The country club became wedged in," said Jim Seeley, the club's resident golf pro, "and people were moving away to Montgomery COunty clubs."
When the county purchased the 200-acre Shatenstein property on Enterprise and Woodmore roads last year, attorneys for the PGCC began negotiations with the county that ultimately resulted in yesterday's announcement.
Palmer, who said he came down and looked at the property after he read "good things" about the county in brochures and newspaper articles, said the golf course will be built with professional tours in mind. "It will be built so that in 1985, if you want to have a national open golf tournament for men or women , it will be possible."
Palmer said some grading and seeding will be done this year in preparation for course consstruction in September 1979.
The 700-acre, 400-unit housing development will come later, Palmer said. Algic Pulley, representative for Golf America Corp. of America, the developers of this Country Club Estates project, said his group plans to build "golf villas, attached housing units for retired people" and "single-family homes for the young executive types" - homes in the $130,000 to $200,000 range.
These "young executive types" are exactly the people Kelly has said he wants to attract to the area - a reason why he put so much emphasis on yesterday's press conference.
Kelly has repeatedly sounded the "new quality" theme during his four years in office and in his reelection campaign this year. He said yesterday that he is counting on the name and prestige of Palmer and of Golf America to enhance the image even more.
In anticipation of good coverage of the Palmer conference, Kelly even held up a scheduled announcement of other new development projects, because, an aide said, "We don't want to take any play away from the Palmer story."
Kelly said that the proposed country club project still must obtain the necessary approvals by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, by the COunty Zoning Board, and by the County Council. However, little resistance to the plan is expected.