When the Prince George's County Planning Board last week approved plans for a new industrial park on Columbia Park Road in Landover, it marked the end of more than half-a-century of tension between city and country and between the well-to-do and the working class. The industrial park, at 38 acres, is not particularly big, but it is part of what was once the county's only golf course.
The course was built more than 60 years ago, and in some ways it went downhill from the start. Urban expansion gobbled up the fields around it. Nine of the original 27 holes were sacrificed for apartment buildings 40 years ago. By the 1970s, members of the Prince George's Country Club found themselves playing on a narrow grass median between one of the county's most heavily industrial areas and one of its most crowded low-income neighborhoods.
Four years ago, members grabbed their clubs and fled beyond the Beltway to a new course, surrounded by luxury homes and with a 60-acre, swan-stocked lake.
Columbia Park residents, few of whom were members of the club, are just as glad: Light industry will use only about a quarter of the 153-acre golf course and the rest will become a recreation park. Although the fairways are now a tangle of unkempt grass, small pine trees have sprung up and the narrow asphalt paths built for golf carts have crumbled, park officials plan to repair the damage and already are turning the old clubhouse into a recreation center.
The county's Department of Parks and Recreation, anxious to salvage some green from the gray urban sprawl that was engulfing the Columbia Park area, obtained the land in a controversial trade. The country club received 160 acres in Mitchellville and $2.6 million to make up the difference in value. On this and other land, it has now built a 27-hole course designed by Arnold Palmer, as well as a luxury housing development.
The parks department, trying to recoup the money it lost in the trade, is now selling 38 acres of the old golf course for the industrial park. The county is negotiating a sale with Boston Properties of Boston, Mass., one of the country's largest developers of industrial parks, which built the Washington Business Center in Lanham. Warren A. Kershaw, land acquisition officer for the parks department, said he hopes the deal will be sealed by the end of the year.
Columbia Park Road will be widened to accommodate tractor-trailer trucks, and there are plans (though so far no money) for a new interchange from the industrial area onto Rte. 202 to keep the trucks from residential areas. The course of the Beaver Dam Creek, which runs alongside part of the old golf course and under Columbia Park Road, will be shifted.
The golf course, built at the edge of this creek in 1921, was named The Beaver Dam Club. It was in the country then, and the first clubhouse was an abandoned barn. When the club changed hands in 1941, it was renamed the Prince George's Golf and Country Club. Nine of the 27 holes were sold, and the low-cost, two-story brick buildings of the Kent Village Apartments were built where they once were.
As development continued its unruly shuffle forward, low-cost houses crowded the eastern edge of the course. On the western side, large warehouses sprang up. The largest of these, Safeway's Washington area headquarters, distribution center, bread plant and milk department, was built right next to the course.
All this shattered the rural peace that country club members sought. They complained of the rumble of trucks and the residential neighborhoods' intrusion on their privacy. A security guard was hired to patrol the fairways after several golfers were robbed. There were complaints after exhibitionists sprang from the narrow fringe of trees around the course and frightened women golfers. Membership fell.
People who lived in the rows of apartments and houses around the golf course, meanwhile, complained that although they paid park taxes like other county residents, the only open space in the area was owned by a club that by 1974 cost $600 to join, plus $720 a year in dues. "We didn't have that kind of money," said State Del. Francis J. Santangelo Sr. (D-Landover), who pushed for the course to be turned into a public park.
Although residents did not want any of the land used for industry, he said, they are pleased by the amount of park land they will have. "It's extremely important," he said. "That piece of property was the last piece of open space in our district."