Glenn Dale Golf Club is likely to be sold to a housing developer by the end of the month, despite efforts by politicians and residents to save it.
The 125-acre course, owned by the Shields family, native Prince Georgians who have run the business for 44 years, is being purchased by Toll Brothers, a luxury housing developer based in Huntingdon Valley, Pa. The company hopes to build 200 homes if the county approves.
Family members said all of their retirement money is tied up in the golf course, and that selling is the only way to get a return on their investment.
"It is painful to let it go," said John Shields, who owns the course with his brother and sister. "This is the only home I've ever known. The economics are such that we have to do this. Everything we own is in the golf course."
The golf course has been struggling for 10 years, Shields said. Revenues have dropped about 40 percent since 1990, mostly because there is a glut of golf courses and not enough golfers, he said.
Shields, who is active in the Glenn Dale Civic Association, said he's pulled in two directions. He needs the retirement money but would like to preserve the golf course. Under the current sale plan, the golf course would remain open for two years.
"I'm saying, 'Let's save the golf course,' and then I'm the one selling it," Shields said. "There wasn't really anything else we could do."
The desire to save the course prompted two complicated proposals that would preserve it. One plan, developed by County Council member Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Bowie), would allow Toll Brothers to swap the land for 205 acres of adjacent land owned by the county.
The county-owned land is the site of a decayed former tuberculosis hospital once operated by the District. Under this plan, the county would take possession of the golf course and lease it back to the Shields family.
"I live in Northridge two miles from [the golf course], and that's one of the reasons I bought my home," said Peters, who represents Glenn Dale. "It would be a shame to lose that golf course. . . . In this case, I think we need to look at any option to preserve the golf course as open space, and also to bring the hospital land in compliance environmentally and make it functional. In the middle is the Shields family that needs to get their money."
The plan, however, has encountered potential problems. A Toll Brothers feasibility study said that if company officials agreed to the land swap, they would have to build twice as many homes to recoup the cost of tearing down and cleaning up the asbestos-filled hospital.
In addition, some Glenn Dale residents oppose the swap, saying the larger development would come too close to their property.
Cory DeSpain, senior vice president of Toll Bros., said that he had hoped the land swap would take place.
"It would have been a win-win. Unfortunately, there are some people who don't feel that way. It loses the opportunity to retain the golf course and utilize the hospital property."
Even so, DeSpain said, "There are a couple of historical houses that are going to be saved." DeSpain is optimistic that some recreational facility will be built for the community. "
The Shields family also has an offer from St. Paul's Baptist Church of Capitol Heights to buy the golf course and build a retirement community that would preserve part of the course. The church would take the county's land at the hospital site and build a continuing-care hospital. The church plan would leave green space around both areas and address a state mandate that a retirement center be built in Glenn Dale.
Either deal would pay the Shields family the same amount of money. The family did not say how much.
"There are obstacles for any of those possibilities to be realized," said County Councilman Thomas R. Hendershot (D-New Carrollton), who has also been working on the land swap plan. "In my mind, the best situation would be to preserve the golf course and to have a continuing-care retirement community at the Glenn Dale hospital site consistent with the wishes of the Lincoln Vista Community [which is located adjacent to the hospital site]. It remains to be seen whether we can get there."
The obstacle to the St. Paul's plan is the contract with Toll Bros. The only way to back out of the legally binding contract is by exercising the "preservation clause," which gives Shields a year to back out of the contract after it is signed if anyone offers to buy the golf course with the intent of leaving it intact.
So far, no one has offered.
Shields does have one last hope. He knows people who know Tiger Woods. He hopes the golf superstar will consider investing in the club because it has a thriving junior golfers program. About 200 teenagers golf at the course for discounted rates all year long.
"We get a lot of kids off the streets," Shields said. "We've got them here, learning about life."