There are still more than 100 members of the Montgomery Village Golf Club, a neighborhood retreat that includes an 18-hole course with fairways designed by renowned golf architect Ed Ault and a restaurant at the club house, the Willow Tree Inn Grill & Restaurant, to stop after a round.
The course’s owner, however, isn’t really a golf course operator — it’s real estate developer Monument Realty. Monument bought the 147-acre course at auction after the previous owners filed for bankruptcy in 2012 to stave off foreclosure.
D.C.-based Monument has been assembling plans to turn the course into a residential neighborhood, one that would be nearly completely surrounded by the planned community of Montgomery Village, off of Interstate-270 north of Gaithersburg.
Some of the early meetings Monument held about redeveloping the course didn’t go so well. Although only about 22 of the 40,000 residents of Montgomery Village are members of the golf club, many residents enjoy living next to a golf course, and all the quiet and tranquility that comes along with it. There is little additional traffic because, well, not many golfers come by.
But the golf course lost hundreds of dollars annually in recent years, according to Monument, and has millions of dollars worth of unmet maintenance and repair needs. Had Monument not purchased it (for a paltry $5.5 million) it may have been fenced off from the neighborhood while the court worked through the bankruptcy.
“If Monument hadn’t showed up in the end at that auction the golf course would be closed,” said Russell Hines, president at Monument. “The employees would have scattered to the wind. Yamaha would have pulled up with a flatbed truck and taken its carts away. It would have been shuttered.”
“There is no golf course in the future. There is potentially a closed golf course, with no plan for the future,” he added.
John Driscoll, a resident of the village who is president of the Montgomery Village Foundation, an assemblage of homeowners’ corporations, condominium associations and apartment complexes, said the realization that the course’s closure was inevitable opened the door to discussing what should replace it.
“What I’ve always said is if the golf course gets shut down the worst thing that we could have is a golf course that goes fallow with the fairways not being maintained and the clubhouse boarded up. Once you step into that box, the rest of it comes very easy because Monument does want to work with us,” he said. “Another developer may not.”
Monument — in a gesture aimed at earning some community goodwill — agreed to keep operating the course at a loss. The developer and land planners from Torti Gallas then came up with plans for the course that centered around turning most of the property into an active, accessible park.
Monument then began a public relations roll-out that would be the envy of some political campaigns, branding the project “Bloom,” creating a detailed Web site and sending mailers to 10,000 households every week or so for more than a month.
“We’re going to take the golf course, which is no longer feasible, and convert much of it to an 80-acre park,” Hines said.
After discussions with leadership at the foundation, Monument cut back on the number of housing units and is now planning about 600 homes, a mix of single-family detached homes, townhouses, duplexes and an apartment complex around the green space.
On March 25 the foundation’s joint property committee voted to support the vision, and Hines said he expects to begin seeking county approval this spring. Driscoll said the people who live closest to the course are probably the least likely to come around and support any kind of construction there.
“People who live on the golf course for the most part are against it but I’ve also found out that people who don’t live on the golf course don’t care that much,” he sad. “Although that might change the day the bulldozers show up and start digging.”
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