Fielding New Ideas
Rec Field Demand Drives Proposal to Repurpose Part of Golf Course
As the days got shorter this fall, so did Maeve McKinney’s Ultimate Frisbee practices. The only lighted recreation field on campus, the RecWell Turf Field, has a long waiting list of student club and intramural teams and is routinely occupied until 1 a.m. So her club team often met elsewhere.
“We lose 30 to 45 minutes because there’s no light,” said McKinney ’19, a team captain and an employee with University Recreation and Wellness. “You can’t really see a Frisbee in the dark.”
A new university proposal seeks to address the high demand for student recreational space by building football field-size rec fields on a portion of the University Golf Course. It’s part of a project that would also include a new track facility—a section of the current one lies in the path of the coming light-rail Purple Line—and additional parking spaces. A campus forum on the proposal will be held from 4–5:30 p.m. today at the Grand Ballroom Lounge in the Stamp Student Union.
“Right now, [the golf course] land is used for recreation. It’s used for athletics. It has some parking use and some dining use,” said Carlo Colella ’83, vice president for administration and finance. “It will continue to be used for golf, including for our golf teams’ practices. So this repurposing of a portion of the course meets those same kinds of functions, but more so.”
Additional recreation space would help solve a longstanding issue, said Mary Kate Crawford, associate director for programs at RecWell. Around 5,000 students participate in outdoor intramural sports such as soccer and flag football in the fall, and about 3,500 in the spring. Another 1,100 play outdoor club sports like Ultimate Frisbee and rugby. With limited rec field space and such high demand, RecWell isn’t able to accommodate new club sports teams, and hundreds of students end up on wait lists for intramurals, she said.
UMD looked to address that need by reviewing 13 potential sites for new facilities on campus land. But due to environmental, noise, cost and other concerns, it ultimately recommended repurposing part of the golf course. The proposal illustrates several possible options for locating recreational and track and field uses on this property.
If UMD chooses to move forward, external consulting studies will be conducted to determine the best use of the land and limiting, where possible, impacts to current use.
But golf course advocates contend that instead of looking for solutions that leave a valuable campus asset intact, administration officials want to solve complex space problems “in one fell swoop,” said Norman Starkey ’72, M.S. ’78, MBA ’87. Chairman of the Maryland Golf Course Coalition, he said the course is valuable green space for College Park, and pointed to a letter to UMD administrators from the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club opposing development for sustainability reasons.
Colella noted a relatively low number of student users as a compelling reason to repurpose some of the course for uses more popular with current students. “I think the question that we’re posing here is: What’s more important to our university community and to our student body?”
The course has averaged about 35,000 rounds of golf a year since 2008, course Director Jeff Maynor said. Students, faculty and staff account for 15 to 20 percent of users—the course also functions as the main practice location for women’s and men’s golf teams. Alumni and other participants in alumni outings and informal tournaments are 40 to 45 percent of users. The rest are community members.
Maynor also said athletic teams, academic units, fraternities and others run 50 to 70 fundraisers a year at the golf course that raise an estimated total of $300,000 to $400,000 annually.
Students have expressed varying opinions on the proposal. UMD Student Government Association President Jonathan Allen ’19 declined to state his own view, but encouraged considering the long-term effects of any action. He said those with opinions—proponents as well as critics—should attend today’s meeting.