(Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
The 125-acre property outside the Washington, D.C. Beltway has been sold to a developer that will build single-family homes and townhouses. Those who played on the Glenn Dale golf course mirrored the change of Prince George’s County over the years, from working-class, mostly white suburbs to one of the U.S.’s most affluent majority African-American jurisdictions. But operations were still unprofitable for 20 of the past 30 years, with more than $1 million lost in the last five.
For more than 60 years, family-owned Glenn Dale (Md.) Golf Club, located just outside of the Washington, D.C. Interstate 495 Capital Beltway, had been a staple of the community in Prince George’s County, The Washington Post reported. But the club was shuttered on Monday, September 2 following a final nostalgic flurry of Labor Day weekend play on its golf course, after years of struggling to stay financially viable. One group of regulars even camped out during the weekend on the 16th hole of Glenn Dale’s golf course.
“We thought [the club] would be here forever,” said John Shields, Glenn Dale’s President, told The Post. “We were wrong.”
Shields’s father and uncle, identical twins Ray and Roy Shields, bought the Glenn Dale property, which previously operated as Prospect Hill Country Club, out of bankruptcy in 1958. Shields, 71, grew up on the property in a manor house that was originally built in 1742 and then had a west wing added around 1820 built by Gabriel Duvall, one of the first U.S. Supreme Court justices. Shields and his brother and sister still live on the grounds, where they raised families, The Post reported.
“This is all we know,” Shields said as the club’s final weekend began, looking out from the clubhouse to the ninth hole. “It’s not a job. It’s a lifestyle. It’s everything.”
After not making a profit for 20 of the past 30 years, and losing more than $1 million in the past five years, his family had to make the hard decision to sell, Shields told The Post. After the club’s closing, Virginia Beach, Va.-based developer L.M. Sandler & Sons has taken control of the 125-acre property, where it plans to build single-family homes and townhouses.
Shields declined to discuss the sale price of the course, The Post reported, and L.M. Sandler & Sons did not return requests for comment.
Zoning changes proposed by Prince George’s County Council Chairman Todd M. Turner, who represents the area that includes Glenn Dale, paved the way for the project, The Post reported. Turner, who has spent years working with Shields and neighbors in the area, said he was optimistic the development will be one “that the community can be supportive of.”
“Unfortunately that means we’re closing an iconic member of the community,” said Turner, who planned to play his final round on Glenn Dale’s course during its last weekend. “Golf is a tough business.”
The Glenn Dale course was built in 1956 by Terrell Brazelton and designed by George Cobb, who later went on to become the resident architect at Augusta National Golf Club. John Shields took over the course after his father died in 1980, The Post reported, at a time when Prince George’s County was largely comprised of white, working-class suburbs and most golf courses in the area were segregated.
When minorities came to the course after he took control, Shields told The Post, some white golfers weren’t pleased. “They would talk about you so you could hear it,” said Shields, who is white. “They would make you feel uncomfortable.”
But Shields pressed on to make Glenn Dale a place where everyone felt welcome, he told The Post, asking people who expressed prejudice to leave and even firing one employee who didn’t embrace his philosophy of being welcoming to all, telling him: “It’s not the way that we’re going to be.”
Eventually, Shields told The Post, the regulars at Glenn Dale came to more closely mirror the diversity of Prince George’s County, which is now one of the wealthiest majority-African American jurisdictions in the U.S.
On the weekend of its closing, Kevin Davis, who grew up in Prince George’s Country and had played at Glenn Dale for 20 years, reflected on the club’s history. “There were places where people of my color couldn’t come,” said Davis, 62, who is black. “Now it’s people of all walks of life and colors. I look at the kids — and I see kids of all races. I’m just really sad to lose it.”
For years, The Post reported, Glenn Dale has also become a meeting place for citizens’ associations and political groups, although Shields said the club never took sides or charged fees for such gatherings. The bar at the end of the course, the Black Hole, hosted live bands, karaoke and poker games.
“We joke that it was kind of like our ‘Cheers,’ ” said Jason Beaulieu, a 48-year-old attorney who started playing the course with his father at age 10. “A place where everyone knows your name.”
As Shields was preparing for the course’s goodbye party on September 1, for which he expected as many as 1,000 guests, he was also drafting severance packages for employees and trying to make sure the course was running as smoothly as it had for years, The Post reported.
“Our motto is: ‘Pride till the end,’ ” he said.
Glenn Dale prospered in the 1980s amid a golf boom that saw a glut of courses built, often by municipal governments or within housing developments, The Post reported. Troy Beck, PGA, the course’s Golf Director who had worked at the club since the late 1980s, said hundreds of children came through Glenn Dale’s camps each summer, some later securing golf scholarships at top colleges.
“It doesn’t feel like work,” Beck said. “It’s a great vehicle for developing the whole child, and turns them into ladies and gentlemen.”
But boom led to bust, however, and when he was contemplating a sale of Glenn Dale in 2003, Shields told The Post that the course had been in financial trouble for a decade, with revenue down 40 percent since 1990.
Part of the problem, Beck told The Post, included the fact that “Camps are going down because you ask any 10-year-old and he says, ‘Why are we out here? It’s so hot. I have to walk,’ ” she said. “I can’t compete with air conditioning and phones.”
Gabby Miller, the University of Maryland’s 26-year-old Junior Golf Coordinator, told The Post that she had been going to Glenn Dale “ever since I could walk.” She attended Beck’s camps and came to consider her a “golf mom.”
“Golf is already a really tough sport, being a female, not having too many friends in my school playing,” she said. “It’s nice being at Glenn Dale where everyone accepted me.”
Jim Pratt, 81, was a Glenn Dale member for more than 50 years, and he and his son were the only father-son champions in the history of the club, The Post reported.
“It was just a wonderful place to have a good day,” Pratt said. “If you left there and you didn’t have a fun day, it was your fault.”
Shields told The Post that he will keep his home on the Glenn Dale property as part of the deal, even as his surroundings change.
Inside the clubhouse, The Post reported, a typed letter from the Shields family to Glenn Dale’s customers was pinned on a wall, headed “Why We Are Closing.”
“We do not want to close; it is out of necessity,” the letter read. “This is not what we had envisioned; it was our hope to pass the business down to our employees and family. This is not just a place where you play golf, it has been our HOME for 60 years! Accept this decision or don’t; but, do not question or ask us to further defend our actions.”
And with that serving as the final word, The Post reported, the Glenn Dale course closed after a flag-lowering ceremony and its final rounds.