At the height of the golf course construction boom in the late 90’s there were high end daily fee courses being built all around the Washington, D.C. area. Of all those introduced Whiskey Creek, a collaborative design of J. Michael Poellot and Ernie Els, was probably at the top of that heap. Considerable intellectual and financial capital went into the design and construction of this course on a beautiful piece of rolling farmland in rural Maryland. My bet is that the two of them were awe struck by the natural vistas they found on their first visit to the property. Just looking up at the farm houses on the hills it very obvious how natural and stunning their green constellations could look if they routed this thoughtfully.
The result speaks for itself, an artistically designed course with a wide array of holes sporting traditional tactical design features. No trumped up hazards or artificial challenges-unless you consider a 19th century stone farmhouse in the middle of the 18th fairway artificial. I consider it artistic license and it actually makes the hole tactically interesting. There is generous use of stone and boulders throughout the course to accent the natural presentation of the holes. A sensible use of the natural flow of the topography was employed integrating environmental hazards and water-enough to be challenging without being excessive or punitive.
The greens are large flowing surfaces with lots of facet-you really have to focus on the way the green sits to the fairway approach area to figure how to get it in the right portion of the green. In some ways the green sets have a bit of that Irish/Scottish feel to them-big undulating oceans of green that wave mysteriously among the hills. Most of the greens are approachable without carrying the bunkers and many are actually inviting to bump and run-especially when the pins are in the front. The fairway and greenside are similar to the greens-large deep rambling pits stuck into the hillsides and below the putting surfaces.
Being successful here is about taking the time on each tee to plot a reasonable series of shots based on the wind and pin positions of the day. Sticking to that plan and not trying to overwhelm the challenges with brute strength will reward your scorecard accordingly. Most of the holes you can get a good look at what is in front of you, but many of the putting surfaces are masked from the approach area. As Ernie says in the yardage book, big wide driving areas were provided on most holes but position is still important to get the best angle of approach to the greens. In planning your approach consider everything-the entry openings to the green, the diagonal the green sits to the approach line, the prevailing banking of the green, and the relative punitive payment for missing on the short side of the flag position. Sometimes a uphill pitch and a putt are a better formula to making par than hitting the green in regulation above the flag and having an unmanageable putt down the slope.
The yardage of the course is deceiving-it may be the shortest 6500 yards you will ever see. Most of the long par 4’s and the par fives are downhill so they play considerably shorter than the yardage. Many of the shots look much longer than they really are-you have to trust the available yardages and pick the right club accordingly.
The front nine is an interesting ride-plenty of challenge but not overwhelming. The fourth hole is a wonderful uphill par five that scales the terrain to an alcove green set among natural boulder outcroppings. The next hole is a vertigo par four that tumbles down the hill like the final plunge on the log flume ride at Hershey Park. The last two holes on the outward nine are terrific-a swerving par four working down the hill adjacent to number four followed by a tantalizing downhill par five that will tempt you to reach for something extra to end the side with a birdie.
Once you have the dog at the turn the challenge ratchets up. This side begins with a technical hole that will give you heartburn if you are not careful. Eleven is the postcard signature for Whiskey Creek just a thing of beauty that will make your heart race. Starting at the twelfth the challenge heightens considerably with three visually intimidating par fours. These next three are mostly about position off the tee and then resolve on the second into very tight green arrangements. Sixteen through eighteen provide three distinctly different challenges in one of the most unusual finishes you will play in this area. You could just as easily play these three holes two under or six over-it is about managing risk through intelligent decision making.
The clubhouse is a simple wood frame construct that fits into the country theme of the property. A high beamed ceiling and great visibility of nine and eighteen in the grill/lounge area makes for a comfortable atmosphere for watching the action on the course or on Golf Channel with a hearty sandwich and an adult beverage in hand. Food is strong bar food-tasty and satisfying.
What I like most about Whiskey Creek is that for a daily fee course they have figured out a way to meet the maintenance budget with appropriate funds to keep the place in top condition. The fairways are always lush and the greens smooth with pace-more like a country club than a fee course. Kudos to Kemper Sports who operate and manage this fine facility.
Architect: J. Michael Poellot, Ernie Els (2000)
Tee Yardage Par Rating Slope
Blue 6525 72 72.1 136
White 5979 72 69.3 129
(Click here to review Whiskey Creek hole-by-hole descriptions)
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