Set in the terrain of the foothills of the Shenandoah Mountains this is a hilly course with dramatic up and down holes and stunning vistas all around. The golf course is in the same neighborhood as Arthur Hill’s Maryland National to which it tends to regularly be compared. In my estimation Musket Ridge is hands down more fun and interesting. What differentiates it from Maryland National is that it is a consistent strong design without any trickery. Balance of long and short holes is right, par threes have good variety, and the teeth of the course are the in finish on both sides.
Playing Musket Ridge, the first thing one comes away with is the beauty of the settings that surround the course. There are so many holes where you stand on the tee looking at the hole ahead and your eye just gets drawn to something five miles in the distance. At times it can be distracting because the mind starts wandering and the scale of the task at hand gets dwarfed by the panoramic view that is consuming your attention.
The second characteristic worth noting is the quality of the greens. Pretty generous in size the greens are big without being sprawling. Unlike so many new courses these days these are not tricked up with buried pachyderms or absurd segmentation. Occasionally multiple tiers appear but it is selective and makes sense when it is used. The bunkering around the greens is strategically positioned and can be punitive so you must respect their proximity when picking your approach lines. To my experience, the quality and maintenance of the putting surfaces has been top notch. They can be speedy when cut low but most of the time they run at a comfortable speed for recreational play.
Lastly it is noticeable the way the holes are routed across the hills. Most holes traverse the fall line of the hills so there is a stacked effect to the arrangement of the holes. The designer uses ridges along the side to define and contain each hole and give you relatively level ground to play from. But the influence of the prevailing slope of the property will influence the movement of your ball on the ground. Wandering beyond those ridges puts your ball in the jeopardy. To accentuate the look they have let the grass on these side hills grow to three feet plus so you have to keep your ball within the parameters of the playing area or you will pay a price.
The variety of the holes is astounding. No two holes look remotely alike. There is a great mix of long and short four pars-ones you think you can drive the green and a number where a solid drive still leaves you the full measure of a fairway metal to reach the green. The front and back both start with scenic holes that tumble below your feet and set a tone for the drama of the day. Strength of both sides is in the last four holes where if you lose your focus you will lose control of your scorecard. The challenge from the Blue Tees is more than enough for the mere mortal-play at this distance and you will get your money’s worth.
Even though you rarely hear Joe Lee’s name mentioned among top designers, he has been around a long time and done wonderful work. He spent most of his career being the junior co-designer with Dick Wilson building courses like Cog Hill #4, Laurel Valley, La Costa, and the Blue Monster at Doral. But in the last 20 years until his passing in 2003, he has done lots of work on his own that stands to its own distinction.
A book was written by Ron Whitten on Joe Lee’s work in which Lee is quoted as saying of his design philosophy, “I start with the premise that golf should be enjoyable, not a chore. Golfers want a challenge, but they want a fair one. An architect cannot put a foot on the golfer’s neck and keep it there all day.” His philosophy of design is evident in this layout-it is a challenge, but an enjoyable challenge. One cannot help but walk away shaking their head about what could have been, soon to be followed by the nagging sirens calling them back for another go at it.
Take the time when you are done to enjoy the food service in the grill room. It is an intimate room with a great view of the finishing holes on both sides. Food is quite good and makes for a nice accent to a wonderful golfing day.
Architect: Joe Lee (2002)
Tees Par Rating Slope Yardage
Gray 72 73 140 6902
Blue 72 71.1 130 6416
White 72 68.9 123 5884