Elkridge Club

Elkridge Club LogoThe original Elkridge Club was established in the late 1800’s as a golf and hunting club in what was probably the wealthy developing side of Baltimore. It’s membership grew to 400 and in 1925 they acquired more land to meet their growing need and sought the guidance of Seth Raynor to build the course you see today.

As recently as 2003 the club hired Brian Silva an architect who has a reputation for doing work on Seth Raynor courses to do a total renovation of the course and bring it back to Seth Raynor’s original design. To those who have played them, The Washington Golf Club in Arlington and Bedford Springs Golf Resort in Pennsylvania this will have a familiar look and feel.

The classic club house is a period statement of it's own

The classic look of the club house is a period statement of it’s own

To say this is an old style course is a major understatement-it is a period piece. Suffice it to say that there are design features in this course that you would never see created today. Rectangular shaped putting surfaces, super dramatic uphill driving carries, greens with almost arbitrary undulations, three steps between green and the next tee, fairway bunkering that seems random, and hole sequencing that has all to do with the god delivered shape of the property.

Seth Raynor used the land at hand to route a delightful old style golf course

Seth Raynor used the land at hand to route a delightful old style golf course

With modern green construction this becomes a throw back golf experience with today’s gratifications. The words “fair” and “unfair” have no place in this design-it is just “wow” or “you must be kidding”. Leave your modern ego at home and just put on a pair of plus fours and bring out the hickory shaft mentality-this is quite an experience to the sophisticated golf historian.

The length of the course-especially the differential between Blue and Black Tees-is almost deluding. The course is so tightly ensconced by the trees that “towardness” is the only thing that matters here. You have to hit it Freddie Funk straight and have Justin Leonard restraint for over-reaching on any particular challenge.  One bounce on the wrong side of a ridge will change your fate on an individual hole dramatically.

The Biarritz green on #13 is something Raynor used on many of his courses

The unusual Biarritz green is something Raynor employed on many of his courses

For the most part the holes do not have severe turns in them-they all look right in front of you off the teeing ground. But the overhanging old hardwoods and the steep drop-offs mean you have to be very directive in your line of play.

Greens are terrific. Very smooth-reasonably fast-especially downhill and down grain. But if you can play your approaches and pitches beneath the hole you can be pretty aggressive into the hole.

The Elkridge Club experience is something out of a different time and it reminds us that golf courses were not always designed for those who think hitting it long is what it is all about. The shots you hit in a round at Elkridge will remind you how important creativity and finesse can be in an enjoyable round of golf.

Baltimore, Maryland

Architect: Seth Raynor (1927)

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Tee        Par          Rating        Slope       Yardage
Black     71             70.9            124          6465
Blue       71             69.7            122          6194

(Click to see the complete hole-by-hole description of The Elkridge Club)

Musket Ridge Golf Club

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.

From the first tee the scenic beauty of this region is revealed

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.

A little floral embellishment on #17 and this could be a postcard

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.

The look up 18 captures the balanced majesty of this place

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.

Myersville, Maryland

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

(Click here to review Musket Ridge hole-by-hole descriptions)

Whiskey Creek Golf Club

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.

Skeleton of a 19th Century stone house is your aiming device on 18

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.

Visual green settings like this at #18 require tactics and precision

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.

Framed driving area on the tempting downhill Par 5 9th.

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.

Carry across the abyss on the Par 4 12th is a harrowing challenge

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 fortress green setting at the Par 5 16th

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.

Ijamsville, Maryland

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)

Man O’ War Golf Course

Man O’ War is one of two courses Joel Weiman built for the Glen Riddle Golf Club outside of Ocean City, Maryland.  Weiman designed the Uplands Golf Club (of blessed memory) in Denton, Maryland off Route 404 on the way to the Maryland/Delaware Beaches.  Similar to that effort,  here he took a flat piece of farmland and turned it into a very interesting golf course that pulls links style features into play and makes for a wonderful afternoon of golf challenges that we are not used to seeing in this part of the world.  Add the wind factor, since this is just off the Bay side of the Ocean City area, and you do have a course that will give you a new riddle to solve every time you play.

                           Early Wake Up Call on Par 3 Second Hole

Click on any picture to get an enhanced view of the image

Be clear, that in spite of all the marketing hype, this is not a links course.  It lacks many of the inherent environmental necessities of a links course-sandy turf, proximity to a major ocean or sea, tall sand dunes, treeless surroundings.  But, to his credit, Weiman found a way to embed many of the links style challenges in this course-blind shots, random bounces,  awesome topographical intrusions, scantly bunkered green constellations, slick and windswept putting surfaces.  You will have a few of those head scratching “is this too arbitrary” or “is this unfair” kind of thoughts when you think back over your day of golf.  But truth is what you should come away with is a satisfying sense of mental exhaustion from having been challenged throughout the day.

Intimidating Beauty Par 4 #11

What you do get are well manicured Bermuda grass fairways that wend their way through an interesting array of swales and hollows, startling bunker clusters, and imaginative green constellations.  Weiman introduces the links arbitrary bounce feature through the creation throughout the course of what we have coined “Worm Berms”.  When you look at the holes on the GPS imaging in the cart there are manufactured ridges in many fairways that look like worms-these will repel a ball without the proper level of intention to places that seem arbitrary and punitive.  But for anyone who has played across the pond you know that the rub of the fairway is an elemental part of the links golf experience.  The bent greens are severely sloped and segmented with tiers and fall offs that make it essential to plan your approach angles to leave your ball where you can putt aggressively. Being on the wrong side of the hole all day will leave you a bushel full of three putts.  Creative pitching and chipping will go a long way to keeping you on your game-the unusual green constellations will afford you plenty of opportunity to ply that craft.

Like most good courses driving the ball on the right line is essential to success.  Weiman used creative bulldozing to inject some very obtrusive obstacles in your path.  Picking the right club off the tee and the best angle from which to play your next shot will help you negotiate these challenges with much less pain.  The blind shots and other visual misdirection techniques in the architecture will cast further doubt in your mind, but you have to trust your instincts and have conviction of intent on every shot.

Home Hole Par 4 #18

This is a wonderful afternoon of golf with a distinct links flavor to it.  Enjoy the arbitrariness of the experience and go with the flow-you will have some sweet recollections of the day’s challenges if you don’t let it wear you out.

(Photos from gwowi.com)

Berlin, Maryland

Architect: Joel Weiman (McDonald Design Group) 2006

Tees          Par    Rating    Slope    Yardage
Blue          72      71.6       133        6556
Silver        72      69.1       128        6086

(Click to see complete Man O’ War hole-by-hole descriptions)

Lake Presidential Golf Club

This is a new upscale residential development golf course by the Landmark Land Design company that has done places like Kiawah Island, Oak Tree,  PGA West, and Doonbeg. True to their formula they have made sure this is a real upscale development with full feature through out-they have skimped on nothing that I can see.  Just stand in the pro shop and look out the back window at the pure splendor of the vista presented-this is just a brilliant marketing feature-you just can’t wait to see what the rest of the course looks like.

The architect of the course were in-house guys from Landmark,  but they are obviously people of talent because this is one rugged piece of wooded property that they succeeded in presenting as a very scenic and playable golf experience. It has much of the up and down feel of Avenel but with a less punitive edge.  Routing of the holes are similar, two loops that create interior space that are natural with umpteen housing opportunities around outside ring. When all the houses are done I think it will have the unwanted feel of an urban golf setting.  But for now it is quite a nice experience.

Visual Par 5 8th (Steve Uzzell/panoramio.com))

The course has a nice flow to it-both sides have their difficult stretches in the middle but let up considerably on the last two holes to give you a shot of confidence and possible redemption for your scorecard.  Some of the fairway bunkering is a bit overdone for my taste-long adjacent bunkers that are very visually intimidating without adding much real strategic value.  The greens have lots of slope and segmentation, so when they get to the point where they can speed them up the putting will be a major challenge.  The high trees and the low alcove areas will create places where growing and maintaining the grasses may be a major maintenance headache.  There is a section of the back nine which is confined and low to the water table-much like the stretch from 10 to 12 at Avenel-this is where the built up heat and humidity-along with little sunlight will present a problem.

Pure Finesse Par 3 12th (Steve Uzzell)

That said the back nine is as fine a set of holes as you will see in our area, you will have to play with imagination and skill to score well back there.  What I like the most about this place is that there are a number of very interesting holes with novel architectural features.  The visual wow factor hits high on the meter a bunch of times during your round.  This is a place where you have to focus and maintain your concentration to decide what challenges to take on and what to play away from.  The potential for high scores lurks on many, many holes-so you have to be smart to maintain a chance at a good score.

Upper Marlboro, Maryland

Architects: Chris Cole and Jeff Potts    (2008)

Tee           Par       Rating       Slope      Yardage
Black        72         72.1          137          6725
Blue          72         70.2          129          6315
White        72         67.3          122          5660

(Click to see complete Lake Presidential hole-by-hole descriptions)

Bulle Rock

A typical Pete Dye design-full of visual intimidation and grandeur-he toys with and soothes your mind at the same time.  Your scorecard is likely to reflect the former rather than the later because the golf challenge, even if you pick the right tee length, is very robust.  Much like he did at Mystic Rock around the same time, Pete used the rolling terrain to showcase beautiful hole layouts-there is so much eye candy here you will think you are in the NECCO factory.  The ticket is high but you really get your money’s worth on all levels.

The short game practice facility was an original extra at its time-still remains one of the highlights of the experience for me.  The clubhouse is nice without being grand, the golf shop has plenty of Bulle Rock memorabilia for you to sample, and the grill room has a very fine array of all American comfort food for you to enjoy.

Number 2 Par 5 (Scott Serio/EclipseSportswire.com)

The composition of this course, much like the composition of a fine piece of music,  is where the artistry lies for me-the sequence and flow of the holes is very engaging.  Though the longer hitters may gripe because of the number of shortish four pars, Pete gives your scorecard a building sense of pressure because those short holes are frought with danger if you do not pick your challenges carefully.  With the exception of a bit of a logistical hiccup in the placement of the short par three third-you can feel this course naturally roll out in front of you-every really big challenge is followed by a bit of a letup on the pedal-but more challenges await in short order.  The sequential buildup on each side ends with a very memorable hole where the player needs to get a second wind to keep his scorecard in tact.

Number 13 Par 4 (www.rollinggreens.com)

As is usually the case with Dye courses, the biggest intimidations are usually not the biggest challenges, the devil is in the nuances so pay close attention to the nature of the landing areas off the tee and the access points and configurations of the greens.  The green surfaces have gentle but significant slopes-very speedy and the grain will accentuate or attenuate the pace of all putts.

Because of the topography this is a brutal walk-some serious cardiac episodes lie between green and tee.  The lack of any tree cover in the playing area from tee to green means that when the sun is out you will get the full brunt of its fever-be prepared to drink, towel, and seek some refuge under the cart cover.

Anna Nordqvist LPGA Champion 2009 (Scott Serio/EclipseSportswire.com)

The LPGA Championship has been played here a number of times over the years and the list of champions verifies the pedigree of this course.  Winners have included Annika Sorenstam, Se Ri Pak, Suzanne Pettersen, Yani Tseng, and Anna Nordqvist.

Stunning Finishing Hole Par 4 (www.golfdigest.com)

Pete rarely disappoints when they pay him and Alice the big fee and they did not disappoint here.  It is really just a matter of whether you experience more “Wows” than “Whews” here-there should be a boatload of both of them.

Aberdeen, Maryland

Architect: Pete Dye-1998

Tees            Par   Rating    Slope     Yardage

Gold            72     74.2        142        6843

Blue            72      72          138        6360

White          72     70.6        135        6047

(Click to see complete Bulle Rock hole-by-hole descriptions)

Caves Valley Golf Club

When this course opened in the early 90’s, close to the same time Robert Trent Jones opened in Manassas, Virginia, it kind of got the short end of the stick for new, upscale private courses in our region. But in many ways I think it better than RTJ, it has less pomp, more character-both in facility and course, and it is an afternoon to remember, right from the bag drop to the final beer after the round.

The bag drop greets you with an atmosphere of understated confidence

 (Click on any picture to get an enhanced view of the image)

This place is clearly the vision of one man, it has a quaintness to it that cannot be ignored. All the buildings are low cottages in an rural English tradition creating an understated formal atmosphere that is appropriate for a private club catering to the wealthy and famous who would prefer to enjoy an anonymous afternoon without much fanfare. The locker room is small and has that comfortable sock feeling to it-offering liquid refreshment and some fresh fruit for the road.

Lunch on the veranda-before or after a round-is the height of civility

Lunch is served buffet style on the veranda of the clubhouse-great simple food that is a perfect fuel stop for the afternoon ahead. The golf shop is also small but homey, full of Ralph Lauren looking shirts, jackets, and the like all bearing the cool CV logo. Full grass practice areas are up to the standard you would expect at a place like this. The guys who man all stations, bag drop, caddie room, golf shop, and locker room are just your frat brother types who are there to make sure you have a great day.

The Par 3 eighth is as demanding as it is beautiful

The course itself is pure Tom Fazio-exhilarating to look at and a solid tactical challenge to play. It is a hilly piece of ground that wends its way through substantial woods that will define holes and create tactical considerations on their own. The length is not overwhelming if you pick the right tees to play from and if you want to enjoy yourself err on the shorter length the first time through.

Magnificent #12…just resplendent and about three stories down

The greens are wonderful, lots of pitch and yaw and very swift downhill and with the grain.  Caddies are wonderful and will help you deal with the mysteries of putting these greens. Overall conditioning if superb-they spend their money on keeping this top shelf.

Backyard grass practice facility with a Golf Learning Center to boot

I recommend hanging around after you are done for an icy cold one on the veranda overlooking the expansive grass practice facility that cascades down the hill from the club house-this is pure serenity as defined by Webster.

Owings Mills, Maryland

Architect: Tom Fazio (1991)

Tees      Par      Rating       Slope       Yardage

Blue       71        73.0          138            6714

White     71        71.0          131            6228

(Click to see complete Caves Valley hole-by-hole descriptions)