Since I’m talking about practice facilities, the Blogger’s Code of Ethics requires that I post at least one pop culture reference.  Click on the video to hear Allan Iverson talk about practice.

Now that this bit of informality is out of the way, with December here (allegedly; wouldn’t know it with the 70 degree temps we had briefly this week as November bid adieu), it’s a surprisingly good time to hit the range.  It’s not as crowded, you’re not dealing with heat and humidity, and hopefully you’ve had a good season so hopefully this is about taking that next step in knocking a few strokes off of your index.

If, like me, you live in Howard County and want to stay in Howard County to practice, your options are limited but they do exist.  In pursuit of golfing mediocrity, I have personally tried and reviewed each facility.  You’re welcome.

Rocky Gorge Driving Range: Website is for sale (don’t ask)

Address: 8445 Old Columbia Road (Rt. 29).  Open 9:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. (unless this changes)

Vibe: Mini-golf meets batting cages meets ridiculous rules run amok meets “what else are they doing here?”

Details: If you’ve ever been on Route 29 North and crossed the Patuxent River Bridge, you’ve probably seen it.  It’s on the right.  Maybe you’ve seen the car with a target on it in what looks to be a plowed field.  That’s the place.  It appears to be thrown together rather haphazardly.  You have a batting cage setup for baseball and softball players, and a driving range for golfers.  But wait!  There’s more!  There’s also a short game area that isn’t exactly well-maintained, and a mini-golf area.  As simple as this should be, they have these silly rules that defeat the purpose of the place.  For one, the “NO GOLF BAGS ALLOWED” sign.  At a driving range.  I asked why, and was given an angry lecture that made no sense by the woman who runs it (did she come from the now-defunct Trotters Glen?).  So if you choose this place, take your clubs out of the bag and carry them with you.  Don’t ask.  You pay at the counter for a bucket of balls that appear to be Y2K compatible.  Of course they have mats, and the mats are a bit worn (being polite here).  Despite all of this, if you drive past it you’ll see people beating balls so they have their regulars.  I put this place on a list along with Gunpowder and a couple other facilities that you wonder just how much longer they’re going to be in existence.  There’s a practice green that runs about a 3 on the stimpmeter.

If you go: With traffic on Route 29 being what it is, if you come from the south just know that you can’t turn left to go south on Route 29.  Drive up to MD-216 and navigate the traffic circles to get on Route 29 South.  Bring small bills with you and make sure you have your golf glove in your pocket.

Fairway Hills Golf Course/Driving Range: Website:

Address: 5100 Columbia Road.  Open Daylight hours (range is not lit)

Vibe: No-frills public golf course

Wide Angle Photo of Fairway Hills Driving Range

Wide Angle Photo of Fairway Hills Driving Range

Details: Fairway Hills is one of 2 Columbia Association courses (the other, Hobbits Glen, is restricted to CA members who act like they own the damn place).  If their pro shop is small and spartan, the rest of the offerings are equally no-frills.  You buy a token in the pro shop and then use the token to get range balls out of a vending machine.  Pretty simple.  Other than a few covered spots, the range stalls are all open-air, so if you use them, you’re in the elements (no shade during the summer).  Mats are in good (not great) shape.  Range balls are in good shape as well.  There’s a small short game area where you can chip and putt, but the emphasis is on small (it can get crowded pretty easily).  It is, however, well maintained.  There’s a second small putting green that you can’t see in the photo.

If you go: The First Tee of Howard County is located at Fairway Hills so you might see them on occasion.

Hobbits Glen Golf Course/Driving Range: Website:

Address: 11130 Willow Bottom, Columbia, MD 21044

Vibe:  Similar to that of Fairway Hills, but with the rarefied air of a quasi-private club setting.

Practice Green at Hobbits Glen. Hazy due to near sunset, not because I was drunk.

Practice Green at Hobbits Glen. Hazy due to near sunset, not because I was drunk.

Details: It looks quite similar to Fairway Hills, probably because they’re sister courses.  The picture above shows a large practice green (to the far right/middle is one of the greens on the golf course).  The mats are in good shape, and it’s a perfectly decent enough place to hit a bucket and work on your putting.  If you’re done and are hungry, might I suggest stopping in at The Turn House for a bite?  It’s nothing particularly notable but it provides you with everything you need.

If you go: They have several golf leagues and the like so it can be busy at times.

Timbers at Troy Golf Course/Range: Website:

Address: 6100 Marshalee Drive, Elkridge, MD 21075

Vibe:  It’s complicated.

Details: For several reasons the range is a bit of a hike from the pro shop; it’s down the hill and to the right (you get range balls down there as well, but at the last time I was there you bought your token in the pro shop).  The last time I was there some of the mats were in need of replacement.  There’s a small (emphasis on small) short game/chipping area near the area where you buy range balls at.  It’s not very well set up; it’s easy to get the area clogged up.  The best part of the facility is a very large and well-maintained (it was as of my most recent visit) practice green adjacent to the pro shop and the 1st tee.   If you wanted to just show up and work on your putting, this is a good place to do it.

If you go: Traffic getting out of there during the work week can be a challenge due to an office building on Marshalee Drive.  Hungry afterwards?  Pazani is on Marshalee drive near the Exxon station.  They do a decent pie and a good calzone.

Waverly Woods Golf Course/Range: Website:

Address: 2100 Warwick Way, Marriottsville, MD 21104

Vibe: Time to get down to business.

Practice Green/Short Game Area.  Great chance to chip, putt and hit sand shots.

Practice Green/Short Game Area. Great chance to chip, putt and hit sand shots.

Details: I love and hate this place.  Love the course, love the layout and the challenging holes and detest the pace of play that their marshals have decided is acceptable.  Practice facility?  Best in the county and it’s not even close (if you’re from Waverly Woods and you’re reading this, I’m not even remotely kidding- take a bow).  It’s Usain Bolt time.  During the warmer months their range is green grass (not mats).  That alone puts them ahead of the other places but the short game area is, in my humble opinion, the gem of this place.  Plenty of areas to chip, a bunker to work on sand shots, and shortly mowed and areas with rough to chip out of.  There’s a second non-chipping practice green next to the pro shop.  If they could improve pace of play (and for the record I’m begging them to do this) I’d be here every weekend saying “here, take my money” and I’d sing their praises like a damn fool.   Yeah, it’s a bit of a hike to get out here (it’s off of I-70) but it’s worth it.  The closest area facility is Olney Golf Park (and they can be peculiar).

If you go: If you’re going to use the range you might want to park near the range and not near the pro shop.  It can be a bit of a hike. The short-game area is close to the first tee and is a hike from the range (but worth it).

Willow Springs Golf Course/Driving Range: Website:

Address: 12980 Livestock Road, Sykesville, MD 21784

The vibe: Hope springs eternal.

Details: As you leave the Baltimore area on I-70, you’ll pass by Waverly Woods and Turf Valley (note- Turf Valley resort is restricted to resort guests so I did not visit or review their facility, as a polite but firm young lady informed me when I called to ask), and a few miles later, you’ll come across Howard County Fairgrounds on one side of the highway, and Willow Springs on the other.   Their range is rather utilitarian; while it’s large enough with plenty of bays, the mats are in average shape.  The short game area is decent.  Not great, not bad.   While I haven’t played Willow Springs, I can tell you it’s an Executive length course (shorter par 4’s and par 3’s) which makes it a good option for golfers who aren’t that long off the tee but still want to tee it up.

If you go: Their pro shop burned down in November (I visited them prior to this happening) so please visit and be as patient as you can.