When I moved to the DC suburbs from San Francisco 20 years ago this month, I didn’t know that I’d still be here (in the back of my mind I thought I’d live here a few years and go on to the next place). When I first moved here, public courses were your typical scruffy muni tracks that were constantly busy. It was either that or your tony private clubs and I’m decidedly not the kind of blue-blood (nor do I have the bankroll) person to join a private club.
It was shortly after moving here that the upscale, member-for-a-day, higher end daily fee courses started to open. In Maryland there’s Queenstown Harbour, Links at Lighthouse Sound, PB Dye, Worthington Manor, Maryland National, Whiskey Creek, Lake Presidential, Blue Mash, and of course, Bulle Rock (if I missed one my apologies).
While as a collection these are all fine courses, Bulle Rock has always stood far and above. Golfweek has consistently ranked it as #1 in their annual “Best Courses You Can Play” for Maryland, and it’s the only Maryland course to feature in Golf Digest’s recently released list (current rank is 52nd) for US courses. It hosted the LPGA Championship from 2005-2009 (a major) and it’s not hard to see why it’s worthy.
So despite all of this, the truth is that until recently I hadn’t made the trek to Bulle Rock. I had talked about it on several occasions, but it never happened. Finally, I pulled the trigger through a GolfmatchApp outing, and that was that.
When you arrive at Bulle Rock, the first thing you notice is that it’s all golf. No tennis, no swimming, just golf. While there is a housing development, you only see homes on the first hole. Warm-up and practice facilities are as good as anything I’ve seen anywhere. Short game area, range, practice green all included in your green fee. With the shotgun start we didn’t play the course 1-18 (we started on 17, which is a tricky par 3 to a protected green).
The photo may not show it but there is a large bunker and rocks protecting the green. The bail-out area short isn’t a bad place to be.
The 18th hole (the finisher, our 2nd) is a brute worthy of a great finish. Water the entire left side and a multi-tiered green. I was very happy to be in the fairway off the tee given the difficulties a couple players in our group dealt with off the tee.
The first hole should be a handshake hole but the green is small and well protected (if you get wild with your approach shot like I did, there’s ample trouble to be had).
The 2nd hole is a par 5 that should play easier (but as was my day I managed to make a hash of it…when you drain a 30 foot putt for a 7 you’re not exactly doing cartwheels). The front nine offers a nice variety of holes that all feel unique (the course definitely felt like 18 unique holes and not a case where I was playing the same hole over and over). Short holes, long holes, and everything in between.
The back nine starts with the 10th hole, a dog-leg par 4 protected by a waste area right and bunkers left.
Not visible from my photo, from the tee it’s a bit clearer.
The 11th hole is the longest hole on the course (at a robust 599 yards from the blue tees that we played from- the black tees has it in the 600’s). It’s a dogleg par 5 with a litany of hazards.
If this wasn’t enough of a challenge, any shots long are likely to end up with a brutal downhill chip or possibly wet.
The one good thing with the hole is that a miss short and straight isn’t particularly penal (several of the holes were like that).
If the photos don’t show it, the fairways, roughs, tee boxes and greens were all in superb shape as you might expect. No un-filled divots in the fairways, the greens rolled pretty true (with the intermittent rain and wind we had I had a hell of a time with the greens but that’s on mother nature and me…not their staff). The staff in the pro shop were all friendly and helpful to a fault. If making you feel like a member is what they’re trying to do, then mission accomplished.
The course is a brute and there’s no nice way of sugarcoating it. Small mistakes get magnified, and it’s easy to get into trouble. As with many Pete Dye courses, it’ll make you want to pull your hair out at times, but isn’t that the point of testing ourselves as golfers? If you haven’t made the trip up to Bulle Rock, go this year. Bring a good supply of ammo and your patience (and your A-game), and you’ll see why Bulle Rock is the best public course in the state.