Category: Course Reviews (page 2 of 6)

Waverly Woods Revisited

From just off the 1st tee at Waverly Woods.  Cold, sun just coming up. Hoping for the best.

From just off the 1st tee at Waverly Woods. Cold, sun just coming up. Hoping for the best.

The last time I played Waverly Woods was in September 2015, and to put it politely I was unimpressed about the pace of play (and more importantly that nobody from the course seemed to give a rip).  I wrote some pretty unflattering words, and I meant (and still do) every word of it based on what was happening at the time.  For a course to permit rounds going over 5 1/2 hours in your dew-sweeper groups is doing the game a disservice not to mention area golfers.  It’s simply going to kill the game.

However, I gave this quite a bit of thought, and wanted to see if things had changed there.  If I’m being honest, I wanted it to improve because the layout is one of the best in the area, and seeing the course function better serves the golfing public far better than if it’s known as a pace-of-play graveyard.  If I make pointed complaints, much of it comes from wanting to see this area serve public golfers better.  I seek not to take people down, but rather, to hopefully see things elevated.

It was in this vein that I made the relatively short drive up to Marriottsville on a chilly Sunday morning (I was worried about a frost delay but we escaped that).  After parking and changing shoes, I went into the pro shop and paid my green fee (range balls were included but I didn’t really have time to hit balls so I went to the short game area and hit a few chips before we started our round).

From the rough on the third hole.  Green is to the far right of the photo (bad aim on my part).

From the rough on the third hole. Green is to the far right of the photo (bad aim on my part).

Despite what must be a challenging winter, the course was, for the most part, in pretty good shape.  Fairways were well manicured, rough wasn’t overly penal, and the greens were fairly true.  One of their members was in my group and he mentioned that they had hired a new GM at the course (apparently the previous one enjoyed the free golf perk quite a bit, while the new one seems to be more concerned about how the course operates) that had been well received.

From the 8th tee at Waverly Woods. Love this hole.  Loved it more after I managed a birdie.

From the 8th tee at Waverly Woods. Love this hole. Loved it more after I managed a birdie.

The good news- pace of play was better (we were first out so there’s no reason it shouldn’t be).  The other twosome in our group were good guys who needed the occasional nudge, but by and large kept it moving.  We finished in 3 hours and 40 minutes (and more importantly the group in back of us only waited on us 2-3 times…still 2-3 times more than they should have had to, but by the time we got to the back nine we hardly saw them).

From the tee at the 15th hole. That townhouse on the right...that's more in play for a slicer than it should be.

From the tee at the 15th hole. That townhouse on the right…that’s more in play for a slicer than it should be.

I did notice that marshals/player assistants on carts at least 2-3 times during the round.  I won’t speculate if they were looking at a time par or making sure we weren’t holding up the group in back of us, but nothing was said to us (I know this is never fun but even a “doing okay fellas but let’s keep things moving- you shouldn’t be seeing the group in back of you” can be well received).

13th hole- a long and very difficult par 3.  I managed to get on the green in regulation. Miracles do happen.

13th hole- a long and very difficult par 3. I managed to get on the green in regulation. Miracles do happen.

The layout is largely unchanged from my visit two years ago, nor should it need to be changed.  It remains a great test with a very wide range of hole lengths (both short and long par 4’s and par 3’s).  The 13th hole (above) is as tough of a par 3 as you’ll fine in the area.  Miss left and you’re well below the hole.  Miss right and you’ve got an almost impossible chip shot downhill to a very slick green.  Even on the green if on the wrong half relative to the hole location is brutal as well.

17tg hole at Waverly Woods.  Target golf at its finest.

17tg hole at Waverly Woods. Target golf at its finest.

While you do see homes on most holes, only on a few holes are they really in play (and this is the reality we have with newer courses).

So all in all, I had a good time at Waverly Woods.  If you can keep the ball in the fairway and get around in four hours, it’s as good of a test of golf that exists for public golfers in the DMV.  They have a pro-shop/grill room that has what you’d expect to see.  They do have a beverage cart during the warmer months (didn’t see one when I played), and as I’ve mentioned before, the green grass driving range and their short game area are better than you’d see at most private clubs.

 

Blue Mash Course Review (and more)

From the 4th tee at Blue Mash. Don't go left. Or long. Or right.

From the 4th tee at Blue Mash. Don’t go left. Or long. Or right.

Despite temperatures that were 30 degrees cooler than the day before, I had an enjoyable round on Sunday 3/26 at Blue Mash which remains one of the better public tracks in Central Maryland.  Unlike my 2015 visit to its sister course Waverly Woods, pace of pace was not an issue at all.  The other twosome I was paired with moved on as the cold weather was too much for them (they played the front nine and called it a day),  Playing with the guy I got paired with as a twosome, we finished 18 holes in 3 hours and 10 minutes (and that was with a your humble scribe requiring a stop for refreshments between nines).

Despite the up-and-down weather of late, for the most part, Blue Mash was in good shape when I played it with a couple notable exceptions.  The driving range is currently mats only while their green grass portion comes back (it’s currently covered with a plastic tarp).   As you can see from my photos, much of the turf-grass is still brown, but that’s not really surprising (the turf played fine; if anything it was nice that the rough wasn’t really a factor and easy to play from).  The greens rolled pretty true (it’s hard to tell but there’s a lot more break in them than it appears).

It’s been five years since I played Blue Mash so it was a bit of unfamiliar territory.  For those unfamiliar, Blue Mash doesn’t ease you into your round.  The first 3 holes are long par 4’s that are as difficult of an opening stretch that exists in the DMV.  Once you escape that, you’ve got a medium-length par 3 (photo above( to a well-protected green and a medium length par 5 that has jail the entire left side of the hole.

5th hole at Blue Mash from approx 150 out.  Trees left, water right. Whee!

5th hole at Blue Mash from approx 150 out. Trees left, water right. Whee!

The short 7th and 8th holes look inviting (and easy) enough on the scorecard, but any mistake off the tee and there’s trouble all over the place.

Once you hit the back nine, you have to contend with water for the first few holes, with 11 (a long par 3 into the prevailing wind) requiring a fairly stout carry over water to a well-protected green.

12th hole from the fairway at Blue Mash. The water on the right side isn't for decoration.

12th hole from the fairway at Blue Mash. The water on the right side isn’t for decoration.

So Blue Mash remains a stout test for area golfers.  I’m not going to claim to be Bradley Klein of Golfweek, but three notes about the course design:

1) Unless you’ve a knee that is problematic on a good day like I do, the course is a fairly easy walk.  No big distances between holes and no real elevation changes of note.  If courses want more people walking this is one way to make this happen.

2) No homes.  Not even kidding on this one.  The entire area is nothing but golf course.

3) The green complexes are all well protected; several holes have large bunkers (I know since I found my way in them) in the front of the green.  This came into play because on a cold day the ball doesn’t travel as far as it normally would and being off a few yards had some unpleasant consequences.

So all in all, Blue Mash is well worth a visit.  They have a practice green, a short game green and a range that is currently mats only but should convert to their green grass once we get into season.

SHOE REVIEW

Finally wore my Foot-Joy Hyperflex II shoes during my round at Blue Mash.  Out of the box they felt really good, but I will do a review once I get 3-5 rounds played in them.

SONG OF THE DAY

Alan Hawkshaw is a musical savant.  Put this on and if this doesn’t make you want to fix a cocktail or twelve then I can’t help you. Things are weird.  Sometimes you’ve just got to let go a bit.  This isn’t yacht rock.  It’s something else entirely.

Saturday Round and Experimentation

From the rough on the 2nd hole. Not exactly super thick, thankfully.

From the rough on the 2nd hole. Not exactly super thick, thankfully.

Taking advantage of whatever the hell the weather was a couple weeks ago, I played early Saturday 2/25 at Rattlewood.  Played in a foursome, and got around in 3 1/2 hours (note- it can be done) despite a couple guys in our group struggle to start.  You don’t need to play well to play fast.  We played ready golf and used continuous putting which really cuts down on your time (if you’re asking).

From the left rough on the 5th hole at Rattlewood. Caught the slope perfectly.

From the left rough on the 5th hole at Rattlewood. Caught the slope perfectly.

The course was in good shape given that it’s late February.  Greens were rolling pretty quick but that seemed to be a function of our dry weather of late along with a steady wind all day that was blowing in the 1-2 club range.  Given the cold snaps we’ve had I can’t vouch for things right now.  I have a bad feeling that the course superintendents are going to have their hands full over the next several weeks if this rollercoaster keeps up.

3rd hole at Rattlewood. It not only looks long, it plays long.

3rd hole at Rattlewood. It not only looks long, it plays long.

While I’m sure that many courses are thrilled to see tee sheets full this time of year, the guy in the pro shop made a solid point- most courses aren’t yet staffed up yet for the season (and if you’ve seen this weekend’s weather forecast, March can be a rollercoaster).

Really hoping that after this coming weekend’s cold snap that we see a return to seasonal temps since I’m slated to cross a biggie off my local bucket list in a little over a week.

EXPERIMENTATION

Being a blogger and a Twitter user who’s trying to build an audience (why don’t you follow me on Twitter?  Come for the golf, stay for the complaints about Liverpool FC, rugby league (go Canberra Raiders the mighty green machine) and my love/hate relationship with the Toronto Maple Leafs (and the occasional music retweets).  If you’re already following me, have I mentioned what good taste you have?

So it was in the spirit of learning, discovering something new and growing that I downloaded the Golfmatch App a month or so ago.  I stumbled upon them on Instagram and it looked simple enough, but as I’m want to do I gave it some thought, and some more thought.  Out of the blue I signed up and downloaded the app.

I signed up for their event next Saturday 3/18 at Bulle Rock (crossing my fingers for decent weather).  To paraphrase, you had me at Bulle Rock.  This course has been on my “must play” list for years so to finally have the opportunity to play it is something I’m really looking forward to.  I’ll be sure to take photos and try to put together a course review that gives you a sense of what to expect should you play there.

SONG OF THE DAY

Just discovered this.  Catchy as hell.  It’s the music that the kids are listening to and damned if I don’t like it.  Give it a whirl.

 

Compass Pointe Round and Timbers at Troy Update

Taking advantage of a pretty nice day weather-wise, I headed out early this morning to Compass Pointe for my second round of the year (putting me well ahead of last year’s dismal pace).  Conditions were a mixed bag (we played the South/West routing and not my preferred North/East routing), but this time of year it can be difficult for courses.  The greens weren’t bad, and the fairways were, for the most part, in decent shape.  It was chilly when we teed off (38 degrees according to my phone), but it warmed up into the mid 50’s by the time we finished, which was pretty pleasant by February standards.  A reminder that, even when I don’t play that well, I love this game.

4th hole on the South nine.  Don't go right.  Or left.  Or long.  Or short.

4th hole on the South nine. Don’t go right. Or left. Or long. Or short.

Had a good time, and as with my previous round my knee started acting up towards the end and started having some issues off the tee.  I’d still argue that Compass Pointe is a decent option in the area.  It’s not on anyone’s Top 10 in the DMV, but it’s a decent test of golf that has a nice variety of short and long holes.   My only complaint about the layout is that the par 5’s are uniformly all very tough with not an easy one on any of the four nines.

West nine, Hole 1.  Not to point out the obvious but going right is highly discouraged.

West nine, Hole 1. Not to point out the obvious but going right is highly discouraged.

However, there’s glimmer of hope of sorts.  The 7th hole on the West nine has had several trees taken down in the waste area which will hopefully make the second shot across the waste area a bit easier (definitely the case today).

West Nine 7th hole.  Note the removal of trees from either side of the hazard.  Definitely a bit easier to deal with.

West Nine 7th hole. Note the removal of trees from either side of the hazard. Definitely a bit easier to deal with.

Compass Pointe is still a fun place to play.  Pace of play in the afternoon can be uneven, but for morning rounds we breezed around in just over 3 1/2 hours (never saw anyone behind us except for a single that I immediately waved to play through).  Paid $49 to play (carts included).   For mid-February, can’t complain.

TIMBERS AT TROY UPDATE

Being mid-February and driving past it on the way home to stately SGIC manor, I stopped by Timbers at Troy to see how things are progressing while they’re closed for renovations.  I got a few strange looks from a couple folks who were wondering what I was doing (hopefully they realized I was just taking photos and was not some threat to security).  I didn’t want to get in trouble or bother anyone, but I took a few photos:

Bunker work done at the 9th green at Timbers at Troy. Looks good.

Bunker work done at the 9th green at Timbers at Troy. Looks good.

As you can see above, not only is the sand new (and very bright white), but it’s obvious they re-sodded the area around the bunkers (I saw this in most bunkers that have been redone.

5th hole at Timbers at Troy. Green-side bunkers have been redone.

5th hole at Timbers at Troy. Green-side bunkers have been redone.

At the 5th hole (above) you can see the green-side bunker is redone.  The fairway bunker (not visible) was also re-done and the area around the bunker was re-sodded.  This photo was taken standing on Marshalee Drive while a couple pedestrians stared at me.  If this was you, I’m a golf blogger.  That’s all.  The thing in my hand was a phone I used to take photos, so chill the hell out.

From behind the practice green looking out to the 1st hole at Timbers at Troy.

From behind the practice green looking out to the 1st hole at Timbers at Troy.

If the photo above doesn’t show it, the first hole also has new sand (the fairway bunker on the right and the green-side bunkers have been re-done.  They don’t care about my opinion but I’d have eliminated the two green-side bunkers at the first hole and just re-sodded, but I’m not a golf architect.  Still think the course is tough enough as is without the bunkers.

From my untrained eye, it looks like they’re making progress.  The bunkers look really good, and from what I saw, the greens and fairways looked better than they’ve looked (small sample size on a random February Saturday).  Admittedly, I’ve had a go at them on multiple occasions for a litany of reasons, but when the course is in good shape, it’s a solid test and one of the options in Central Maryland.  If I’ve pounded them, it’s because I want this course to be in great shape.  It’s a win-win if they do this.

RANT

I’m not watching the third round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am because I want to see the pros play.  At the risk of angering the masses, Bill Murray’s act is pretty tiresome (dress as oddly as humanly possible and take 6 1/2 hours to play), and my desire to see Larry The Cable Guy lumber about in a sleeveless shirt is a negative number (seriously, you’re a millionaire and yet it’s wear a sleeveless camo golf shirt (the ‘look at me dress like a real Merikun’ act is offensive, stupid and phony as all get out- it’s $500 to play at Pebble Beach so can we stop with the act?) and say ‘git-r-done’ like an organ grinder…is that the depth of this idiot’s talent?).   What horrible things must they do to Peter Kostis to make him ‘analyze’ their swings?  Crazy idea I posted on Twitter:

I don’t mind celebrities, but can we move them along at a pace slightly faster than glacial?  They’re playing at Pebble Beach and a course with its history deserves better than this trope of rubes playing dress-up.  Let Golf Channel cover the pros, and then let CBS go full-time celebrities on the Saturday (I acknowledge that they get ratings for this, so have both).

I actually find the 16th hole at the Waste Management Phoenix Open funny…you know what you’re getting so either play or don’t.  It’s one hole a year.  If you honestly think it’s the only event where guys are getting loaded, I’ve got some ocean front property in Kansas for sale.

SONG OF THE BLOG

Bryan Adams in his early 80’s rocker days?  Oh hell yes.  You put those sunglasses on, you pull that guitar out of the leaves, and you get down with your bad self.

The leather pants…are a choice.  I’d have to kill a herd of cows for enough leather to fit the planetary force that is my rear end.

Hit ’em straight, and enjoy the nice weather while we have it.

 

First Round Review

5th hole at Fairway Hills. Still needs a clown's mouth.

5th hole at Fairway Hills. Still needs a clown’s mouth.

On a cold but occasionally clear Sunday a couple weeks ago, I played my first round of 2017 at Fairway Hills.  A frost delay wasn’t entirely unexpected which delayed our start by 30 minutes or so.  Overall, what I found was about what I expected to find.  A course in decent shape, greens of a mixed bag, but one that has had the needed repairs after the floods of July.  Note- the brown grass is normal.  Fairway Hills converted to Bermuda grass years ago, which goes dormant (brown) in cool to cold weather.

Around the 10th green.  I'm on the green while my playing partners enjoy a beach party in 39(F) weather.

Around the 10th green. I’m on the green while my playing partners enjoy a beach party in 39(F) weather.

All 18 holes were open and playing normally (currently cart path only so plan accordingly).  No temporary greens or goofy tee boxes.  The 5th hole still needs a clown’s mouth, and the 18th hole is still a 3-shot beast straight uphill.  I hadn’t played Fairway Hills in some time, so it was nice to get back out there.  The bridge repairs are completed so no having to double back.  The back nine is still significantly tougher than the front side (11 and 16 are, to borrow a Pierre Lebrun slogan, big-boy holes, and as mentioned 18 is one of the tougher finishing holes in the DMV).

14th hole at Fairway Hills. Not doing any favors with a sucker hole location, fellas.

14th hole at Fairway Hills. Not doing any favors with a sucker hole location, fellas.

For the most part, we’ve had a fairly mild winter (last year at this time we still had fairly heavy snow pack from the January 2016 Nor’easter; no such luck this time.  A good number of courses are open, so there’s really no reason you can’t go play if you’re so inclined.  Just dress warmly (think layers), and focus on having fun and not breaking 90/80 or whatever.  Ranges are generally open everywhere (call ahead before you go if you’re not sure), so might as well take advantage of above-freezing temperatures.

PRO TOUR RANT

Golf Digest  got their collective underpants in a knot over the discovery that people at the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale might be imbibing a bit (I’m shocked…shocked to find out there’s gambling going on here!).  You can’t have it both ways.  If you want the event to be sedate, then they have to crack down on alcohol purchases and people pre-gaming in the parking lot in the dark.  People having sex in the port-o-lets?  Clearly they’ve never been to a concert or a festival.  I’ve seen people blazing up at the DMV tour stop and saw a couple engaging in their own form of anchoring as well.  Oh, but there’s a video of a guy drunk-walking who ends up going down for the count.  This happens at nearly every event but because the Waste Management Phoenix Open is known for being a drunk-fest we’re having the inevitable blow-back.  It’s one hole one week a year.  Encourage sober rides home, and encourage people to take care of each other (no slipping someone something).  Use CCTV if needed.  You still had just shy of 205K people show up to the event on Saturday which is impressive as heck.

SONG OF THE DAY

Given the current state of affairs, this seems about right.  Always loved the Cowboy Junkies (the never got the attention they deserved):

A Guide to Driving Ranges and Practice Facilities in the HoCo

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 rockygorgegolf.com 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: https://www.columbiaassociation.org/facilities/golf/fairway-hills-golf-club/

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: https://www.columbiaassociation.org/facilities/golf/hobbits-glen/

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: www.timbersgolf.com

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: www.waverlywoods.com

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: www.willowspringsgolfcourse.com

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.

 

 

Dreaming of Something Great

And now, it’s back to golf and waving the flag for golf in Howard County from your intrepid blogger.

Majestic

Exterior of Hobbits Glen and The Turn House at night.

As maddening as supporting (and advocating its advancement) golf in Howard County can be, I firmly believe that the county can, and should, become a golf destination.  Adding a couple courses and working together towards a larger goal can put Howard County on the map.  I believe that Howard County can, and should, work to replicate what Montgomery County is doing (and done correctly can one-up our friends in the MoCo).  It’s only impossible if they don’t try.

To that point, you don’t do this at once; you do it by making a million small steps that always push towards that larger goal.  Last night, I saw first-hand what new thinking looks like, and what might well be a game-changing improvement to apres’-golf dining.

I won’t pretend that I haven’t been critical of Hobbits Glen in the past.  The last time I played there the pro shop looked like something from the 1970’s and their bar/grill was a dark, dingy place that was the polar opposite of inviting.  I never saw the ill-fated CoHo Grill, but my spies weren’t impressed.  The course itself should aspire to be the gem for Howard County golf, a title that sadly must remain vacant for several reasons (that’s a different column that requires a lot of alcohol).  Now the pro shop is larger and is more inviting, and that then-dingy bar and grill (now named The Turn House) sets a new high water mark for golf course dining.

Oysters, tartare, and a great cheese plate. Far better than your standard golf grill fare.

Oysters, tartare, and a great cheese plate. Far better than your standard golf grill fare.

Last night while attending a HoCoBlogs event, I saw what golf course dining can and should aspire to in the form of The Turn House (@theturnhouse).  It doesn’t (nor should it) have to be gloppy chicken wings and frozen, pre-packaged burgers, chicken fingers or mozzarella sticks.  The beer doesn’t have to be the boring national brands who make uniformly bad product.  Between Manor Hill and Jailbreak, Howard County is making some damn good beer that you’d actually want to drink.  The Turn House, under their new chef Thomas, plans to serve both Manor House and Jailbreak along with some other Maryland favorites that aren’t Natty Boh (Natty Boh is made in Wisconsin, if you’re curious).

The proverbial 19th hole, where you (hopefully) celebrate a good round or commiserate over a bad round, does not have to involve eating poorly.  Golfers can, and should, want to eat better.  If you’re going to eat a mediocre burger, why not eat a good one that has that nice beefy flavor?  If you’re going to enjoy a cold beer (and after a round a cold beer is one of those simple things that lets us know we’re alive), why not drink something that actually tastes like beer (a Manor Hill Katherine’s Kolsch or a Jailbreak Feed The Monkey are both great warm-weather beers made right here in Howard County).

Those are cupcakes topped with bacon. I did manage to NOT eat all of them.

Those are cupcakes topped with bacon. I did manage to NOT eat all of them.

The Turn House has several rooms (including a bar with several TV’s for watching a ballgame if that’s your thing) and has some of the best outdoor seating in the area.  Even if you don’t play golf, sitting outside on a how-is-this-November evening enjoying a cold beer is a great way to pass the time.   The space looks to work great for weddings and similar functions, and there are plans to have an outdoor beer garden in the warmer months.  It’s all part of asking questions about what’s possible, rather than accepting what is.

Montgomery County still has better courses that are better conditioned, but I defy you to find a better restaurant/bar at any course in Montgomery County.  It’s one step, but it’s an important one and one I’d like to see replicated.  The food at the MoCo courses is forgettable and the beer offerings are the same national brands that seem to be made for people who don’t really like beer all that much.

Their dinner menu holds promise and can hopefully become a place people might hope to dine at.  After a round, why not stick around and enjoy a cold beer or two (or a properly-made cocktail) in a brightly-lit bar with great views of the course?  Have lunch there while you’re at it!  They’re hosting a Bourbon and Cigars event on November 14th that holds promise and an example of what is possible.

Fresh oysters, a cheese board, a Pimento cheese dip that had a nice kick (and wouldn’t make a bad sandwich), and some locally sourced sausage were all outstanding examples of elevating things.  Bacon-topped cupcakes were a nice mix of sweet and savory (it took no small amount of discipline to not grab the tray and run for it).  For golfers, under a GM who comes from a hospitality background (and a local-boy done great chef in Thomas Zippelli), the plan is to upgrade the offerings at the course’s halfway hut (also named The Turn House) and add a hot dog, a burger, and local beer offerings and cocktails to the beverage cart.  If you can drink a Jailbreak or Manor Hill, why would you ever drink something else?

 

 

Going Down Ocean Hon (from an Ocean City novice)

Your faithful scribe did not grow up in the DMV, but She Who Is Really In Charge (SWIRIC) is a native of Baltimore and has been known to cut people over a plate of steamed crabs.  She’s also a big Orioles fan (or the f**king Orioles as they’re commonly known as in our house if they blow a lead), and fondly remembers many trips to Ocean City as a kid.  As such, a few years ago (before I started this blog) we decided to vacation in the paradise that is Ocean City, MD.  While the whole steamed crabs thing has never caught on to me, I’m fairly game for most things.  I had heard that Ocean City was a decent golf destination (the Endless Golf shows that are an early morning staple on CSN/MASN are what they are, but I’d like to think that Bobby Vermillion is as fun of a playing partner as he comes across as), and after four rounds at four different courses, I can say that if you’re looking for that family destination that is very underrated from a golf perspective, Ocean City is a solid choice.  It may not be as golf-centric as Myrtle Beach, but the options are better and more plentiful than the Outer Banks or Cape May.

We traveled in June (the week before July 4th week), so things were fairly quiet as peak summer goes.  The July 4th influx was coming in the day we left.  For a golf perspective, it meant that tee times (and me playing early) were fairly easy to manage leaving us time to enjoy our vacation.  Most of the courses are 20-30 minutes from the heart of Ocean City so if you do play, plan accordingly (although I’d use a traffic app if you play on a heavy traffic day).  Pam’s Ocean City Golf Getaways handled my tee times in one phone call (I had already decided where I wanted to play).  I don’t know what kind of relationship they have with the courses, so it’ll be someone else’s job/place to comment on this.  I’ve heard good and bad about Pam’s, but my experience was good. I know they go for the PG-13 rated photos and other innuendo which doesn’t really do much for me, but I’m sure it attracts some customers.

Note: Ordinarily I post photos with course reviews, but I was using an older phone and I neglected to back up my photos.  The photos you’ll see are from the course websites.

Man O'War golf course. Photo from course website.

Man O’War golf course. Photo from course website.

The first course I played was at Glen Riddle, which has two courses.  I played the Man O’War course (the other course is  the War Admiral course).  The Man O’War course is very flat and has more of a links feel to it.  Fairways and tee boxes are Bermuda, so during the colder months and early spring it will be dormant (i.e. brown).  The day I played the course was in good shape (greens was a bit slow as it had rained during the start of the round but were drying up towards the end).  Rough really isn’t a huge issue unless you get real wild and end up in the tall native grass areas.  There’s a Ruth’s Chris steakhouse at the course so an afternoon round and a tasty steak dinner is easily doable.  It’s just over the bridge if you’re leaving Ocean City off of Rt. 50.  There are some blind tee shots and approaches to greens.  The last 5-6 holes on the back nine are more tree-lined that the front 9, so be prepared.  Their pro shop was well-stocked when I played there.  It’s not the most upscale course in the area, but when I played there, I thought it was in good shape with friendly staff.   The Man O’War is just over 7,000 yards from the tips (I played from the blue tees which were just over 6,500 yards and it was more than testing enough).

Photo courtesy of Ocean City Golf Club

Ocean City Golf Club. Bring Mosquito Repellent. Seriously

The next day I played at Ocean City Golf Club, which is also a 36-hole facility with several holes on the bay.  The pro shop was very laid back the day I played there (the decor was dated inside; had a bit of a Caddyshack vibe so not sure if they’ve done work or not).  The guy in the pro shop was friendly enough.  I played the Newport Bay (Seaside is the other course).  It’s not that long (less than 6600 yards from the tips), but if you get wind (I didn’t; more on that later) then it becomes a lot trickier.   The tees, fairways and greens were in good shape the day I played.  My lasting impression was mosquitoes.  If you play there, apply bug spray everywhere.  I can’t say this enough.  I got eaten alive through my shirt (my back had well over 2 dozen bites), and I did apply spray twice to my arms/legs the day I played.  The holes that are near the water are particularly problematic.  The mosquito issue probably rules out a return visit, but other than that it’s a solid layout that isn’t a brutal test for shorter hitters.  Greens rolled pretty true the day I played.  So with all of the concerns over Zika, I’d go heavy on the bug spray and re-apply it often, especially on holes near the bay or marshy areas.

Links at Lighthouse Sound. This view is not applicable to all holes.

Links at Lighthouse Sound. This view is not applicable to all holes.

The third day I played the gem of the Ocean City area, which is The Links at Lighthouse Sound.  I was…not particularly impressed, given the hefty green fee (which does include range balls and cart w/ GPS).  For $149 w/d, $199 w/e, that’s not cheap.  It’s what I paid to play Torrey Pines as a non-resident, and that’s a PGA Tour/US Open course.  It was in good condition the day I played it but for that you reasonably can expect pristine conditions.  Pace of play isn’t that great; it’s a tough course that has a number of tight holes with very little bail-out room.  For a course that is on the bay, only 3 holes have bay views.  It’s just over 7,000 yards from the tips, and just over 6,500 yards from the gold tees (where I played from).  The issue is that at 6,500 you’re looking at a 585 yard par 5 and three par 4’s that play over 400 yards.  If money is no object and you’ve got the game, it’s as good of a test that you could ask for, but I didn’t see the value for what I paid.  Staff was friendly (especially the people in the pro shop), but the starter was, if we’re being honest, a bit of a drill sergeant.  Look, I know you’re trying to get people going, but maybe dial it back a notch or two.

Photo courtesy Rum Pointe Golf Club

Rum Pointe Golf Club. Several holes offer similar vistas.

Last and by no means least, I concluded my golf at Rum Pointe Golf Club.  After having been roughed up the day before at Lighthouse Sound, I was looking for something slightly friendlier, and that’s what I found.  A very relaxed (but friendly) and laid back pro shop sent me on my way.  At less than $100 during the summer with range balls and cart w/ GPS included, it didn’t blow a hole in my wallet.  It’s a Pete/PB Dye design so expect all the things you love (or don’t love) about Dye designs.  A few of the holes on the back side (I played the back 9 first the day I played) are tree-lined, but soon it opens up and you’re dealing with the Dye mounds that border fairways.  I enjoyed my round; 18 is a toughie with a man-made lake running the right side of the hole (it’s over 400 yards on the card but does play slightly downwind).  At 7,000 yards from the tips and 6,500 yards from the blue tees (whites are just over 6,000 yards) it’s plenty of course.  It was a nice way to finish up four tiring but fun days of play.

We rented a 1-bedroom condo that was 50 feet from the beach close to the Fenwick Inn and were very happy with the accommodations.  If shopping is your thing there’s plenty of it; there are outlets in Delaware that are 15-20 minutes away (and it’s the home of tax-free shopping).  There’s also the Ocean City Boardwalk and their beaches; they’re nice enough if a day at the beach is your thing.

If I went back, I’d play Rum Pointe and Man O’War again, and probably make Baywood Greens my “treat” course.  There are other courses that run the gamut in terms of cost and scope.  If not for the mosquitoes I’d go back to Ocean City GC, and skip Lighthouse Sound.

So if your summer plans involve a trek to Ocean City, there’s no reason to leave your clubs at home.  Bring the sticks, play a couple rounds, and treat yourself to a post-round beverage at one of the numerous bars and drinking establishments nearby.

Compass Pointe Course Review (the other one) North/East

Since I had fun last week at Compass Pointe, I figured I’d take advantage of it still being golf weather and head back to the scene of last week’s round, but rather than play the South/West routing, I opted to play the North/East routing.

Overall, conditions on the North/East routing were similar to what I encountered at the other routing; fairways and greens were in good shape, tee boxes were okay, rough was a bit of a mixed bag, and the bunkers were, on several holes, in need of a good raking.

Having said that, it’s late October and we’ve had our first frost, so part of me thinks that this is a bit of a “you get what you get” deal.

After a cart ride over the highway (the other 3 nines are on the same side of the highway as the pro shop, range, practice green, etc.) you’ll find yourself at the first hole.  Like the other routing, the North/East routing starts with a difficult par 5 (picture below) that requires 3 good shots to get to the green.  Anything left or right is dead, although the right side of the fairway does give you a better angle of approach.   A shot on the left (like I had) brings a water hazard into play for your second shot; I was very happy to have cleared it, leaving myself just over 100 yards to the green for my third shot.

1st hole Compass Pointe North

1st hole Compass Pointe North

The third hole (picture below) is fascinating, in that you have a double fairway.  It’s just over 400 yards from the blues and just under 375 from the white tees so while it’s not a beast, it’ll make you think.  The obvious shot is to the fairway on the right (see the 150 yard pole), but the left side, after seeing both sides, does give you a better angle at the green.  Plenty of bunkering to make you think.  A wayward second meant I had to scramble to save bogey.

Compass Pointe 3rd hole (North).  What a beauty.

Compass Pointe 3rd hole (North). What a beauty.

The 8th hole (a beast of a par 5 at 595 from the blues and 585 from the white tees) is the #1 handicap hole…it’ll test you every step of the way.  A tee shot over a ravine to a second shot over a second waste area to a third shot to a small and well protected green.  Like the first hole, it requires 3 very tough shots to get home.

Compass Pointe 8th hole (North).  Just getting here laying 2 required two very good shots).

Compass Pointe 8th hole (North). Just getting here laying 2 required two very good shots).

As you can see from the photo above, the green on #8 is well protected; the only decent place to miss would be short; I missed left and had a brutally tough pitch shot just to get on in 4.  Missing right isn’t much better; you’re still looking at a tough pitch/chip.

The 9th hole (sorry no photo) is a par 4 that looks short on the card but plays uphill; there’s a giant ass tree on the left that looks innocuous but my second shot ended up near it so I can attest to its relevance.

After a cart ride back over the bridge, I ended up on the East nine.  The first hole on the east looks easy; just over 320 yards from the blue tee and just under 290 for the white tee.  The fairway looks generous…but if you get the slightest bit wild, you’re dead.

The 12th hole (picture below) is flat par 3 that requires a carry over water to a slightly sloped green.  One thing I noticed on the East nine…several of the fairways looked to have Bermuda (or something like it) grass, and all of the tee boxes seemed to have this as well.  If so, this would explain why it was starting to go brown (Bermuda does this in cold temperatures).

Compass Pointe 12th hole (3rd hole East).  Try no to think about the water short, right, and long.

Compass Pointe 12th hole (3rd hole East). Try no to think about the water short, right, and long.

After another brutally long and difficult par 5 (do these guys know how to make a simple par 5?), the 14th hole (below) goes all out on pinpoint accuracy.

Compass Point 14th hole (5 East).

Compass Point 14th hole (5 East).

If you can play a slight fade off the tee it opens up the green a lot better.  From the photo above, hopefully you can see how the green is elevated ever so slightly (short and straight isn’t a bad miss, but the chip shot isn’t a gimme).  It plays about 1/2 club longer for your second shot.  One complaint- if the fencing on the right isn’t clear, the hole is cart path only with very few places to enter the fairway.  Add a few…please?

The 15th hole (pictured below) is a long par 3 (192 from the blue tees, 167 from the whites) that requires accuracy; if the photo isn’t clear enough, anything right of the green slopes downward and to the right and leaves you a near-impossible chip shot.

Compass Pointe 15th hole (6th hole East).  Do NOT miss right.

Compass Pointe 15th hole (6th hole East). Do NOT miss right.

I found the bunker on the left; I got out of the bunker but ended up just off the green, where I managed to chip to 6 inches to save bogey.  The cart path goes through some trees and spits you out left of the bunker.

The last two holes at Compass Pointe do what any closing holes should do; challenge, reward, and give you something to remember.

The 17th is a long par 5 with trees on the right and water left.  I stayed dry (barely) and left myself a 12 footer for birdie, which I of course missed because…well, that’s how I roll.  From the photo below, my ball is above the green (not recommended).

From the green at 17 at Compass Pointe North/East (8th hole East).

From the green at 17 at Compass Pointe North/East (8th hole East).

The last hole is a short par 4 that is a fantastic risk/reward.  At only 329 from the blue tee and 301 from the white tee, you think birdie opportunity, but it’s a severe dog-leg left.  The photo below doesn’t really show it, but it is a big dog-leg.

Compass Pointe 18th tee (9th hole East).  You right to left golfers...have at it.

Compass Pointe 18th tee (9th hole East). You right to left golfers…have at it.

Bomb it like I did, and you encounter two bunkers and rough that do a decent job of taking driving the green out of play.  However, I did manage to stay out of the bunkers, hit a 50-yard pitch shot to 10 feet and make a tough putt to finish with a birdie.

From the green at 18 (9th hole East).

From the green at 18 (9th hole East).

Like my visit last week, I had fun.  The layout has some punishing holes, but it has some holes that give an average golfer a chance at making pars and birdies, and really- isn’t that why we’re out here?

Shameless plug for my favourite brand of balls (Titleist) and the team I love above all.

Shameless plug for my favourite brand of balls (Titleist) and the team I love above all.

I’m not sure how many more rounds I’ll get in this year, but if there’s a weekend morning with golf-able weather and I’m functioning, then I’ll try to get out there, hoping for a bit of magic, and a bit of joy.  I hope you find yours.

 

Compass Pointe Course Review

As we sit in the middle of October, all of us facing that inevitable last round of the year, sometimes it’s a good idea to go through that mental Rolodex (note to you young kids- before smart phones, people had Rolodexes on their desks at work, where you’d keep contacts and business cards) and dig a bit deeper.

It was in that vein that I happened to play an October round at Compass Pointe which is in Pasadena, just north of Annapolis.  It had been several years since I played at Compass Pointe (mostly I remember playing a few company golf tournaments of the scramble variety along with a couple 2-man best ball events).  I had heard that conditions had gone downhill over the last few years, but I was curious to find out what had become of one of the few 36-hole courses in the area.

On a frigid morning where toques and jackets were the norm, I set out in search of a good time, and for the most part, I was pleasantly surprised.

The people that worked there that I ran into were uniformly polite, courteous, and helpful.  The guys in the pro shop were friendly, as was the starter (a youngish guy).  Having two courses to marshal folks out to can’t be easy but we didn’t have any issues.  On the day I was there, the range was using their green grass tees and not mats (I’ve seen both- if this is important to you I’d call ahead and ask).

Myself and one of the people foolish enough to play with me (a colleague who is the proverbial “good egg”) went second off behind another twosome.  We played the South/West routing (the other course is the North/East although I suppose you could switch up) and much like Little Bennett, Compass Pointe wastes no time in punching you in the mouth with a brutally tough par 5 (honestly all of the par 5’s are tough here) that is 546 yards from the white tees.  The second hole is a short par 3 to a narrow kidney-shaped green with a lot of undulation; looks easy on the card but it’s not.

The 5th hole (below) is in that vein; on the card it’s a short par 4 but in reality you have to be precise off the tee and then into a well-protected green.

Compass Pointe 5th hole on a cold but clear fall morning.  I love this game.

Compass Pointe 5th hole on a cold but clear fall morning. I love this game.

The front side ends with two fairly mundane par 4’s that require two good shots; the 9th is shorter even though it plays longer to a well-protected green.

Compass Pointe 9th hole (South). Aim for the fairway.

Compass Pointe 9th hole (South). Aim for the fairway.

The West routing is, if you’re asking, a bit goofy.  If you were playing in a scramble or a shamble, there are some holes that seem tailor-made for this format.  The 1st (10th) hole gets this going, with a short par 4 that has a huge water hazard right that is a severe dog leg right.  At 330 from the blue tees and 299 from the whites, the big hitters might give it a rip, while the shorter hitters might opt for a fairly generous fairway but leave a longer approach.

If 10 is goofy, then 12 (3 South) needs a clown’s mouth.  I’m all for unique and challenging holes, but this one has “we will destroy your pace of play and you will like it” written all over it.  Your tee shot needs to be right to left or you’re laying up to about 180-200 yards out for your third shot, and that’s before you have to clear a ravine/waste area.  My biggest complaint is that good shots are punished (I hit a great tee shot but it ran out into a waste area; I was lucky to card a 7).   Again- in a scramble this hole could easily be birdied but the ravine must have several thousand golf balls in it.

The 14th hole (5 south) is another “what were they thinking” where you have to worry about your tee shot going into a hazard if you’re too long (which is fine, except you’re leaving yourself 150-200 yard second shots to an uphill and heavily protected green- not exactly where amateurs will shine).  15 (6 South) is a good “risk/reward” hole that doesn’t punish you.

15th hole at Compass Pointe (6 South).  Grip and rip but don't go right.

15th hole at Compass Pointe (6 South). Grip and rip but don’t go right.

16 (7 South) is another punishing par 5 that, like 12 (3 South) requires a carry through a tree-protected ravine, but isn’t as penal.  If you can shape your second shot to the left it’ll play easier, but it’s by no means a requirement.  The tee shot is downhill but all but the biggest of bombers can have at it off the tee.  The 17th hole is a short par 4 at only 280 from the whites and only 327 from the blues (reachable off the tee for the bombers) to a well-protected green.  18 is a short par 4 (375 from the blues) that plays shorter with the prevailing wind (and the wind kicked up something fierce (and cold) when we got to the tee) with a dogleg right.

16th hole (7 South) at Compass Pointe.  From the fairway.

16th hole (7 South) at Compass Pointe. From the fairway.

While the roughs and the bunkers were, if we’re being honest, a mixed bag in terms of conditions (some holes had thick lush rough, other holes (like 7 South above) had spotty dead spots).  However, the fairways, other than a few dead spots, were in pretty good shape (the fairway turf was a bit furry, but well-maintained).  The greens were dewy (very dewy) but once the dew burned off, they rolled pretty well.  Again- not exactly a 12 on the stimp meter but they were quick enough.

While the South and West nines are built amid a housing development, you don’t really see any homes except for a couple holes.  The course shouldn’t be walked- too far between holes; our gas cart was decent enough if lacking a bit in pickup.

The course has a small but serviceable snack bar (we stopped at the turn for a quick snack- the lady working was friendly and helpful), and the pro shop was stocked with the kind of items you’d reasonably expect to find in a pro shop.  I’ve seen bigger pro shops but they had the basics and the two guys working were certainly polite enough.

I wouldn’t put Compass Pointe on a “play before you die” list, but for $54.00 on a weekend morning, staffed by polite and friendly folks with decent playing conditions, you could certainly do a hell of a lot worse in this area.  I’d probably want to play the North/East routing next time out.  After putting out on our last hole as we drove back to head out, I asked my playing partner “would you come back here?” and he said yes.

And that, I suppose, is what counts.  We had a good time, had a few laughs, and got around in well under 4 hours.  Maybe you’ll play Compass Pointe and maybe you won’t.  But you could do a hell of a lot worse.

I’ve been watching sports for a long time and have seen some crazy endings to games, but the end of the 2015 National Rugby League (NRL- Australian Rugby League) might have been the craziest thing I’ve seen.  The last minute of the game and what ensued was everything sports should be- exciting, breathtaking, heroic, tragic, and more.  Well worth watching.

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