Rock Manor

6.405 yards, 125 slope from the Blacks

Course:  In Wilmington, DE, the Rock was designed by Lester George, who is linked up with many notable courses along the Eastern sea board, including Dupont and Hershey, with design and/or restoration.  RM is a municipal course that has some interesting design features and gets a lot of play.  You get a little bit of everything here, some elevation changes, some dog legs, some wide open holes and some forced carries.  The course will not beat you up all that much unless you really ask it to.  I have played here a number of times and have never started on the first hole.  Rather, you always start on the back 9, and the first tee is always backed up.  That is to be expected at an above average municipal course with good amenities in an area that does not have many.

I think fondly of the Rock mainly because I’ve had some good rounds here and many of the holes stick out as fun to play.  Although this should probably be in the gripes section, there are some fundamental characteristics of this course that  you should know up front.  The crowds here are pretty bad and that has affected enjoyability on a number of occasions, as waiting around and long rounds are the norm.  This course also wins the award for most unpleasant starters, as these guys fancy themselves as drill sergeants.  More on that later.  I also don’t understand starting on the 10th hole every single time.  I actually think the course would be much more enjoyable starting at the first hole, as the routing works much better that way.

Rock Manor is a fun course with an emphasis on variety.  You may encounter a sharp dog leg, then a straighter hole with a wild green and deep bunkers, then a short par 4 forced carry tee shot; the course certainly doesn’t suffer from redundancy.  It is also one of the better values in the area, as the conditions are typically very good while green fees are in the reasonable range.  Of course this means that the course is usually crowded, which is its main drawback.  Yet for a fun round that accepts a number of different shots and eases up the throttle on challenge, Rock Manor is a respectable selection.

Even though you typically start on the Tenth, I will start with the intended First, which is a 359 yard par 4 (from the Blacks).  The hole is a sharp dog leg right drops downhill once it turns.  Bunkers are on the outside of the dog leg, waiting to collect all the tee balls of those who try to bomb it.  The green is large and interesting and the approach is usually a little tough because of a downhill lie, but there are several options off the tee to set up your ideal approach.

The First.  These were taken in late March, so not too much green was out yet.

The Second is a 509 yard par 5.  There is an uphill tee shot, which then slopes down to the green.  You have to hit the green; anything long, left or right goes down a steep slope into various ravines with fescue.  This hole also gives you the first view of an unsightly radio tower that looms over you for the next couple holes.  Although narrow with little forgiveness if you stray off the sides, keep it straight and set up an ideal approach, which is the most important/vital shot to get accurate.

The Second

Moving down the fairway

The Third is a 180 yard par 3.  The green is above the tee area with good looking bunkers protecting the front of the green and a forced carry over a ravine.  The green splits down the middle, sloping towards the edges and then punchbowls back in.  Pin placement is important here, and the radio tower is in full bloom on this hole, so bask in its glory.

Third Hole (courtesy of the Joe Bausch photo collection)

 

Another look when it’s not so green

The Fourth is a 562 yard par 5 with probably the toughest tee shot on the course.  The tee shot is framed with trees and you must carry over a marsh land area, so straight and far will only get it done.  The green is perched on a hill with assorted bunkers around off to the right of the fairway and is elevated, but the green is pretty big.

Tee shot at the Fourth (courtesy of the Joe Bausch collection)

Moving up the fairway

Just in front of the green complex

The Fifth is a 173 yard par 3 to a semi downhill green with some marsh type plants in front and some bunkers off on the far right that really shouldn’t come into play unless you really slice it bad.  So you’ve gone from par 5 to par 3 to par 5 to par 3.  It’s a good stretch of holes on the challenging side, where the routing works and I’d really like to start off playing this nine.

The Fifth.  The green is just to the left of the group walking off the right.

The Sixth is a 383 yard par 4 and starts off a stretch of shortish par 4’s to make up any strokes lost on the prior holes, but is my least favorite stretch of holes because of the switchback.  The fairway rolls slightly up then slightly down and is straight for the most part.  Easy enough, but mind going too far off horizontally.

The Sixth

Looking down at the green from the crest of the fairway, off to the left

The Seventh is a 315 par 4.  It is more interesting than the Sixth, mainly because of the options off the tee and deciding how to deal with the ravine, which breaks up the fairway to the green.  The second shot is a forced drop and carry shot to the green and you definitely have to taker less than driver off the tee to set up that shot.  Basically, you get to pick the two clubs you want to use to get to the green.  The  green is flanked by bunkers, which keeps this approach interesting.

The Seventh

 The Eighth is a 384 yard par 4.  It’s very similar to the Sixth, except the fairway levels out after an uphill tee shot and the green is level with the fairway, surrounded by mounds except for in the front.  The green is on the smaller side as well.

The Eighth
Second shot territory

The Ninth is a 178 par 3.  Sunken and raised bunkers surrounding the green keep you honest, but anything short is fine.  So for those who care, the front 9 is a par 4, then 5, then 3, then 5, then 3, then 4, then 4, then 4, then 3.  Different routing than you’ll find on most courses, but it works here.

The Ninth

The front nine is in a small piece of property, or so it seems, but has a few nice holes and a few that are good to score on.  I’d rank them 4, 1, 3, 9, 7, 5, 6, 2, 8.

The back nine (or real world starting nine) begins with the 563 yard par 5.  The tee shot is uphill, then the fairway dog legs slightly right.  Bunkers abound on this hole in all the right places and the green is immense with a lot of undulations to keep the putting on the up and up.

The Tenth

Approach shot territory, off the right side of the fairway

The Eleventh is a 424 yard par 4 with a great tee shot over water and blind for the most part.  It would be a perfect shot for someone with ten holes under his belt, but usually comes too early in the round as the second tee shot.  Assuming you survive the the shot, the rest of the hole is pretty straightforward.

The Eleventh (Courtesy of the Joe Bausch collection)
Another look at the tee shot

Approach shot territory

The Twelfth is a 139 yard par 3 and gives you a good shot at the old hole in one.  Just get the yardage right and you should be good to go.

The Twelfth

The Thirteenth is a 405 yard par 4 with a few bumps here and there, trees on the left, marsh on the right to a raised green.  Considering your approach is usually substantial, the challenge in this hole is pretty subtle and tests the competency of the long irons/hybrids.

The Thirteenth

Approach shot territory

The Fourteenth is a 333 yard par 4.  I like this hole a lot and it’s by far the best short par 4 here in my opinion.  The tee shot is a forced carry over marsh to a narrow valley fairway that funnels into a green that is set downhill.  Bunkers and undulations protect the hole from being a pushover.  It tests your decision making, tee shot and short game rather well.

Tee shot at the short yet fun Fourteenth (Courtesy of the Joe Bausch collection)
Another look at the tee shot

Approach shot territory

The Fifteenth is a 410 yard par 4 that dog legs left with a forced carry tee shot.  This is the number 1 handicap hole, probably because of the length (over 400 yards).  Probably the toughest green on the course as well.

The Fifteenth

Approach shot territory

The green, which shows some of the undulations on and surrounding it

The Sixteenth is a 200 yard par 3 that is more receptive to a power fade, as bunkers guard any pin placement on the left side of the green, which is not deep enough for most 200 yard shots to stick if hit straight at the green.  I love the power fade, so am a big fan of this hole.

The Sixteenth

The Seventeenth is a 388 yard par 4.  The cross bunkers keep you honest on your tee shot and the green is on the small side.  Again, there is a small margin of error for shots too far off line, which is the case for most of the course.

The Seventeenth

Approach shot territory

The Eighteenth is a 500 yard par 5 that rolls along with a few bunker complexes coming into play.  The tee shot is blind and is somewhat challenging, with a bunker and ridge goading a well struck shot on the left, making most try to avoid it altogether and approach from the right side.  The green is also well protected by bunkers.  It’s a great finishing hole and as the fairway descends downhill, plays a little shorter than the stated yardage.

The Eighteenth

Second shot territory

The green

The back nine is more interesting than the front, with more diversity and better holes overall.  Ranking them, I’d go 11, 14, 18, 17, 16, 15, 12, 10, 13.

Generally, this course has personality and is fun to play.  I like the par 3’s, as they vary in distance and strategy.  Some of the par 4’s (1, 7, 14 and 15) and par 5’s (2, 4, 18) have nice traits as well.  The Rock also does a lot of other things well, such as a nice range and short game practice area, well stocked bar and cart girl that comes around enough.  There are a lot of deals on line that also allow you to spend more money on said beer.  You can score here as well, so putting all that together makes for an enjoyable round most of the time.

Gripes:  I’ve already mentioned the crowds and it is a deterrent.  The starters are also insufferable.  I have really never suffered their wrath, but their general demeanor gives me the impression they view golfers as little young sheep that need to be bossed around and herded to make the course function correctly.  It baffles me more than anything.  I also think starting on the back 9 is crap.  The routing makes much more sense, as it should since, you know, Lester designed it under the impression you would start on hole 1.  Looking at the holes makes that even more obvious.  The first hole would be a great hole to start on and 18 would be a great hole to end with.  And the order in which you are supposed to play them would be more fun in my opinion.  But really, that’s it as far as complaints go.  I have been here when the starters are nice and it’s not crowded, at which point I was really high on the course, but then I’d go back right away and get shellacked with said crowds and my thoughts on the course would change.  Really though, I enjoy my rounds here for the most part and am willing to risk the downsides here to get a few rounds in every season.

Bar/grill:  Large area with televisions every where and good food.  I like hanging out here after the round.

Clubhouse:  Lots of equipment, but I’ve never seen any good deals.  This makes the list for lame designs on their hats.  Off the top of my head, Glen Mills, Bella Vista and Scotland Run are also on that list.  Looks like I have something to add to Rankings Mania.

Nearby:  There’s a lot of places on 202 if you want to go some where other than the course.

Getting there:  95 get off at one of the Wilmington exits.

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE

March 2015

I played in a scramble tournament here very early in the season.  It had been a number of years since the last time I played the course, so it was nice to get back and see how things were.  Quite honestly, not too much had changed and I mean that in a good way.  The course was fun and the design was what I remember; slightly quirky to make things enjoyable while having a twinge of challenge.  Conditions, even for early March, were good as well.  I still think this is a nice value course that I would play more if it weren’t for the longer rounds.  Service was also great and the cart girl braved the elements to make sure we were doing well throughout the round.  It does many things well and in terms of public courses in the Wilmington area, has to be considered one of the better options.

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