6,194 yards, 128 slope from the Blues
This review is making history. It is the longest time span between the round and putting pen to paper. More than eight months ago, we drove down to Elkridge Club in what started a prodigious Summer of golf. Most of it was like that day. A drive to a not too distant site to experience a course or courses that was/were generally known worth traveling for. But I had no idea where I would end up or where I would play all that far in advance. It all unfolded fairly briskly. So each of these trips were taken in as if they might be one of the only trips of the season. Nothing taken for granted. And back on that day, we knew we were headed to what is known as a well regarded Seth Raynor design.
There are several reasons for the significant amount of time between the golf round and actual review. Finding the time to put the reviews together, well, takes time. So it started that Summer as I ran between rounds like this, work, family and everything else. The time I need for the reviews shrunk. I usually use the off season to catch up but went to Bandon Dunes a few weeks ago, which again took time. The reviews for the courses I played when I was out there were done first as a way to clear the docket and review what remains of last year, which will then spring us forward to any courses played this winter. Regardless, I want to make sure the reviews are as good as I can make them.
Some things are worth the wait. Based on what is coming in the next few months, it should be a magnificent streak.
I found myself at Elkridge because of a discussion I had at my member’s grill the winter before. One of my guests and I found ourselves talking about this course and that, recent projects and openings when the discussion moved down to Maryland. This guest spoke of Elkridge with such effusion and I respected his viewpoints, which was all the motivation I needed to try and find my way there for a round. Not to belabor the point, but the amount of time between that discussion at my grill and the day of my round at Elkridge was less than the time between the round and this review. What can I say. Time flies when you’re having fun.
Originating in 1878 as a hunting club called the Elkridge Fox Hunting Club, golf was eventually incorporated onto its grounds, with Tom Bendelow coming in and renovating their nine holes in 1900. In 1923, the club had grown enough that it sought a larger site, which it acquired and is the existing property. The club retained Seth Raynor to design and build a golf course on the new property, who was helped by the club’s golf professional Jimmy Roche. The course opened in 1925. With the club growing and developing additional facilities as well as acquiring new land, Ed Ault was retained for re-design work, in which he changed the Sixth and Seventh holes to make way for a practice area. Decades passed. In the early 2000’s, Brian Silva was retained for an extensive restorative project to address changes with the course that had taken place with the passage of time and in-house tinkering. That work spanned from 2003 – 2008. Silva restored much of the Raynor character and traits, as well as rebuilt all of the greens, tees and bunkers. His work included creating the Redan Seventeenth, which had been created by Ault in the 1970’s. Silva also re-worked the greens at the Second, the Ninth, Eleventh, Thirteenth, Fifteenth and Seventeenth while restoring the others to their original size and shape. The club is now consulting with Andrew Green on a master plan.
The club exudes a relaxed, old school charm where time seems to slow down as soon as you open the car door. The clubhouse grounds are more or less in the middle of the property, which are spread out amongst a few low profile structures, all of it ensconced in quietude with a panoramic view of many of the sharp bold lines and slopes of the template greens. The course follows this relaxed cadence, even as it confronts the hilly countryside fairly directly. There are quite a few abrupt climbs and drops, the greens taking advantage of the excitement of those elevation changes.
There are some very strong holes here, which include the opening quintet, the Double Plateau, Biarritz and Punchbowl. Those template aficionados among us should be pleased. The rolling parkland setting impresses and even the holes that don’t stand out as a Raynor piece de resistance fit in fairly well to the round. The greens move well without being overly fast, which provide even more meaning to the contours and slopes, refreshingly so. The number of strong holes certainly elevate the quality of the round even if the weaker holes can leave much to be desired. It will be interesting to see how Green approaches any changes. As it stands, Elkridge is a classy gem of a Raynor design with the greens providing a good amount of its memorability.
The First is a 326 yard par 4 (from the Blues). Bendelow. The round begins and ends at the interior of the course. The opening tee shot is into a larger hill with bunkers perpendicular to the line of play on either side. Placement of the tee is vital, especially with the movement of the hillside. The green is at the top of the hill, largely out of site until you walk up beside it. Taking advantage of the hillside just like the fairway, the green moves healthily but is wisely restrained in its speed. All the more harrowing if you ask me.
The Second is a 357 yard par 4. Thumbprint. Width is now before us at the tee and the sprawling perpendicular bunkers are on either side of the fairway, complicating the tee shot. The width continues right into the green with the thumbprint extending well into the green from the center. It’s a large green and the thumbprint does its work to spice up those with longer putts across it.
The Third is a 568 yard par 5. The Alps. I enjoyed this hole a lot, the hillside running from right to left, into the tree line that runs along the entire length. The hillside blocks the view of the green until getting much closer, yet it’s evident that any shot must start to the right and account for the right to left movement. The fairway feeds into the green and that left to right movement continues, along with some back to front movement. Fun, strategy and lots of ways to go about it make this a solid par 5.
The Fourth is a 161 yard par 3. The Eden. A forced carry to the medium-sized green has a lot of traits of the Eden (one of my favorite templates) but is missing the bunkers on the left, which has a hillside of deep native growth instead. This and the Short are fairly similar but regardless, it calls for an exacting shot or otherwise will likely face a challenging recovery shot.
The Fifth is a 280 yard par 4. Fade. The tee area extends across the ridge so that those on this hole are on the left while those on the Fourteenth are on the right. Trees in the middle separate the two holes. It’s a shorter par 4, and while the tee is elevated, the fairway seems to climbs up level to it. There are several options for the golfer; it is necessary to hit the fairway as the trees on either side have the capacity to obstruct the approach and make the hole much more difficult. The fairway feeds into the green generously while well sized bunkers guard both sides of the green.
The Sixth is a 364 yard par 4. Cochran’s Pond. The next couple holes are not original to the course and were added by Ault in the 1970’s. Moving down a hillside, the tee shot is blind but a significant amount off accuracy is needed to hit the fairway, then account for the ball rolling down the hill upon landing so it stays in the fairway. Something less than driver is necessary for the task. For those successful with the tee shot, the approach is a drop shot down to the green, which is set at an angle to the fairway with water to the the right. The green moves towards the water as well. The hole is very much execution based; you either hit the required shots or will likely sustain penalty strokes. It doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the holes, yet the terrain makes it tough to negotiate in alternative ways. Perhaps different mowing lines could inject some strategy here, with some paths all fairway to the green while others catching up in the rough, even on the hillside, all of which would ensure variety and a more gradual degree of recovery.
The Seventh is a 472 yard par 5. Lion’s Mouth. While this hole is likewise not original, I liked it a lot more than the hole prior. A forced carry too shot over water to an uphill fairway, we then climb and get to decide whether we want our second or third shot blind. The crest of the hill reveals the Lion’s Mouth green ahead, which opens up a bit from the fairway. Some may see this hole as too narrow but I think it works here in getting the golfer to carefully plot his shots to the green, knowing that pin position will heavily influence the approach and if that approach is blind to the green, a measure of randomness awaits as he walks to the green and the pin is revealed to him, at which point he will experience a range of emotions, from elation to resignation. The former is obviously preferred while the latter results in the golfer taking his putter and getting to the task at hand of maneuvering the contours of the green to achieve the former.
The Eighth is a 159 yard par 3. Short. A forced carry to the green with a bunker on the lower right and native growth to the left and behind the green, this is very similar to the Eden except the tee shot is more elevated. It’s also not that short, just two yards shy of the Eden. I would anticipate Green doing more here.
The Ninth is a 381 yard par 4. The Road hole. The front nine finishes on a high note. The tee shot is a forced carry over water to an uphill fairway. reflecting back, the course certainly has lively challenge and variety off the tee and here is no different. The green is slightly uphill from the fairway and indeed has the entrance road to the rear right of the green where it should be. The green is inviting from the fairway but the bunker on the left is not while those int he bunkers to the right and rear (like me) will really have their work cut out for them in keeping the ball on the green and not falling into the treacherous bunker on the left. A very exciting par 4 (that certainly had my number).
The front nine starts off strong before running into a couple snags then finishing with aplomb. The par 5’s were noteworthy and so were most of the par 4’s. I would rank them 3, 2, 9, 1, 7, 5, 4, 8, 6.
The back nine starts with the 353 yard par 4 Tenth. Sycamore. This hole structure isn’t really a template but it’s one that can be found at several Raynor courses. A straight, rather wide fairway with staggered bunkering that fits the larger scale, adding to the strategy of each shot in avoiding them. The fairway then feeds into the green with some sort of bunkering wrapping around at least one side. Such is the case here. Simplistic in its presentation yet needs to be plotted out the right way to ensure a proper score.
The Eleventh is a 367 yard par 4. Double Plateau. A similar fairway structure as the hole prior but a bit uphill, which obscures a view of the green on the approach. Of course I didn’t get a photo of the green for whatever reason but it’s a nice template, moving primarily from back to front and right to left.
The Twelfth is a 433 yard par 4. Long. The Long hole is usually long. I suppose as a par 4, it could be considered on the longer side. The fairways moves uphill to the green, which is above the fairway with bunkering to the left of the green. There is some play to the right but those off the green will need to account for the bunkers on the far side, just waiting for shots to fall in their chasm.
The Thirteenth is a 190 – 221 yard par 3. Biarritz. A bit of a drop shot, the green is set out below with bunkers on either side and a good deal of fairway before the green. The swale is wide and of medium depth, the green moving from back to front. It’s an adventure for every shot, whether putting or trying to recover off green. The elevated tee enables the golfer to both roll and land the tee shot a little better while the terrain movement demands attention from every angle. A very good hole.
The Fourteenth is a 284 yard par 4. Knoll. Now on the right side of the tee we first encountered at the fifth, the hillside is more prominent as it’s angled off to the right. Those wanting to play a shorter tee shot will need to face the repercussions of that slope while those opting for a longer tee shot will be rewarded with ending up on the flatter section of the fairway at the top of the hill. The fairway feeds into the green with bunkers off to the sides. It’s a shorter par 4 relying on a challenging tee shot as its defense.
The Fifteenth is a 382 yard par 4. Punchbowl. Running parallel with the Ninth, the actually crosses over the road, with the short grass leading up to the green and the punchbowl starting right at the front. A longer approach is likely coming into the green, so the contours are welcome to help coddle the ball close to the hole.
The Sixteenth is a 357 yard par 4. Maiden. Lots of room off the tee although there are some trees to contend with on either side. Bunkers start closer to the green, then line each side of the green. It’s a rolling Maiden green with a lot of subtlety of movement.
The Seventeenth is a 157 yard par 3. Redan. The Redan is not original and seems to be polarizing for those who love it or not. The green is narrow yet deep, angled from the tee. The narrowness of the green actually makes the right side off the green all the more treacherous and while the kick contour at the front right is noticeable, it takes quite the shot in order to bounce the ball forward and to the left. It is shorter than a lot of other Redans, so the amount of accuracy needed is certainly ramped a bit.
The Eighteenth is a 572 yard par 5. Home. In the heart of the course, the fairway starts with a slight ascension before ramping down to the green, the larger bunkers staggered down the sides. The fairway runs into the green, with a lot of subtle yet strong movement back to front and right to left. The clubhouse porch is steps away from the green, almost a reminder that the camaraderie, honor, peace and pondering we relish on the course should remain with us off it as well.
The back nine has a great cadence to it with better par 3’s than the front. I enjoyed its set of holes a little better overall than the front as well, mainly because it seemed the course finally settled into a groove with its fairways and squared off bunkers feeding into greens that were distinct in their character. I would rank them 13, 15, 18, 11, 14, 16, 17, 12, 10.
Generally, Elkridge is a well regarded polished classic with some strong holes and a solid design base from tee to green. The greens are what provide much of its character with the various templates while even the holes that don’t follow a template are consistent with the overall course identity. The par 3’s on the front and the middle section of the front nine can probably improve in ways to meet the level of the others but in general this is a course worth visiting and playing a few times to fully take in its qualities. The well preserved laid back charm of the club is likewise worthy of note, which indescribably pervades into the structure of play during the round. In many ways, that’s an achievement not found as often as I would like and certainly special.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: The charm of the place is certainly attributable to the clubhouse and facilities, which are low profile and spread out throughout the grounds. I’m especially attracted to porches, which adorn the countryside structures here. The club insignia is also very solid.
Practice Area: The range is in the middle of the course, which also has a short game area. There’s also a putting green near the First tee.
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