Golf Bucks County

By Bob Oliver

Middletown Country Club

Middletown is a compact 80 acres of challenging golf, with rolling hills and large specimen trees that have watched many golfers travel its fairways over time. It has retained its old time feel with tees and greens in close proximity, allowing golfers to walk the course if they choose.

The Traveling Golfer

With host Tony Leodora will travel both near and far to bring viewers a look at some of the most spectacular golf destinations in the world!

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28 Aug
2019

Bulle Rock an evolving masterpiece

Written by Bob Oliver

It is an intriguing question – how does one improve on greatness?  

Ponder that for a moment. 

Heck if you have already received recognition and respect you obviously want to maintain that level of greatness and so work a little harder to find areas where you might improve.
 
For a golf course, it’s a never-ending battle with Mother Nature to maintain a level of greatness. But improve?  

Bulle Rock Golf Club, the Pete Dye masterpiece located just off Interstate 95 in northeast Maryland, has been recognized with the respect of players and golf enthusiasts since being unveiled in 1998.   

You want chops? The LPGA played five major championships between 2005 and 2009 and saw an impressive list of Hall of Fame caliber champions such as Annika Sorenstam and Se Ri Pak hoist the trophy.  Other winners included Anna Nordqvist, Yani Tseng and Suzann Pettersen. Numerous state and regional competitions have been held there, to say nothing about USGA qualifying for national championships.
 
A 148 slope on its course rating tells a story about its difficulty, and numerous plaudits have been given by players of all abilities on the venue itself as another chapter of its own. Bulle Rock is a special place.

For 20 plus years Golfweek magazine has recognized Bulle Rock as one of the best modern courses in United States.  It also has the layout as number one course “you can play” in the State of Maryland.

After her win Pak said through a translator, “What a win!  And over such an outstanding golf course.   It was a major challenge for the players, as a major championship should be.   I am thrilled to have won.  This golf course is an intense challenge.”

No doubt Bulle Rock has the credentials to beckon daily fee players throughout the East Coast, whether for a day trip or a stop on the way to destinations such as Ocean City, Md., Williamsburg, Va., Pinehurst, NC or Myrtle Beach, SC.  It’s an easy stop along the way, one which will have you talking about the facility during the rest of your trip.
But improve as a golf course?  You bet! 
One guy who knows is Operations Director Damon Klepczynski, PGA, who was brought on board a while back to do just that as the club was placed on the sale market. You see, through all the plaudits and the greatness Bulle Rock was not a --- well --- profitable facility.
Its green’s fees were high, as in above $125, and many players extolled its virtues but couldn’t find a way to play more than one or two rounds a year. It’s a difficult layout, and up to six hours was needed to truly play the course as its course rating indicates.
In many respects, Bulle Rock epitomized Lee Trevino’s views of the state of the game. “Golf is too expensive, it takes to long to play, and it is just plain hard!” the Merry Mex told me few years back.
That about described Bulle Rock to the casual observer. Klepczynski addressed that statement and more when he arrived at the facility.
“Basically, I spoke with our customers. What did they love about Bulle Rock, what they didn’t like? How could we improve the overall golf experience? We knew we had a demanding course, a classical layout, but we knew we needed to improve the bottom line,” said the native of Bucks County, Pa. “Nothing was sacred, we considered everything.”
It was clear to Klepczynski that upending the applecart was important. No idea was too small or large. He drew from the yield management playbook, he talked to customers, he looked at the entire operation and broke things down in increments. He realized he could turn things around and still maintain the course’s prestige.
First off, the golf course is legendary, one of Dye’s best works and that is saying something. But for most players it was over the top penal. A slightly offline shot found its way, many times, in tall fescue grass that was hard to hit from if findable at all.
“We addressed this my taking down the historical fescue on 13 holes, providing for challenge and difficulty with less lost golf balls,” explained Klepczynski. “That enhancement alone cut about 45 minutes out without severely impacting the natural general difficulty.”
The players loved the revision, it made a world of difference. An errant shot was penalized by the rough, but it didn’t necessarily lead to a lost ball.  
 Another revision was to add a fifth set of tees giving visitors an option to play the right distance for their game. Additionally, there is a separate set of youth tees to enhance the experience for all levels of player.
Small enhancements to the bunkering were completed, sodding a couple of what started as more than 140 bunkers on the site. This eliminated a couple, say, dreaded 60-yard bunker shots and enhanced playability and cut a couple minutes from what was a marathon.  
The club owner, MTBR LLC, has had the club on the sale market for a bit, and while there has been lots of interest at this writing there is no deal complete. Under Klepczynski’s oversight the financials have improved as rounds are up as is the club’s food and beverage revenue stream.
Daily fees were refreshingly lowered, and more players came…more than once or twice. Course enhancements reduced the amount of time to play, and the restaurant business was buoyed by a new golfer friendly menu and addition of numerous TV screens to allow viewing of golf and other sports while enjoying a beverage or meal.
Also introduced were up to 100 golf memberships to attract more play from the local community, something that was absent in prior years.
“We created a little bit of buzz,” laughed Klepczynski. “All of these things have been well received, and all we have to look at is the increase in business as an indicator of success. The momentum meter moved in the right direction.”
Heck, some even believe the facility will be in the green for the year!
Dye carved Bulle Rock over acres of rolling terrain in Harve de Grace near the junction of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay. Its signature hole is, well, all of them. Each hole stands on its own as a unique test, with obstacles to snare errant shots and pristine greens that tantalize.
The tests are endless. The par-5 second, a 489-yard rolls downhill with trees to the left and OB to the right, is a classic Northeast hole. The green is well protected, slightly uphill from the fairway, making club selection imperative. The hole stretches out to 572-yards for the long knockers. Of course, diabolical Dye worked his magic around a stream less than 100 yards from the green that acts as a magnet. Beware!
Dye offers a respite in the par-3 third hole (116 to 177 yards) so a player must take advantage and score before the next two demanding par-4s. That’s the beauty of a Pete Dye design, as all the holes have difficulty and uniqueness, but some are just plain angry bears.
Trademark railroad ties are woven into the design, but not overbearing. Bunkers are strategically placed and seem to jump out to bite at the most inopportune times. Dye’s creations seem to lull into a sense of security at times, but clearly force the player to take their medicine when required.
The par-3 12th hole (138-190 yards) requires evading of a lake all along the right side. The green protrudes into the lake so shots short, right or even a bit long can easily find a watery grave. Bunkers guard the left to force players to pick their poison.
The closing hole, the par-4, 377-yard (485 from the back tees) 18th, is a test that brings fear to the heart and swing of every golfer. Water blankets the left side of the hole, a hill on the right, while the pin position on the green allows for multiple opportunities that can cause a couple club difference for the player. Many a match is settled right there below the clubhouse.
“It is an exciting hole,” explained Klepczynski. “So many variables, so many nuances, it promotes strategic play.”
Today Bulle Rock continues as a challenging “must play” course, one that is not only difficult but playable and surely memorable. And the public agrees with its wallet, as rounds played increase by more than 1,000. The small membership base provides some financial stability and the buzz from visitors gets around and leads to more play.
Clearly Klepczynski and his team did the things that the public liked, as the guest comments sung praises.
Players find their challenging rounds more enjoyable. Tough, but fair. And they spend more time in the tavern after their round, as they don’t have to quickly leave after what was a 6 hour march.
Clearly, the club is well on the way toward providing a better experience and better value, something that is providing a nice shot in the arm improving an already great test of golf and overall free-standing golf experience.
All was accomplished without upending the designer’s approach. As the legendary Pete Dye said, “I did not undo God’s work.”

 

 

26 Aug
2019

Fall Golf in Ocean City, Md.

Written by Bob Oliver
 
It had been a slow day at the office, that day when summer was soon ending and my mind was on a much needed fall golf trip. 
I love fall golf, when the courses aren’t crowded, conditions are superb and the weather pretty darn good.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a lot of time off, and the office was badgering me about a big project due by the end of the year. I could surely tack on a couple days to a weekend and head with the guys on a golf vacation, but time was of the essence.
As a Pennsylvania guy, I have to admit trips to Myrtle Beach or Pinehurst were attractive. Shoulder season meant lower rates and deals could be found. But time, well, that was another story. Couldn’t get more time off, and the drive alone would take the better part of two day. Ugh.
Brainstorm.
What about a getaway to Ocean City, Maryland, where golf courses are plentiful, there’s nightlife and great accommodations? Where some of the game’s top golf course architects have samples of their work? Where value is abundant?
Problem solved. An OC long weekend means great golf at the beach and, if desired, golf on the way down and on getaway day.
The Ocean City drive is relatively easy, and the courses are challenging. It’s a win-win situation. Off season golf means less crowded fairways and excellent conditions. Plus, if you haven’t visited in a bit would be undoubtedly be surprised at the quality of golf courses in the area.
“We are blessed with good weather, wonderful amenities and of course some very challenging and fun golf courses,” explained Steve Cooper, Director of Golf at the Pete/P.B. Dye designed Rum Pointe Seaside Links course. “Fall golf is outstanding, as the course conditions are wonderful and from a golfer’s perspective the rates are cheaper. Your dollar goes farther while the drive from Pennsylvania is shorter!”
Rum Pointe is part of the Ruark Golf Group, which also oversees outstanding sister courses the Links at Lighthouse Sound, Nutter’s Crossing and two courses at Glen Riddle, Man O’War and War Admiral.
Also in the vicinity are the Ocean City Golf Club, Eagles Landing, River Run, the Bay Club and Ocean Pines among others. Just beyond the Delaware State line are outstanding tests such as the beautiful Baywood Greens, the Jack Nicklaus designed Bayside, The Rookery (North and South courses), The Salt Pond and Bear Trap Dune.
Suffice it to say, there is superb golf available within the friendly confines of the greater Ocean City destination. There’s also ample accommodations, stellar dining, fishing and a boardwalk to boot.
“The area has so much to offer and we’re an east drive from just about anywhere in the Northeast,” added Cooper. “We have a great array of course options designed by superb architects and some unbelievable scenery. It’s a great destination.”
Rum Pointe offers great views of Assateague Island across the bay, with many offering views that one just has to say can be breathtaking. Of course, those water views mean difficulty for players who don’t pay enough attention to placement of their shots.
“But I have to say our course can be tough, but it’s fair,” added Cooper. “We have players who visit year after year.”
Bayside is a Jack Nicklaus signature design ranked number one on statewide places to play by several golf magazines, and rightfully so.  It winds through magnificent pine trees and features simply stunning holes along the Assawoman Bay coastline. Golf shots can be made difficult by Mother Nature’s best hazards, like salt marshes, ponds and of course the seemingly ever-present winds.  
Nearby Baywood Greens is, in a word, unique. The awesome, beautiful flowers alone will awe you! The course is challenging but fair, and has been described by some as an “Augusta of the North”. Its course has been named among Delaware’s best by Golfweek and Golf Digest, and offers excellent practice facilities including chipping and putting tests.
The Woodside nine is carved out of beautiful hardwood trees. The Waterside nine features ponds on nearly every hole. Add in strong bunkering, mounds and hazards and one has to play a thinking, strategic game to score well.
The Gary Player designed River Run Golf Club prides itself as being in pristine condition throughout the year, and Fall is a great time to sample. Player’s designs are always pleasing to the golfer, and River Run is no exception.
The Links at Lighthouse Sound, an Arthur Hills design, is among the top-ranked courses to play in Maryland not only because of its architecturally sound course but spectacular views. Just across the bay from Ocean City, there are 10 holes bordering marshlands. Play runs through stately hardwoods, and the courses gives one a links feel.
The fourth hole (stretching to 430-yards) offers obstacles such as marshland all the way down the right side while strategically placed bunkers guard the left. A true challenge, as is the par-3 fifth which can play anywhere from 100-220-yards and features guarding three sides of the green. Throw in prevailing winds and trouble is everywhere.
It’s interesting to note that the longest cart bridge in the US – some 1,500 feet – can be found heading to the back nine.  Challenges await! And to send you home smiling is the reachable par-5 18th hole, a true risk-reward test. Play it right and hit a couple good shots and birdies are there for the taking. Mishit a shot and, well, a dreaded big number awaits.
Eagle’s Landing overlooks Sinepuxet Bay and offers views of Assateague Island National Seashore, but unless you have binoculars you won’t see the wild horses who frolic in the area. What you will see is a series of well thought out challenges that will bedazzle you. The Signature hole is the par-4 18th, with its salt marshes and tight landing areas. A true test. 
Ocean Pines features a design by Robert Trent Jones, one that has matured since its opening in 1972. The course is nestled between natural wetlands and scenic woodlands and has five sets of tees as well as tees for the PGA of America’s Family Course program. A par of 72 awaits.
The Ocean City Golf Club offers 36 championship holes on its Newport and Seaside layouts. Located a short drive from the Boardwalk, these courses are filled with challenge.
There isa cornucopia of options when thinking of golf in the greater Ocean City, Md. vicinity, and when you combine this with all the accoutrements of the area as well as its proximity to Pennsylvania it must be considered or a fall golf destination. The courses are outstanding, and Fall is a great time of year to sample.
The weather is superb, the courses memorable and the value of the dollar works for most wallets. It’s a can’t miss destination. Fall golf at its finest.