We played the University of Maryland golf course on Sunday, November 13, 2011. I used to play the course frequently while in school but had not been back in many years. The course is a lovely layout and definitely requires significant local knowledge to score. I found my recall excellent but was reminded that Maryland is difficult to play in the fall as the par-71 track routes extensively through tall deciduous trees, and while the fall colors make for a beautiful site, the accompanying carpet of leaves makes ball identification difficult.
The course had top dressed the greens with a light layer of sand which didn’t affect playability too much, however conditions were a bit scratchy and the greens appeared stressed with significant areas unplayable as ground under repair. After the course underwent an award-winning $3.5 million renovation in 2008, the Nationwide Tour annually scheduled The Melwood Open at Maryland and we were left to wonder how they get the greens in tour condition, only to let them falter in the fall during good growing season. We noticed that our ball marks were very easy to repair which may have indicated shallow root growth. There were also many bare lies in the rough which made clean contact an adventure and often balls sat down in the gnarly second cut. Fairways and tee boxes were in good shape as were the numerous green-side and fairway bunkers. The course is adequately marked for yardage but no golf cart GPS service is available.
Playing tips from the gold tees: The course is configured with two nines (Gold and Black) with golfers playing the Gold as the front. Right out of the box you are hit with two meaty par fours, each over 400 yards with water in play on both so there’s no time to ease into your game. The second shot on #2 plays 1-1/2 clubs longer than the yardage. Most of the holes are straight forward but we found that even in the fairways, you often had lies slightly above and below your feet which made clean strikes and getting the ball close a challenge. On the Black Nine par-5 fourth, everything bounces right on the drive and second shot. You need to honor this and going for the well bunkered green in two is not advised. The Black’s par-3 fifth is a long shot (211 yards from the gold tees) and you must play for the left side of the green as everything bounces right and down the hill. The greenside bunker on the right is a very tough up-and-down and should be avoided. Finally, the tee shot on the par-5 seventh on the Black is all about placement. Get the ball in play on the top of the hill to position for a long downhill second shot. It is rumored that Jack Nicklaus once eagled this hole hitting driver-seven iron but unless you can bomb a cut 300 yards, hit a 3 wood for position.
Value (3.0 out of 5.0)
We played on the winter weekend rate of $50 to ride. You can walk for $35. In season weekend rates are $69 to ride which seems like a good value if conditions are better than what we played on. Range balls are $4 for a small and $7 for a medium bucket and are not included in the greens fees. However, if you book your tee time through the web, your group is given one free small bucket of balls. Memberships are offered as are discounts for students but we played on the regular guest rate.
Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)
The clubhouse boasts a modest sized pro shop with the basic essentials. A locker room and grill-pub are available but we did not sample the food. The practice facilities are nice with a full size driving range with both grass and matted teeing areas. The grass was closed and I sensed it was primarily utilized for the Melwood Open as well as college tournaments. Separate modest sized chipping and pitching greens with a practice bunker are available and a large putting green is adjacent to the main clubhouse. I practiced here for a couple of hours a week before we played and was very satisfied with the offerings.
Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)
I booked a tee time on the web with no difficulty with guests permitted to reserve five days in advance. The starter and pro-shop staff were pleasant enough and everything seemed to run on-time with a moderately crowded golf course. There was no beverage cart service which I found a bit odd considering the numbers of players and the agreeable weather. Carts were not permitted in the parking lot so hauling a heavy bag to your car could be considered a minor inconvenience. I’d like to try Maryland again in season, perhaps right after they play the Nationwide event, just to see how good this course can play.
For the record, I played the gold tees at 6,369 yards and carded a six-over 77.