Little Bennett Golf Course in Clarksburg, Maryland, is the northern most of the nine Montgomery County Golf operated facilities. Located on the border of Montgomery and Frederick Counties, the course combines the look and feel of a country club with an upscale daily fee cost structure. The par-72 layout at 6,770 yards from the blue tees is very hilly and extremely challenging. The course is usually in excellent shape, and was for my round on April 21, but conditions have waned a bit in mid-late summer when some of the greens become stressed by heat and lack of air circulation. Little Bennett features some of the most difficult greens to putt because of significant sloping and lightening quick pace. Significant local knowledge is required to score and I’d advise players equipped with a GPS unit to bring it. I’ve been playing Little Bennett since it opened in 1994 and still struggle with a lack of familiarity with the course’s nuances.
First time players might observe a carnival golf feeling, especially on some of the near-impossible par-3 holes that seemingly drop out of the sky and make a mockery out of club selection. With that in mind, the course plays significantly easier from the white tees and for some reason, I insist on humbling myself from the back in order to remind myself of that. Play from the tips and you better be striking it superbly or you’re in for a long day. They used to play the local Kemper Open / Booze Allen Classic Monday qualifier out here, and while the tour pros are capable of going low, you will not. So, be patient and enjoy the thrills because even some very well struck shots can turn out badly and the course can get inside your head.
Playing tips. Here’s what you’ll need to score well:
- Like most county courses this spring, Little Bennett is playing hard and fast. Take less club into your approach shots. Often a play to the front of a green will bounce and roll all the way to a back pin position. Flag hunting is not advised.
- Warm up your driver because right out of the box, #1 is a tough uphill par-5 (pictured above) and you’ll need to clear a ravine and ascend a steep hill on the tee shot.
- The carnival begins on #3 which is a downhill par-3 and starts the guessing game on club selection. Err on the short side as a shot over the green trickles down a hill and into some woods. Take 2-3 less clubs from the yardage.
- The tee shot on the par-4 fourth hole bounces severely from right to left. A left to right shot into the right side of the fairway has a chance to hold it.
- The approach on the par-5 fifth is critical because the green slopes from front to back and left to right. This is a little unfair since holding even a wedge shot is difficult so adjust for both. Your best chance is to leave enough distance on your approach to allow for maximum spin and bite.
- The par-3 sixth is a long carry and is brutally tough. Unfortunately there is no good bailout spot. Hit the green and the putt is still a tough one because of the severe back to front slope.
- Depending on where they have the tees on the par-4 ninth, which doglegs hard right, and then plays downhill and over a ravine, you need to get a good yardage to the bunker guarding the fairway and add 30 yards for a center placed tee shot. Here’s where a laser range finder comes in handy but a general rule of thumb is a 200 yard shot from the regular men’s tees is fine.
- #10 is a short par-4 with water hidden behind the fairway bunker on the left. Play to the right side of the fairway for more run-out distance and a better look at the hole.
- On the par-4 twelfth, aim your tee shot at Sugar Loaf mountain (you can’t miss it) and take a three-wood for placement. The shot rolls a long way and the premium is on accuracy, not length. Bounce your approach in front of the green and it will roll on a good ways.
- #13 is a short par four and plays to a split fairway. Generally a 180 to 200 yard shot to either half is fine but don’t go long because a ravine waits as the fairway runs out shortly past the 100-yard marker. This tiny green is the least accessible on the course because of its size, the severe slope from back to front, and the hill behind. You must play from below the hole. Even the front bunker is a better play than over the green.
- On the par-5 fourteenth, the third shot is to a green with a ridge bisecting it left to right. Get your ball on the same tier with the hole because judging distance on a lag putt rolling over the ridge is difficult.
- #15 is a short par-3 that descends a very steep hill and plays about two clubs shorter than the yardage. If the pin is cut right in front, putting from behind is difficult. Otherwise, taking the middle of the green is a fine play.
- A good tee shot on #18 leaves you anywhere from 150-200 yards into this par-4. The tee shot plays short so don’t hit driver, as you may run through the fairway and into trouble, so generally a long iron or hybrid is a good play. The approach is tough and plays downhill and over a ravine with club selection important and good contact essential. Shots just short and to the right should play okay but there’s not a lot of room to miss.
Value (3.0 out of 5.0)
A carts only rule is not enforced but you must ride because the course is so hilly. Cart fees are baked into all the greens fees and we played on the after 2:00 p.m. rate of $40 which is a great value. Early morning weekend rates are $65, which are reasonable.
Facilities (4.0 out of 5.0)
Little Bennett has a wonderful large clubhouse with a fully stocked pro shop and grill. A nice wrap-around porch allows excellent views of the whole course and is a great place to wrap up your round with some food and drink. The practice facility includes an all grass driving range and three practice greens, one of which is dedicated to pitching and bunker play. Green markers are used on the practice greens and I’d prefer to putt at real cups, but otherwise you have ample room and a variety of opportunity to work on all aspects of your game. The main driving range and short game area are a significant cart ride from the pro shop and have their own parking lot so be advised to utilize if you’re out there just to practice.
Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)
Booking a tee time is easy through the MCG website and there are ample openings after 2:00 p.m. to take advantage of the value rate. Once you arrive, you are basically on your own to unload at the bag drop and load clubs on carts, so assuming you can manage this, you’ll be fine. To get a higher rating, the course should assist here. The pro shop staff and starter were both prompt and courteous, and we were visited three or four times on the course by the beverage cart which was nice. Frequent coolers of fresh drinking water are available on the course which we found to our advantage.
Little Bennett is challenging and quirky. You need to drive, putt, chip, and think well all the way around. If you are patient and don’t get frustrated by some bad breaks, you’ll enjoy yourself out here. For the record, I played from the blue tees at 6,770 yards and carded an 88.