Tag Archives: Montgomery County Golf

Little Bennett – Course Review

Par-5, #1 at Little Bennett


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.
Downhill approach to #18 at Little Bennett

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.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

Northwest – Course Review

476 yard par-4 #10 at Northwest


Northwest, in Silver Spring, Maryland is operated by Montgomery County Golf and has been a favorite of county golfers for many years.  Previously known as Northwest Park, conventional wisdom holds that if you’re breaking out a new driver, or want to play a round where you feel like bombing your tee ball, this is your destination.  The course was originally designed in the early 1960s with the thought of hosting a U.S. Open and at 7,376 yards from the tips, the length would qualify but the layout is fairly wide open and would present a minimal challenge for touring professionals.  Challenges for the amateur ranks are abundant with ample length being the main defense (6,827 yards – men’s tees) and huge greens that allow for very difficult pin placements.  The facility also has a par-34  “Inside Nine” that I’ve played on several occasions, which provides more challenges than your typical executive track.

I played the course on Friday, April 13 and found conditions very good, with fairways and greens hard and rolling out due to lack of moisture.  Nothing was burned out as the hot weather had not yet hit DC.  The putting surfaces had been aerated over a month ago and were fully recovered and rolling fast.

Most greens are sloped from back to front and are very large.  Long downhill lag putts are commonplace and are very difficult to two-putt, but you can attack coming from the low side.  If approach shots are not carried to the putting surface, they will most likely roll all the way over these greens, making this a tough track to play bump and run golf, but you can hold a well struck iron shot.

Playing tips:

Over the years, I’ve developed a game plan for playing Northwest that consisted of laying up to 100 yards on the long par fives and attacking with my wedges.  This works well and avoidance of most greenside bunkers is advised because the size of the greens will leave you with long tough shots from the sand.  Here is the local knowledge you’ll need to score:

  • After a routine first hole, Northwest hits you with four straight tough ones that established single-digit handicappers frequently play in several strokes over par, so be patient, play conservatively, and don’t get discouraged if you get off to a rough start; you will have opportunities to score.
  • #2 is a 446 yard par-4 from the men’s tees and plays long.  The front right greenside bunker is a popular landing place and should be avoided.  Short left or wide left is a fairly easy place to chip or pitch from.
  • #3 is a sharp dogleg right and is probably the toughest tee shot on the course because you need to strike your tee shot left to right to hold it in a fairway that bounces right to left.  Long hitters can knock it through the fairway into some penal rough and the second shot is uphill and must be played below the hole.  Putting or chipping from pin high or above the pin is hazardous.
  • On the par-3 fourth hole, take the fat part of the green wherever they have the flag.  Do not mess with the front left bunker and do not be tempted to go long if the flag is in the back.  A routine par here is great.
  • #5 can play tough if they place the pin directly behind the unique front-middle greenside bunker.  In that case, a miss short right, just left of the cart path is fine.   Long is dead because of the severely sloping green and in the front bunker is a poor play because you can only see the top of the flagstick.  Bogey is not a bad score here.
  • # 8 is a par-5 dogleg right 90-degrees.  Go for the long tee shot by cutting the corner next to the last tree on the right and you’ll be in fine shape to go for the green in two.  Avoid the front right greenside bunker as it’s an awkward stance and particularly tough play to a back flag.
  • The par-4 ninth looks docile from the fairway but if the flag is back, take the middle of the green and putt uphill to give yourself a chance.  You should attack a front pin though as the slope is not as severe.
  • #10 is a long par-4 but plays shorter than the yardage on the approach.  You can get a lot of roll on a  low running iron shot that lands 40 even 50 yards out in the fairway.  This is one of the few holes to try a bump and run approach.
  • #13 is a dogleg left par-4 where the fairway runs out quick on the right and is protected by a hidden water hazard, and there are woods on the left.  Take an iron off the tee or draw a fairway wood if you’re comfortable with that shot but do not hit driver here; there’s nothing to gain and everything to lose.
  • #15 is a straight forward par-3 playing 186 yards from the men’s tees.  The tee shot usually plays 1/2 club shorter than the yardage and I’m not sure why.  I’ve also had more success playing from the front of the green than attacking pin positions wherever they put them.  When the pin is deep, short-siding yourself from over the green or putting from pin high is difficult as the green slopes severely from back to front.

    Par 3, #15 at Northwest
  • #18 is a short but tricky dogleg right par-4 with a large sycamore tree guarding the right side of the fairway.  The key here is to find the fairway with any club you can hit 200-220 yards, but I’d caution against hitting driver unless you’re sure you can shape one left to right.

Value:  (3.0 out of 5.0)

I played on Friday afternoon and walked for $39, which I felt was a very good value.  Weekend morning greens fees are $56 which are a little on the high end for municipal golf, but demand is high for starting times and when the course is in good condition, the cost is justified.  During the summer, the course gets heavy play and weekend rounds can slow down in the 5+ hour range as players struggle a bit with the length.  Still, if you’ve got the patience, your golfing dollars are well spent here.

Facilities: (3.5 out of 5.0)

Northwest has a recently renovated clubhouse with a good sized pro shop and fully stocked grill.  A large 40+ station driving range is available with about half the tees covered, lighted and heated, which allows for all-season practice.  All hitting stations are mats only.  Finally, there is a good sized fairly flat practice putting green adjacent to the first tee, but there is no separate chipping/pitching area.  They do allow you to chip on the practice green.  If they were to construct a separate practice green, this facility ranking would move to the upper echelons but is more than adequate.

Customer Experience: (3.5 out of 5.0)

Booking a tee time is easy for any course managed by Montgomery County Golf by using their website.    On the day I played, the starter proactively found me on the putting green and offered to get me out with an earlier group, which I much appreciated.  If you want to get in a quick nine during busy periods, your best bet is to play the Inside Nine, as demand for the regular course is high and walk-on play without a reservation is difficult.

So muscle up your driver, practice your lag putting and enjoy your day at Northwest!

For the record, I played the blue tees at 6,827 yards and shot a six-over par 78.

Overall Rating: (3.5 out of 5.0)

Poolesville – Course Review

Par-3, #8 green at Poolesville


Poolesville is the western most golf course in Montgomery County, Maryland and is one of nine public courses operated by Montgomery County Golf.  This track is nothing more than bare bones basic municipal golf and seems to be the primary course of choice for residents of the town, as the balance of county golfers enjoying the more upscale courses in the center and west of the county.  I usually play here once or twice per season and just for a bit of variety, because the overall experience is lacking.

During my round on March 18, I found the course in decent shape through the green with the putting surfaces mowed fairly close but unable to hold a shot from any distance.  Approaches were bouncing off these greens like super balls on a concrete parking lot.  Even up close, the most crisp of chips and pitches failed to hold or bite, making for a frustrating afternoon.  Tee boxes were in good condition but the grounds crew didn’t clean up before or after mowing and there were a litany of broken tees littering all 18 holes.

Playing tips:

The front nine is rather ho-hum and the holes are very straight forward.  The back has more variety and challenge.  General rule of thumb; play your approach shots below the hole because most greens are fairly sloped from back to front and shortsiding yourself to tight pins is a recipe for high scores.  Some specifics:  #2 is a long par-5 and you should avoid the fairway bunker on the left at about 150 yards out because the carry from it is over two greenside bunkers.  A third shot is much more easily played from the right side of the fairway or even the right rough.  If you are on the back of the green on #2, the break on putts back to the front is very severe from right to left; much more than it looks.  #10 is a medium length par-4.  Tee shots on the left part of the fairway bounce hard left into the rough and shots in the left rough bounce down the hill, so favor the right side.  Also there is a small greenside bunker protecting the front left that you cannot see from back in the fairway.  #11 is a dogleg right par-5 that longer hitters can reach in two.  From the white tees, aim your shot straight over the last tree in the right rough.  If you hit it 230-250 you’ll be in the left side of the fairway looking at about 190 yards in.  If you hit it shorter off the tee, play for the aiming flag in the fairway.  #12 is the toughest hole at Poolesville and is a long dogleg left par-4.  If the flag is in the back DO NOT GO OVER THE GREEN!  The chip or pitch is impossible to get close.  Same thing on #15 which is a shorter par-4.  If the pin is back, over is dead.  The green on #16 is tiny.  If the pin is in the front, play below it or leave it just short, as the chip is quite easy.  Putting from behind a front pin here is very difficult and for back or side pins, just play for the middle of the green.  On the par-3 17th, take 1 1/2 more clubs than you normally would, as the uphill shot is all carry.  Finally, on the par-4 18th, if the pin is back center, all putts from the front/middle will break much more right than they look.

Value (2.5 out of 5.0)

Greens fees are $42 to walk and you don’t need a cart to play here.  All you get for your money is the golf with the low greens fee in-line with the entire golf experience.

Facilities (1.5 out of 5.0)

Poolesville’s original clubhouse and grill are closed, shuttered, still standing, and unsightly.  They’ve been replaced with a very basic structure hosting a small pro-shop and restrooms.

Clubhouse at Poolesville

The shop sells a few shoes, shirts, balls, and snacks, but no equipment and there is no grill or sit-down food service.  The driving range has mats and rubber tees; some of which are broken.  The best part of the facility is a large practice putting green that has several mowed approaches and a bunker with good sand.

Customer Experience (2.0 out of 5.0)

I played as a single and had called the day before for a starting time.  The shop attendant reserved a spot for me with a threesome but when I showed up at the course I was mildly annoyed that they had no record of my reservation.  Indeed, it appeared that the person I spoke with had rushed me through the phone call.  When I explained the situation to the shop attendant, he booked me over the existing single’s name in the same time slot.  He indicated he thought they might have used an alias as the name in the original booking.  Needless to say but I viewed this as very unprofessional.  I presented myself to the starter when I was ready to go and he pared me up with a single on the tee and we had no issues getting off but I sensed the operation was not being professionally run.  One of the criticisms of Montgomery County Golf in the past is that they use general managers at some of their clubs in-lieu of head professionals with PGA certification.  A check of the MCG website staff listing indicates this is the case at Poolesville, so apparently the practice continues.

I would only recommend Poolesville as a stop gap or if you get shut out from tee times at all the other MCG courses.  For the record, I played from the white tees measuring 6,405 yards and carded an 82.

Overall Rating (2.0 out of 5.0)