Needwood, located in Derwood, Maryland is a municipal course run by Montgomery County Golf and is my home course. I’ve been playing here for over 30 years and have seen many changes, most for the better. The course is popular and traffic can get pretty high in season, but despite the heavy play, the superintendent keeps the course in good shape year round and has the greens rolling fairly fast and smooth in the hotter months.
Needwood plays to a par of 70 and at just over 6,200 yards from the tips is not much of a challenge for long hitters. Right-handers who play a fade can score well since there are five holes that dog leg to the right and only two to the left. The par-36 front is a collection of straight forward holes but the par-34 back is a wonderful mix of long and short holes, forced carries over water, and significant elevation changes. The course features an excellent slate of closing holes with the 400 yard par-4 sixteenth and eighteenth holes posing the toughest challenges.
Recent improvements include rebuilding most of the green side bunkers to improve drainage and adding new sand. I hit several bunker shots and the quality of sand was good. In the last year the course removed several greenside bunkers which has improved the pace of play but may warrent a review of the course rating and slope, as it plays considerably easier without these hazards.
My regular weekend group played it on Sunday, March 25 and we found the course wet after overnight rains, but not sloppy. Greens had very small tine punches that looked about a week old and were not part of their general aeration which was planned for April 23/24. The greens were rolling medium fast and a bit bumpy being that it was early spring.
After 30 years and hundreds of rounds, I know every nook and cranny of this layout but will cover the main points that a first timer would find helpful. Here we go:
- #2 is a 400-yard par-4 dogleg right. The tee box is misaligned straight into the right rough and you must take extra care to line up your tee shot with the fairway.
- #5 is a short straight par-5 with two big bunkers guarding the front left and right. Big hitters are tempted to go for it in two but the front bunkers are hard to get up and down from so if you are doubting your ability, lay up.
- On the par-4 sixth, when the pin is back left on this two-tier green, only suckers go for it.
- On the par-3 seventh, it’s okay to miss the green front right. Long and left or wide right is a very tough up and down.
- On the par-4 eleventh, if the flag is back, take the middle of the green. If you are pin high right or left, the break is severe and two putting is difficult. Front and middle pins are very accessible.
- The par-3 twelfth is the toughest par-3 because of the length (195 yards) and the ball sucking woods on the left. A shot in the trees is an automatic double bogey. Hit the green or put your shot on the right side where they’ve removed a green-side bunker and the play is easier.
- The tee shot of the par-5 thirteenth hole is elevated and dog-legs to the right. In cool wet weather, I hit driver but when the course plays fast, I take a three wood for position. During the summer, tall rough creeps up fast on the left and can snag just a slightly hooked drive. You must keep it out of the woods on the right off the tee and the second shot or you might be looking at a big number. There is no advantage to hitting a fairway wood on your second shot because you cannot get home in two and the risk of rolling into the woods on the right is too great. I always hit 3 or 4-iron into position for an easy short iron approach.
- #14 is another elevated tee shot to a very short but tricky par-4 dogleg right. Cut the corner with a big drive and you’ll have a sand wedge in for a short uphill approach and a great birdie opportunity, but pull or hook your tee shot and you may lose it in the creek on the left. A conservative play with a hybrid or 3-iron still only leaves about 130 yards in and is the safe option. If the pin is up front you want to be pin high or just short of the green for an easy chip. Middle of the green or back is almost an automatic three-putt as the front slope is very severe and difficult to negotiate. Back or middle flag locations putt much easier. When you play #2, glance to your left from the fairway and note the pin position on #14 as it’s harder to see while playing #14 because of the uphill approach.
- The par-4 sixteenth is the toughest tee shot on the course and you must favor the right side of the fairway as the hole dog legs to the left and then drops down a hill with a pond guarding the right side approach. Even if your tee shot finds the left side of the fairway, you may be blocked from the green by a tall tree guarding the corner and will have to hook one to get home. There is room to miss left around the green but do not miss short or long right, as a deep bunker or tough side hill lie awaits.
- On the par-3 seventeenth, over the green is dead. Always play for the front or middle, as shots landing on the back will often roll over and down into the junk.
- Finally, crank your tee shot on #18 and get as much distance as you can because the second shot is a forced carry over water and can play long. #18 green is right next to the first tee and is sloped back to front with a tricky ridge in the middle (see photo above.) Check the pin placement on #18 before you tee off #1 and if it’s in the middle or front middle, make a note to try and approach from below the hole as putts from the back roll a long way once they catch the slope.
Value: (3.0 out of 5.0)
Greens fees are $47 on the weekend and range balls are $5 per bucket. For a municipal course that’s usually in reasonably good condition, I’ve found Needwood as a good value and play it 5-10 times per year.
Facilities: (3.0 out of 5.0)
Needwood has a bare-bones pro shop that sells a few clothes, shoes, and accessories. They used to stock equipment but have scaled back considerably in recent years. Upstairs from the pro-shop is a fairly large and well stocked grill that overlooks the first tee and 18th green and is a nice place to grab a drink after your round. A driving range is available with 20-30 stations featuring only mats. There is a decent size practice putting green but it’s built on a hill in front of the pro shop and it’s difficult to find a flat putt. A newer practice chipping green was installed in the last 10 years that is very flat and offers a variety of short game shots and conditions. I’ve made extensive use of this area for practicing all facets of my short game except for sand as there is no bunker. Needwood has an executive 9 that consists of seven very short par-3 holes and two short par-4s. The “exec” is popular with beginners and those trying to get in a quick nine holes. I’ve played it with my son when he was learning the game and it’s appropriate for that purpose but the slow pace of play will irritate more experienced players.
Customer Experience: (3.0 out of 5.0)
Booking a tee time is easy through Montgomery County Golf’s website but you will have to create an account. Otherwise, call the pro shop at 301-948-1075. There are usually ample times 1-2 weeks in advance but they fill up fast in good weather.
Mike Kenny was the resident pro and has moved over to Falls Road (another MCG course) and has been replaced by Chris Cissel, PGA. The operation had been run well by Mike over the last few years and I’m hopeful Chris shows the same attention to detail that Mike had.
For the record, I played the blue tees at 6,254 yards and shot a four-over par 74.