PGA golf professional Ed Miller III talks about the Forest Park Golf Course in Baltimore on Tuesday, May 9, 2018. Video by Jeffrey F. Bill / BSMG
On a warm Tuesday in mid-May, the Forest Park Golf Course in the outskirts of Baltimore serves as a melting pot of area players that run the gamut of both age and skill level.
Over the course of the day, the facility will play host to its weekly women’s league, the Thirsty Boyz Tour and — in the evening hours — a group of junior players in the Greater Baltimore Chapter of the First Tee Program. Mixed in the middle is a steady stream of local traffic looking to fit in a few holes in the middle of the week.
As Forest Park head golf professional Ed Miller points out, the ability to cater to such a wide array of play in a single day of operation provides an accurate snapshot of the course’s versatility and continually developing universal appeal.
“Our mission here is to try and grow golf in the area, and to go along with that a large portion of our golfers that come out are newer to the game, so we want to be accommodating to as much of that local population as we can. The course, the practice facilities and the First Tee Program having a learning center here, I think it all plays into it,” Miller said. “The course is set up to be very playable for all skill levels. It’s short enough and open enough for the beginners, but the greens and layout are at the same time challenging enough for the more skilled players.
“Having been here for almost three years now, I take a lot of pride in the fact that this is a course that will test every club in your bag over the course of a round.”
The course, which is one of Baltimore’s Classic Five, has roots that date all the way back to 1927. In its infancy, there were just five holes. By 1934, the course was officially opened as a 9-hole facility.
It wasn’t until several decades later, though, that it was expanded to its current set-up of a full 18 holes, playing to a par 71. And while the length — even from the back tees — is on the short side at just over 6,100 yards, the tree-lined fairways and angled green complexes add enough difficulty to keep things interesting.
“It’s an old-school course in the sense that what you see is what you get and most of the greens slope from back-to-front,” Miller said. “And I think the greens are what we have focused a lot on, getting them to the point where they can serve as a defense for the shorter holes.”
The putting surfaces have indeed improved drastically since Miller and Superintendent Bryan Woodland have taken over. The lush bent grass and smooth surfaces make for an experience uncommonly associated with a city course.
It’s those greens, along with the course’s banquet hall that can accommodate up to 150 people, that Miller says ultimately helped position the facility to be selected as host to the inaugural Mayor’s Cup golf tournament on June 3.
The tournament is set to serve as the culmination to Baltimore Golf Week, which kicks off on May 26. The week will feature a series of events being held at the Baltimore Classic Five courses to celebrate the sport and raise funds for Baltimore’s YouthWorks — Baltimore City’s summer jobs program providing employment to thousands of youth and young adults.
As part of the festivities, Forest Park will be hosting a $50,000 hole-in-one contest during the week to go along with the scramble-formatted tournament. Following the event, there will be an awards ceremony and check presentation of funds raised throughout the week.
“Considering the great courses here in Baltimore, particularly Pine Ridge, it’s huge for us to be hosting [the Mayor’s Cup]. And it definitely says a lot about how far the course has come,” Miller said. “We look at it like a great showcase for us.”
In terms of the practice facilities, there have been major upgrades over the last three years as well. In July of 2015, just before Miller arrived, ground broke on a driving range just down the hill from the clubhouse.
By the following spring, a seven-station, four-green target range for irons up to 150 yards was open for use. Occupying land that used to be a baseball diamond, the space is now a perfect home for the First Tee Program three days a week.
It also provides an opportunity for golfers to warm up before a round or fine-tune their wedges.
Additionally, the course also opened a brand new expansive putting green in the spring of 2016 just outside the clubhouse. The current surface, which can be utilized for chipping practice as well, is three times the size of the previous practice green according to Miller.
As one of the five Baltimore City courses, Forest Park offers discount and benefit opportunities in coordination with the Classic 5 Player Card Program. To find out more about the card and what it entails, visit https://www.classic5golf.com/player_cards/
Locker room: Yes (Two showers and 12 lockers available in both men’s and women’s)
Best Par 3: 11th hole
The shortest hole on the scorecard, this downhill shot still provides more than its share of challenges. No obstacle looms larger than the expansive sand trap that wraps around the entire front half of the green. The bunker, which is noted as one of the largest in the state of Maryland, is also one of the deepest on the course.
Best Par 4: 8th hole
On a layout that features several short par 4s, this one is arguably the most realistic to drive the green and is a great risk-reward opportunity. Players can see the green at the bottom of the hill and, if able to navigate past a trio of trees guarding the left side of the fairway and a bunker 20 yards short of the green, have the ability to run their tee shots down onto the putting surface. Mishits, however, can make for some awkward approach shots, as things fall off to the right of the green.
Best Par 5: 9th hole
The first par 5 on the course, this dogleg to the right is a nice birdie opportunity if players are able to place their drive safely past the trees on the right and the smattering of bunkers on the left. Approach shots then offer a great glimpse of a large collection of natural rock outcroppings to the right of the green. The putting surface itself is regarded as one of the toughest on the course, sloping severely from right to left.
Overview: This is a very playable course, in the sense that it isn’t overly long, the majority of holes are straightforward and — outside of a few tight spots on the back nine — there are not too many places to lose golf balls. There isn’t a single water hazard on the course and, while there are lots of trees, the underbrush is not very thick. The sand traps are generally small and not that deep, aiding in recovery shots. The bottom line is that wayward strikes are not punished as much as they might be on other courses. There aren’t any particularly great views and the cart paths have seen better days, but those cosmetic deficiencies don’t detract from the golf itself. The greens are definitely a highlight and are as lush as you are going to find at a municipal facility in this price point. They aren’t particularly fast, but they roll well and are receptive to approach shots. Add in a location within a few miles of I-695 and green fees, including cart, that don’t exceed $50 even on the weekends, and there’s a lot to like.