Weekly feature for the Baltimore Sun online editions spotlighting golf courses in the Baltimore Metro region. This stop is at Rolling Road Golf Club in Catonsville, MD.
The land surrounding Rolling Road Golf Club in Catonsville has seen plenty of development over the last century.
Originally built in 1919 on a relatively open terrain with rolling hills in all directions, the private club now sits tucked between a burgeoning community just inside the Baltimore Beltway. On one end, a few hundred yards past the first green, is the University of Maryland Baltimore County campus. On the other, a long iron away from the 11th hole, are the athletic fields of Catonsville High School.
And yet, for all the change around it, the course itself has managed to maintain its old-school charm and golf-first mantra through the years.
“This a true golf club in every sense, from our staff to our members there is a deep appreciation and love for the game,” said General Manager Dan Taylor, who has been at the club since 2015. “There’s just an unbelievable feeling of pride and history that you get around here.”
What golfers also get is a true throwback course that has settled in nicely to the terrain upon which it sits. There is just one pond and only four holes with fairway bunkers, but the small old-fashioned push-up greens, tree-lined fairways and elevation changes provide plenty of protection for a layout that plays just under 6,200 yards from the tips.
One of the more defining features is the valley that runs through the middle of the property and comes into play on half the holes. Players find themselves playing down, up and over different sections of the ravine on both the front and back nines.
As head golf professional Luke Arentz points out, the dips and rises create a lot of uneven lies and plenty of intrigue.
“Guests will come out, see the yardage and think they’re going to post something really low. But you realize pretty quickly that this is far from a pushover no matter what tees you play,” Arentz said. “You can hit driver on a lot of holes, but it’s as much about positioning and knowing when and where to be aggressive. There are plenty of risk-reward holes out here and plenty of variety.”
The course features three par 5s and five par 3s, playing to a par 70. Mixed in are an array of par 4s that range anywhere from 271 yards to 442 yards from the back tees.
Local knowledge also goes a long way. Among the common themes while putting, as most members and golf staffers will attest, is to always be aware of where Wilkens Avenue is.
“The old adage around here is that all putts break toward Wilkens Avenue down on the South side of the course. I don’t know that it’s necessarily every single putt, but a lot of them,” Taylor said. “One of our members went out with a level one year to test the theory and found there’s definitely some truth to it.”
Pace of play is another of the club’s big selling points. For a course that operates without tee times, instead opting for a first-come, first-serve approach to the first tee, Arentz says members take great pride in keeping things moving during a round.
He says average rounds take no more than three-and-a-half hours and many members fly around in less than three.
“It’s kind of an unwritten code around here,” Arentz said. “It’s not something where everyone’s rushing through their rounds, but there’s a general attitude of ‘I don’t want to be waiting on anyone and I don’t want anyone to be waiting on me.’ Considering the number of members we have, it’s pretty amazing to have that across the board.”
Rolling Road currently sits at 365 members, with room to grow up to around 400. In addition to the golf course, there’s also large banquet and dining areas in the clubhouse that are utilized for weddings and outings. Just outside the clubhouse is a large pool, which was refinished and furnished with new deck furniture in 2017, and a short-game area.
While there is not a driving range on site, there is an indoor ForeSight simulator located right off the pro shop. The area can be used for warming up, club fitting, lessons or even full simulated rounds on days with inclement weather.
Just last fall, an accurate replica of Rolling Road’s golf course was added to the program for a truly unique experience that allows players to practice certain holes and shots.
Looking ahead, next year the course will be celebrating its 100th anniversary. So far, a Centennial Tournament, Centennial Celebration and a History Hall are among the special events and features that have been planned.
“We’re excited to be able to celebrate the Centennial with our current members and hopefully some of our former members as well. Next year will definitely be an exciting one for the club,” Arentz said.
Further out, Rolling Road is scheduled to play host to the Maryland State Amateur tournament in 2022. That will mark the first time the MSGA event will be played on site since 1982.
Guest policy: Local guests within 50 miles are allowed to play once a month for a price of $75; There is also a reduced family rate of $60. Guests from outside a 50-mile radius may play multiple times within a shorter period of time.
Best Par 3: 15th hole
Situated right off the back steps of the clubhouse, this mid-length par 3 in the middle of the back nine stands on its own as a solid hole. The green is guarded by sand traps on all sides and the slightly raised putting surface has some real undulation. But what makes this such a memorable experience is the theatre that it can provide on a busy afternoon. Members sitting on the back deck or porch have a perfect view of the tee box, with the area practically serving as a grandstand for what becomes one of the more pressure-packed shots of the round.
Best Par 4: 16th hole
Ranked as the No. 1 handicap hole, this may very well be one of the toughest holes in the region. The tee shot on this lengthy par 4 that stretches well over 400 yards goes up and over the crest of a hill before disappearing down and to the left. At the bottom of the valley — roughly 100 yards short of the green — is a small creek before the fairway stretches straight upward toward the putting surface, which is sloped from back to front.
Best Par 5: 11th hole
The first of back-to-back par 5s, this straightaway hole has Valley Road running down the entire right side. On a course where all the trouble usually sits on the left, it’s a definite change of pace. Playing over 550 yards from each of the back two sets of tees, players hit over a small ridge on their drive. From there, the rest of the hole is all out in front of you with the green guarded by a couple bunkers on the left and right.
Overview: For all the hustle and bustle surrounding the club, which sits on less than 100 acres of land, it still manages a rather secluded feel once you enter the gates off Hilltop Avenue. The overgrown trees and shrubs bordering the property shield the roads well. Those fences do mean that there is a fair amount of out-of-bounds in play, adding a fair amount of difficulty to what are otherwise some fairly straight-forward holes in the middle of the round. As for the course itself, the greens are tiny and fast. Chipping from behind or next to the putting surfaces can be treacherous. Because of the tight space, the holes tend to weave back and forth upon each other. From a walking perspective, though, it makes for a very manageable round and helps play into the club’s typically fast pace of play. It’s a fair test of golf, with a wide variety of holes — a testament to what has made the club a mainstay in the area for nearly 100 years now.