On Course

Mountain Branch Golf Club

When it comes to establishing an identity, Mountain Branch general manager Carol McCarthy likes to think that the expansive property in Joppa has developed three of them.

There’s the semi-private golf course, traversing through the hills and trees of southwestern Harford County to provide players with a challenging and picturesque 18-hole round. There’s the acclaimed Grille and Pub, featuring a sit-down restaurant known for some of the best cuisine in the area. And then there’s the wedding location, complete with a sectioned off area for ceremonies overlooking the course and an air-conditioned and heated banquet tent that can comfortably accommodate up to 250 guests.

Individually, each amenity has a long-standing reputation as being among the county’s top venues. So fittingly, when grouped together, the services make for a facility with few peers.

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“I would honestly say we are known for all three — golf, the restaurant and as a wedding venue — fairly equally,” said McCarthy, who has been on staff since 2002 and is in her fifth year as general manager. “The golf course absolutely has a very good reputation on its own, that’s been the case for quite some time. So to have built that same level of reputation in terms of our restaurant and as a host for weddings and private parties is incredibly unique.

“It’s truly a destination.”

Matt Summers, who is in his fourth year as Head PGA Professional at the course, views it as a full-service entertainment operation.

“There are days where you will have people playing a round of golf, meeting their family for dinner in the restaurant and then hanging around afterward for one of our deck parties out on the patio,” Summers said. “It literally can be a full day’s worth of activities.”

While the course is semi-private, offering an array of annual options ranging from associate to unlimited memberships, both McCarthy and Summers make it very clear that everything on site is also fully available to the public seven days a week.

Traffic is particularly heavy on Thursdays and Fridays, as guests will try to get in an afternoon round and then head upstairs for some live entertainment. Deck Parties, spilling over onto the lawn, are every Thursday and then there’s Friday Night Music —local bands play both nights (CLICK HERE for the upcoming shows calendar).

For bigger concerts, Mountain Branch created an even larger venue with a stage tucked between the trees in the middle of the 10th and 18th holes. Last summer, the area hosted two events — one drawing a crowd of nearly 1,300 people.

While there are no shows of that magnitude scheduled for this year, the plan is for similar large events come 2019.

The draw for these extra entertainment options has been climbing for several years running and McCarthy said it’s currently higher than ever.

The same can be said for the golf course, which opened in 2000 and is as close as ever to the pristine conditions that were on display that first year. The large fairways and equally spacious sloped greens are lush.

Summers says the course really began turning the corner in 2012 when new ownership came on board, with brothers Bill and Gus and Vasilakopoulos taking over. Shortly before that, Logan Freeman had moved into the role of Superintendent and the combination of those new pieces really served as the catalyst for things starting to come together.

“There’s been a real effort over the last five and a half years toward caring for the golf course and making it a priority. It’s made a big difference in terms of the consistency of the conditions,” said Summers, who also adds that Mountain Branch has received several “best of” accolades courtesy of voting done by the local golfing community in the last year.

The course itself plays to a par 72 and can stretch to over 7,000 yards from the back tees. There’s a variety to the types of holes, featuring a mix of open and narrow landing areas, a handful of forced carries and plenty of unique putting surfaces.

In fact, because of the large greens that feature numerous tiers, holes can play completely differently depending on where the pin position might be that day.

“One of the comments we get a lot from not just members, but the general public, is that they could play the course every day because of how different the set-up can be each time out,” Summers said. “The flow of the golf course is really great and it lends itself to repeat play.”

The par 5 18th, which makes its way up toward the clubhouse, is a terrific finishing hole. The creek that snakes its way between the split fairway comes into play on each shot, coming to a head with a waterfall just short of the green.

Restaurant guests sitting on the patio or golfers warming up on the large putting green get a great look down on the golfers finishing up their round.

And, speaking of the practice facilities, the offerings are plentiful. The driving range has both mats and grass, including a covered section ideal for adverse weather conditions. There’s a short-game area near the range and then the aforementioned putting green that may be one of the most unique standalone practice surfaces in the region — highlighted by four different tiers that are seemingly carved into the natural terrain.

“As you can imagine, it’s amazing for putting contests,” McCarthy said.

Additionally, in what is one of the newest features on property, a Golf Studio that is located directly under the deck was finished earlier this year. A simulator that is ideal for indoor lessons and fittings is in place, along with a turf putting green, in a climate-controlled setting.

As for the restaurant, there’s a fine-dining feel to the multi-level seating area that features high ceilings and great views looking down on the golf course.

Open seven days a week, there is room for up to 240 guests at a time indoors — including the loft and private party rooms — to go along with an additional 80 seats in the outdoor patio area. On holidays like Mothers Day, Fathers Day or Easter, McCarthy says the place will be packed from open to close.

(CLICK HERE to see the 2018 menus)

Weddings are another huge part of the Mountain Branch repertoire, hosting roughly 60 a year. There is a wedding coordinator on staff and the facility won a WeddingWire Couples Choice award in 2017 for its venue and service.

Address: 1827 Mountain Road, Joppa, MD 21085

Phone: 410-836-9600

Website: http://www.mountainbranch.com/

Miles from downtown Baltimore: 25

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mountain.branch/

Driving Range: Yes (24 stations for mats — 10 of which are covered; two-tiered grass area open on most weekends; range included with greens fees)

Putting Green: Yes (Large tiered green behind clubhouse)

Chipping Green: Yes (to the left of the driving range with practice bunker)

In-season weekday morning round 18 holes with cart and range: $65

In-season weekend morning round 18 holes with cart and range: $75

Locker room: Yes (34 lockers in men’s room with six showers; 22 lockers in women’s room with two showers — guests must bring own towels)

Best Par 3: 11th hole

It’s not a long hole by any means, playing as little as 100 yards from the forward tees, but with a forced carry over a large lake fronting the entire front of the green it’s daunting none-the-less. The huge green in terms of width is elevated just enough that the putting surface looks incredibly narrow from the tee. When the pin is tucked either far left, far right or behind the bunker just over the water, things really get interesting.

Best Par 4: 15th hole

Looking out and being able to see this entire par 4 out in front of you is both thrilling and daunting. After dipping down into a valley about 100 yards off the tee, the hole goes straight up hill after that as players are forced to navigate a collection of six large bunkers that start out flanking the right side and then cut across the fairway and end up guarding the left side of the green. There’s plenty of room to avoid the trouble, but even once you get to the green the challenge isn’t over as the putting surface features a huge hump placed directly in the middle of it that creates plenty of havoc.

Best Par 5: 18th hole

With the clubhouse serving as a perfect backdrop, this finishing hole is a reachable par 5 with plenty of trouble to navigate around. Players will aim toward the fairway running to the left of a meandering creek that eventually cross-sects the hole going up toward the green. The second shot then requires deciding whether to lay-up out to the right, or to challenge the water hazard and try to reach in two. The green is much larger than it looks from the fairway and is in perfect view for the onlookers either already finished their rounds or just about ready to begin.

Overview: From the unique design of the huge clubhouse to the one-of-a-kind putting green, the course grabs your attention before you even tee the ball up on the first hole. And, interestingly enough, the heavily tiered practice surface is actually great preparation for the kind of uphill and downhill putts that players will end of facing during the course of a round. The greens are incredibly large, meaning that golfers will inevitably face several long putts going up, down and around multiple hills and undulations. Players that like a nice mix in terms of layout will appreciate the varying distance of the par 4s, some of which are drivable and others that require a driver and long iron or wood to reach in two. Overall, this is a fair set up with plenty of generous landing areas and memorable holes. Factoring in the special little nuances along the way, it’s a course that just might take multiple rounds to truly appreciate.

Course Work: Do you have a golf course you would like to see featured here? Contact Brent Kennedy at bkennedy@baltsun.com or on Twitter at @BKBSunSports

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