The Baltimore Sun online editions spotlights golf courses in the Baltimore Metro region. This stop is at Whiskey Creek Golf Club, Ijamsville, Maryland in Frederick County.
For the greater part of the last two decades, Whiskey Creek Golf Club has been receiving rave reviews for its picturesque layout featuring pristine conditions and a diverse set of challenging holes. The result of a collaboration between architect J. Michael Poellot and four-time major champion Ernie Els is a true thinking-man’s golf course.
In truth, however, it’s well before stepping to the first tee that Whiskey Creek succeeds in captivating its audience.
The mile-long drive off the main road pulls guests away from civilization and toward a clubhouse that is tucked between the trees. It’s from there, following the path up a set of steps toward views of the rolling terrain with a backdrop of the Catoctin Mountains stretching off far into the distance that the day officially begins.
“There’s definitely a build up of anticipation as you get to the parking lot, make your way up those steps and then finally get your first real glimpse of the property,” said General Manager Ted Goodenow, who is in his tenth year in the position and has been at the course in some capacity since 2003. “You get a little tease on the drive in, but that moment when you get to look out and really see the course and all that it offers for the first time … to me, that’s a big part of the experience. And that complete experience, from the moment a guest arrives all the way until they leave, is something we take a lot of pride in.”
Opened in 2000, the par 72 18-hole course in Ijamsville is owned and operated by KemperSports Management. From the back tees, the course can stretch to play just over 7,000 yards.
But for as stern of a test as it can provide to the most experienced players, Goodenow says there’s also a versatility to the property that makes it both manageable and enjoyable for less experienced players. There’s a variety of tee boxes, several of which have been added to improve playability in the last three years, and the fairways are generally wide and the greens large and receptive.
“It’s a fair design and a fair test of golf, whether you are a low or high handicapper. A lot of that is in the huge range in the yardage from the different tee boxes, really allowing the player to decide what is going to suit their game best,” Goodenow said. “And sure, there’s a fair share of hazards to navigate around, but it’s all right there in front of you. There aren’t too many surprises out here — what you see is what you get.”
What golfers get is a round on a course that has routinely been ranked as one of the top public facilities in the region by nearly every golf publication. In 2016, golf.com had Whiskey Creek ranked No. 3 among the courses you can play in Maryland and, just this year, Golfweek ranked it fifth on a similar list.
The lush fairways and well-manicured greens certainly have a good bit to do with the accolades, but the wide-range of holes and risk-reward shots are just as noteworthy. There’s spectacular views, such as the one from the tee on the par 4 5th hole that allows golfers on a clear day to see both the Catoctin and Blue Ridge Mountain ranges in the distance behind the valley toward which shots are aimed. There’s several water hazards in play — notably on the 14th, 15th and 18th holes — and a smattering of deep bunkers. That’s not even mentioning the environmental areas, overgrown bushes and knee-high rough that line almost every hole to keep things interesting.
But the trouble is also avoidable for the most part, with only a handful of forced carries throughout the round and plenty of bailout areas.
“I think the best way to put it is that golfers aren’t forced into hitting exacting shots. There are multiple ways to play each hole and multiple places you can hit your ball and still scramble your way to a par,” Goodenow said.
The ability to cater to such a wide range of golfer is one reason Goodenow says Whiskey Creek has become one of the region’s most popular destinations for outings. During a given year, the course will host anywhere between 7,000-8,000 outing-rounds — amounting to roughly a third of the tee-sheet-related revenue the property brings in.
The course is flexible in terms of the size of the groups they are able to host and outings can be scheduled anytime Monday through Friday. With a large indoor seating area as part of a full-service bar and restaurant, to go along with a wrap-around outdoor patio, groups as large as 170 people can be accommodated.
“I think the course speaks for itself, but what really keeps people coming back is the customer service. We hear all the time how they’ve never been taken care of like this before,” Goodenow said. “We are set up to literally take care of every need you can think of when putting on an outing.”
The consistent outing traffic is a nice boost, especially considering Goodenow notes that the typical golfer won’t play the course more than two or three times in a year given the price point being on the upper end of the public facility scale ($86 Monday-Thursday mornings and $109 on weekends before 1 p.m.).
But as far as choosing a destination for one of those “special treat” rounds, Whiskey Creek is certainly worth the trip.
Driving Range: Yes (20 stations; 16 for mats; grass stations open on most weekends starting in mid-June; range included with greens fees)
Putting Green: Yes (large green between clubhouse and first tee)
Chipping Green: Yes (green with one target hole and practice bunker next to driving range)
In-season weekday morning round 18 holes with cart and range: $86
In-season weekend morning round 18 holes with cart and range: $109
Locker room: Yes (18 lockers in men’s room with two showers; shower in women’s as well with towels available)
Best Par 3: 11th hole
This is a dramatic looking hole, with a rock wall running parallel to the right side of the green catching your eye right away. The layout has undergone a slight redesign this spring, eliminating a large chunk of the sand trap that ran along the front and right of the green and turning it into a grass bunker. Still, there’s a large sand bunker right in front and another just behind the large putting surface.
Best Par 4: 5th hole
Few tee shots in the area offer the views that this downhill dog-leg left par 4 does. Players drive the ball from an elevated area, surrounded by natural rock outcroppings, down into a valley more than 100 yards below. The hole then bends to the left and continues slightly downhill to one of the toughest greens on the course, featuring a false front and plenty of undulation.
Best Par 5: 18th hole
This is the hole that gets talked about the most, with lots of decisions to be made about how aggressive a player wants to be on each shot. The remains of a 19th century stone house sits right in the middle of the fairway in the landing zone, adding a distinctive feature to the downhill drive. There’s a lot more room out to the right, but by trying to hit the fairway to the left of the house it opens the opportunity to reach the green in two. The approach then requires players to decide whether to lay up into either side of another split fairway, or try to carry the water and sand fronting the green. It’s not overly long, but the unique layout tests you mentally.
Overview: As far as high-end golf courses go, this is actually a very friendly layout from a scoring standpoint in that players are afforded the ability to spray the ball around a little and keep it in play. Naturally, there is preferred positioning on almost every hole, but those hooks and slices aren’t punished the same way they might be elsewhere. What ultimately helps Whiskey Creek stand out from the pack is the number of memorable holes that distinguish themselves either because of their views, unique features or layouts. Golfers are going to hit a lot of different types of shots over the course of 18 holes. The front nine plays a few strokes easier than the back, both because of length and the landing areas being a little tighter. But, it’s definitely an enjoyable round from start to finish.