Rauch draws up winner at Easton

THE BALTIMORE SUN

EASTON -- At the drawing board, there's no limitation to the imagination of Bob Rauch, who graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in civil engineering but now has been tempted to veer off in a diverse direction -- the design of golf courses.

From the blueprint stage to reality, he has produced something extraordinary for his hometown of Easton, where friends, neighbors and visitors from near and far will test and then attest, by virtue of the numbers on their scorecards, to either the built-in horrors or the distinctive wonders of his latest creation.

No doubt, the new Easton Club, which opens to the public on Thursday, will attract all levels of curious golfers. It should be an exciting experience because each of the 18 holes has a separate personality and even identifying names to go with them taken from area landmarks and others that are indigenous to the Eastern Shore. Such as decoy, blue crab and oyster bar.

Rauch is not a seasoned professional in building golf courses with a voluminous portfolio of credits but neither is he a rookie, which means he's not locked into staid old formats and brings with him an ambitious desire to extract the maximum out of the land available. He had a prominent part in developing the widely acclaimed Tour 18 layout in Houston, where each hole was shaped after what was considered to be a classic fairway or green at some other notable course or links.

What Rauch has brought forth doesn't need to be explained. Merely play it and see. It's all there, 6,700 yards of a par-72 challenge, reposing on what used to be the Adkins Farm that offered the architect a diversity of wide-open pasture and heavy woodlands. "Every hole has the element of risk and reward," said Rauch as he toured the facility that's a mere pitch shot out of Easton on the road to quaint old Oxford.

"We attempted to make this a different kind of golfing experience that will attract natives and tourists. I learned to play golf as a child growing up at Talbot Country Club from pro Charley Herling. That's a great layout for our area. So are Hog Neck, Martingham and Queenstown Harbor. We believe, in our own way, we are going to create a special following."

The green fees vary from $40 for Talbot County citizens on weekends to $48 for non-residents, with weekdays, Monday through Thursday, considerably cheaper. Michael Kohn, the professional, like Rauch, is an Easton native and served for 10 years as an assistant at Hog Neck, so their presence offers a feeling of comfortable belonging for area golfers.

There's an island green, a par-3 of 180 yards, that Rauch called the Oxford/Bellevue, which is the name of the ferry that crosses the Tred Avon River. It's an apt designation because, although transportation isn't offered, the shot is all-carry and the prevailing breeze can make it a two-shot difference in club selection.

"We may even put a golf ball dispensing machine near the tee box," said Rauch, who has a quiet touch of P. T. Barnum or is it a former neighbor, the late Bill Veeck, who introduced so many innovations to baseball? "We just didn't want to be like everybody else's golf course but, at the same time, we were careful not to take away anything from the dignity of the game. In no way, is it some kind of a gimmick."

One green, the 14th, coming at the end of a par-5, 533-yard challenge, is octagon in shape. It has its own characteristics and is named "No Corner For The Devil," after a historic church located between Easton and Cambridge. Twelve of the holes offer dogleg approaches of some twist or turn and there are just as many holes where water comes into play. Greens and fairways are comprised of bent grass.

The Cannonball Hole is the devious fifth, a par-4 of 396 yards so named from the story of how St. Michaels was saved from the British bombardment in the War of 1812. It revives the intriguing tale of how lanterns were placed in trees to confuse the enemy and the British ships fired all their guns at the lights, wasting valuable ammunition, while the town of St. Michaels escaped with barely a dent of damage.

But the Easton Club, where residential building lots and townhouses are being sold around the perimeter of the golf course, is more than a history lesson. It represents a $5 million expenditure and its early condition, in the midst of a searing Eastern Shore summer, is far beyond what's normally expected for a new facility.

Bob Rauch, who graduated from Easton High School, is among old home folks and, for the most part, they know each other on a first-name basis. But the golf course he built for them is going to be a tantalizing tease. Maybe even a torment of fun.

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