Price is high, but special treat awaits golfers at Bulle Rock


This is not just another golf course sprouting out of the ground. It's an ambitious mission to provide the public with the kind of amenities previously offered by only the elite of country clubs. Enticing, elegant, expensive, the kind of place that qualifies for national attention. Welcome to Bulle Rock, named for a famed thoroughbred of the past.

Eighteen extraordinary holes are in place, created by designer Pete Dye, and another similar course also will be routed on the 564-acre tract that owner Ed Abel bought and is developing into a golfing mecca at what is estimated to be an $18 million price tag.

He may never get his investment back. Hardly. Greens fees, accordingly, are exceedingly high -- $126 (cart included) for the right to play on this impeccable spread of green, once known as the Blenheim Farm, in the northeast corner of Maryland.

Located between Havre de Grace and Aberdeen, the spectacular layout presents golf conditions at their best. There's similarity in some respects to two widely hailed new courses -- Caves Valley, in Owings Mills, and Robert Trent Jones, in Manassas, Va.

The major difference is that Bulle Rock is available for public enjoyment, even if the fee to play is the most expensive in Maryland.

Abel is an engineer, specializing in site excavation, who lives in Mountville, Pa., between York and Lancaster. He searched for three years to find what he wanted in golf course potential. When Abel saw it, he bought -- amid the cheers of the surrounding communities that earlier opposed the development of a proposed automobile race track at this historic site.

The course, from the championship tees, is believed to be the most difficult in Maryland, offering a 76.4 rating/147 slope. There are three other sets of tees, varying from 5,426 yards for women to a mammoth 7,375 yards for the professionals. Although newly completed, it has the look of being there for decades, which is a characteristic of a good architect, especially one not limited to fiscal restraints.

The first player off the tee when Bulle Rock opened for play a month ago was Jane Gilbert, a member of the nearby Country Club of Swan Creek. Her review bordered on the ecstatic: "a beautiful course, where the amenities are gorgeous and people fall all over themselves making you welcome." No houses or condominiums will destroy the scenery, which is good news for golfers who revel in total country tranquillity.

Bill Stetka Sr., a playing member at Maryland Golf & Country Club, toured the layout and was enthralled. "I never thought I'd see a golf course where I'd want to pay $126 to play, but, after seeing it, this is one I'd sure consider."

A friend of Stetka's, Dick Gregory, has been on most of the leading courses in Maryland and around the country. "I put it in a class by itself. It has only been open five weeks and I've already been here six times."

Dye, who has built some of the most renowned facilities in the country, said the land is "the best piece of inland property I ever worked with." And, crediting a higher power, he said, with BTC humility: "I did not undo God's work."

No doubt, what took two years to build is an attention-getter. There's respect for Abel, who had the vision and, importantly, the money to make it happen, and Dye, whose crafting brought about a rewarding result.

"My barometer for judging a golf course is what you remember after playing it," said Richard Rounsaville, the host professional and director of golf. "I remember all 18 holes distinctively. Such a criteria is how you measure greatness." So true.

As if Abel and Dye haven't done enough already, they'll begin another 18 holes later this year. A more-than-century-old Victorian house with stained-glass windows and eight fireplaces, now marred by the ravages of time, will be rehabilitated to its glorious past to accommodate overnight guests. This will add still another jewel to the crown of Bulle Rock.

It's a natural reaction to measure the new creation against that of another showplace, Caves Valley, a private course that has received flattering reviews. Introducing any such comparison is a compliment to Bulle Rock, which was created for a clientele that can't afford or doesn't want to join a country club, but has a discerning taste.

Physically speaking, Caves Valley is wooded, and the topography is entirely different. Caves Valley also is more

demanding on the legs than Bulle Rock, which has a graceful roll, is wide open, with similar bentgrass underfoot. Carts are allowed on the generously spread fairways, but, if you prefer to walk, caddies are available to chauffeur your golf bag.

Bulle Rock will shut down for a winter respite. So, obviously, Abel is interested in maintaining quality conditions. Each morning, a crew of five walks the fairways with seed buckets, mending the divots from the day before.

Streams and ponds are present on eight holes, but don't always come into play. Ninety employees include the golf staff under Rounsaville, a pro since 1974; restaurant chefs and waitresses, and the course superintendent, Scott Chaffee, and his unit. They are there to receive golfers for what they intend to offer as a "country club-for-a-day" experience at a public course.

Paul Gehring, retired professional from Chantilly Manor CC, is working as a part-time starter after almost a lifetime of playing golf, teaching same and forging friendships.

He puts his evaluation into a one-word synopsis. Awesome. The course, beginning to end, includes what Dye says are two of the toughest finishing holes he has ever built, Nos. 9 and 18. From ground-breaking to completion, Dye made 80 on-site visits from his Indianapolis headquarters, so he was more than a blueprint architect.

It's expected golfers will be attracted from Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, Wilmington and even farther points. The marketing area is unlimited for a course of this magnitude. What Abel paid for and Dye shaped from God's good earth is an elevating addition to the quality of golf in Maryland or anywhere else. It's a masterpiece.

Pub Date: 5/10/98

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