I hadn't played Willow Springs Golf Course for several years, so it was with renewed interest and a need to practice the shots you don't hit on 450-yard par-4s elsewhere that led me and a couple of friends, Tom and Doug, to visit the course on a cool summer morning.
Willow Springs, across Interstate 70 from the Howard County Fairgrounds, attracts golfers of all skill levels. This public course with private ownership is not too tough for beginners and middle-handicap players. But if you lack accuracy and control, it can be trouble, even for long hitters and low han- dicappers.
Head pro Jeff Sprague notes that weekday pricing specials attract golfers, "but length is one of the biggest factors." Almost half of Willow Springs' golfers walk to play.
An executive course, Willow Springs has three sets of tees on 10 par-3 holes and eight par-4s (and no par-5s). Length from the tips, or blue tees, is about two-thirds that on most area public courses. Par is 62.
Most of the par-4 holes are reachable with fairway woods off the tee and short- or mid-iron second shots, even from the blue tees. I hit a driver on only two holes, Nos. 1 and 18, leaving a mid-iron shot to the first green and a fairway wood to the last one. But the course is by no means boring.
Willow Springs shoves you right into your "A" game on the first hole, a 399-yard par-4 flanked on the right by a pond. The hole forces a carry over a creek to a shallow, elevated green. Par there is a fine score.
No. 2, beside I-70, is the course's longest par-3, 193 yards from the blue tees and a more manageable 168 from the white tees.
The next three holes are short and fairly easy par-4s, the longest only 316 yards from the white tees and 337 yards from the blues. No. 4 forces a carry over a creek to a widening fairway and large green. No. 5's fairway narrows into a slight dogleg near the 150-yard marker, which might prompt you to hit an iron off the tee for accuracy.
The front nine finishes with a series of medium-length par-3s, all but one of which plays over water. Tee shots on No. 8 are affected by wind blowing off the interstate. High grass borders most holes, which guides club selection and performance. Greens are large and forgiving.
Parts of this course can lull you into mistakes, as the 10th hole did when Tom and Doug both hit long to the open green with pitching wedges. I missed the green short with an A wedge. My mis-hit ball struck the middle of a bridge, then bounced onto the green 8 feet from the cup. Past my partners' unkind musings about luck vs. skill, I missed a bending birdie putt but made a 4-foot knee-knocker coming back for par.
Three of the five par-3s on the back nine - 11, 12, and 16 - are uphill with blind shots to the pins, so club selection, and perhaps a bit of course knowledge, are critical.
Nos. 13 and 14, both par-4s, require accuracy off the tee, No. 13 because of a fairway that wiggles right and left between mounds of high grass, and No. 14 because you must navigate between rows of trees to get to the green.
On No. 13, Tom pulled his drive behind one of those mounds, leaving a blind pitch to the green. On No. 14, trees blocked his route left, leaving him with a testy, nearly sideways short-iron shot inside the tree line on the opposite side of the fairway en route home. He executed both shots to perfection.
Doug, a high handicapper, hit the 17th green in regulation with a drive and a crisp iron shot, but, alas, he three-putted for a bogey.
On No. 18, his drive landed in wet, heavy grass beside a bridge, leaving no easy shot to safety through a stand of trees. By the time we finished, I wasn't the only one who had hit a bridge.
Columbia resident Kelly Gilbert is an assistant business editor at The Sun who plays golf frequently and has reviewed most of greater Baltimore's courses over the years.
Yardage: Blue, 4,253; White, 3,897; Red, 3,557
Rating/Slope: Blue, 60.6/96; White, 58.6/95; Red, 57.8/89
18-hole rates: $21 Mon.-Thurs.; $25 Fri.-Sun and holidays; Seniors $16, Juniors $15 Mon.-Fri. Nine-hole rates available daily.
Riding carts: $14 single, $22 double. Pull-cart rentals.
Tee times: Call seven days in advance.
Other: Practice range, snack bar, lessons, club rentals. Phone: 410-442-7700.
Directions: Interstate 70 to Route 32 north. Turn west almost immediately onto Livestock Road and follow to the course.