The walls outside the locker rooms in the Bulle Rock clubhouse are running out of room to display the multitude of plaques and framed awards that have been bestowed upon the Havre De Grace facility over the last two decades.
Already in 2018, Maryland’s most decorated public golf course has once again been named the state’s Best Course You Can Play by Golfweek.
And yet, for as rich a history as the Pete Dye layout has, Director of Golf Peter Bollman says the buzz around the grounds this spring is as loud as ever. With a new pricing structure, some small cosmetic changes to the course — including an additional set of tees for higher handicap players — and a freshly revitalized Gourmet Pub & Grill, this could end up being the highest traffic year Bulle Rock has ever seen.
“It’s definitely an exciting time for us,” said Bollman, who has been on staff since the course opened in 1998. “We also understand that this is an important year in that we’ve now repositioned ourselves and are making the course a little more accessible to the general public. But at the same time, we don’t want people to think we are going to lose that quality. In fact, we’ve actually increased our maintenance budget in anticipation of the additional play.”
Damon Klepczynski, who was hired as interim director of operations in February, says the quality of the course has and will always be top priority.
“To be crystal clear, Bulle Rock will be the best conditioned golf course, daily fee, in the state. Period, end of story,” he said. “No matter what other adjustments are made, that is something that never will change.”
Bulle Rock has certainly withstood the test of time. The course garnered a five-star rating from Golf Digest for the first time in 2000 — one of only 16 courses in North America that year to receive that distinction.
In the years since, the course has received more than 60 additional awards ranging from the state to national level.
But, while the accolades certainly speak volumes, seeing is believing.
That’s why if Klepczynski has his way, more of the general public than ever before will not only visit the grounds and tee it up for 18 holes during the upcoming year, but they will be eager to book several return visits.
Peak rates are now $99 on the weekend with a cart, residential discounts have been put in place and there is the opportunity for annual golf memberships for the first time. What it adds up to is that is has never been more affordable to play the 18-hole par-72 masterpiece that hosted the LPGA Championship tournament from 2005-2009.
“The idea of a rate adjustment for us is to take a one time player and turn him into two, or a four-time player into eight,” Klepczynski said.
To put the current costs of play in perspective, back in 2005 there was a flat rate of $145 a round with no discounts for twilight or winter play. Even last year, the peak rate was $130 for 18 holes with a cart.
With documented annual financial losses almost ever year since opening, however, Klepczynski says a shake up was needed in an effort to begin making the facility profitable.
The current $65 dollar twilight fee running Monday through Thursday, which kicks in at 2 p.m. during peak season, marks the lowest offered rate to play Bulle Rock in its 20-year history.
“The market will typically tell you what the rate should be and you don’t need 15 years of history to figure out that if your play is dropping off May through October in the Northeast, your rate is too high,” Klepczynski said. “In a case like this, it’s not necessarily throwing darts at the board. It’s understanding that Bulle Rock, as the highest-rated golf course in the state of Maryland by basically every publication, is always going to command the highest price. But what we are testing is if Bulle Rock at a more normalized market rate will encourage people to play it more frequently.
“I’m betting they will.”
In terms of the course, it’s still the same riveting test that it has always been. There’s bent grass on the tees, fairways and greens, blue grass rough and taller fescue as you venture further away from the short grass.
There’s also plenty of hazards to maneuver around, including more than 120 sand traps of various sizes and water in play on half the holes.
The greens roll fast and true, with subtle breaks. But they are also generally large and receptive for approach shots.
“I would say the greens are pretty fair,” Bollman said. “Your shorter holes have the smaller greens, while the greens on the long ones are bigger and flatter.
As for the new membership opportunities, residents can buy an annual golf membership for $4,350 (non-residents is $4,850) that includes unlimited golf and use of the practice areas. Members will also have their name placed on one of the club’s 240 lockers.
There are also associate memberships and range membership options as well.
As of late May, Klepczynski said that 20 of the maximum 100 full-member spots had been filled.
Address: 320 Blenheim Lane, Havre De Grace, MD 21078
Miles from downtown Baltimore: 39
Driving Range: Yes (Up to 60 stations, all grass)
Putting Green: Yes (3 greens of various sizes, the largest of which sits directly next to the first tee)
Chipping Green: Yes (2 practice holes with sand traps next to clubhouse)
In-season weekday morning round 18 holes with cart and range balls: $80 (General Public)
In-season weekend morning round 18 holes with cart and range balls: $99 (General Public)
Full rate breakdown:
Locker room: Yes (7 showers and 120 lockers available in both the men’s and women’s locker rooms
Best Par 3: 12th hole
From the back sets of tees, the tee shot is basically entirely over water to what is one of the narrowest greens on the course. This hole also gives golfers their first glimpse of the signature railroad ties that pop up several times on the back nine. Deep bunkers and tall fescue await tee shots that bail out to the left.
Best Par 4: 18th hole
This is a hard one to pick, with several standout options —Nos. 9 and 13 are great holes as well — but this finishing hole certainly leaves a great lasting impression. On a course that has more than 120 bunkers, this hole has just two. Instead, it’s the lake running down the entire left side of the hole and behind the green that makes this lengthy par 4 so daunting. Playing well over 400 yards from three of the six sets of tees, this quickly becomes a three-shot hole if your drive misses the fairway. Par here feels like a birdie.
Best Par 5: 2nd hole
With a downhill drive from an open tee area down through a narrow chute of trees, you get a great glimpse of this challenging hole. The second shot forces players to navigate past a meandering stream roughly 50 yards short of the green to what is a slightly elevated putting surface. Not overly long, this is a great early birdie opportunity if players can avoid the strategically placed hazards.
Overview: There’s not a lot to say that hasn’t already been said over the years. Bulle Rock is everything you hope for in a round of golf — from the atmosphere, to the course conditions to the variety of holes and tests. The front nine is the easier of the two, playing a little more open and containing less penalizing hazards. But the finishing stretch, starting with hole No. 12, is as difficult as it gets. With the recent rate adjustments and ability to cater to slightly less advanced golfers, this is even more of a must-play for anyone in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Reach Brent Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports