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Birdies come home to roost at The Rookery

By Kiel Christianson, Equipment Editor and Senior Writer

MILTON, Del. - Nine miles north of the popular southern Delaware resort town of Rehoboth Beach, golfers looking to escape thethrongs of sun worshippers can seek safe haven - and their share ofbirdies - at The Rookery. The Rookery's four sets of teeboxes (from 4,785 to 6,461 yards) and nice, if quirky, mix of par-3s andpar-5sof varying lengths, should allow golfers of all skill levels to find theirown places in the sun.

Due to its close proximity to the ocean, the wind can play havoc on TheRookery's wide-open, sparsely timbered fairways. There are plenty of youngtrees on this 2000 vintage Adkins & Oakley course, however, and when theymature they will provide some windbreaks. On the other hand, those sametrees will tighten certain fairways, which at present aregenerally quite forgiving.

"For now, you can be wayward with the driver," says head golf professionalButch Holtzclaw. "The premium here, as on most courses, is on your shortgame. If you look at the holes, there's always a bailout area."

Not only are there closely cropped collection areas adjacent to most greensopposite to whatever trouble may be present, but often the moundingsurrounding the greens also forms a receptive, benign bowl-shaped puttingsurface. Off-line or long approaches tend to remain in play. This is not tosay that the layout offers all birdie opportunities. "There's plenty ofrisk-reward," warns Holtzclaw. "And sometimes it's more risk than you shouldgamble with."

Nowhere is the reward greater than on the back-to-back short par-4s on thefront side. No. 3, at just 285 from the tips, has OB from tee to green onthe left side, a narrow strip of fairway, and a pond to the right. The waterends well short of the green, though, and the bailout area beyond it and tothe right of the green is huge. The smart play here is actually trying todrive the green, as long as you don't worry about hooking it OB.

The 297-yard 4th is more fun than the 3rd because here every golfer willneed to seriously weigh the options. A broad pond lies directly between youand the green. If the wind is at your back, a semi-solid pop-up by along-hitter could clear. If the wind is in your face, you'll need to be farmore confident (or drunk) to try to drive over the hazard. Problem is, ifyou want to lay up short, the shot requires a precise mid-iron to ensure areasonable second shot into the large green.

The par-35 front nine ends with a curious little 123-yard par-3 over water,which is odd as a 9th hole. Be very careful not to pull too much club,because the practice green is directly behind the ninth's putting surface.But in the overall scheme of things, it fits well into the course's fivepar-3s, which range from 123 yards up to a whopping 236 yards. The mix ofpar-5s, three of which are on the back nine, is also appealing: Eagles flyat the 486-yard 13th (of both the golf and raptor varieties), but the601-yard 10th and 618-yard 18th require all the distance most players canmuster, especially in windy conditions.

Local knowledge and local charm come into play at the 402-yard 5th and the401-yard 16th, respectively. No. 5 is a sharp dogleg left, with a few stray pines wandering out into the fairway at the corner. A big-time draw around the trees or a long shot toward the right-hand side of the fairway is required to ensure a clear shot to the green. None of this is apparent from the tee. No. 6 runs near an old farmhouse and barn, and features an island tee box. The water won't come into play unless it gets into your head.

Overall, The Rookery's design is not spectacular, but it does offer a tasty assortment of yardages and hazards. Neo-traditionalists might feel their golf feng-shui is thrown off by the aforementioned ninth hole and the three par-3s on the back nine (including two back-to-back par-3s). Andin a few places, it does seem as ifthe land ran out just before the golf hole was fully extended.

On the other hand, the greens are fairly large and lacking punitive contouring, the fairways are forgiving, the bunkering and drainage are excellent, and the clubhouse, range, pro-shop, and bar and grill are exceptional for the low green fees, which max out on weekends during high season at just $59, including cart.

Most appealing is this player-friendliness. Scratch players won't find too much here to stoke their competitive fires unless the wind is howling or they're fighting a bad case of the hooks (because most trouble is on the leftside on most holes). But for the recreational golfer who wants to fit in a pleasant 18 holes and lunch, The Rookery is a superb option. Just minutes from the beach, players of any skill level can have some fun, see some wildlife (foxes, eagles, and herons are plentiful), and dine on fried oyster sandwiches and pints of locally brewed Dogfish Head Ale.

In short, The Rookery is the golfing equivalent of the beach novel - alight, fun, relaxing diversion that makes you appreciate the exquisite ephemeris of summer all the more.

Course Vitals

Par: 71
Yardage/Rating/Slope: Blue: 6,461/70.5/117 White: 6,119/68.5/115
Red: 5,528/71.4/123 Gold: 4,785/67.0/116
Amenities: Full pro-shop, bar and grill, range with grass tees, lessons
Rates: $29-$59 (seasonal, cart incl. in rate); twilight rates
Misc: Bent grass tees and greens, walking allowed anytime (same rate).

Lodging Recommendation

Holiday Inn Express
Bethany Beach
Tel: (302) 541-9200
Ask for package deals!

Fine Dining

Nantucket, Fenwick Island
Tel: (302) 539-2607
Specialties: Filet mignon ($34) and anything from the sea (try the oystersin season)


Conditions: 3.5
Service: 3.5
Value: 4.0
Design: 2.5

Kiel ChristiansonKiel Christianson, Equipment Editor and Senior Writer

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Illinois. Read his golf blog here.

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