HAVRE DE GRACE, MD. - Like many diminutive towns that crowd the eastern seaboard, Havre de Grace rests rather anonymously among the more urban cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.
This quaint town in northeastern Maryland did warrant quite a bit more attention when the United States was a mere struggling nation trying to find its way. In the late 1700s, Havre de Grace was actually being given serious consideration by Congress as the nation's capitol.
Congress eventually dropped the idea of putting this town on the map forever. Too bad. Instead of the White House resting on the shores of the Potomac, it could have been linked with the Susquehanna, which has parts of Havre de Grace on its waters.
Although mired in obscurity for several hundred years and generally enjoying its status, Havre de Grace has gained notoriety in recent years for a golf course that ranks among the best in the country.
Visitors might not know Captain John Smith once explored this area, that Civil War battles were waged here, or that the city was burned during the War of 1812. What many of them do know is Bulle Rock Golf Complex, a Pete Dye production, lies in this city of 14,000 residents living in its 4.2 square mile boundaries.
It took no great persuading to lure Dye into the project. He took one look at this special piece of land and was convinced.
"I did not undo God's work," Dye likes to say.
The world renowned golf course architect took considerable diligence with the design. This was no rush job; Dye visited the property 79 times. Obviously he wanted to get it right. Dye departed understanding the mission had been accomplished.
He came back for a visit this June during a media day with local and national golf writers. This is not a practice he typically does with just any course.
"He was really elated when he came back here," Bulle Rock head professional Rick Rounsaville said. "He really likes how this golf course turned out. He said it was the best piece of property he ever had to work with. We have 18 very different holes out here."
Don't just take the word of Rounsaville, the original head pro when the course first opened in 1998. This May it was rated as one of the 12 best public courses by Golf Digest, ranking with some heavy hitters like Pebble Beach, Pinehurst and Blackwolf Run, another Dye project.
It's good enough that one of the three professional tours has it under consideration for a major tournament, although Bulle Rock is keeping that news confidential. The challenging layout and wonderful conditions warrant such an honor. And its many natural amphitheaters only add to the crowd appeal.
The course has a loyal following that keeps growing each year. Kevin Blackney always heard wonderful things concerning Bulle Rock. This year he finally played it, making the trip from his home in the Philadelphia suburbs, which requires about a 60-mile drive one way, most of it on Interstate 80.
"The course is very interesting, each hole has a unique layout and challenge," Blackney said. "That Pat Dye is very sneaky, but fair."
Played from the tips, the ultimate challenge is provided. Bulle Rock is sizable, stretching to 7,375 yards at its longest. The blue tees are still a rough test at 6,843 yards. The white tees, which Blackney played, are more agreeable for the average golfer, measuring 6,360 yards.
Still, no matter where you play, do not let down your guard at Bulle Rock. Three lakes and a number of water holes won't stand for errant shots. Beware of the bunkers as well. It's not easy avoiding them, considering 125 sand traps of different shapes and sizes are placed at different locations on each hole.
The course features some elevated greens and tee boxes, small streams, invasive trees, some hilly terrain and its share of doglegs, adding to the difficulty.
"At least from the whites the distances were fair, even for a duffer it is possible to recover after a bad shot," said Blackney, a high handicapper. "However, if you are having a bad day, the course will make you feel like a little wean. If you have an appreciation for golf course layout and challenges, it's still well worth the humiliation."
This is a high-end course that has its loyal members, but also caters to golfers who want to experience an upper level facility once or twice a year. The price tag is expensive, going $145 for 18 holes. For $33 more a caddy will be provided for advice and mental therapy, if needed.
What a golfer gets for their money is a country club experience for the day. Service is not just something Bulle Rock employees discuss at weekly meetings. It starts at the bag drop and doesn't quit. Helpful hints are provided often without solicitation from a number of sources.
It is a wonderful golfing experience on and off the course. During a round in the sometimes humid summer weather, the locker room facility lacks in virtually nothing an upscale country club would offer. Need a shine on those golf shoes? Consider it done.
It certainly won over Blackney, who was taking clients back to Bulle Rock later in the summer.
"Bulle Rock is worth the money," Blackney said. "The level of service was exceptional. True golfers will love the challenge and appreciate the course. I am going back with a better attitude and a better knowledge of the course to address the challenges."
On a course with many special holes, one of the more admired ones arrives at No. 9, a par-4 that goes 418 yards from the blues. A risk-reward hole, golfers can go over the water, if they dare. That certainly shortens the distance, but doesn't eliminate all the problems. There are seven bunkers to avoid.
At No. 11 resides the longest and most difficult par-5 (624 yards). The hole doglegs to the left on a fairway that gently slopes downward. Again, beware of the bunkers, all 20 of them. Staying right is the way to go, all the way to the green.
On the front side, the second hole is rather majestic. Golfers hit from an elevated tee into a valley. A stream comes into play early and late. Rocks enhance the problems late in the hole.
"This was a golf course that was built to be very fair," Rounsaville said. "You just have to play the right tees out here or it can get brutal. It's also the type you can sit around later and remember all 18 holes. That's the type of course this is."
More good news is that Bulle Rock is on its way to becoming a 36-hole facility, although the plans are on hold for now. Work has been done on much of the new course. The time frame for finishing depends on the progress of an on-site hotel.
When completed, the new course shouldn't take anything away from the original 18. Considering the pristine conditions and who designed the course, you might say people will still be "Dyeing" to play it.
Bulle Rock Golf Complex
325 Blenheim Lane, Havre de Grace, MD 21078
For Tee Times: (808) 285-5375
Here are a couple of Bed & Breakfast spots close to the golf course.
Spencer Silver Mansion
200 S. Union Avenue
Havre de Grace, MD
301 S. Union Ave.
Havre de Grace, MD
Best Western Inn
1709 Edgewood Road
Edgewood, MD (exit 77A off 1-95)
1700 Van Bibber Road
Edgewood, MD (exit 77A off 1-95)
Phone: (410) 679 0770
No need to go anywhere for a fine meal. The Restaurant at Bulle Rock is an upscale choice with a lot of variety on its menu. Considering the Chesapeake Bay area is known for its seafood, that might be the way to go. The wine list is impressive, quite extensive. The well thought out lunch menu is also recommended.
Havre de Grace Ritz Cafe - (410) 939-5858
Heritage Tea Room - (410) 942-0290
Java By The Bay - (410) 939 0227
LaCucina Restaurant - (410) 939-1402
Lighthouse Diner Restaurant - (410) 942-0302
Conditions: 4.5 Scenery: 3.5
Practice Facilities: 4.0
Club House/Pro Shop: 4.5
Pace of Play: 4.4
Par 3's: 4
Par 4's: 10
Par 5's: 4 Value: 4.3
Overall Rating: 4.5
September 18, 2002