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Wetlands Golf Club of Aberdeen: Keeping the 'A' in Affordable Golf

By Jay Mankus, Contributor

ABERDEEN, MD - Situated five miles west of the Susquehanna River and just north of Chesapeake Bay, the Wetlands of Aberdeen is a prime example of an affordable upscale golf facility. The low prices will shock you, rolling hills will enchant you and the ornamental horticulture surrounding several greens will leave you feeling guilty, like you should have paid more for your golfing experience.

The Wetlands Golf Club is a dying breed: family owned, family designed and family built. Henry Smedley's dream of an affordable public upscale golf facility began six years ago with the completion of the first nine, which is now the back nine. With the help of family members, Chris who helped Henry design the course and Sam whose construction company built the course, the Smedley's opened their 18 hole, 6,702 yard, par 71 layout to the public in 1996.

By keeping the total construction costs significantly lower than most new upscale facilities, the Wetlands Golf Club is committed to keep costs low so that the next generation of golfers have an affordable place to play. The Wetlands is one of the few remaining upscale golf facilities in America where a family of four can play 18 holes of golf for under $100 during the week or just over $100 if you prefer riding in a cart.

Besides families, the Wetlands staff also has a heart for kids. The local high school golf team practices and plays their home matches free of charge each year here. Meanwhile, head PGA Professional Jim Welmont gives three free clinics each summer for young people who love to play or are just learning how to golf. In additional, the Harford County Junior Golf Tour visits the Wetlands every season.

I am not the only one who thinks the Wetlands is an incredible bargain! Washington Golf Monthly recently called the Wetlands the hidden jewel of northeast Maryland. Conveniently located two minutes from I-95 off exit 85 between Baltimore and Newark, Delaware, the Wetlands is in an ideal location for vacationers who like to play golf courses just off the interstate.

However, in 2002, the Wetlands will no longer be a hidden jewel. Since Cal (Cal Ripken Jr.) is moving back to his hometown of Aberdeen, Maryland, the Wetlands are about to welcome their newest neighbor.

Above the Wetlands and just across the street, Gilbert Road will become home to the Cal Ripken Stadium and Youth Academy. This complex will become home to the newest Baltimore Oriole minor league franchise, host the Babe Ruth Little League World Series to be televised by the Fox Sports Network, a site of six mini replica stadiums and include several offices and buildings for the youth academy.

The largest stadium, named after Cal, will be visible from interstate 95. Beside hosting the Oriole's minor league team, most baseball lovers will want to visit this state of the art complex for its mini replica stadiums. The past and present will meet as Ebbets Field, Memorial Stadium, Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards will highlight this amazing sports complex.

As this complex draws near its completion date of 2002, the Wetlands Golf Club continues to have a working relationship with the Cal Ripken Aberdeen Project to insure the success of both facilities. Since minor league players, VIPs and other stadium staff members want to work with a nearby golf course, the Wetlands have been working hard to prepare for the crowds which are surely to come after this sports complex opens in April of 2002.

A modern cape cod style club house features a Chesapeake Bay decor with a touch of New England. The atmosphere inside is cozy, golf pictures are scattered throughout the walls and the hospitality makes you feel like you are in the deep south.

To increase their capacity, the Wetlands staff is planning on adding new locker rooms to their 150 seat banquet facility. This new facility set to open by April of 2002 will also include a pro shop, to increase the size of the existing clubhouse built in 2000.

The current practice facility at the Wetlands should be able to handle the masses which will likely come before or after ball games at the Ripken Sports Complex. While there are only eight holes on the practice putting green, the green itself is several yards deep and oblong in shape.

Meanwhile, the practice range has two tiers of tees and over 50 yards of hitting area across. The tees were in remarkable shape: green, healthy and void of heavy divot areas. Although there are no target greens, the driving area is wide with 100, 150 and 200 yard markers.

When you play the Wetlands, its like playing two different 9 hole courses. The front nine is long, a 3,593 yard par 36 that is relatively open with long narrow greens. The front nine has ample room between holes, links-like at times, yet trees do come into play off the tee or on your approach shot into greens.

On the other hand, the back nine is more condensed, tighter with larger greens, somewhat congested on a few holes and contains most of the wetlands on the course. Fortunately, the back is only 3,109 from the tips or else the average player would donate several golf balls to the wetlands each round. Since the Wetlands Golf Club does own several acres adjacent to this nine, there is a chance in the future to either add some practice holes or make minor adjustments to elevate the congestion between holes 12-15.

The greatest asset of the Wetlands is the first nine and the last three holes. Some courses have a few holes that are so spectacular, unique or fun to play that you store up a mental picture of these holes within your mind. In my opinion, the front has a half dozen memorable holes and the last three holes play over, along and through wetlands filled with cattails.

For example, the first hole, a 435 yard par 4 uphill with a tee shot over a natural wetlands is pleasing to your eyes. The 423 yard par 4 2nd hole has three different tees from three different angles, two of which require tee shots over hazards filled with feathery fescue grass.

The 386 yard, par 4 4th hole looks like it was built in Scotland. A partially blind tee shot, moguls and tall fescue decorate one of the best designed holes at the Wetlands. The 432 yard, par 4 6th looks like a bowling alley from the tee, yet opens up to scenic country side for your approach shot to the green.

At 602 yards from the tips, most players will chose the front tees on the par 5 8th to avoid hitting over a valley filled with water and native grasses. Meanwhile, the par 4 9th hole can play as long as 453 yards or as short as 360 yards. A 90 degree dogleg, a large mound in the middle of the fairway and trees down the right hand side make this a fun, but challenging hole to play.

Beside the scenery of 16-18 on the back, the 479 yard, par 5 14th is a remarkable hole. An uphill tee shot over wetlands gives way to a long waste like bunker down the right side. Nearly 100 yards long, this bunker has railroad ties and steps that lead you up to the adjacent 15th fairway. Though the beginning of this hole is good, the end is spectacular!

The entry way to the 14th makes it one of the best signature holes at the Wetlands. A pond to the left, undulating mounds to the far right and an awesome exhibit of hand crafted sand, shrubs, bushes and trees make for a memorable entrance and exit of this green.

As for the ornamental grasses, any modern upscale course can transplant exotic shrubs. However, it seems like the staff at the Wetlands has placed the perfect amount of ornamental grasses throughout the course to accent the rolling country sides and low lying areas with grace and beauty.

Like every course, the Wetlands does have some weaknesses. The most obvious when you play is the quirky places on the course where holes loop back across one another. Another is not having dual rows or irrigation throughout the course to keep the rough soft and green during the dry season.

Bridges, as carts continue to pound over these long structures through Wetlands, have some weak spots where boards need to be replaced and entire structures reinforced. In additional, like many new courses, portions of tees have not been able to withstand the heat and stress of play. Other than these minor imperfections, the fairways and greens are in excellent condition.

As the Smedley family continues to improve their golf course and facility each season, the Wetlands of Aberdeen will surely remain one the top affordable upscale facilities in all of Maryland.

Other nearby recreation opportunities include jet skiing at Elk Neck State Park, taking a dinner boat tour on the Lantern Queen in Havre de Grace, looking for prehistoric shark teeth often found in nearby Chesapeake Bay and visiting the Decoy or Stepping Stone Museums.

Whenever you are in northeastern Maryland on I-95, remember the Wetlands Golf Club is only 2 minutes away from exit 85. Be sure to check out Loch Naire Golf Club of Avondale, Pennsylvania, another Smedley owned golf facility off of US Hwy 1 between Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Wetlands Golf Club

740 Gilbert Road
Aberdeen, MD 21001
Phone: (410)-273-7488
PGA Teaching Professional: Jim Welmont

Guest fees:
Weekday $22 walking, $34 riding
Weekend $33 walking, $45 riding

Jay Mankus, Contributor

A former golf standout at Concord High School in Wilmington, Del., Jay Mankus graduated from the University of Delaware with a degree in Recreation & Parks Administration. Before graduating, Jay spent time as an intern at a golf club in the east suburbs of Cleveland specializing in golf course maintenance and design.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • A Back Yard Dog Track!!

    scratch@golfdigest.com wrote on: Jun 14, 2005

    "Not worth the money, this course plays like someones backyard, poor layout, balls come into fairway from other holes constantly, poor greens, fairway rough is really ROUGH or dirt, not very well maintained, the lack of capital is evident, staff is out to charge for everything, While I was in the pro shop complaining about how slow the pace was and the lack of rangers who actually did anything to move the pace, they were too busy booking 72 people for an outing to care about my concerns. They just didn't care!!Bottom line better courses around. Try BeechTree Golf!!"


  • information update

    Jim McBreen wrote on: Mar 23, 2005

    There are now three (3) teaching professionals available. All are USGTF (United States Golf Teachers Federation)certified. Providing some of the best golf instruction in the tri-state area at very reasonable rates.
    Whether a beginner or advanced player, this fine and committed staff will help you learn the proper fundamentals or work with you to take your game to the highest level possible. Great gentleman, fine personalities and a wonderful addition to a fantastic golf course.
    If you are sincerly interested in learning or improving your game, you will be very pleased with the results!
    Jim Wilmot
    Jim McBreen
    Jimmy Hackford


  • great biography

    jack hough wrote on: Feb 17, 2005

    Sam, Dave and the rest of the crew looking forward to coming up this summer to play great biography of the course and a great one to play from all tees! good luck this season looking forward to seeing you all Dave get out those clubs! sincerely JACK HOUGH Orlando Fl. playing out of MetroWest g.c. home of Champions Tour qualifying


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