IJAMSVILLE, MD - Howard Blume, PB Dye Golf Club's starter, scared me.
He was going through the normal pre-round overview of the course-cart rules and yardage indicators-when he paused briefly to pan over the beautiful landscape and simply stated "This course is not for the feint of heart." He immediately looked as if he regretted the statement, but continued to describe the various difficulties we'd run into on PB Dye's signature track in Ijamsville, Maryland, just about 10 miles south of Frederick.
Mr. Blume was also quick to point out the various topographical features of the surrounding countryside, including a spotlight on the direction the President's helicopters sometimes come from on their way to or from nearby Camp David.
He also doled out some advice on how to 'take' the course. Blume said the layout is as difficult as its 141 slope from the backs would indicate, and advised us to play to the tees that matched our abilities. Sound advice for most folks. Maybe we should've heeded it. When I played the PB Dye designed Virginia Oaks course a few weeks back, you would've thought I'd have learned.
I should've known PB Dye likes to design tests of golf. The PB Dye Club is to golf what the SAT is to high school kids-it'll show you what you know, and unfortunately, what you don't.
The club's head professional, Jeffrey Rosenberg, describes it as "18 challenging golf holes. Every hole is different. There are elevation changes on a number of holes. The bunkering differs-some holes have a lot, some don't have any. There are long par fours and short par fours. Each par three faces a different direction. There are a couple reachable par fives, and a couple are definitely three shotters."
"You'll use every club in the bag to play virtually every shot in the book." With this statement, he's merely echoing the wording of the first sign you see when you drive on to the property, which quickly reads "Be prepared to use every club in your bag. PB Dye." Actually, I'd say not only do you use every club you have, you'd probably like to use some that you don't. You also may end up using every curse word in the book (the course is tough), but no one wants to talk about that.
It may be redundant, but PB Dye Club is vintage PB Dye. Rosenberg calls it a "flare for the extravagant." The course is fairly wide open, and at first glance doesn't look all that intimidating-but once you're out there, watch out. Dye has a 'flare' for scale in his work-he likes muscular par threes, visually intimidating bunkering, railroad ties, tiered and undulating greens and lots of water. Bring it all together, and it's one heckuva golf round. But the difficulty is fun.
And as Rosenberg insisted, it's still possible to score well here, you've just got to play well. That's the designer's intention-reward solid play.
Dye gives you plenty of chances to start holes off well from the tee. The club features over 40 acres of fairways-nearly double what a typical course would have. There's plenty of room to miss wide on most holes, so those who like to use the driver won't be disappointed. There are four dogleg right par fours on the back side-slicer's paradise. There are a couple drives that must clear hills-some would call 'blind'-but even then, there aren't any tricks on the other side to capture an unsuspecting golf ball.
It's the iron game where Dye wants more precision. And he'll make you work around the greens, no doubt. Rosenberg says "There's a lot of room to be creative around the greens." You'll use everything from a lob wedge to a pitch and run three iron. You may even want to try the Tiger Woods' 3 wood putter if you've got the first cut to contend with.
Once you're on the green, you'll have to duel with large and undulating surfaces covered with G2 Bent Grass-cut to a 10 on the stimpmeter. It's the same type of greenery that covers fabled Pinehurst #2's saucer top putting surfaces. Several holes have tiered greens. The putting blade never saw so much variation and challenge. You get the impression throughout the round that somewhere PB Dye's got a big smile on his face knowing that you're battling his creation.
The round starts off with a couple tune-up holes that will lend themselves to good scores to build your confidence. The first is a 390 yard dogleg right that really doesn't call for a driver. A three wood off the tee is plenty to give you a short iron downhill into the green. The second hole is a 143 yard aesthetically pleasing par three. Tee off from terraced tee boxes into an amphitheater green. It's not easy putting, but par's not hard to find here.
The third hole is a 535 yard dogleg left par five. A good tee ball will negotiate the trees guarding both sides of the fairway and get some roll down a hill. From there you can choose to lay up over a massive bunker dead in the center of the fairway, or go for the green. The green's protected by another good-sized bunker in the center front, but provides for runup opportunities on either side. A good risk/reward decision-but it's probably best to choose the layup if the pin's on the upper tier of the green.
Four, five and six are demanding par fours. On four, tee over a hill and hopefully get some good roll over the crest. It will leave a short iron into the green-but make sure you are accurate-because you're dead if you miss. I was in a greenside bunker that called for about 10 feet of height to reach the putting surface on the sand shot-and then there was a pond to catch anything too far. Too much for my bunker skills. Five and six bring length into the equation at 483 and 463 yards respectively. Again, there's plenty of room for tee shots-just bring your long irons for the approaches.
Nine is a great hole to round out the front. 448 from the back, rip the driver to a generous fairway. The second shot, again, will require accuracy. There's a pond on the right side, and a large bunker to the left. A beautiful waterfall is eye catching to the right-the ninth shares it with the eighteenth. Rosenberg says Dye likes to have challenging inward holes, because they often decide the winners of sporting golf matches. He's got a couple great ones here.
The back nine continues the variation. Thirteen is a great hole. It's a slight dogleg right. Long hitters can try and smack one over the large bunker on the right to cut off the leg, and if they make it, the ball will roll down a hill leaving them a wedge into the green. Protecting the green for the second on the left side is a pond, and a big bunker to the right. A well conceived hole all around.
Practice Fac.: B
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: A
Pace of Play: A-
Resort Hotel: N/A
Overall Rating: A-