Fall winds make Greystone a different Baltimore beast

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

WHITE HALL, Md. - It is getting to be that time of year, when the leaves turn and the beauty of a suburban Baltimore course comes out. Nothing like those changing leaves to transform the ordinary into a colorful wonderland.

Of course, the regulars at the Greystone Golf Course know the beauty also brings the beast. Your game pays for the scenery upgrade. Oh how it pays.

Greystone happens to pose the perfect environment for whipping wind tunnels. Its tall trees and hilly dips less than hour from Baltimore's bustling tourist haven Inner Harbor capture the breezy currents as summer cedes to fall. Suddenly, the course has bite and your ball has a mind of its own.

Fair-weather golfers beware.

"I love to bring what I call the pretty boy swingers out here,'' local golfer Albert Runser said. "You know the guys who live to admire their pretty lofty drives. They get out here in this wind and their beauties go everywhere. Meanwhile, my ugly, low-riding duffer drives stay on target.

"Oh man, I love hearing those pretty boy swingers cursing my wind."

Runser sounds like Phil Simms talking about the advantages of being the home quarterback attuned to the nuances of the whirling winds at Giants Stadium. And why not? Greystone head pro Chris Hanson calculates that the fall and spring winds at his course add six to 10 strokes to the average golfer's scorecard.

This legend has some swirl to it.

"You really do get a lot of wind and with our rolling hills you're hitting a lot of shots uphill or punching shots uphill to the green,'' Hanson said. "There's a lot of chances for your ball to get caught up in the wind."

Particularly on the seven through ninth hole stretch. This little run "will make or break your round,'' in Hanson's estimation. It begins as innocently as can be, with a straight tee shot on a par 4 with a yardage marker that hardly intimidates (402 from the back tees). It's the second shot that brings the anxiety. You must clear a reasonably-sized lake with a mid-iron to reach the green. But you mustn't clear the lake by too much. Do that and you're headed for the large back bunker or even worse, the rocky uprising behind it.

"You've got to trust yourself here," Runser said, sounding like the mentoring Pat Morita from those cheesy 1980's Karate Kid flicks.

Easier said than done, Old Man.

Finding your trust on the seventh, only brings you to the par-3, 192-yard eigth, the little hole with the big test. The back tees put you right near the lake on the left side, offering a slight window to shoot down the fairway. Oh and then there's the trees. Large ones right in the middle of the fairway, just past the tee boxes. The window is intersected by trees, too. All the better to capture the wind.

Then it's on to the 446-yard, par-4 ninth, which only ranks as the toughest hole on the course. Once again you're teeing off with a water obstacle right to your immediate left, this time it's a swampy marshland pond that stretches up almost the entire edge of the fairway. And this time, there's also a large bunker awaiting anyone who overcompensates (or finds an unforgiving wind gust) right. All leading up to a green with a severe back-to-front slope.

Welcome to Wind's Corner.

"It's not a course for those wimpy West Coast golfers used to perfect 70 degree sunny days,'' said Greystone fan Carrie Brdak. "But if you've got a little East Coast grit, you should be fine. It's fun to see what the wind does to your shots sometimes.''

The winds' reputation and the green fees ($50 during week, $72 weekends) combine to keep Greystone not as overcrowded as most of the other county owned courses in the area. Greystone relies on large part on its regulars, a hearty group that likes to feel a little breeze down their fairways. When the course opened in 1997, it stood at the forefront of a new public upscale golf course movement in the Baltimore area. Now, with more and more competition, it needs those regulars more than ever.

Of course, the wind is one regular that doesn't figure to be going away.

The verdict

It's close enough to the city for an easy trip, far enough away to give you a bit of nature. This isn't the remote countryside, but it can make for an enjoyable walk. The course itself designed by Joe Lee -- the architect behind Doral's Blue Monster and the Walt Disney World's courses -- hits it peak on that seven through nine stretch.

In other parts, it can feel a little gimmicky with its water and bunkers everywhere. Lee crammed more than 80 bunkers and seven ponds onto the 18 holes and after a while it gets to be a bit much.

The wind is the more compelling obstacle and you leave wishing Lee would have played to it more, like the par-3 No. 14 does with its tee shot into the teeth of the beast. The par 3s are the stars of the course overall, with anything close to par an extreme victory for the average bogey golfer. There are five par 5s, most of which offer decent scoring opportunities.

Places to stay

Standard rooms at most of the big name downtown chain hotels go for $130 to $200 per night. The Harbor Court Hotel (410) 234-0550 is the best of the best, with the price tag to match. A little further out of the tourist center Inner Harbor, the Admiral Fell Inn (410) 522-2195 offers distinctive rooms in a historic setting.

Places to eat

Paolo's (410) 539-7060 offers indoor and outdoor harbor views with prices much more reasonable than some of the surrounding glitzier spots. The Pavilion at Walters Café (410)727-2233 is a favorite local's lunch choice.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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