What's in a name? By any other, Maryland National would play as sweet

By Jake Schaller, Contributor

MIDDLETOWN, Md. -- What's in a name - of a golf course?

Musket Ridge Golf Club in Myersville, Md., and Cannon Ridge Golf Club in Fredericksburg, Va., which both opened within the last year, took advantage of the civil war history at their respective sites.

Whiskey Creek Golf Club, in Ijamsville, Md., is so named because of its proximity to Bush Creek, which, according to legend, was used to float barrels of whiskey down the Monocacy River.

Poolesville Golf Course is named for the quaint Maryland town in which it sits, and Renditions, in Davidsonville, Md., tips its hat to the best golf courses in the world with replicas of famous holes.

So what to make of "Maryland National," the course that opened in late June of 2002? The moniker sounds awfully ostentatious for the sleepy town of Middletown, Md., but that's part of the idea. The name is supposed to conjure images of Augusta National or Penn National - Rolls Royce golf clubs.

"The original owners and the advertising group thought that the name conveyed a certain image," said Tim Collins, the Director of Sales and Marketing at Maryland National. "The desire was to go upscale, and to find a name that conveyed an upscale feel."

Maryland National certainly fits the bill as an upscale experience thanks to an outgoing and helpful staff, what will be a magnificent clubhouse (when it opens in August), a three-tiered all-grass driving range with complimentary balls and nifty extras like bag tags, iced-down towels and GPS-equipped carts.

But even if Maryland National paved the driving range, leveled the clubhouse with its lockers and business-ready board room, and replaced the amenities and helpful staff with a surly starter, it still would be one of the Mid-Atlantic's new must-play courses. This Arthur Hills Design is a gem no matter what you want to call it.

Rolling through the foothills of the Catoctin Mountains in Central Maryland, the course is full of challenges and shot-making decisions that complement the aesthetic beauty of the surrounding creeks, wetlands and woodlands that frame it.

The course moves in and out of the woods and up and down the hills on the property. The variety in terrain mirrors the variety in holes. There are some links-style holes, some tree-lined holes and others that would not seem out of place in the deep south.

"It would be very difficult to classify the course," Collins said. "There's not a single category it falls into."

Perhaps the most distinguishing trait of Maryland National is its collection of dramatic par-3s. Hills said he considers par-3s the "jewels" of golf courses, and the five at Maryland National alone make a trip to Middletown worthwhile.

Four of the five par-3s play from elevated tees to take some bite out of their intimidating distances (209, 246, 186 and 203 yards). Each has a unique challenge, however. No. 6 (209 yards), plays downhill to a long narrow green guarded by a creek in front and a single well-placed tree on each side. The 203-yard 17th -- fast becoming the course's signature hole -- plays to a wide but shallow green surrounded by wetlands. Club selection is critical.

"It's laid out in a left-to-right orientation, rather than forward-to-back," Collins said. "So with the pin cut left, you only have a one-club error margin from front to back. So you've got to get your club right and take the wind into account. It's a hole to remember."

Hills doesn't wait until the penultimate tee shot to burn a hole into a golfer's memory, however. No. 2, a 585-yard par-5, drops 100 feet from tee to green with an undulating fairway that in parts resembles a mogul-run on a ski slope. Pound your drive long enough, and it will catch a chute that will add some 40 yards of roll and allow you to attack the green in two. A good drive, however, does not guarantee a low number. At 150 yards out, a single tree splits the fairway and makes placement critical.

Next up is the course's first par-3, the only one that does not play from an elevated tee box. This one plays 183 yards uphill, and while it allows you to miss right and left, up-and-downs are difficult as the area around the green slopes away.

Hills then moves you back into the open for Nos. 4 and 5 before heading back into the woods for No. 6. Nos. 7-10 travel through the lowest terrain on the course and No. 11 moves back up a ridge for a wonderful view of the property - and the No. 1 handicap hole.

"There's some open, rolling fairways. There are a lot of doglegs. There are bunkers waiting at the doglegs for you," Collins said. "On the positive side, there are very few blind shots, so the trouble shots, the risk-reward shots, are pretty much laid out for you."

Risk-reward holes -- a Hills trademark -- can be found all over the course. No. 5, a 426-yard par-4, is a dogleg left. Cutting the corner is tempting, but if you choose to, you must carry several strategically placed bunkers.

Similarly, the 355-yard par-4 ninth sets up a good chance for birdie, but the longer you hit the ball, the more narrow the fairway becomes as a lake that borders the left side of the fairway creeps into the short grass.

No. 16 is the shortest par-4 on the course at 336 yards, but it is not a pushover. A creek runs across the middle of the hole at an angle, and while it is easily carried, trouble awaits errant tee shots on either side of the narrow fairway.

"I call it a decision-maker's course," Collins said.

One of the most critical decisions is which of Maryland National's five sets of tees to play. While the course plays 6,811 from the tips, the forward tees measure 4,844 yards. And distance is not all that changes on each tee box. From the tips, the par-4 fourth hole is a severe dogleg left, and tee shots have a shallow landing area. The more you move up, however, the less dog-leg there is to play and the deeper your landing area becomes.

The par-4 11th is set up the same way except with a dogleg right. And on the par-5 15th, playing from the tips means a long forced carry over wetlands, while moving up allows a less-intimidating shot at the fairway with no carry.

While Maryland National surely will become a regular in the upscale rotation of golfers from Baltimore to Northern Virginia and beyond, Collins looks forward to attracting corporate outings with the opening of the 13,780 square foot clubhouse.

Inside the clubhouse will be a 2,000 square foot tavern/dining area with cathedral ceilings, exposed rafters and a stone fireplace. A deck in the back of the clubhouse overlooks the 1st tee and 18th green in traditional style. A 1,200 square foot kitchen will serve everything from box lunches to full dinner entrees.

In addition, the clubhouse will offer two meeting areas. One, on the first floor, will accommodate up to 40 people. On the second floor, is a boardroom that will have eight executive leather chairs and a 10-foot boardroom table. The room will also feature high-speed Internet connection and a video projector.

Maryland National. It has a nice ring to it. And it lives up to the name.

Where to stay

The best bet for lodging of all types is in nearby Frederick, just about eight miles east of Middletown. There one can find are all ranges of hotels and even some Bed and Breakfasts. Among them:

The Stone Manor Restaurant and Historic Inn Located in Middletown and set in an 18th-century manor house, the Stone Manor has six luxury suites. (301) 473-5454

Hill House Bed and Breakfast Located in Frederick's Historic District and within walking distance of restaurants, museums and antique stores. (301) 682-4111

McCleery's Flat Also located in Historic Downtown Frederick. (800) 774-7926

Bluebird on the Mountain A manor house located just north of Middletown. (800) 362-9526

Courtyard by Marriott Located in Frederick. Has an indoor pool, whirlpool, exercise room and restaurant. (301) 631-9030

Holiday Inn - Fort Detrick (301) 662-5141

Where to eat

Bentz Street Raw Bar Fresh Maryland crabs and oysters top the menu at the Frederick restaurant. (301) 694-9134

Brewer's Alley Restaurant and Brewery Frederick County's brewpub. Contemporary American cuisine and wood-oven pizza accompany the large selection of beers. (301) 631-0089

Old South Mountain Inn Located in nearby Boonsboro, the Dahlgren Mansion of the Civil War Era now is a fine-dining restaurant. It features beef, steaks, seafood and a lengthy wine list. (301) 371-5400

Jake Schaller, Contributor

Jake Schaller resides in the Adams Morgan section of Washington, D.C. He grew up in Bethesda, Md., where he attended Walt Whitman High School and played football.


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