Insects, idle staff take away from Rocky Point's bay views

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

ESSEX, Md. - John Debes waved the bee away, only to find two more buzzing behind his neck. These weren't your garden-variety bumblebees, at least in temperament. Or diet.

"These are most aggressive bees I've ever seen," Debes said, between careful brush aways. The local school teacher was waiting to tee off on the 10th hole at the Rocky Point Golf Course. The exercise quickly turned into a case of buzz and dodge and it wasn't hard to see why.

A garbage basket right next to No. 10's hole marker reeked of half-eaten chili dogs and dripping soda cups. A horde of bees that looked like something straight out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie hovered directly over the mess. Two Rocky Point employees sat in carts idly looking up at the tee, watching Debes' group struggle with their pest problem. Neither one made a move toward cleaning out the garbage.

Welcome to life at Rocky Point, the county-owned course blessed by views of the Chesapeake Bay and cursed by an attitude straight out of the local DMV. Like your neighborhood DMV there are plenty of employees milling around Rocky Point, you're just not sure what they are there for. On this day, golfers struggled to get their bags in and out of their cars as Rocky Point rangers leisurely looked on from their carts.

It's a disconcerting view of a course that considers itself worthy of upscale competition, a course that heavily promotes its three and a half stars in Golf Digest's Places to Play ranking.

About the only thing that peaks the staff's interest is the fact that there's a reporter near the clubhouse interviewing golfers about the course. This produces an almost comical rage. The highest-ranking attendant on site flies out of the clubhouse, down the hill, screaming at two of his customers.

"Guys, guys, don't talk to him guys!," the attendant yells. "He's getting the police called on him! He's not allowed. "

The two golfers look at each other and roll their eyes. One mutters, "Isn't this still America?"

Not that the college-age clubhouse attendant can really be blamed for his over-the-top hysterics. As Rocky Point head pro Gene Harding later confirms, the guy's only following "his training." That would be Harding's training. The head pro declined to comment on this article unless he was given assurances it would be "positive."

That's a shame because there's some things to be proud of about Rocky Point. The par-3, 233-yard 14th offers a beautiful look down over the Chesapeake Bay without presenting much of a golf challenge to distract from it. Chances are you'll get your scenery without much damage.

"The 14th is great because it's a nice view and it's easy," said 16-year-old Rich Cymek of Essex, who was playing the course for the third time this season.

No. 11 offers an even more benign look over the bay. The only obstacle on the 150-yard, par-3 is a bunker that only comes into play if you overshoot the green. This is postcard golf without any of the bite. On a calm day, it is hard to imagine many headaches.

"It's tough for me because I've only been playing a few years and really only when the school year's out," Debes said. "But a few of my friends who are better golfers don't think it's that much fun. If this is an easy course, I'll take it though."

Difficulty is in the sureness of the swing after all. It's not like the average hacker is going to show up at Rocky Point and suddenly shoot a 66. There are some bumps in Rocky Point, hidden among the bay views. Right off, the 428-yard, par-4 second is rated as a one-handicap. That seems a little artificially steep for a hole that's essentially a straight shot, but the three bunkers packed around the tight green offer a worthy obstacle nonetheless.

The 15th with its green standing across a small pond and guarded by two front bunkers is another decent test. Yet there's little doubt the Chesapeake Bay is the unquestioned star of Rocky Point. If this course wasn't on the bay there would be little reason to make a trip to play it.

Despite its insect pests and stiff staff, there's those blue water vistas.

"It's not the best course I've played," Cymek said, shrugging. "But it's not the worst either."

The verdict

A golf course run like a DMV has all the consistency of a DMV. Sometimes you walk right into the Department of Motor Vehicles and get what you need. Often, you leave with a headache to match. That's Rocky Point.

It all comes down to how important those Chesapeake Bay outlooks are to you. The five holes with the bay views are all packed together on the back nine (it's not a bad idea to just play that nine here rather than commit to the full 18). For anyone who's played a golf course on the ocean or even a nice one on a nice river, the Chesapeake Bay is unlikely to floor you. Yet for some, the bay carries sentimental value. It's a Baltimore thing. There is a park nearby offering some of the same Chesapeake glances if you'd rather save the golf for elsewhere.

Still if you go on an uncrowded day when the tee times are not stacked up, there's worse ways to spend a golf afternoon. Especially for the $22 fall afternoon special (including cart) available Monday through Thursdays. Just don't go expecting much service or much mercy from the bees.

Places to stay

There's a Super 8 Motel in Essex (410) 780-0030, but it's a sounder play to use Baltimore or even nearby Towson as a base. The Doubletree Inn at Colonnade (410) 235-5572 offers reasonable room rates and unexpected 18th-century European paintings in the lobby.

Places to eat

For something different, the Carlyle Club (410) 243-5454 and its Lebanese cuisine is a good bet. Further downtown, Brewer's Art (410) 547-6925 is a microbrewery that draws an early 30's crowd.

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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