The wait for Cannon Ridge will prove to be time well spent

By Jake Schaller, Contributor

There is a quote that Bob Baldassari, PGA professional, likes to use when talking about new golf courses.

"People don't remember when you open," Baldassari said. "They remember what you look like when you open."

According to Baldassari, that is why Cannon Ridge Golf Club in Fredericksburg, Va., delayed its opening from spring until the third week in June. And Baldassari, the head professional at the course, believes the wait will be well worth it.

"The winter was a challenge, but it was overcome," Baldassari said. "We've had a very smooth grow-in this spring."

The result is one of several new must-play courses in the Mid-Atlantic Region this season.

Former PGA Tour Player/Commissioner Deane Beman and golf course architect Bobby Weed teamed to create Cannon Ridge, which will be the first of three 18-hole championship courses at the site. The second is tentatively scheduled to open in the spring of 2005, and the third likely will open two years after that.

The course gets its name because it was built on a ridge above the Rappahannock River where the Union Army set up cannons to provide cover fire during The Battle of Fredericksburg in December of 1862. Now on that site lies a course that mixes links-style characteristics with a 1,300-foot change in elevation and an old-world design.

One of the old-world design characteristics is the proximity from greens to ensuing tee boxes.

"Some new courses, you walk off the green and you have a long cart drive to the next tee box," said Baldassari, who spent 11 years at River Run, a Gary Player Course in Ocean City. "Here the majority of the holes - it's a walkable distance."

The course itself provides challenges for pros like Baldassari, but is not so excessively penal that average golfers should stay away.

"Beman's philosophy is he wants to build a golf course, not an obstacle course," Baldassari said. "Playability is a key component. Certainly, as a golf professional, I can go out and play the course and it's a tremendous challenge. For the average golfer it will be every bit as challenging, but it's playable."

Several of the top holes on the 6,750-yard, par-71 course include No. 3, a 558-yard, risk-reward par-5 that is reachable in two, but plays to a shallow green that demands precise approach shots.

No. 8, a 375-yard par-4, is a slight dogleg left that forces players to hit over a ravine. The more a player tries to cut the corner, the more of the ravine he or she is forced to fly.

On the back, there are three holes - Nos. 13, 14 and 15 - that wrap along the inside of a curve in the Rappahannock River, and a magnificent par-3 that Baldassari claims will be among the best in the state. There is a large valley between tee and green in the 182-yard par-3 11th, and club selection is critical as there is a 200-foot drop off behind and to the right of the green.

"It's what we refer to as a 'two or 12,'" Baldassari said. "You can make a two or a 12."

When it opens, Cannon Ridge will charge $60 Monday through Thursday, $70 on Friday and $80 on the weekends.

There are two other must-play courses in the Mid-Atlantic Region that opened late last season but still can be considered "new."

Cross Creek Golf Club opened in Beltsville, Md., on August 24 of last year, but there was little fanfare for opening day. That was not because the course does not deserve it, it's because Cross Creek officially found it could open the night before.

According to Mark Conn, the Director of Golf Operations and General Manager, Cross Creek actually wanted to open in 2001, but problems with zoning forced delay after delay.

Late last August, when Cross Creek opened, it was done more for business purposes than anything else. But last year, groundskeepers nursed along Cross Creek, not cutting greens down and not rushing anything. The result is an already-more-mature feeling course. And the course is a treat.

Though it measures just 6,356 yards, the Ault, Clark and Associates par-70 design is a challenging test. The fairways are seem more narrow than they are because there is not much room beyond them. Tree lines butt up against them with little rough in between. That and the elevation changes throughout demand precision shot-making and club selection

After 12 holes, the course has a distinctly southern feel due to the trees and water hazards. But Cross Creek then offers a pair of holes that seem like they have been transported from Arizona. Nos. 13 and 14 are "the Quarry section" of Cross Creek.

"You won't see anything like them in this area," Conn said.

No. 13 is a 515-yard par-5 that is reachable with two very good shots. From the tee box, you hit through a chute created by rock outcroppings and trees. At No. 14, a 457-yard par-4, a good drive is required to set up a downhill approach shot that is guarded on both sides by more rock outcroppings.

Cross Creek's clubhouse is scheduled to open this summer.

Another course that opened late last season is the Keith Foster-designed River Marsh Golf Club located at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina on the Eastern Shore.

Eric Claxton, PGA, the Head Golf Professional at the course, calls River Marsh "resort friendly," with four sets of tees, open fairways and large greens that are among the best in the area.

"If you play all the way back, it's very different and there are a lot of marsh areas to carry," said Claxton. "We have wide-open fairways, large greens and the greens are very, very good. Obviously, with us being new, we've got some spots in the rough that are still growing in. But the overall condition of the golf course is excellent."

River Marsh offers golfers an escape into nature. The course is located along an 18-acre nature preserve that is home to Blue Herron. The expanse also has a Bald Eagle Nest and approximately 60 deer. The course is aptly named as, marsh land and the Choptank River come into play. Players can see the river from Nos. 17 and 18, one of the top pairs of finishing holes in the area.

A 203-yard par-3, No. 17 requires golfers to carry 190 yards over Shoal Creek. The 18th, a 567-yard par-5 is said to remind some of the 18th at Pebble Beach. The Choptank River runs along the left side of the hole with a waste bunker between.

In addition to these courses, another fairly new course is the Arthur Hills-designed Maryland National. Located in Middletown, MD, Maryland National is another shot-makers course. On a picturesque landscape, the course has open fairways but guarded greens.

For more information

Cannon Ridge Golf Club
Fredericksburg, VA
(540) 548-1515

Cross Creek Golf Club
Beltsville, MD
(301) 595-8901

River Marsh Golf Club
Cambridge, MD
(410) 901-1234

Maryland National Golf Club
Middletown, MD
(301) 371-0000

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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