Top six D.C.- area courses challenge golfers to bring their best games with them

By Jake Schaller, Contributor

So you finally got your swing measured and had your clubs custom fit.

You straightened out your drives, grooved your swing and cured your yips. You even swore off mulligans and got a cool bag.

Now, armed with new equipment and at peace with your game, your handicap is shrinking like you tossed it into icy waters.

That means it's time for a challenge. So take a break from the course you play every weekend with your buddies and cowboy up for's six-pack of the toughest public courses in the Washington, D.C., area.

Bulle Rocke

Located in Havre de Grace, Md., Bulle Rock is about a 90-minute ride from the city. Even if the course beats you up, it's worth the trip. Start with the Pro VI balls that you hit on the range - the range - the full service locker room and the caddies available. It truly is a "Country Club for a day" experience.

But Bulle Rock will put your game to the ultimate test. The Pete Dye-design has a course rating of 76.4 and a slope rating of 147. At 7,375 yards from the tips, it is one of the longest courses in the area. And that's just the start of the difficulties you'll see. Or won't see. Blind shots are the bane of Bulle Rock

"They've got stuff out there you can't see from the tee," said Chuck Harris, an assistant professional at The Gauntlet, a course near Fredericksburg, Va. "You can hit it and think you're OK, and you're down in a gully. It tore me up when I went out there."

"Bulle Rock is No. 1, by far," said David Dorn, head professional at Hampshire Greens Golf Course in Silver Spring, Md. "That blows everyone away. The length, the greens' speed, the rough. It's a U.S. Open-caliber course. It's like playing a par-76 the par-4s are so long."

P.B. Dye Golf Club

This course is on the list of nearly every player contacted for the article, and almost invariably near the top. P.B. Dye, located in Ijamsville, Md., opened in 1999 and one of the major criticisms of the course was it was simply too difficult.

Since the opening, the course has been revamped somewhat to make it more player friendly, but it is still among the area's most dastardly. The course rating is 74.6, and the slope is 141.

There are blind shots aplenty, deep bunkers, suffocating rough and plenty of forced carries.

"For the mid-handicap golfer, it's very, very tough," Dorn said. "Any high handicap I've played with, they'll lose a dozen balls."

And then there are the greens. P.B. Dye's are immaculate and give you a true role, but they are undulating, tricky and as slippery as a freshly waxed linoleum floor (rolling at 10 on the stimp meter). Not to mention that many are bowl-shaped - meaning a ball left on the wrong side of the hole could run off the green.

"Last time I was there I hit an approach that hit the middle of the green, and when we went up there, we couldn't find it anywhere," said Josh Robinson, an assistant professional at Raspberry Falls in Leesburg, Va. "If you go out there with your buddies, leave the scorecard and bring some beer."

"That's a tough golf course, a very tricky course," said Dane Sutherland, an assistant professional at Whiskey Creek Golf Course in Ijamsville. "There are no real easy holes out there. Even when the hole is short, the greens are very complex."


As was the case with the four other courses on this list, players talked about Augustine Golf Course (Stafford, Va.) in reverential terms despite calling it one of the toughest tests in the area.

Kevin Dunleavy, an avid player and a sports writer for The Montgomery Journal, called the course the best public option in the area. But he also ranked it No. 3 on his list of the toughest.

"With the carries and the water, it's a tough test of golf for the average person," Dorn said.

The 6,817-yard par-71 Rick Jacobson design has a 71.9 rating and a slope of 130. Risk-reward choices, like attempting to reach the par-5 11th hole's green in just two shots, dare players into mistakes.

Cross Creek

One of the most recent editions to upscale, daily-fee golf in the area, Cross Creek plays 6,356 yards. But don't let the distance fool you. The par-70 course in Beltsville is tight, tricky and demanding.

Players who have occasional trouble hitting it straight off the tee and spray the ball around likely will lose a bunch of balls at Cross Creek.

"It forces you to be precise," said Chris Osche, sales manager at the course. "There's not a lot of room for big misses. You miss a little, and you'll be fine, but it's definitely a control course."

As is the case with Virginia's exquisite Raspberry Falls, Cross Creek (71.9 rating; 129 slope) does not allow players to get in rhythm. A variety of shots off the tee and to the green are necessary. You can't overpower it.

The Gauntlet

Its name says it all. Another P.B. Dye design, this course appears tame at first glance but is a monster. The par-72 track plays just 6,857 yards from the tips but owns a rating of 73 and a slope of 139. The front side is especially tough, and holes two through five can crush a player's spirit before the turn. The Gauntlet's par-4 fourth, its signature hole, is a microcosm of the course. It plays just 375 from the tips but there is a lake on your left and the fairway doglegs left 75 degrees to a tiered green. Beautiful but tough.

"The tightness, there's lots of undulation, lots of blind tee shots and lots of trees," said the Chuck Harris, an assistant professional at the course when asked what made it so difficult.

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment