Maryland's Frederick County fast becoming a premier golf destination

By Jake Schaller, Contributor

Worthington Manor Golf ClubURBANA, Md. -- About a decade ago, Frederick County, Md., was an afterthought when it came to golf. In fact, the words "golf" and "Frederick County" did not collide in the same sentence unless the phrase "lack of" was there as well.

But then, about a decade ago, Frederick County itself was a bit of an afterthought. The largest county in the state as far as size was mostly farmland - simply the place you drove through as you made your way into and out of Washington, D.C. via Interstate-70.

Much has changed, however, in last decade. Frederick's population, which increased by 31 percent from 1980 to 1990, jumped another 33 percent from 1990 to January 2000. At that time, 199,369 people resided in Frederick County. By 2020, an additional 82,341 are expected.

With the population increase, new suburbs have spread across the rural landscape. New schools have been opened, and one, Urbana, even broke the Maryland record for consecutive high school football victories last season. The school won its 50th straight game when it claimed its fourth state title in as many years.

Perhaps nothing about Frederick, however, has changed as dramatically as its golf courses. In the early 1990s, there were few courses and almost no public options. Now the area boasts one of the most impressive collections of upscale public courses in the entire Washington metropolitan area.

Worthington Manor Golf Club In just three years, from 1998 to 2000, three of the most acclaimed new courses in the Mid-Atlantic area opened - all within a five-mile radius of Urbana. With Worthington Manor, P.B. Dye Golf Club and Whiskey Creek, Frederick County burst into the high-end, public golf course market. Then, in September of 2001, Musket Ridge in Myersville opened. This past summer, Maryland National Golf Club and Hollow Creek opened in Middletown.

"I think we've about caught up," said John Fieseler, the Executive Director of the Tourism Council of Frederick County. "If you go back about 15 to 20 years, every public meeting you went to, all you heard about was how we needed more golf courses."

Frederick's government got involved by opening a municipal course, Clustered Spires, in the early 90s, but the recent proliferation of up-scale public courses has had to do with more than just fulfilling the demand of Frederick County citizens.

During the high-end-course-building phase of the early- and mid-90s, there was a moratorium on new courses in bordering Montgomery County. With available and beautiful land in Frederick County, several projects began at the same time, and courses seemed to pop up almost on top of one another.

With all these new courses and WestWinds becoming a private option, there is some question about the future of the area. Can Frederick County develop into a golf destination, or will its up-scale public courses end up fighting a war of attrition?

"I definitely think there was an undersupply of golf courses up until a couple of years ago, but whether or not Frederick County can sustain all the courses remains to be seen," said Tom Saathoff, the General Manager and Head Golf Professional at Whiskey Creek. "In my opinion, there's too many."

Others, however, feel Frederick County's population increase, combined with its proximity to major cities, will keep all the courses crowded.

"Frederick, the city, is less than 45 minutes from Washington, D.C., to the south and Baltimore to the East," said Peter Hughes, the General Manager at Musket Ridge. "Most of those areas for years have been dominated by private clubs, so it didn't take a genius to know there was a need. And that need's been satisfied pretty well."

Mike McGillicuddy, the Director of Golf at Maryland National, would like to see more courses built in the hopes that Frederick would become a destination for golfers outside Frederick County and Washington's immediate suburbs.

"I think it already is [a destination]," Hughes said. "We get groups contacting us fairly regularly, people coming in from other parts of the country looking for places to play, places to stay. Hopefully it will continue to grow over time, but certainly there's a movement there already."

Frederick County Tourism has developed a golf brochure that it did not have several years ago, and some courses are working with hotels to create golf packages.

"We have seen a great deal of their interest in golf and folks coming for other reasons and adding golf on," said Fieseler. "It's much more of a factor in people's planning."

Frederick County at this time lacks the quality lodging or resort-style accommodations of other golf destinations, but Fieseler said the county has just begun to explore the possibilities of developing the area as such. And he believes the potential is there.

Others, however, such as Peter Hill, the CEO of Billy Casper Golf, doubt Frederick will be able to rival Williamsburg, Va., or the Eastern shore.

"I think Frederick is more of a local pull," he said. "I think it's a marginal location."

Whether or not Frederick's courses will survive or the area will be able to make the transition to a golf destination remains to be seen. For now, golfers in the Mid-Atlantic region can enjoy what is a stunning array of new public courses.

Worthington Manor Worthington Manor, an Ault, Clark and Associates design that opened in 1998, is located in Urbana. The course has already garnered attention as the site of a U.S. Open qualifier and a U.S. Amateur qualifier.

Worthington is a 7,014-yard, par-72 course that rolls along what used to be farmland. There is definitely a links-feel to much of the course as patches of tall grass, rather than tall stands of trees, separate many of the holes. While the course looks open, sprayed tee shots usually set up difficult approaches to fast greens.

The par-3s stand out at Worthington. The 198-yard par-3 sixth is the course 's signature hole, with a considerable forced carry over a pond. The eighth is 175 yards but plays much longer with carry over wetlands and an elevated green. The top hole on the course may be the 17th, a 223-yard par-3 that plays from an elevated tee. This is one of the few holes framed by trees, and it gives the feeling of hitting out of a tunnel.

P.B. Dye, which opened in 1999, is a 7,036-yard, par-72 rollick through Ijamsville. The course has some typical Dye features - railroad ties around bunkers, miniature bunkers, and man-made additions that are more pleasing to the eye than necessary to the golf course - but it is also a difficult test.

A sign at the course has a quote from Dye that reads "prepare to use every club in your bag," and you might. Whiskey Creek, which opened in June 2000, is regarded as one of the top upscale public courses in the Mid-Atlantic area and may be the crown jewel of Frederick's new courses. After just a few holes, it's not hard to see why.

Whiskey, a 7,010-yard par-72 which was designed by J. Michael Poellot with consultation from Ernie Els, is best know for its spectacular finishing hole. Sitting in the middle of the 555-yard par-5 18th are the ruins of a stone house. The ruins not only give Whiskey an unmistakable landmark, they also turn the 18th into a classic risk-reward hole. Those able to draw the ball may be able to reach the green - which is guarded by a lake - in two. Those who fade the ball will have to take the long way and lay up in front of the lake.

But Whiskey is much more than a gimmicky finishing hole. It starts with two holes in the open, then ascends through the woods to the stunning par-4 5th. There, from an elevated tee box between huge rock outcroppings, golfers get a panoramic view of the Frederick countryside. The hole trickles down and to the left to a green 100 feet below.

Perhaps the most aesthetically stunning, Musket Ridge showcases the Catoctin Mountains and the Blue Ridge. The course seems open, and it is quite playable, but the lack of trees does not mean the course is not penal. Thick rough and rugged terrain await sprayed tee shots.

The Arthur Hills-designed Maryland National, like Dye, is a shotmakers course with open fairways but guarded greens. Stay and Play Information While Frederick County lacks big-name resort-style accommodations, there are plenty of hotels from which to chose in and around the many golf courses in the county. Quality Inns, Courtyard by Marriot, Hampton Inn and most chain hotels can be found in the area. A Residence Inn will open this fall.

Also available in Frederick are several Bed and Breakfast options. In Middletown, where Maryland National and Hollow Creek are located, there is the Stone Manor Restaurant and Historic Inn (301-473-5454). Set in an 18th-century manor house, the Stone Manor has six luxury suites.

The Hill House Bed and Breakfast (301-682-4111) is a Victorian home in Frederick's historic district.

While none of the courses in Frederick has built a hotel on its property, several contacted by TravelGolf.com said they were working with hotels on discounts for golfers.

In order to find out about any deals, call the courses: Worthington Manor (301-874-5400), Whiskey Creek (301-694-2900), P.B. Dye (301-607-4653), Musket Ridge (301-293-9930) and Maryland National (301-371-0000). For more information, you can also visit www.visitfrederick.org.

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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