Bulle Rock Proves Great Value Doesn't Always Come Cheap
HAVRE DE GRACE, MD -- Value, an interesting concept. We go through life, paying for goods and services and many times don't even take time to think about what really constitutes a solid value. Does value mean something is 'cheap,' or is it a fair exchange at any price?
Our college economics lessons taught us that the price of goods and services is determined largely through supply and demand; and the higher the elasticity, the more their prices fluctuate accordingly. Some staple goods, such as gasoline or bread, won't have much elasticity at all—we'll buy them whether they're one buck or ten, because we can't function without them. But the less we need something, the more choices we'll have on whether to purchase it. Addictions aside, golf is as elastic as a rubber band.
Once we get beyond the textbooks, however, putting a true value on something is an entirely different matter than talking about price. Bringing in another economics term, the cost of an item is what you give up for it. We'll pay dollars for doughnuts, trade baseball cards for comic books, and rent living space to a tenant—essentially exchanging utility or money for the 'value' of something else.
How does the economic jargon relate to this golf article? It's simple—actually much more so than the basic economics principles I just outlined. We invariably pay a lot for golf, but don't always get our money's worth, despite having many choices on where to play. The old saying 'you get what you pay for' is generally true, but it's not chiseled in stone.
One thing is true—when you lay down a big chunk of change for a round of golf, you'd better get the full treatment for it. And that's exactly what they give you at Bulle Rock, located a half hour north of Baltimore and an hour outside Washington D.C.'s beltway. Bulle Rock claims title to the highest greens fees in the area (for public access golf), but delivers 'value' on every penny.
Rick Rounsaville, Bulle Rock's Director of Golf and General Manager, says quality and value have always been the club's first priorities: "When our founder, Ed Abel, took up golf, he went all over the country seeking to play the most famous courses. What he found was most of the best layouts were extremely difficult to gain access to because they're private.";
Rounsaville continues, "So he spent a couple years searching for the perfect site to put a world-class golf course, one where anyone who loves the game can come and play any time they'd like. And it goes much deeper than just having a great golf course—Mr. Abel wanted the finest 'country club' service to go along with it. After spending the last three years fine-tuning the vision, we've reached the point where we're providing everything he'd asked for.";
I'll admit, seeing the $145 greens fee made me an instant skeptic of Bulle Rock. The Washington DC area has a plethora of excellent golf courses that don't come nearly as dear as this one—and it's quite a long drive up north to boot. But it was worth it. Bulle Rock provides honest 'value' for your outlay. You won't leave dissatisfied, and that's a darn good feeling.
Even the name contributes quality. 'Bulle Rock' was the first thoroughbred racehorse brought to America in the early 1700's—and is known today as the father of thoroughbred racehorses. The granddaughter (Cassandra Sappington) of the gentleman who brought Bulle Rock to this continent was given a thoroughbred colt in her wedding dowry—which she named 'Bulle Rock' in honor of her grandfather's horse. Her husband owned the land where Bulle Rock (the golf course) now lies, and it's where she's buried.
When Mr. Abel was considering names for his golf facility, he decided to call it 'Bulle Rock' to symbolize the strength and grace of the thoroughbred racehorse that once resided here. And sure enough, his golf course is both strong and graceful at the same time.
It's a Pete Dye layout that gives you all the fight you'd expect from a course named after a thoroughbred. The land is spectacular, with quite a lot of variation in topography and vegetation. Some holes are wide open; some are tight and tree lined; some skirt streams and ponds; and a few call for ravine avoidance. It's the complete package—and you'll get yardage for your money, too. It stretches to 7,375 yards from the back tees and a slope of 147 (three other sets bring it down to size for the rest of us).
The entire layout flows effortlessly with the land it occupies. Rounsaville says that Dye was especially pleased with the property, and didn't feel a need to move much dirt to fit in the golf holes. Dye reportedly said "I did not undo God's work."; We thank him for that.
More than one publication has hinted Bulle Rock's special enough to host a major tournament someday. Sounds realistic to me—the course's even got the requisite closing hole dramatic potential. In our made for TV world, that can't be discounted.
As if it couldn't get any better, the folks at Bulle Rock are building a 225-room resort and conference center on property—and a second Pete Dye golf course. Rounsaville says the land where they're locating the new course has quite a fair amount of elevation change to it—so the views will be even more incredible than the existing course—if that's possible. Bulle Rock will race out of the gate and hardly ease up at the finish line—what a tremendous golf facility it'll be (actually, already is).
Before I describe the layout, I'll touch on the service. Many courses provide curb-to-curb service, but I've never seen it quite like Bulle Rock's. You're greeted at the curb, and your bag's placed on a cart with your name and tee time on it. You're called by name, and the staff is as friendly and amiable as your best friend—it's almost as if you're a member and they're greeting you for your weekly golf round. Very well done. There's also a full-service locker room and excellent restaurant to pick up some morning coffee before hitting the links (not to mention first-rate practice facilities to warm-up).
By the time you reach the course, the Bulle Rock experience is well underway, but playing is hardly a postlude to the main event. The first three holes are three of the best from the visual standpoint—eye candy to the golfer. The first hole's a relatively tame 358 yard par four, dogleg left. You'll need to execute an accurate drive to avoid the bunker that guards the leg short left and long right.
The second hole's a visual masterpiece. A challenging 572 yard par five with the tee shot playing downhill and the approach shots moving towards a slightly elevated, very shallow green. There's a stream that runs approximately 75 yards before the putting surface, so it'll definitely come into play for layup shots. Beautiful hole.
The third is a stunning 177 yard par three, moving slightly downhill to a putting surface amply protected by a hillside on the right and bunkers below it left. The green's also very undulated. If you don't hit the putting surface with your tee ball, par will be a tough catch.
Five carries the number one handicap tag, and deservedly so at 483 yards and a severely uphill dogleg left. Your drive must be perfectly placed to provide a good view of the green for your second shot. A par here feels like a birdie.
Seven and eight are links-style holes—fairly open with tall grasses bordering the extremes. Wind will definitely be a factor in club selection for the par three seventh.
Nine's a great way to finish the outward nine. Risk reward all the way, the view presents a 90-degree dogleg right with a pond and bunkers protecting the corner—and a wide, inviting fairway to the left side. The length of your second shot depends on how much nerve you summons for your tee ball—a fair challenge if you decide to take it.
Ten, eleven and twelve are also fairly wide-open and mostly treeless. You won't see many holes like eleven, a 665 yard par five that plays downhill the entire way, but certainly will take three lengthy shots to reach the vicinity of the green in regulation.
A lake the length of the hole on the right side borders twelve. The green looks tiny from the tee, but actually is pretty good sized for a short hole. If you stay out of the water, par's a reasonable proposition here.
Thirteen is probably the most intriguing hole on the course. Dye doesn't cheat you with a 476 yard dogleg right—but this time, if you try to cut off the leg, you might end up down a deep grassy ravine to the right side. The starter warned us to stay out of it—so we overcompensated to the left, which wasn't good either… Tough hole.
Sixteen's a great short par four. The tee box is elevated and the fairway is bordered by trees on the left and bunkers to the right. You'll need to be accurate on your second shot also—the green presents a small target, and is well protected by sand.
Seventeen's a nice par three to finish out a terrific quartet of one-shotters (I'll note—Dye designs the best par threes I've ever seen). 194 yards from the back, you're shooting over a huge sand bunker and rocks to a deep but skinny green. If you bail out left, you're on a hillside in deep rough. Short left is the only reasonable miss, but it'll leave a tough up and down.
Eighteen is another classic Pete Dye finish. 485 yards from the tips, you'll face a sizeable forced carry over water to reach a wide fairway. Water follows you the rest of the way to the left side, and the putting surface seems to hang on a ledge guarded by water on the left and backsides. I'd like to see the pros approaching this hole, trying to win or tie a tournament.
As is commonplace on a Pete Dye layout, you'll arrive at the clubhouse pretty spent from your golf round. It's a good thing the Bulle Rock staff is waiting to clean your clubs and point you in the direction of the dining room. There, you'll find a good selection of edibles, tailored to your culinary desires at that particular moment.
'Experiencing' Bulle Rock proves that something doesn't have to be cheap in order to furnish good value. If only economics class could've been so crystal clear—it certainly would've saved us the price of box of #2 pencils broken across the forehead while plotting Keynesian theory versus the Laffer curve.
General Manager/Director of Golf: Richard D. Rounsaville
Course Architect: Pete Dye