Links with old world of golf coming alive on Eastern Shore

October 04, 1998|By JOHN STEADMAN

WYE MILLS -- Creating an Old World golf course on the Eastern Shore of Maryland is not a chapter out of make-believe. It's a project in progress, an ambitious, $7 million effort to bring a distinctive Scottish links course to reality where corn and wheat used to grow. They aren't rolling up the fairways, greens, tees, bunkers and hillocks at Prestwick or Turnberry and importing them for transplanting but, instead, are producing their own.

Two of the three owners have never involved themselves in this ponderous puzzle known as golf, which means they still have the good sense God gave them. Jack Upchurch and Lou Schaefer have neighboring farms in Queen Anne's County, approximately 14 miles from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and it is here where the dream of establishing a links layout is coming to fruition.

With Upchurch and Schaefer is a third partner, Douglas Maslo, a course builder from Manalapan, N.J., and a former football player at Glassboro State College. They have engaged Ian Scott-Taylor, an international golf architect from Wales, who grew up playing on the kind of courses he is now building.

Scott-Taylor is living on the premises and has breathed life into the daily development of the facility, personally supervising the undertaking since it began in May.

"We are 75 percent completed in construction and I have astounded myself how quickly this has transpired," he said while walking the newly seeded fairways. What's being built is an authentic links course -- the type that draws thousands of golf tourists to Scotland, Ireland and England.

This is something of a gamble, a departure from the norm in American golf, but it will give Hunter's Oak, the name of the course that will open late next summer, its own identity. Golf facilities have been built in the United States to resemble what Scotland, Ireland and England offer, but nothing carrying the authenticity of what Scott-Taylor is doing.

"If it's considered a great course upon completion, then I want this young architect to get all the credit," said Upchurch. "And if it's mediocre, then I take responsibility. But you know most things that are going to work come together in a hurry. As for Ian Scott-Taylor, let me say I have never seen a man more immersed in a construction undertaking. The course was roughed in and an irrigation system installed in 12 weeks. Grass will soon be growing."

Upchurch will vacate his 18,000-square-foot Amberly Farm residence, a southern colonial mansion in which he and his wife have lived the past 13 years, for a new house they are having built on the Tuckahoe River, near Hillsboro. What they are leaving will then become one of the most attractive clubhouses in all of Maryland, a place of appealing gentility that will provide lavish surroundings for visiting golfers.

Schaefer is president of the Schaefer-Strohminger automobile dealership and, along with Upchurch, was involved in the early plans for the property.

It would be detracting from the concept to build houses around the course, and Upchurch says this is not a consideration.

"We don't know if it will be a golf club for members, for corporations or for daily public play," he said. "Those three possibilities or two out of those three will be decided upon."

A native of Detroit and a former marine, Upchurch has been one of America's premier big-game hunters and his trophies are imposing. He was involved in building nursing homes and health-care facilities and admits to never playing golf.

Hunter's Oak could have been crafted in traditional American style or, as the English refer to it, given a parkland concept.

Had that been the direction they'd taken, there wouldn't have been anything to separate Hunter's Oak from all the rest. "Sameness has its place," Upchurch said, "but a links course will be a different experience and we can market it that way."

Scott-Taylor, the 39-year-old designer, has put in four sets of tees, the longest playing to a distance of 7,250 yards. He said what he's developing involves Old World architecture incorporating some contemporary aspects.

"When the professionals play it, they will have to work for a living," is the challenge he puts out. "If that happens, then I know I have done my job. I believe all 18 holes are signature holes, not just one. My ambition is to become the greatest golf architect in the world."

Hunter's Oak is going to attract attention. Located a mile off Route 50 on Carmichael Road, it will stand alone in the character it offers. Within proximity are five other courses: Prospect Bay, Queenstown, Hog Neck, Harbourtowne and Talbot. All are successful, so what's being done at Wye Mills will offer something different -- a vicarious trip to Scotland, Ireland or England.

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