Turf Valley's triple delight

Review: Getting on these courses may be a challenge, but so is the pleasure of playing them.

Howard At Play

August 18, 2002|By Kelly Gilbert | Kelly Gilbert,SUN STAFF

The writer of this course review is a Columbia resident and frequent golfer who has played most courses in Central Maryland.

Almost daily, power carts are lined up near the pro shop with windshield tags bearing golfers' names and hole assignments for an outing. That's the only way most of us can play golf at Turf Valley Resort.

Because it's private, play officially is limited to members and hotel guests. But Turf Valley - its main entry off U.S. 40 on the west end of Ellicott City - was host to about 200 outings last year for charities and other causes.

So, coupled with the golf-cart queues, one gets the impression that access might not be insurmountable.

Turf Valley, which dates to 1959, is Howard County's oldest and largest country club. The resort features a hotel and conference center, two restaurants (with public access), two swimming pools and a spa, and, best of all from a golfer's viewpoint, three courses totaling 54 holes.

"The North course definitely is the toughest," says Nick Spinnato, Turf Valley's director of golf. "But I think the best course is the East; it's the best layout and the best test of ability. The better players tend to gravitate there."

SOUTH: This course is the easiest of the three, even though creeks and ponds are prominent on 11 holes.

It begins flat and plays over rolling hills on the middle holes until it flattens out again in the middle of the back nine. Nos. 6 and 7, a par-4 with an elevated green and a downhill par-3, are among the most picturesque holes.

Ponds front Nos. 9 and 12, adding potential difficulty to par-4s that both play under 300 yards.

No. 10, a 505-yard par-5 from the white tees, forces a carry over a bunker to a fall-away green if you approach from the left. Hitting this green in two shots - and keeping the ball on it with a long-iron or fairway wood - is an accomplishment.

South's top-ranked hole is the 15th, a 426-yard par-4 requiring two solid shots to reach the green in regulation strokes.

NORTH: The course starts flat but radically changes character past No. 3, a hill-to-hill par 3 that can wreck your score. Target golf is the key on much of this course. One of the most interesting holes is No. 5, a slippery, dogleg par-4 carved through woods. Stay right off the tee to set up the second shot over an unavoidable environmental area to a tilted green.

Nos. 7 and 8, both medium-length doglegs, force you to negotiate the approach to tricky, canted greens. Marsh grasses and bunkers intimidate off the tee at No. 9, a par-3 beside Marriottsville Road. But the green is deeper than it looks.

No. 10, the best par-5 on the course, requires a long drive over more marsh grasses. If you hit short, you'll be laying up in front of another wide, deep environmental area and facing a long climb to the green.

North's top-ranked hole, No. 1, has a creek to carry on the second shot - no one in my group reached the drink with his drive - and an elevated green flanked by bunkers. It's long but lacks No. 10's difficulty. Both seem mis-rated.

North finishes with some older, flat holes where, again, length is the key. No. 18 crosses creeks twice and doglegs around trees, and provides a picturesque finish.

EAST: The course starts flat but begins meandering over rolling hills at No. 4, a 402-yard par-4 that requires a long drive to a hilltop and a deft approach over deep bunkers from a sidehill or downhill lie. The green slopes toward a steep drop-off.

It's the top-ranked hole; par is a good score there.

Like the North course, East changes character at No. 4 and retains its new, hillier look until the middle of the back nine.

No. 7, a demonic par-5, features a long, uphill climb off the tee that often forces a blind shot over rough to a small valley below. If you don't hit to the valley, you'll have a downhill shot from fairway-crossing rough to the elevated green. Nos. 11, 12 and 13 - two rolling holes followed by a par-3 over a pond - provide a bagful of interesting shots.

No. 12 is 441 yards from the white tees, short for a par-5, but what it lacks in distance it makes up on the uphill climb to the green. The 17th hole, a 561-yard, right-to-left-sloping par-5, requires some thought to avoid bouncing a ball into the trees on the right.

All three courses have generous fairways flanked by rough that's thick enough in most places to eat your ball. The large, mature greens roll true, and course conditions - despite the drought - are plush.

Though each course is different, all are enjoyable and playable for a variety of talents. Which would make membership, or your outing, a pleasure.

At a glance

East Course

Tees Yards Rating Slope

Blue 6,547 71.1 132

White 6,135 69.5 124

Gold 5,628 67.8 118

Red 5,344 71.6 131

North Course

Blue 6,613 71.4 124

White 6,224 69.9 121

Gold 5,696 68.4 116

Red 5,176 71.8 124

South Course

Blue 6,279 70.3 131

White 5,914 69.1 122

Gold 5,621 67.5 117

Red 5,366 72.3 126

Membership Initiation fee, $3,500. Dues, $350 a month family, $285 a month individual.

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