Ocean City, Maryland...
Golf Experience Produces Wave of Memories
By: Steve Donahue
My first buddy trip to Ocean City, Md. — back in 1976 — focused solely on beer, beaches and babes, not necessarily in that order. Fast-forward 38 years to my second sojourn to Ocean City, a solo junket that also centered on three things — golf, food and beer, in that order. At least not all my priorities have changed.
Fact is, back in the day golf wasn’t on Ocean City’s radar, which is why it might surprise some that Ocean City has become a world-class golf destination. In fact, savvy traveling golfers — particularly buddy groups — know the region doesn’t take a back seat to any other golf mecca.
| The superb 14-story oceanfront Holiday Inn & Suites.
Today’s Ocean City’s golf scene includes 17 courses in Ocean City and southern Delaware, with seven adorning various 2014 rankings by Golf Digest, GOLF Magazine and Golfweek.
I was thrilled to revisit Ocean City as a semi-mature adult because, quite frankly, I honestly couldn’t remember anything about my first trip — nothing.
My late-April sojourn to tackle some of the region’s top tracks — this time with crystal-clear mind – saw seasonal low-to-mid 60s with sunshine. Average Ocean City-area temperatures are 63 degrees in spring, 84 in summer, 76 in fall and 41 in winter, when courses remain open. Since the destination’s layouts are either adjacent to, or near, various waterways, including the ocean, the omnipresent wind plays a major factor, so pack plenty of balls.
Ocean City Golf Getaway is the destination’s marketing arm and travel provider. Harrison Group Golf owns and operates 10 oceanfront properties in Ocean City, including the superb 14-story oceanfront Holiday Inn & Suites, where I stayed. Harrison Group also owns and operates three restaurants and offers popular golf packages, which include 18 holes of daily golf; resort hotel accommodations; guaranteed preferred tee times, golf cart and taxes; breakfast or lunch voucher daily; and free one-half pound of steamed shrimp.
|(ABOVE) Heritage Shores is where water hazards lurk on every hole and the wind blows mercilessly across the course’s flat topography.
(BELOW) Links at Lighhouse Sound overlooks Assawoman Bay and the Saint Martin River.
Ocean City itself is a very popular barrier island resort, with hotels and hundreds of restaurants, bars and entertainment. Diners will find mouth-watering seafood and steak everywhere, but be sure to ingest your fair share of Maryland’s state delicacy — crabs, covered in Old Bay seasoning. A boardwalk lines the beautiful Atlantic beaches.
Ocean City’s courses are within easy reach of millions of golfers. It’s less than a half-day’s drive from Baltimore (145 miles), Washington, D.C. (147), Philadelphia (148), Wilmington, Del. (120), Norfolk, Va. (141), New York City (234), Hartford, Conn. (349), Pittsburgh (377) and Boston (446).
For instance, I left my northwest Connecticut home at 8:30 on a Monday morning, hit the usual I-84 snarled traffic and still hit my opening drive at Heritage Shores Club in Bridgeville, Del., at 1:30 for my year’s first round — the first time I touched my sticks in six months.
Trust me, you don’t want to shake off your game’s cobwebs at Heritage Shores, where water hazards lurk on every hole and the wind blows mercilessly across the course’s flat topography. Did I mention bring lots of extra balls? The Arthur Hills signature design has five tee-box options, with the tips measuring 7,005 yards (73.6/139 course rating/slope), too long for this balky-backed, middle-aged guy, so I tackled it from the next-up markers, at 6,477 yards, from where it’s still a stern test.
If you believe your game suits Heritage Shores’ back tees, know that three of the four par-5 holes exceed 550 yards (the 18th is a mere 530), six of the par 4s exceed 400 yards (including two shotters on the front measuring 432, 436 and 465 yards) and two of the par 3s stretch 200-plus yards.
The Holiday Inn & Suites, located on North Baltimore Avenue at 17th Street, is either walking distance or a short drive to countless restaurants and bars. My spacious oceanfront suite overlooked the boardwalk, beach and ocean, while the hotel’s Coral Reef Café — located in a four-story atrium that also houses a large indoor pool — offers fabulous local seafood, including the house specialty, Maryland traditional crab cakes, and a wide variety of beers. The hotel also has a zero-entry activity pool with fountains, a children’s slide, a lazy river and large poolside Jacuzzi, making it an outstanding family destination besides being perfect as a base for visiting golfers.
In fact, The Links at Lighthouse Sound is only a 13-minute drive from the hotel across the Highway 90 bridge that crosses the Assawoman (real name) and Isle of Wight bays. The Links overlooks Assawoman Bay and the Saint Martin River. There’s a reason this fabulous Hills design is ranked 82nd in GOLF’s “Top 100 Courses You Can Play,” and ranks No. 2, No. 5 and No. 15, respectively, in Maryland on GOLF’s, Golfweek’s and Golf Digest’s (the publication’s “Best in State” rankings include public and private courses) state rankings.
|Rum Pointe is the creation of the father/son architect team of Pete and P.B. Dye.
The 7,031-yard, par-72 stunner features 10 holes bordering pristine marshlands with the others framed by mature hardwoods. In fact, 15 holes on the 1,000-acre site offer marsh, river and/or bay vistas. America’s longest cart bridge — stretching nearly 1,500 feet — takes golfers from the bay side over wetlands to the marsh and riverside holes while another lengthy, elevated wooden bridge takes golfers high over St. Martin’s Neck Road and back down to the 17th tee. A great stretch of holes — from No. 3 through No. 8 — flirt with Assawoman Bay, offering golfers lots of wind to battle as well as a spectacular, front-row view of Ocean City’s hotel skyline across the bay. The Restaurant at Lighthouse Sound serves up fabulous lunch and dinner fare, along with great bay and skyline vistas.
The easiest driving day of my trip — not that any were very taxing — included an early morning round at Rum Point Seaside Golf Links, then a tee time at Eagle’s Landing Golf Course, just 19 and 11 minutes southwest of my hotel, respectively. The two courses are only 11 minutes apart.
Rum Pointe is the creation of the father/son architect team of Pete and P.B. Dye. The 7,001-yard, par-72 gem is adjacent to Sinepuxent Bay and overlooks Assateague National Seashore Park, whose north entrance is just eight miles from the hotel. Rum Pointe ranks seventh in Maryland in GOLF’s “The Best Courses Near You” ranking. Seventeen holes feature a bay view, with several holes directly fronting the water. The outstanding course is a kinder, gentler Dye design, but you’ll still notice a few trademark, strategically placed pot bunkers. Rum barrels on each tee box are a unique touch playing off the course’s name.
Eagle’s Landing is a spectacular 7,003-yard, par-72 test crafted by Dr. Michael Hurdzan and, true to Hurdzan’s reputation as an environmentally friendly designer, the layout was Maryland’s first certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. You’ll notice numerous nest boxes for a wide variety of birds, among them bluebirds, mallards, purple martins and sparrow hawks. Eagle’s Landings’ unique ecosystems include salt marshes bordering Sinepuxent Bay and Assateague Island, and native pine and hardwood forests. Hurdzan’s design also incorporates freshwater wetlands and ponds, sections of native and naturalized grassland, and a magnificent tidal pool between the 10th and 18th holes.
The course ranks 14th in Golf Digest’s “Best in State” ranking. Like Rum Pointe, Eagle’s Landing overlooks Sinepuxent Bay and Assateague Island National Seashore. The outstanding mix of holes — links-style, marsh and wetlands — offers a serene, challenging and enjoyable round, which concludes with a bang.
|Eagle’s Landing is a spectacular 7,003-yard, par-72 test crafted by Dr. Michael Hurdzan.
||Bayside Resort is a brute, but you wouldn’t expect anything less from Jack Nicklaus.
Indeed, the 393-yard closing hole is basically surrounded by a salt marsh. The fairway landing area ends 142 yards from the middle of the green; any drive longer than that finds the water. The approach must carry 80 yards of water from fairway’s end to a landing area in front of the green, which has no bailout room. Following a pushed drive that barely stayed dry and a slashed approach that narrowly cleared the water and finished 65 yards short of the green, I was ecstatic to walk off with a bogey.
Be sure to make time to visit the Assateague barrier island in its natural state where you can get up close and personal to Assateague’s famous wild horses. Assateague Island features sightseeing cruises, kayak tours, crabbing, bird watching, fishing, hunting, biking and other activities such as swimming and sea-shell gathering. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge also features a beach, wildlife, dunes, wetlands and marsh islands for public use.
Before heading back to Ocean City’s main drag from either Rum Pointe or Eagle’s Landing, check out the infinite dining options en route. I lucked out, as Smoker’s BBQ Pit on Stephen Decatur Highway decided to open for the season on the weekday I was driving by, with a major hankerin’ for barbecue, no less. Despite being mid afternoon, the place was jumping. I devoured a mouthwatering pulled-pork sandwich, along with outstanding potato salad and cole slaw sides. It was so good I almost returned for dinner, but instead opted to feast on the crab cakes at the hotel’s Coral Reef Café.
Incidentally, there’s a lot going on between Smoker’s BBQ Pit and North Baltimore Avenue. To reach the Holiday Inn you have to take the Ocean Gateway, home to countless restaurants of every ilk and budget, bars, hotels, shopping (including a Tanger Outlet), things to do, etc. It’s Ocean City’s smaller-scale version of Myrtle Beach’s Highway 17.
While you can’t go wrong with any of the destination’s resort tracks, two more to add to your must-play list are Bayside Resort and Baywood Greens.
Bayside Resort is a brute, but you wouldn’t expect anything less from Jack Nicklaus — his first signature course in Delaware. There are six sets of tees, the rear of which measure 7,545 yards, with a whopping 77.4/146 slope/rating. Only those with their names on their bags or the certifiably insane should even consider playing the tips. Water affects play on every hole, with all but one featuring a forced carry from at least one tee box, starting with the 440-yard opener.
Bayside has earned well-deserved high praise. It is No. 79 on Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses 2013-2014,” and No. 1 and No. 2 in Golfweek’s and GOLF’s top Delaware courses you can play, respectively.
|Baywood Greens, in Long Neck, Del. The lovely 6,983-yard track — designed by Ault, Clark and Associates — features the Woodside and Waterside nines surrounded by more than 300,000 flowers, plants, shrubs and trees.
Despite its difficulty, Bayside is a blast to play and eye candy abounds, as Nicklaus incorporated salt marshes, meadows and woodlands into the design. I saw a heron and egret feeding in a pristine marsh, which also contained two of my errant shots. The meadow holes feature tall fescue and blue grass rough while the woodland holes boast native flowering dogwoods, majestic pines and black cherries, which protect numerous bird and wildlife species, and determine the layout’s sylvan boundary.
Another must-play is Baywood Greens, in Long Neck, Del. The lovely 6,983-yard track — designed by Ault, Clark and Associates — features the Woodside and Waterside nines surrounded by more than 300,000 flowers, plants, shrubs and trees. Golfers are treated to great views and are ferried across eight timbered bridges, through two tunnels, and around 27 acres of man-made ponds. The layout ranks first among the state’s public courses in GOLF’s ranking, and fourth in Golf Digest’s and Golfweek’s best-in Delaware rankings.
The facility is adding a third nine, Duneside, to its offerings. Architect Cary Bickler, along with the father/son team of Rob and Robert Tunnell, designed Duneside, which remains under construction and will open at a date to be determined.
One of the destination’s top courses is The Peninsula Golf & Country Club, another Nicklaus signature course that’s the centerpiece of a private community in Millsboro, Del., but if you know a member wrangle an invite to play this gem, managed by Troon Golf Prive. The Peninsula ranks No. 3 in Golf Digest’s “Best in State” ranking.
The par-72 beast maxes out at 7,302 yards (76.0/143) —the 6,601-yard tees were more my style — has wide fairways but approaches need to be precise as bunkers front many greens. It’s a challenging-yet-fun course to play. I made par on the course’s longest hole, the 562-yard 10th, so, with nobody behind me, I replayed the hole from the 593-yard tips, just because. Let’s just say it wasn’t quite as much fun from that distance. It’s amazing how much of a difference 31 yards can make.
Don’t limit your trip to just the courses I mentioned. You won’t be sorry adding any of the destination’s other courses to your itinerary. For instance, Bear Trap Dunes ranks fifth in GOLF’s best-in Delaware ranking. Glen Riddle Golf Club not only boasts its superb Man O’War public course and the private War Admiral Members Course, but the actual starting gate of the racetrack used to train both of those champion horses in the 1920s and ’30s adorns part of the course. Oh, and the facility’s clubhouse is home to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
Basically, no matter how you arrange your Ocean City Golf Getaway, you’re going to enjoy yourself immensely. I’m thrilled I finally returned to the destination and took full advantage of my Ocean City mulligan. The fond memories — any memories, for that matter — of my latest visit guarantee I will return soon.
Steve Donahue is a veteran freelance writer and editor who has played nearly 900 golf courses in all 50 states and 10 countries. He is based in Watertown, Conn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
|Ocean City Golf Getaway
9748 Stephen Decatur Highway, Unit 105
Ocean City, MD 21842
Harrison Group Golf
|The Bay Club (36)
9122 Libertytown Road
Berlin, MD 21811
Bayside Resort Golf Club
31806 Lakeview Drive
Selbyville, DE 19975
32267 Clubhouse Way
Long Neck, DE 19966
|Bear Trap Dunes (27)
7 Clubhouse Drive
Ocean View, DE 19970
|Eagle’s Landing Golf Course
12367 Eagle’s Nest Road
Berlin, MD 21811
Glen Riddle Golf Club (36)
11501 Maid At Arms Lane
Berlin, MD 21811
|Heritage Shores Club
1 Heritage Shores Circle
Bridgeville, DE 19933
|The Links at Lighthouse Sound
12723 St. Martin’s Neck Road
Bishopville, MD 21813
|Nutters Crossing Golf Club
30287 Southampton Bridge Road
Salisbury, MD 21804
Ocean City Golf Club (36)
11401 Country Club Drive
Berlin, MD 21811
|Ocean Pines Golf & Country Club
100 Clubhouse Drive
Ocean Pines, MD 21811
|Rum Pointe Seaside Golf Links
7000 Rum Pointe Lane
Berlin, MD 21811
|Holiday Inn & Suites
1701 Atlantic Avenue
Ocean City, MD 21842