Capital Region Trip, Part 1

I realize this is a bit of a delay in posting stories for my big trip to the East Coast. It’s a long story, but some travel delays and internet issues upon arriving home have really set me back. Anyway, I am back and ready to rock now, so let’s get to the trip!

In true Golf Nomad style, it was a whirlwind four days centered around the country’s Capital Region. I was able to check off five new states and even a district. Since I am now making up for lost time, I will condense it into two stories. This post will cover the first two days of the trip.

I took the earliest direct flight and flew into Dulles International Airport on Thursday in order to race right over to my first course,,,

East Potomac Golf Course (Blue) • Washington, DC • 8/13/15

As part of my 50-state goal, I also felt it was important to also try and play the District of Columbia once I made it to this region. After all, it is our nation’s capital and it turns out there are a handful of courses located within the district’s boundaries. There isn’t anything too amazing in terms of public options, so I did my research and East Potomac seemed like the most intriguing one to play.

The large East Potomac golf complex is run by the local parks system, so it’s nothing high-end or fancy in terms of design (all of the public courses in DC fall are run by the same department), However, what is very appealing about it is the location. Check it out on Google Maps sometime and you’ll see that it’s right in the middle of the Potomac River and just a stone’s throw from the National Mall with all of DC’s monuments nearby. I drove by the Lincoln, Jefferson and WWII Memorials while making my way to the course (located in East Potomac Park). Arlington National Cemetery is just across the river and you’ll see in the pictures that the Washington Monument is an ever-present background feature throughout the course.

Basically, it’s a very cool, prime location with just an okay muni-level course. The course itself does have plenty of history, as well, as its origins date back to 1916.

East Potomac actually has three courses with appropriately patriotic names. There’s a pitch and putt 9-hole option (Red), an executive 9-hole course (White) and the regulation 18-holer that I played (Blue).

Things worked out great as I arrived around 4:00 and just ahead of what I assume is a typical after-work crowd. The price was $43 and change for 18 holes with a cart. I played with a couple other local guys who told me East Potomac is a popular place to come out after work rather than sit in traffic. With the three courses, a good grille and a large driving range, it certainly makes sense.

I got out to the first tee right away and the front nine went pretty smoothly without much waiting. The back nine slowed down significantly as they had started a number of new groups on hole 10. However, we still finished with just enough daylight left.

One hesitation about booking this trip for mid-August was the weather. Generally, you can expect a lot of heat and humidity on the East Coast this time of year, along with scattered thunderstorms. It turns out I couldn’t have picked a better weekend because the weather each day was amazing. By Sunday, the humidity did start to pick up a little, but the other days were just perfect! I figured Thursday’s round coming straight from the airport to the middle of DC’s stifling heat would be brutal, but there was a nice pleasant breeze and it was absolutely gorgeous out.

I know how unpleasant the summer weather can be because I have been to DC a couple times in the past and done all the touristy things, This time it was just about the golf, though I still did plenty of rubber-necking as I drove around town and saw the monuments that are always cool to view in person.

Anyway, the Blue Course is a pretty traditional and simple parkland layout. It is very flat and mostly wide open, though the back nine does tighten up some with some narrower tee angles thanks to a lot of big old trees. Otherwise, the fairways are pretty wide and the greens are very basic without too much protection. Putts are easy to read and everything lays out right in front of you.

Really there’s not too much to note about the course itself beyond the cool location. The conditions were average “muni” style with things being a little rough around the edges and inconsistent at times. The greens were slow and bumpy and the fairways were often a bit shaggy. That said, the playability was still fine enough and I enjoyed the experience nonetheless. I also posted a great score, which helped add a positive memory.

In talking with the locals, I definitely made the right choice in terms of DC’s public options. It’s easily the best of what’s available in town. Unless you are on a 50-state-plus-DC quest like me, it probably won’t hold much interest, though.

Some pictures from East Potomac Golf Course (Blue) (8/13/15):

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I really wasn’t too adventurous with eating on this trip, partly because of time. For a variety of reasons, I didn’t end up booking the most logical routing, so I had to squeeze the most out of each day in terms of golf and driving. Thursday night, I just ate a hot dog at the course’s grille and then was back on the road.

I stayed the night in Aberdeen, Maryland (just north of Baltimore and near the Pennsylvania border) and was back in action early the next day…

Wyncote Golf Club • Oxford, PA • 8/14/15

Wyncote ended up being my Pennsylvania pick. I generally aim for the top public courses in each state as ranked by sources like Golf Magazine, Golf Digest and Golf Week. Sometimes, though, I have to opt for more geographically convenient options. Most of the top-top picks are more in the Pittsburgh region, closer to Philadelphia or more northerly in the state. However, Wyncote was in the top five of most lists I researched, so it was still a high-quality pick that was very geographically convenient for this particular trip.

What also appealed to me about Wyncote when planning the trip was the pictures I saw on their website. I’m sure all the top PA courses are beautiful, but this one had that perfect pastoral farmland look that seemed to represent the vision of this state in my own mind. It turned out to be an excellent representative for Pennsylvania golf.

I arrived early, having booked a 7:00 tee time to be the first off. The price was $51 with a cart, which is extremely reasonable for a course of this caliber. They were a little slow in getting opened up and organized, but I was still teeing off right on time. I had to wait on maintenance a lot, but that’s never much of a problem. I did have another single playing quickly behind me, so I eventually asked if he wanted to play through or join me since I was taking my time a little bit to savor the experience and take lots of pictures. He ended up joining me and was a club member, so he told me a lot about the course.

Again, the weather was ideal and it was such a beautiful morning. This is a somewhat newer course (opened 1993), but it has a nice classic feel with a links layout and rustic Dutch Country crop fields, barns and silos all around it. As if on cue, when we neared one of the back nine holes by a street, an Amish horse and buggy clip-clopped by.

One nice thing about coming to the East Coast from California is seeing they are clearly not affected by our drought. All the courses are lush and nice, with ample watering applied. In fact, that was the only issue with Wyncote condition-wise. It was super soggy first thing in the morning. The same was true in my other early morning rounds the rest of the trip. Otherwise, Wyncote was in fantastic shape all around and maybe the best of all the courses I played this weekend. Simply stunning.

Wyncote features a nice modern links design with some gentle undulation throughout the course and the natural contours well used in the layout. Each hole is lined with long native grasses, which is much more prevalent in East Coast golf as you’ll see on my pictures throughout this whole trip. Odds of finding a ball if hit into this stuff are slim to none.

Now that it’s a week later and I played many course after this, I don’t know if I’ll remember too many specific holes on Wyncote as it all kind of flows together (in a nice way). However, I will have extremely positive memories of my experiences here and the picture-perfect Pennsylvania Dutch farmland setting. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this course to anyone.

Some pictures from Wyncote Golf Club (8/14/15):

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After finishing at Wyncote, I worked my way back down into Maryland and toward my next course just a short drive away…

Bulle Rock Golf Club • Havre de Grace, MD • 8/14/15

Bulle Rock is the consensus #1 public course in Maryland according to all sources I researched, and it’s a Top 100 U.S. course on both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine’s lists. It also hosted an LPGA event for several years. In other words, it’s one of the marquee rounds I was very much looking forward to on this trip.

I had booked a 1:00 tee time, but got there much earlier since the first round went so quickly. They were able to rearrange my time and slot me in with another twosome at 11:30. The staff was great and things were organized around the clubhouse, but the pace on course was very slow as it took about five hours to finish. It is a challenging layout, and I really didn’t mind that much taking my time to enjoy it. I had no plans to play elsewhere this day (more on that later), so the timing ended up working out well.

Bulle Rock (pronounced like “Bully”) is named for the first thoroughbred horse brought to the American Colonies. Speaking of pronunciations, if you ask 10 locals how to pronounce the town’s name, you will get 10 slightly different responses—everything from the more French-accurate to a full-on hick butchering. The slogan on the scorecard is “Named for a thoroughbred, designed by a legend.” That legend, you ask? None other than Pete Dye.

Dye’s fingerprints are definitely all over this course with many of his signature design elements and plenty of visual trickery. As always with his courses, you want to hit fairways and greens here or you will be punished. The fairways here are pretty generous and the rough areas aren’t nearly as punishing as some of his courses I’ve played, so getting off the tee is generally not a huge challenge. The greens are fairly well protected, as one would expect from Dye. The greens themselves are also quite tricky. Some are huge. Some are small. All of them are tough to read.

Of course, there are some railroad tie bunkers on the back nine and other Dye hallmarks. I thought the front nine was very enjoyable overall, but I wasn’t completely blown away until I reached the 9th hole. It’s a dandy with a severe right dogleg around a lake that is begging you to try and cut off as much as you can. Longer hitters may choose to go straight at the green with a full risk/reward shot.

The back nine ultimately won me over starting on the par-3 12th over water and culminating in a strong finishing stretch through the woods. My favorite hole was the par-4 13th, which is great going back into the trees and offering a really cool approach look to a visually striking green complex.

Conditions were also very nice here. I thought Wyncote was actually a little nicer overall, but Bulle Rock was still in excellent shape throughout. The greens had been punched just the week before, but were already almost fully healed and rolling well. They were moving a bit slower than usual, as they are normally known for being especially quick.

Bulle Rock comes highly recommended by all the magazines and now I know way. It’s a great course. If you like Dye design, you will love it. If you don’t, you’ll still probably enjoy yourself on many levels. It is steep ($130 for me that day), but it’s a high-end East Coast course with notoriety, so you can expect to pay more to play it.

Some pictures from Bulle Rock Golf Club (8/14/15):

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For Friday night, I had a special non-golf destination planned. You all know I love baseball and checking out new ballparks when on the road, but Oriole Park at Camden Yards has always been very high up on the bucket list. Though I am and always will be a Dodger fan through and through, I have always considered the Baltimore Orioles my #2 team and AL rooting interest (loved Cal Ripken, Jr. growing up). Plus, this awesome stadium is one that started the current modern/retro design look that is found on most newer ballparks.

It is really easy to get to just off the freeway and you don’t really have to deal with any of Baltimore’s sketchy areas. I ended up parking in the lot outside of M&T Bank Stadium where the Ravens play. It is right next door and the price was only $10 (compared to $50 for parking at Fenway Park last year). I did a walk down Eutaw Street beyond right field, which is now just part of the park during game days. There are numerous shops and Boog Powell’s barbecue pit out there. I did try a turkey sandwich and wasn’t all that inspired, but the stand is clearly the most popular at the stadium.

I had a good seat along the first base line and the vibe of the crowd here was really great. It was fun to be on the road, but part of the hometown crowd as I was sporting my Ripken throwback jersey and one of my Orioles hats. It was a good game as the O’s came back to win late. I got to see the comeback, but had to leave before the end because I had a lot of driving left to do that night. My experience at Camden Yards was still everything I hoped it would be.

Some pictures from Oriole Park at Camden Yards (8/14/15):

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