North of the Beltway 1: Hampshire Greens

The benefit of playing golf with one of my close friends in the area is that he takes me out of my comfort zone. On a typical weekend, I’m perfectly happy to go out to the Glade or Langston but, sometimes, I need a little change in my life. Enter Maryland north of the Beltway.

The first course I played this summer up north was Hampshire Greens. A beautiful course with challenging fairways and greens and brutal rough that can be pretty punishing. The course starts in your typical straightforward fashion — a 340 yard par four dog-leg left (we played the middle tees here. 6512 yards, 71.6 CR/128 Slope). It’s on this hole that I discovered just how tough the rough was going to play. With a sand wedge in my hand, I hacked out and dribbled the ball to the front of the green. The greens, while plenty receptive, are deceivingly slick. I was thrilled to walk away with just a bogey.

Warm-up over; they don’t wait to bring the heat. The second hole is a 560 yd par 5. The challenge here was getting the ball left enough to be in the fairway, not so far left that you miss. Once safely in the fairway, the layup is reasonable — the good kind that makes you think. And then a tough little approach to a green that’s tucked behind a hazard. This day the pin was a long way back and to the left.

The first par 3 of the day is number four. At 180 yards with water on the right and bunker to keep from bailing out left, it’s pretty intimidating. Also, it’s very likely the smallest green on the course at only 25 yards deep and not much wider. Beautiful hole.

Every golf course needs a great short hole. Number seven is probably my favorite on the course for that reason. I appreciate a good 420 yard par four every once in a while but requiring above average distance off the tee takes par off the table for far too many golfers and they don’t all get to experience the hole in the same way. Number seven is only slightly downhill and just around 350 yds the day we played. What makes this hole great is the sharp right turn at about 230 yards off the tee coupled with the enormous green. The front pin placement required some serious math and an ability to conquer any trust issues you may be plagued with on the course. Surprisingly, I hit a helluva gap wedge to about eight feet. I missed the putt but, as anyone who’s ever played a round of golf with me will tell you, I was lucky to have made contact with wedge in my hand.

Warning: No walking this one, folks. The distance between the green on number 8 and the tee box for number 9 is a bit ridiculous.

Nine is one of those good par fours that requires some accuracy off the tee and then gives you a little bit of a break on the approach. Great time for a dog!

I’m starting to sense a theme, here. The dog was ample, probably a quarter-pounder. They have all the condiments you could ask for, including a variety of hot sauces, onions, relish. Overall, I’d give this one a solid A. The lady behind the bar that sells you the hot dog was as nice as could be. No question, a great clubhouse experience (a couple of people were just there playing cards, watching the Golf Channel).

We’re gonna skip a few holes here — not that they aren’t memorable — but, you should just get out to the course and experience them for yourself.

Number 12: Keep the driver in the bag. That’s a lot coming from me. I hit the big dog on every hole typically. Looking at the fairway from the tee on this par 5 of just over 500 yards had me thinking, “not worth it.” You’re forced to hit the ball left to right on the first shot, left to right on the second shot, left to right on the third. With everything sloping away in that direction, it’s ever more frustrating.

Up the hill to number 15, a long par four for it’s length. Again, keeping the ball in play here is key. Anything more than 250 yards off the tee could put you in some trouble as the fairway tightens to single file at about that.

Sixteen is the first on this side where “grip-it-and-rip-it” is in full effect. But it’s only 320 yards long! Here I took the opportunity to completely flub my sand wedge in and am no longer a valuable critic of the hole.

Eighteen is a fantastic closer . 420 yards, a little uphill, a bunker on the right keeps dissuades you from the direct approach, and the bunkers on the left keep you from bombing it. The play here is a slight cut off one of the mounds on the left of the fairway. The entire hole creeps to the right lazily along grass bunkers and nomansland. Great driving hole, exactly how a long day should finish. The approach is where things get really interesting. There’s no trouble on the right and the big bunkers that extend from landing area to seemingly the front of the green really aren’t in play at all. The approach requires a sweeping draw. Not easy to do from a fairway that favors a fade.  A straight shot or god forbid a slice puts in some deep rough greenside. Don’t do that. A brilliant finishing hole that I wish other courses would attempt.

The course: A+ for the area. Great greens, plush fairways, consistent rough, actual sand. Can’t beat it.

The clubhouse: A. The staff is great. There’s a ton of options for food and drinks. The bathrooms are immaculate.

Pace of play: C–. This is always tough. I never like to knock a course because of a few bad apples but I feel like I need to here. In no way, shape or form should my critique keep you from playing this gorgeous course. You should just take my comments under advisement in your planning. It took us six hours to make the loop. The starter did a great job of getting people out on time but once on the course it was chaos. It took an hour and a half to get through 3 holes. At that rate, it would’ve taken us nine hours to finish the round. Luckily, late in the round, a marshal hurried the groups in front of us along. As I said, I don’t believe this is entirely the fault of the course; every player has a responsibility to be aware of his/her time, search for balls only for a reasonable period, and make the experience positive for all the other players. I do believe, however, that the course has a responsibility to monitor the pace of play and make suggestions and changes where they are necessary. This did not happen until very late in the round. The $60+ round of golf was close to “too pricey” for that slow of play.

Overall, however, I highly recommend this course to anyone who wants to be challenged and enjoy a magnificent layout.

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