Whiskey Creek Golf Course
Value: B ($80)
Walkability: D; You can walk if you want, but I wouldn’t.
Course Conditions: A
Practice Facility: A
Teacher’s Comments: A thinking man’s course. Beautiful and challenging.
Whiskey Creek was Ernie Els’ first official attempt at golf course design, and it was a successful debut. The story is that after this trial run, Els decided that he would start his own course design company. Good move.
I think that a golf course by a celebrity player should reflect his (or her) personality. I don’t know Ernie Els, of course, but from news and watching him on television, I get the sense that he’s a genuinely nice guy. My sense is that he’s called the Big Easy for more than his swing. The way he “adopted” Michelle Wie (affectionately calling her “Wiesy”) when other Tour players were bristling at having to play with a girl speaks volumes about the man.
And if that’s true, then Whiskey Creek does reflect his personality. What I liked most about the course is that it’s fair to players of all ability levels. In spite of the challenges the course presented, I was never frustrated. Each hole had a couple of clear strategies—and one was always available for a player of my (modest) skills.
That’s not to say that the course was easy to navigate.
From the white tees, even shorter hitters have a good chance to score well. Els reportedly insisted that at least two of the par 5s be reachable in two. The par 5 18th certainly is—provided you have a solid tee shot around the ruined stone house and are not afraid to hit a three wood over water at an elevated green.
On the other hand, from the back tees, it should challenge even the best players. While there are a couple of holes where you can just swing away, strategic elements on most force you to think. In fact, I’ve never encountered a golf course with as many different components. There are major elevation changes, springs, streams, ponds, swamps, ravines, waste areas, sand traps, dog legs, low stone walls, rock outcroppings, piles of boulders that reminded me of the Devil’s Den at Gettysburg, and forests that line some holes like columns in a cathedral.
In writing this, Whiskey Creek sounds a bit like a colossal miniature golf course. It’s not. All these things you will find throughout the Maryland-Pennsylvania countryside. Els just took what was there and incorporated them into the course. It is entirely natural and not the least bit contrived.
The part that gave me the most pause was the rough. On holes where it comes into play only the very foolish would play bomb and gouge. It’s like a prairie, consisting of knee-high grasses, vines and wildflowers. Odds are that if you stray too far off the fairway, you’ll never see your ball again. I hit a drive where I was certain that the ball had rolled just a foot or two into one of those wild patches. I visually marked its entry point by a tall weedy stalk and went directly to that spot. After ten minutes, I finally gave up. The undergrowth was just too thick. I had to go back and rehit.
After that, I hit a provisional whenever I was not in clear view in the fairway.
Two holes bear special mention.
The par 5 fourth hole clocks in at 565 yards. Standing on an elevated tee, you see a long, winding uphill fairway lined on both sides by trees. From the tee, you must bomb it across a small ravine to a wide landing area, keeping it left to avoid trouble. Then, a second shot (in my case, a three wood) uphill and slightly right will find you in another good landing area. From there, it should be a short iron back to the left onto the green.
Wayward shots to the left will take you into the woods, or a waste bunker, or leave you with a sidehill lie. Miss right and you risk ricocheting off a low stone wall, or a massive rock outcropping that looms over the green.
Think your angles clearly, though, and you’ll score well.
From the green, you take a path upward to a rock topped hill, where, on the fifth tee, you’ll be rewarded by a spectacular view of the Maryland countryside. You can almost imagine a Civil War scout here, scanning for signs of enemy troop movement.
The finishing hole at Whiskey Creek is one of the most unique I have played .. A 550 yard par 5, it is reachable in two—provided you play the correct shots.
From an elevated tee, the fairway sweeps down the hill, where it is split by the ruins of a 19th century stone farm house. Hit the ball long and straight, and you’ll bounce off the ruins. Hit right, and the fairway is wide enough, but you run the risk of rolling into prairie grasses. The space to the left of the farmhouse is narrow—but if you can get it in there, you have a chance of getting home in two. If you’ve got the length, your best choice is to draw it around the house.
I took a fade to the right, laid up short of the creek, hit another into the grass just short of the green, pitched on and then two putted.
On the amenities side, the clubhouse is beautiful, food decent, the pro shop well stocked, and the staff very friendly. The golf carts also are equipped with state of the art GPS systems to help you navigate your way around the course.
I’m looking forward to going back.