Although the club was inaugurated in 1898, the East course at Baltimore Country Club was designed by the great genius of golf course architecture, A.W. Tillinghast and it opened for play in 1926.
“Five Farms, which was once just the suburban course of the Baltimore Country Club, is now the hub of the club. It sits amid the rolling hills of Maryland’s “hunt country”, where horses have always been the major sport but from which golf is fast taking over… the course is not overly bunkered and neither is is tremendously long. But those hills present numerous sidehill lies after mishit drives and the greens can get fearsomely slick, although remaining awesomely true.
Baltimore has hosted a number of major events, including the exciting 1965 Walker Cup matches in which Britain and Ireland tied the US team, so breaking a string of losses dating back to 1938. In 1988 the Women’s Open was held there.” From the New World Atlas of Golf.
Keith Foster completed a restoration project in 2015. According to Tom Doak's Confidential Guide to Golf Courses - Volume 3: "It's still a wonder; Keith Foster's work softened the tilt in a handful of greens, but they are still treacherous after the changes. The most memorable holes are the dogleg par-5 6th, with the maintenance barns in play on the tee shot something like the railway sheds at St Andrews, and the very long 14th, with its Sahara cross-hazard that has to be cleared on the second shot."
The East Course at Five Farms was designed by A.W. Tillinghast and opened in 1926. The original club opened in 1898 at Rowland Park. Both facilities are still in use today, making Baltimore CC one of the few clubs in the country with dual locations.
The first couple of holes are attention grabbers to give you a wakeup call as to what is to come. The first is a long par four with fairway bunkers left and right. There is also a fairway bunker about 100 yards out on the right and greenside bunkers right and left. This looks benign compared to the longer 2nd. From the tips it is 496 yards and is the number one handicap hole because it deserves to be. Fairly generous landing area off the tee but there are fairway bunkers on both sides. The green lists hard right to left and has one bunker on the right and 3 left. The dogleg left 3rd will feel like a reprieve. Fairway bunker on the inside elbow and the hole slopes hard to the right with a creek at the bottom. The green has bunkers on both the left and right. The 4th is the shortest hole on the course and an excellent birdie oppty. However, it is a table top green with 5 bunkers protecting the perimeter. The fifth bends slightly right and has fairway bunkers on each side. The green is downhill with a couple of bunkers left and one right. The 6th is one of two world class par 5s at BCC East. It is a sharp dogleg left and is a great risk/reward hole. It is known as, “The Barn” hole and stallions can rip it over the barn on the inside elbow. It is about 260 yards, this will leave you with an iron into the green. For the rest of us, playing to the right is best, but this brings into play the three cross bunkers. The approach is downhill, so take one less club. Two greenside bunkers right, one left and one back. Back is NG. The 7th is a dogleg left with a large peculiarly shaped bunker on the outside elbow. You can cut the corner a wee bit, but don’t get too greedy, lest you will be blocked out. You should have a short iron into a green that is protected by 5 bunkers. The front ends with two good birdie opptys. The 8th is the shortest par 4 and angles right and the terrain slopes right towards the creek. Off the tee aim just inside the right fairway bunker. This should give you a flip wedge to a well-protected green. The 9th is the longest par three, slightly uphill with a false front. The bunker in the middle that you see is a good 20 yards in front of the green.
The back starts with a bang. A super par four that slopes right to left. Favor the right side off the tee. The green is protected by a water hazard front and left with a bunker right. Superb golf hole. The 11th is long uphill and the creek cuts the fairway at an angle about 180-150 out. The number two handicap hole. The 12th is a dogleg right with the tee box shoved all the way right. This really limits driving options, best shot is a high fade. Hookers like me, (sounds like a bad movie) are in trouble. The creek runs all the way down the right side with trees to it’s right at the corner the creek morphs into a small water hazard. Of course, there are fairway bunkers on the outside elbow. A good drive should leave a short to mid-iron approach. I was pretty much doomed from the gitgo. The 13th is mid-length par 3 and is supposedly the easiest hole on the course there are two large sentinel trees left and right front of the green that are very adept at blocking draws and fades, essentially bunkers in the sky, as well as the four greenside bunkers. The 14th is another world class par five. It is long and demanding. The tee shot is semi-blind with fairway bunkers left and right in the landing area. The second shot is key, as you must contend with “Hell’s Half Acre”, a collection of five sandtraps that start about 225 yards out from the green and ends about 175 yards. The approach is to an elevated green with two bunkers left and one right. Awesome hole. The 15this a good hole, but it probably has an inferiority complex after it’s predecessor. A long par 4 dogleg left with fairway bunkers right where they ought to be. Same with the greenside bunkers. For big hitters the 16th is a birdie oppty. A semi-blind tee shot aim just over the inside left corner of the right bunker. A good drive will catch the downslope to set up a greenlight approach shot. The 17th is a neat par three. Take an extra club as this is an elevated green with 2 bunkers left and one right.
When I played there I was with my good friend Mark. Baltimore CC is a wonderful layout and has been around a long time, but I am quite sure that it had never seen what was about to unfold on 18. Mark and I both hit decent drives and he was away. Mark’s swing has all the subtlety of a 2 x 4 to the noggin. He cuts loose and after witnessing it and analyzing it, I still have no idea how this happened. From the non-ball flight it appeared that he had topped the shot, but there was a huge divot pirouetting through the air. The ball had probably travelled forward about twenty yards when much to our astonishment, it backed up! When I say backed up, it wasn’t like backing up a ball on the green; this ball came screaming back and ended up almost ten yards behind Mark! His 160-yard approach shot was now almost 170 yards.
In unison the caddy and I started howling with laughter. The caddy was laughing so hard he doubled over and dropped both of our bags. Mark was furious. We did not help matters by not being able to contain our laughter. Mark stomped back to his ball, addressed it, took a swing and surprisingly, nutted it. The ball was tracking right for the pin, but fell just short and plugged into the bunker. Mark was then beside himself. “How can that be short? I hit it perfectly; that’s my 160-yard club.”
I retorted, “Because you were 160 yards away before. This time you were 167!” It was a good thing I was far enough away that he did not run after me.
Outstanding golf course, if you can get on you gotta do it.
Five Farms is a Tillinghast gem. It has two of the best par fives he has designed: the par five 6th hole and the par five 14th hole. Tillinghast's other great par five is the 4th at Bethpage Black. The 14th hole at Five Farms is not just one of Tillinghast's best par fives, it is one of the best holes in all of golf, regardless of par or the course architect.
There are only two par fives on the course, and both are world-class. All the holes at Five Farms have a name. The sixth ("Barn") is the only par five on the front and has similarities to the Road Hole at St. Andrews. There is a red barn on the left side of the fairway that a daring hitter can try to hit over to cut the corner, similar to hitting over The Old Course Hotel on the 17th at St. Andrews. It is a classic risk-reward decision. Going for it will leave you with a shot into the green for eagle. Missing the shot will either leave you O.B. or in deep trouble. The hole is a sharp dogleg left after you drive the ball. The fairway on the hole sweeps from left to right, and there is a cross-bunker in the fairway to catch second shots that are topped.
Hole #14 is a 603-yard par five known as Hell's Half Acre and is outstanding in every regard. The hole is a dogleg to the left and Tillinghast uses the terrain perfectly, following the contours of the hills. After hitting your tee shot, you have to hit over "Hell's Half Acre", which is a mix of bunkers, high grasses and mounds. If you hit a successful second shot your ball is at the bottom of a hill, leaving you an uphill shot to an elevated, well-bunkered green. The green is very fast with a big front to back slope.
The use of trees at Five Farms was done artfully throughout the course. They serve as focal points and backdrops and rarely come directly into play unless you are wildly off line. Baltimore has everything I like in a course: a fast pace of play, caddies, no cart paths to mar the beauty, and cell phones have to stay in your car.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs