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."
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