Bulle Rock – home to the McDonalds LPGA Championship from 2005 to 2009 – is one of the most successful daily fee courses to have opened in the US since the mid-1990s.
Pete Dye was given an enormous 560-acre estate high on a hill overlooking Chesapeake Bay to route an 18-hole layout and he is reported to have made well over fifty site visits during its construction.
Bulle (pronounced Bully) Rock is named after the first thoroughbred horse brought to the US from England in the 18th century and when the land at Blenheim Stud Farm was sold on for the golf course, it only seemed right to name the new facility after the famous equine specimen.
No wonder the club’s marketing mantra is “named for a thoroughbred, designed by a legend, your Country Club for a day.”
The course is very long from the back markers (7,375 yards) with a course rating and slope that are the highest in the Old Line State of Maryland.
Then again, who, apart from the top pros, would want to aim for par at the 483-yard (uphill) par four 5th or hope to make a par five at the 665-yard 11th, where the fairway bottlenecks to a green protected by twenty bunkers?
Instead, most golfers will tee it up from one of the other three less severe tee positions at every hole, allowing them to enjoy an expansive layout with generous landing areas, few forced carries and open-entry greens.Just be careful at the (stroke index 2) 18th, as the water to the left of the fairway wraps itself round the rock-rimmed home green, providing a really tough end to a round here.
As it’s consistently been ranked as the best public course in Maryland, I had to take my shot at Bulle Rock while I lived in the area. The terrain is gently rolling and provides some opportunities for excellent golf holes to be routed; that said, I don’t think there are as many of them as there could be. In my opinion, Bulle Rock is a good course but not a great one; Pete Dye has done better work elsewhere. There are too many “throwaway” holes that feel like they were added to complete the routing, and the par threes don’t take as much advantage of the terrain of the property as they could or should.
The course is routed in two separate loops on each side of the entry road, with the first few and last few holes in the more wooded parts of the property. The front nine is the better half of the course, with a few exceptions; #2 is a world-class downhill risk/reward par five, and just about every par four on that side was solid at worst, but the par threes are unmemorable. The back nine... I just didn’t find holes #10-#12 that exciting, and #13-#16 were too quirky “forced layup” holes for my taste, though I suppose #15 could have been a more fun par five had it not been playing into a 20mph headwind. #17 is the best par three on the course, which isn’t saying much, but it leads into the Dye “template” #18 par four along water which is a strong test (especially into the same headwind).
Bulle Rock is certainly a challenge and is a nice piece of land, but the design felt somewhat more uninspired than other Dye designs. Still, I’d probably agree that it’s the best public course in Maryland – certainly the best that I’ve played – but that’s more of an indictment of the quality of public golf in the Old Line State than anything else.
Played May 19, 2013