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.
This year I returned to Bulle Rock for my 3rd round there and my initial thoughts were reinforced -- how much more could have been done to really be something of consequence. Architects are creature of habits -- many return to the same formula because of earlier successes and Dye did that here. Bulle Rock is a tough layout but there's little in terms of compelling architecture that pushes the Dye legacy further up the totem pole of triumphs he has created.
Take for example, the 18th hole. Pete opted to replicate what he did with the finale from TPC Sawgrass -- although the one at Bulle Rock is a bit less pronounced on the turn left equation.
One of my favorite holes is the long par-4 9th which concludes the outward half. It's straightforward in what's required and provides a clear separation from the bulk of the other holes on the front side which are fairly mundane.
The return side has the better mixture of holes -- the long downhill par-5 11th is quite testing and the par-3 12th that follows is the predictable Dye par-3 design -- water hugging tightly to one side but still done well here.
For the State of Maryland, Bulle Rock likely occupies the top spot among layouts available to the public. That's really a statement on the dearth of superior designs that have not happened to date.
If one were to view Bulle Rock as a television program -- it's more re-run than original.
M. James Ward
“I did not undo God’s work.” That’s the quote from Pete Dye that Bulle Rock Golf Club uses in its promotional materials. Indeed, the public course doesn’t deal in the sometimes shocking twists expected from Pete’s work. He may not have undone God’s work, but don’t fall for the claim that he didn’t do Pete Dye work.
The rolling hills of this property, just north of Baltimore, allowed Pete to let the bulldozers rest more than he typically might. That, in turn, allowed his wit as a designer—often overshadowed by his taste for aesthetic fireworks—take sole grip of the wheel. This is best seen in the shorter of the Par 4s—Nos. 1, 4, 9, and 16 come to mind. Dye has always been a proponent of changing directions from off the tee to approach, the ability to work the ball in multiple directions. This skill is essential for breaking 100 at Kiawah, but he didn’t build Bulle Rock for that audience. The majority of 4s feature a more risky scoring route for those who can shape, and a safe route for those who can’t, where Par is still rewarded for quality contact. Although the championship tees stretch healthily beyond 7,000 yards, starting from the right color will leave players with few 4s where distance alone prevents scoring.
Some exceptions include No. 5, which is a fair bear, and No. 13—this hole may appear in more Google searches because of its unique ravine hazard...but it’s not a fair fight from any distance. Although the course’s No. 2 Par 5 is the kind of eye candy many look for from Dye (and it’s a good one), the No. 15 long deserves credit as the best hole at Bulle Rock. Every shot begs questions, regardless of whether you aim for lay-up or eagle (Challenge the green? The creek? The tree? The bunker?).
His eye-catching championship hosts tend to draw more tourists, but don’t forget that Bulle Rock has hosted several LPGA Championships. That’s a good indication Dye has built a championship-caliber course without abusing distance or headline hazards.
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
Bulle Rock is expensive but is packs more wow factor for the dollar than just about any course I’ve played. Some arduous inclines and rough so fierce you can wave bye bye to your balata, this is the best course in Maryland by some distance IMO. Service is top class, highly groomed conditioning, Dye design at his stunning best, it’s worth the trek into nowheresville if you want to play a serious dailyfee golf course. Simply fantastic.