Venue for the U.S. Senior Open in 2002 when Don Pooley beat Tom Watson after a five-hole playoff, the Tom Fazio-designed course at Caves Valley Golf Club sits amidst the rolling hills of Baltimore County with many of the fairways routed through rather attractive areas of woodland.
The 11th edition of the Arnold Palmer Cup (which in 2007 was an annual 8-man competition between American and European college/university golfers) was contested here when the home team won the event by a score of 18 points to 6 points.
The two par threes on the front nine are notable, both are protected by water: the 224-yard 4th plays to the largest putting surface on the course with a bail out to the right of the green whilst a couple of menacing bunkers flank the left side of the green at the 215-yard 8th.
The round concludes with a couple of very strong par fours: the 480-yard 17th doglegs slightly right to an offset green that sits behind a cluster of bunkers, followed by the 460-yard 18th, where the well-bunkered home green is positioned above a small gulley to the front left of the hole.
Writing in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses Volume 3 – The Americas (summer destinations), Tom Doak had this to say:
“The brainchild of former USGA president Reg Murphy, Caves Valley set a new standard for private-club service and class, inadvertently becoming the forerunner of a generation of courses where the ambience and the maintenance overshadow the golf. It all falls to pieces because the golf course is too hilly, and because none of the holes are standout.”
Caves Valley Golf Club staged the 2021 BMW Championship which Patrick Cantlay won after beating Bryson DeChambeau at the sixth playoff hole.
A great course, with a very good layout, quite hilly and challenging and extremely well-maintained.
From the standpoint of a comprehensive facility Caves Valley operates in first rate manner. The care shown to those going there is clearly top shelf. The rolling terrain is quite attractive but the Tom Fazio layout does not break any new or noteworthy ground given the healthy portfolio of courses the talented architect has created over the years.
The turf quality is superior and the detailing is present throughout the round. Few architects have the skills Fazio has in creating a canvass with a striking presence.
Sad to say, but the architects who have the biggest array of top ticket courses often fall back on the tried-and-true style of layouts used elsewhere. Caves Valley does conclude with a strong finish with two difficult par-4s holes ending the round. However, I did chuckle over Doug's comment when he opines Caves Valley is akin to a fast-food place more like Morton's.
Fazio deserves credit in creating a glowing oasis but the golf architecture is simply a bystander to the other dimensions. For many who go there that stated limitation will not register one iota. For architectural blood hounds you'll be likely one and done and looking for a more lasting scent elsewhere.
M. James Ward
This week is the BMW Championship, the second leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs and it marks the first time in 60 years since the PGA Tour has returned to the immediate Baltimore area.
As I originally opined, Caves Valley is located on a sprawling landscape with plenty of movement throughout the Maryland countryside. It's certainly an eyeful.
The nines were reversed for this week's event and I actually like the tournament routing better than the original. The actual uphill par-4 9th --the 18th this week -- is a quality closer and when the pin is cut in the most rear position it takes a quality approach to get all the way to the location. When many are watching on television the hole is totally engulfed in BMW corporate tents and will provide a worthy setting.
The most striking dimension of Caves Valley is the sheer scale of the property. In my ways, it reminds me of the massive canvass you have with the likes of Augusta National and Bethpage Black. There's plenty of spacing between the holes so gallery can mosey about, but at certain intervals the abruptness of the terrain will wear out those not so physically gifted. As one tour caddie told me -- it's a great design if you're in a cart and have cold beer chilling in a cooler with you.
The holes, with limited intersections, are segregated from one another but the space is also a curse because walking the layout -- in Mid-Atlantic high heat and humidity as it is this week -- is no small feat. A number of tour caddies told me it is clearly near the top of the list for the hardest walks they have during the year. When viewing on television the movement of the property will not be easily appreciated.
Prior to hosting this week's event the bunkering was updated to deal with the length Tour players hit the ball and the new positioning is certainly a plus. The architecture now is relevant in mandating that even with the length and direction Tour players hit the ball they must be cognizant of them.
Fergal mentioned in his initial review of CV on the absence of a quality short par-3. I agree. That would have made fine addition to the overall presentation. The existing par-3 holes -- actual hole numbers with the likes of the 4th, 8th, 12th and 15th are vintage Tom Fazio type creations with big sloping greens either protected by water or with large size bunkers flashed up. The dropshot faced at the 12th is always a test of club selection given the sheer drop from tee to green. Looking forward to seeing the pin placed in the far deep left corner -- hopefully for the final round Sunday.
The quartet of par-5s are nicely done but none truly offers architecture that leaps off the page. The downhill 11th is a visual treat with its right turn in the drive zone, The dog-leg left and then uphill 13th is a decent counterpoint. On the front side the 3rd is typical Fazio with a quality bunker scheme in the drive zone and water to the right. The last faced is the 7th and its straightforward but hardly unique.
The totality of the experience at Caves Valley is the calling card. The cabins provided are top shelf and the state-of-the-art performance center and practice facility is a big-time addition.
The sum total of the architecture is entertaining but not in the classic vein one gets with nearby Five Farms at Baltimore CC. Traditionalists will not be swayed but Caves Valley is testament to the totality of the experience. That is the calling card at Caves Valley and for many that will matter the most.
The world's best players this week will feast on the layout -- clearly it helps to play "clean and place" and with soft greens it will be a question of which players will zero in on the pin locations for numerous birdies.
Tom Fazio fans who get the opportunity to play Caves Valley will be enthralled . As I originally opined in my earlier review -- the design cognoscenti will look beyond the surface and while acknowledging the atmospherics will lament been there did that.
Caves Valley is a great place. The course is very nice. The facility is excellent. Everything about the place is done very well. But why do I not feel overjoyed by such a great facility? It's a corporate factory. My guess is 80% of play is corporate sponsored groups...You show up and click/click/click... It's kinda like being in line at a fast food place except it's more like Mortons…..The course is nice. It is a great group of holes. But the vibe of the place wears you down and overcomes you. The playing fields are large and inviting mostly. Plenty of room to spray. A few grand holes with raised greens. Water comes into play on a number of holes. I'm hoping to back soon so I can improve my memories of the place.
The opening stretch at Caves presents the golfer with typical manicured design features that Tom Fazio has made his trademark. The first four holes are wide open with water making its presence known. From the 5th and 6th onwards, the course tightens up with an increasing amount of tree-lined solid holes. Wide generous fairways with strategically placed bunkering to “frame” the holes are common at Caves Valley, although some of the bunkers don’t come into play and just define the landscape. The course covers about 150 acres with an interesting routing that takes you up & down the Maryland countryside. It’s an enjoyable walk, although 2 of the holes require you to take a cart to the next tee-box, which could be viewed as a disruption to the flow. The par 4s and par 5s offer more design variety than each of the four 190+ yard par 3s. It would have been nice to include a short par 3 rather than a “short” hole that requires a 3 of 4 iron tee shot. With that said the downhill par 3 12th hole is simultaneously mouth-watering and punishing to any ball that doesn’t finish on the dance floor.
When I discussed ‘favourite holes’ with the members, number 8 and 12 were mentioned most. For the scratch golfer, the par 4 11th hole offers a stern test. It plays 440 yards to a dog-leg right fairway that rises up 50 feet to a severely contoured green. Take your par and run. The driveable par 4 14th hole begins the home stretch which includes the strong & long par 4s 16th, 17th & 18th. From a championship course perspective (Caves hosted 2002 Senior US Open), the finishing stretch will have to be tamed in order to lift a trophy. The bunker complexes get bigger and more aggressive in the fairways as you make your way back to the clubhouse and really demand picture perfect ball-striking. Overall, I left the course thinking that Fazio had created a well sculpted course, although the more Fazio courses I play, they begin to feel the same and lose their memorability. The clubhouse and residences are opulent and the demographic of the membership is Baltimore’s finest.