An old Walter Travis layout from 1916, the course at Columbia Country Club hosted the US Open five years after it first opened for play. In more modern times, the club held the 2003 US Junior Amateur Championships when Brian Harman won the tournament – an event Tiger Woods won three years in a row in the early 1990s.
The course lies on a hilly, rather restricted site which offers little room for expansion so, as a consequence, the layout has remained much the same in length (a modest 6,545 yards) for almost a century. Indeed, apart from some bunker modifications, nothing much has changed here on any of the holes.On the front nine, the 426-yard 2nd and 357-yard 3rd are excellent par fours which see the fairways of both holes cross the same creek between tee and green whilst the short par four 17th – where the tee shot almost plays over the 16th green – is the pick of the holes on the closing stretch back to the clubhouse.
This is a fine design by Walter Travis although it could have been better. The reason for this statement is that the course is short by modern standards, just above 6800 yards from the Black tees. At one time the club owned 10 acres of land adjacent to the course which is the house and land that President Rutherford B. Hayes resided on. At the time of owning the land, the club used the property for social events, including weddings. However, the neighbors complained about the noise and so the club sold off the property. This land could have been used to extend the course to over 7000 yards, improving the weaker holes on the golf course.
As it is, the course does feature many memorable holes, two of which are very beautiful, and many other solid golf holes. However, the course does suffer from three-four weaker holes.
There are three dominant features to the course. The land is very hilly, sometimes up a very steep rise, other times the rises are stretched out. Sometimes the fairways run downhill and sometimes there are multiple rises and falls within one hole. The rises dictate how one plays the course with an overall them of favoring the left center of fairways on par 4’s and 5’s as most of them have terrain that kicks to the right on the first and second shots. On five holes there is a hill starting about 150 yards off the green, with a crest at about 230 yards. Shorter and average length players will likely not carry to the top of the hill and might even see their ball come back towards them. Longer players will carry these crests and get a favorable roll-out. This is a course where the longer player will get a benefit that is more than the differential than one’s index. By making the rise, not only will the longer player have a shorter club in their hand, they will often have both a level lie as well as a good look at the pin on the green. The shorter hitter is more likely to have an uneven stance with a blind shot into the green. The result is if one is playing a longer, better player who is scratch and one is a shorter hitter who is a ten, the shorter player likely needs another 3-5 shots on the differential versus their official index.
The second dominant feature to the course is the speedy greens. The green surfaces are not overly contoured, save for a few holes, but they have a substantial tilt. Getting the pace correct is a priority versus the line.
The third characteristic of the course are the green surrounds which are very good, beginning on the first hole with only a few holes lacking in interesting knobs and fall-offs nearer the greens.
The weaker holes are the shorter holes where additional length could have been added had the club done something different with the Rutherford B. Hayes estate. One hole, the seventeenth is terrible, atrocious, awful….pick your word. I suppose there are 15% of golfers who would praise the hole for its very elevated blind second shot, but count me out. Unless a ball lands on the first ten feet of the green, it is likely to go off the back. It is the opposite of a fun or interesting hole. Instead, it acts merely as a place filler for the course which might have been better off and unique as a golf course with only seventeen holes. It is a pity because it is bracketed by the two most visually attractive holes on the golf course.
The course measures 6808 yards from the Black tees and is a par 70 rated 72.9/140. I played the Blue tees at 6412 yards rated 70.9/135. The White tees are 6118 yards while the Gold tees drop all the way down to 5374 yards.
1. Par 4 – 402/375. This hole is set with the clubhouse hard against the left side of the fairway. In fact there is a screen that the groups yet to play stand behind to ensure an errant shot to the left does not hit them. The fairway falls down quickly about 60 feet before beginning a climb to a point slightly below the tee. The fairway tilts to the right so a left center drive is preferred. There are heavy trees down both sides but one does not want to be on the right in those trees as it blocks the line to this sharp dogleg right at nearly 90 degrees. There is a fairway bunker left about halfway up the hill and another one on the inner corner at the top of the hill. This is one of the holes where longer hitters gain a significant advantage resulting in a shot of likely 80 yards or less plus a clear view. The green is angled right to left with a bunker on the left front. The green has a substantial false front which cost me as I landed just short of the green and rolled back ten yards. The green appears to be tilted to the left but balls will go right despite the appearance of higher ground to the right of the green. The green is also very speedy back to front. I did like the fairway bunkers but did like the green complex.
2. Par 4 – 453/401. From an elevated tee one plays to a rise where the land again tilts left to right where a long fairway bunker awaits on the right side. There is good movement on the left side of the fairway. Like the first, longer players can clear the rise in the fairway and with the substantial fall-off on the other side could pick up an additional 100 yards due to the sharp decline. I had a blind shot of 200 yards as my tee shot hit and went sharply right. The green sits well below you and is angled to the right with a fronting bunker and left back bunker. The green begins about 8 yards after a small stream which I did not know was there. The green is tilted sharply back to front and there is less break than appears when putting to a front pin. It is an okay hole.
3. Par 4 – 421/348. A new back tee was built behind the second green adding much more drama to this hole. From the back tee you play over a valley to a rise in the fairway as well as bringing a bunker into play. From the forward tee you play up a steep hill. There is a lot of land movement surrounding a stream at the beginning of the hole but this is not in play. Much like the first and second, longer hitters get an advantage if they crest the hill of both a level lie and a view of the flag. My tee shot again did not quite make it and stayed where it landed. There is a bunker on the left side where the land falls-off a bit. The next bunkers are a central bunker ten yards short of the green and another placed about five yards off the right front. There is nice land movement between and around these two bunkers. The green is long, sloped back to front with a much lower front left corner. I thought this hole was pretty good from the Black tees, less so from the Blue tees.
4. Par 3 – 240/212. We played the original tees which are somewhat to the right of the green. The better tees are to the left of the third green because these tees bring the large raised bunker in front of the green into play. From the tees on the right the bunker sits off to one’s left and is less in play than it does from those newer tees where the raised bunker with a tall face in right in front of you. There is another bunker right of the green that has a raised mound at the back of it. The green is sloped back to front but with a higher back right corner. The land falls away on the front and left side of the green but recovery from that side is easier than getting involved with the mounds and bunker on the right side. This is a fine par 3 from either set of tees but significantly better from those tees to the left of the third green. Quite frankly, I would leave only the Gold tees and all of the other tees to the left of the third.
5. Par 5 – 545/545. Out-of-bounds and thick trees line the left side of the fairway all the way to the green. Trees are more scattered down the right side. There is a smaller rise to the fairway for the tee shot but again longer hitters can hit a speed slot. There is a single small bunker on the right to consider for the longer players. Up ahead there is a small bunker left and a longer one on the right about twenty yards apart. The ground just beyond the left bunker is a small rise so balls hitting there will kick strongly to the right going into that right side bunker. That is pretty devious. For shorter hitters the play is to stay short of both bunkers leaving one 155-160 yards into a green that sits well below you. As you near the green there is another small bunker placed about 10 yards short of the green on the left. The more significant bunker is a front central bunker with a ridge behind it. The front left of the green is a bit of a bowl with a higher back shelf. The right side of the green looks pretty standard with a back-to-front and less contour. This green overall has a fair amount of internal movement. This par 5 would be a good hole, not great, on any course.
6. Par 4 – 460/445. The first of several longer par 4’s come next. Fortunately one plays downhill here but again slightly favoring the left side of the fairway. Players of any length should get a favorable roll-out. Out-of-bounds and trees go down the left side with scattered trees down the right side. Only the longest of hitters need to concern themselves with the two bunkers on the left side of the fairway. The fairway reaches a low point about 160 yards from the green before the ground rises again. The right side of the fairway has a small area of mounding about 110 yards from the green. The green complex has a small pot-like bunker eight yards short of the front right corner while the left side has a long, thin bunker. The green is very tilted back to front and is very quick with a downhill putt. There are also subtle movements left and right in this green. This is a good golf hole.
7. Par 4 – 322/322. You play short of a series of bunkers on the right side of the fairway about 220 yards off the tee. The tee shot goes downhill so club selection is key. The fairway kicks a bit to the right. There is a large bunker fronting the green. While this is a short hole, the green is one of the most difficult on the course with a sharp fall-off right and even higher ground to the right of that leaving one stuck with a downhill lie to a green that has a 3 feet sharp drop on its right side propelling even the quietest putt from just off the green all the way nearly off the green on the other side. There is a long vertical spine in this green. Overall the hole should still represent a birdie opportunity but a par is not even guaranteed given the near-wave line ridge on the right side and the double plateau as well as a back to front slope.
8. Par 3 – 192/178. This is a boring hole playing slightly downhill with a central front bunker. The back right of the green has higher land providing a backstop.
9. Par 4 – 443/416. The next three holes are the strength of the golf course. One hits through a small chute with a couple of trees just off the tee being very much in play and forcing one to play right of them. The tee shot goes uphill so even the longest players do not get that much of an advantage as this hole is a steady rise. The first bunker is on the right which become an aiming point due to those early trees. The second bunker is on the left another 35 yards up. The land tilts to the right towards trees and a bunker that is 40 yards short of the green. There is another small bunker on the left side of a green that other than a back to front tilt, is the smoothest on the course.
10. Par 4 – 433/422. From an elevated tee, one plays downhill with a rise down the left side kicking balls substantially to the left. Even average length hitters should get a favorable roll-out on this hole but expect one’s ball to be on the right side of the fairway. There are two bunkers on the right that seem to be misplaced. I can’t imagine even the longest hitters can reach them but I could be wrong. These land begins to rise before these bunkers. The green has a single bunker on the front right set well below the green. This is a very interesting green with a five and a half feet horizontal shelf on the left side of the green. While small and difficult to access this is the easier putting surface. Most of this green is very tilted back to front and balls going over the green will find it nearly impossible to stop a chip from going to the front of the green. This is a unique green, one that I truly enjoyed.
11. Par 4 – 440/425. From an elevated tee, one plays over a valley so once again it is a walk down then up. Once again the longer hitters have an advantage on this hole if they carry the rise. This fairway tilts to the right but much like all of the longer par 4’s it is very generous off the tee. There is a long and somewhat deep bunker with a steep face down the right side and a smaller one on the left a bit further up. The land tilts to the right all the way to the green. This tilt can propel balls hit short into a tree line blocking a view of the green other than its front. The green has two long bunkers protruding back down the fairway from both of the front corners. There is higher ground to the left back of this green but otherwise the green is relatively simple. One needs to be as left as they can be on this hole. It is another good hole.
12. Par 5 – 526/517. This hole is a dogleg left with an early bunker down the left side in play for the average length players. Trees are scattered down the left side off the tee but with a wide opening to the right. The trees come more into play down both sides for one’s second shot as the land falls sharply downhill about 50 feet again before starting an ascent about 100 yards from the green. This is quite a valley in the course which actually influences about seven holes on the course. The green is set back to the left. A large tree can block a wedge if on the right side of the fairway within 100 yards of the green. Only the most lofted shots from 85-100 yards can clear the branches of that tree if on the right side. There is a bunker on the front left about ten yards short of the green and a deep bunker on the right middle. The green is split into four putting sections although still having a tilt to the front. There is not much room behind the green due to housing. Although there are only two par 5’s on the course, they are very different and are interesting to play.
13. Par 3 – 193/178. This hole plays across a valley to a green that is slightly higher than the tee. There is a bunker just short of the green on the right front and a long, deeper one on the left side. This green has a false front. The hole is memorable mainly for the high walking bridge.
14. Par 4 – 440/396. This is another hole with a newer tee which enhances the hole and levels the playing field a bit between the longer player and the shorter player, unless playing from the same tees. This is a sharp dogleg right with a meaningful tilt to the right off the fairway into a valley where the second green sits. There is both an inner and an outer corner bunker right at the turn. Longer hitters will likely fly them. The green is angled a bit to the right making it smaller than it actually is. Two bunkers are on the right side, placed about four feet lower than the green. The bigger danger is missing the green off the left side where a ball could scurry down a steep slope perhaps as much as 35 yards. There is also a fall-off at the back. Any ball that gets near the edges will have a good chance of falling off the green making the green seem about half of its size for the landing zone. This is a somewhat confusing green, not as sloped as it looks. It is an okay hole from the back tee.
15. Par 4 – 375/367. This is the final hole where one has to clear a crest in the hill with the longer player getting a very long roll-out as the ground is steeply sloped down to the green. This is a dogleg left with two bunkers placed on the inner corner. The fairway does get less wide after the peak of the hole but most balls will stay in the fairway. The green has two bunkers well short of the front left but that is an obvious aiming point for anyone who has a blind shot if they do not clear the crest of the hill. There is a single bunker on the right side. A large tree hangs over the back half of the green. This green has two tiers and a plateau back right with a little knob off the right side. I think the one more plays this hole the less interesting it will become. I would mention that the left side of the fairway at the highest point has perhaps the best view of the clubhouse and putting green.
16. Par 3 – 167/159. This hole is said to one of the holes that inspired Bobby Jones to build the twelfth at Augusta National but I did not see much resemblance other than the flowers and flowering bushes at the back of the green. A forced carry is required to get to the green which sits over a pond that angles diagonally left to right. There is a bunker in the front and back middle creating a small hourglass green. This green is very long. There is a bailout area to the right of the green but if the green is anywhere on the back half one should simply go for the pin. I hit my first a little fat off the rocks fronting at the edge of the pond and then hit my third to a foot to save a bogey. This is the only flat hole on the course, unless one considers the fourth and eighth to be flat. It is also the prettiest due to the water and landscaping.
17. Par 4 – 323/292. You walk backwards up a steep hill to get to the tees which require a 190 yard carry over the same pond fronting the sixteenth. This elevated tee makes for a lovely view as the green sits uphill about 60 feet with three bunkers built into the side of the hill and flanking bunkers at the end of the fairway before the hill starts. The green is round. As mentioned, my issue is not with the blind shot nor the steepness of the hill. Rather, I simply do not believe the green to be adequately receptive. I hit a decent shot and found my ball basically on the Black tee box of the fifteenth hole
18. Par 4 – 433/412. I could not wait to leave the seventeenth, particularly since I knew the eighteenth would have an amazing view of the clubhouse behind the very large green which is framed beautifully by a short hill behind the green. From an elevated tee you play across another valley which is the hill you had to climb to get to the seventeenth tee. The tree line is both denser and longer done the left side but there are trees down the right that wonderfully frame the hole. The hole begins to go uphill about 150 yards from the tee. There are two bunkers on the right that longer hitters will easily carry while the left side has a single bunker placed into the side of a ridge line that dominates the left side of the fairway. The right side has a smaller ridge line. The fairway gets wider as one approaches the green to accommodate the very large green. The green sits on a plateau of about eight feet with a front central bunker that is deep and another placed to the right. I estimated the green to be 50 yards wide and 35 yards deep with four tiers. I was told it once had six tiers. It is an excellent finishing hole and one of the most beautiful on the course from the tee to the green because the long, large, white clubhouse sits right behind it on higher ground. I am not sure when I have seen a longer clubhouse. I am uncertain if I have ever seen a bigger one as well.
I liked Columbia. It is not in the same league as Baltimore Five Farms or Congressional Blue. It is debatable whether Caves Valley or Bulle Rock is better. But I would place it ahead of some other higher profile courses in Maryland such as TPC Potomac at Avenel Farms. It has very good greens, good variety in the difficulty of the holes, a good routing, and interesting green surrounds. I think the club messed up by not holding onto the land and lengthening the course as perhaps the weak holes could have been strengthened. If one is playing the courses that hosted a major, this one would be fun to play. And if one is in the area, it is worthwhile.
Following up on your comments about length...curious if you would apply the same comments to the National Golf Links and, if not, are your comments about Columbia only because there was the potential for additional length, which was left unfulfilled? Based on your description of No. 17, it sounds as if it would be problematic regardless of distance...on the other lackluster holes you refer to, would adding distance bring certain hazards back into play for the modern golfer or...? Just looking for some clarification.
Length is not a primary factor in ranking, rating or reviewing a golf course. Today I played Merion East which is a short yardage course with many short par 4’s but it is wonderful. There is not a hole I would change other than to add back tees for the US Open which is what the USGA did when Justin Rose was the winner.
I would not change a hole at National Golf Links even if I think the second is very weak.
My comment for Columbia regarding additional length is on two points. My member host was lamenting that Columbia cannot host big tournaments, it is hosting the USGA girls amateur this year and the course is long enough for that. But he would like to see it host more Maryland state amateurs and possibly a US amateur, but the course is too short. I said the course could easily host a men’s senior amateur or women’s amateur, possibly even a women’s US Open. But then there is not enough room for crowds.
Secondly, the club should not have sold off the 10 acres. The two weakest holes could have been improved with an additional 60 yards each and the second par 5 could have been changed from good to great.
As for the 17th, it does not necessarily need to be longer but the green is not large enough in terms of the landing zone which is only the front fifth of the green. Otherwise balls go off the back of the green. I think this tilts the hole too much against the player in favor of the hole.
It amazes me how much of shadow Congressional CC casts on a number of other courses in the immediate DC area. One of them is Columbia CC. The course hosted the US Open in 1921 and the US Junior was played there in 2003.
The layout is blessed with really interesting topography. It's a layout constantly in motion and the range of holes is clearly engaging. The greens are well defended and pity the hapless player who cannot hit quality approach shots that remain below the hole. The putting surfaces can run quite fast so if you have a balky putter you'd best work things out on the practice green before heading out for the round.
The opening trio of holes gets the golf juices flowing. You work uphill at the start -- then back downhill with the dog-leg right 2nd and then back up again at the 3rd. Being able to work the ball off the in order to get to the correct position pays big time dividends. The long par-4 6th is also a stout hole -- playing downhill before rising noticeably with the approach. The uphill 9th ends the side in fine fashion -- once again playing uphill to a well contoured and vexing green.
The inward side is quite interesting. The 10th green is one you'll not forget -- plenty of movement and a clear requirement that one's approach be gauged correctly. The par-4 11th is a slight dog-leg right and puts a premium on position as the fairway is protected by bunkers on both sides and features a tapered fairway. The rest of the nine is a good mixture -- the par-3 16th is often mentioned and quite rightly so -- particularly when the pin is cut towards the far right side. From what I was told -- the 16th provided much inspiration to Bobby Jones when the 12th at Augusta National was created.
The finishing hole at Columbia pushes players to the max. Uphill and quite ruthless in eliminating the pretenders from the contenders. Originally, the green featured no less than six distinct portion -- there are now four. You have to be sure to take enough club with the approach as two frontal bunkers will swallow you up quicker than the shark in "Jaws". If the pin is cut in either the back right or left corners you'll need a bit of Divine guidance to exit the green with a par. The stately clubhouse in the background is equally impressive.
The main issue in the times I have been at Columbia is the overall DC area can be extremely challenging in having top tier conditioning. The entire area is in a transition zone where bent grass can easily get stressed out. Usually, the greens are not impacted. Often times the course can play a bit "slow" and it's best to make a visit when the excessive heat and humidity have leveled off from the summer. Playing in the Fall can be optimum as the dry and cooler temps firms up the turf and add to the challenges inherent on the rolling terrain encountered.
M. James Ward
Columbia is a solid track. The course is in great condition during the spring and fall; however, during the summer it’s the rye fairways tend to burn out.
Built on a small, hilly piece of land Columbia has a couple of holes that make you think they ran out of space. No hole is a better example of this than the par 4 17th.
All in all Columbia is a good course and if you are in the area and have the opportunity to play it, you should not pass up on it.