Dubbed the “Beast of the East,” the par four 18th is a tough closing hole - surrounded as it is by salt marshes - at the Eagle’s Landing Golf Course.
Routing is likely the most undervalued aspect in golf course architecture. How does one fit a golf course into the land you have available? Keep in mind, all parcels are not exactly easy situations -- many are irregular in shape and often times bordering issues from wetlands to other interferences have to be accounted for.
Then you have to craft a golf course that actually has something to offer. Providing for a range of holes and not having to create "filler" holes providing little more than "connection" points to get to the better land areas. At the same time, there must be a coherent access plan -- connecting holes in a reasonable manner so that lengthy cart rides between holes does not become a regular situation.
I have been visiting the greater Ocean City, MD area off and on for well over 30 years. During the peak summer months this is the location where summer vacation throngs from DC and Baltimore area come to enjoy the surf. Over roughly that same time frame a number of daily fee courses have been added to the picture.
Among the very best is Eagles Landing. In order to be routed the course had to account for a serious intersection with wetlands and with the adjoining Ocean City Municipal Airport.
While the listed architectural firm is the then partnership of Mike Hurdzan and Dana Fry -- the man responsible for the planning and construction drawings was Bill Kerman. Originally orientated as a civil engineer he eventually became a golf course architect. Since 2012 he has done all Fry / Straka drawings and documents.
As I said at the outset -- the routing is central to maximize all the given attributes of a property. That is never an easy task when you have to fit 18 holes into a uniquely configured property and do so with all the aforementioned restrictions faced. It's important to remember that with all the applause given to the old time architects they did not have to worry about environmental rules one sees today. If there were a wetlands -- they could simply fill it in. That doesn't happen today.
The audience for Eagles Landing is the non-affiliated player -- usually vacation goers during the peak months of play. Nonetheless, the design of Eagles Landing is quite inventive with a clever design. The opening two holes are consecutive par-4's that are nothing special but serve the purpose in getting the muscles loose and limber. Generally, these holes play downwind.
Things ramp up considerably at the long par-5 3rd -- played back into the prevailing wind and requiring three good shots to get the green which is protected in the rear by a pond. Usually, par-5 holes are ones where players look to make a fast birdie -- that's not a sure thing at the 3rd.
The par-4 4th also plays from south-to-north as the opening two holes but the green is set on a slight diagonal -- and when the pin is placed towards the very front or rear left the approach shot has to be well executed.
The main weakness at Eagle's Landing on the front side is the par-3's -- they are simply vanilla at the 5th and 8th holes. Fortunately, those holes are offset by the fantastic 6th which provides a "cape-like" challenge. The hole bends left in the drive zone and a large pond strenuously protects that side. Players have to determine how much is worthwhile to cut-off when standing on the tee. The hole is further protected by the prevailing wind which usually blows back into one's face. For those who venture to the right the length of the 2nd shot grows dramatically.
The putting surface also hugs tight to that same pond. When the pin is cut to the left side the slightest pull with the approach means a quick "good-bye" to one's golf ball.
You then cross over Eagle's Landing Road to access the final three holes of the front. The par-4 7th is an outstanding par-5 -- again turned left as you hit across Bat Creek. Golfers able to turn their tee shots sufficiently right-to-left will have a better opportunity to go for the green which is situated just across an inlet of Bat Creek to a promontory green site. When standing in the fairway and assessing if going for the green in two is worthwhile the size of the green seems engulfed by danger on all sides. Amazingly, there's nary a bunker on the entire hole.
The closing par-4 9th is under 400 yards and requires a lay-up off the tee in the range of 240-250 yards. Once accomplished, players will hit approach shots over Bat Creek which cuts off the fairway and green area. The putting surface is just across and is diagonally angled with a far right rear pin a real challenge.
The par-4 10th commences the inward side and while only 310 yards the hole places a major emphasis on positioning. Golfers tee off going across a section of Bat Creek. Strong players can attempt a direct shot at the green but a pesky solitary bunker needs to be carried. The green is tucked back in the corner with Bat Creek forming a rear boundary. Now by no means I am suggesting that the 10th at Eagle's Landing is on par with the all-world 10th hole at Riviera, but this short par-4 demonstrates a desire to test the never of all levels of players.
The two par-5's on the return nine go in opposite directions - so while one may play downwind you can be sure the other will have wind in your face.
From the 14th to the 18th you encounter three quality par-4's -- each vastly different than the other. The closing hole, a par-4 of 396 yards, is dubbed, "The Beast of the East." Once again Bat Creek enters the picture and players have to decide how much risk / reward they are seeking.
The hole turns slightly to the left and the deeper you attempt to get down the fairway the landing area tapers down considerably. To add to the demands -- there's water to the right side as well. There's no short cut because accuracy is a must. Generally, I am not a fan of forced lay-up holes generally but this one works because the distance required for the 2nd shot does fall within the range of most players. The green is bunker-less and that works very well so that there's no clutter. When wind conditions really get going the demands of the hole become quite problematic -- whether the wind is with you or against you.
The main issue with Eagle's Landing is not an uncommon one in modern golf design -- cart paths. In order to keep a course available even when inclement weather arises, facilities have opted to create a roadway of paths. On a number of holes the cart paths are positioned on the line of play that most golfers will attempt to follow. The net result? At times, golfers will hit the paths and the crazy bounces is something that could have been planned against more effectively.
The main issue is that owners of such properties want to keep the paths as near as possible to the holes thereby providing easy access for players going back and forth as needed. Architects attempt to "hide" such paths as best as possible but the intrusive nature does diminish the golf experience. If the paths were somehow corrected the overall golf experience would be heightened and the overall assessment would clearly rise.
Kudos to the ownership of the course in being the first to earn Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary status within the State of Maryland.
As I said at the outset, a skilled routing is one to admire given all the inherent road blocks encountered. Bill Kerman did a solid effort as there's enough hole variation to keep one's interest front and center. Yes, there are some pedestrian holes -- mainly on the par-3s, however, Eagle's Landing proves this bird can certainly fly.
M. James Ward