Opened for play in 2000, the Links at Lighthouse Sound is an Arthur Hills-designed course where more than half the holes are laid out alongside the tidal marshes of Assawomen Bay. To protect these wetland areas from golfers playing in and around the sensitive natural areas, almost half a mile of wooden walkways have been constructed to minimise disturbance.
The course is built on what was a working farm until the mid-1960s, when an enormous residential project was planned. Work stopped and the property changed hands a few times before Ruark Golf Properties stepped in during the late 1990s to preserve the natural beauty of the site. Much of the proposed housing was removed from the plans, leaving the waterfront free for golf.
The 508-yard 2nd and 190-yard 3rd are rather unique, played consecutively to the same 16,000 square foot double green. The par three 5th – measuring between 90 and 220 yards – then requires a tee shot over the marsh to a peninsula green with a spectacular Ocean City skyline backdrop. The back nine plays along St. Martin’s River, with the par three 11th and par five 12th lying directly alongside the edge of the water.
Right off the bat when a facility opts to incorporate the word "links" into their official name I wince. This seems to be a penchant for a number of American courses believing the usage of the word will lure golfers to spend money in the inane attempt to be something that can only legitimately be found in Ireland, Scotland and England. The Maryland Eastern Shore area is one where a number of courses were built -- especially during the go-go time frame of the 1990's and at the start of the 21st century.
Unfortunately, much of the golf created is simply ill thought out efforts lacking in compelling architecture.
Lighthouse Sound is a good bit beyond those sad attempts but the land area used truly stretches ones patience. The course cannot be played without a power cart. Architect Arthur Hills and his team had to straddle land located in marshland along with terrain adjoining Assawoman Bay. The property is connected through a massive serpentine pathway. In some cases the rides can stretch on and on and the net result may force you into doing some calisthenics upon arriving at the next tee.
As I stated at the outset, when the word "links" is used specifically, it conjures up one thing in a golfer's mind and quite another in those who use it so erroneously. Lighthouse Sound does not have the firmest of turf befitting a layout in its locale. On the flip side, Hills did create a number of quality holes that provide a sufficient test. One must be always cognizant in keeping one's ball in play. The penalties for wayward hits will mean a prompt and certain golf ball donation to the property.
The best part of the layout comes in the outward half of holes. The demands are also heightened by the varying force of wind which is a daily item to contend with when playing out in the open. Hole 4 thru 8 are routed in a counter-clockwise manner and the close proximity to Assawoman Bay provides for some real visual treats. The par-4 4th is well done. The fairway tapers a bit and the tee shot must be placed correctly to provide the best angle into the green. When the pin is cut in the far rear right corner it takes a gifted approach to carry a frontal water hazard. The par-3 5th at 218 yards follows and is often shown in photographs. Be forewarned this is an ornery hole -- most especially when the wind blows in off the Bay. At times there can be a 3-4 club headwind and the smarter play is often bailing out to the left to avoid near certain drowning of one's ball. The par-4 6th that follows is a good mid-length par-4 and the par-5 8th is especially good because blending sufficient power and accuracy is an absolute must.
After playing the par-5 that the series of long cart rides commences and by time you reach the 9th tee you may need to shake off the cobwebs. The 9th is a quality two-shot hole -- playing 444 yards. A pull or pushed tee shot will not be treated charitably.
Once done with the 9th you then begin the journey of holes being squeezed into a sliver of land. It's not the best of golf by any means but given what Hills had to work with it's as good as one can likely expect.
The ride from the 12th tee is interrupted by a bizarre turn which one must take to play the par-3 13th. The hole is sort of a "rest stop" on the way to the par-4 14th. Lighthouse Sounds concludes with two strong par-4's among the final quartet at the 15th and 17th respectively. The 18th a par-5 of 532 yards is a quality risk/reward hole to end the day.
Slotting 18 holes into this demanding site was never going to be an easy lift and Hills deserves credit for doing as best as he did. Lighthouse Sound is far better than much of the lowbrow golf offerings in the area and it's too bad the momentum gained from a number of top-notch holes on the front is not sustained. Word for the wise -- building a quality golf layout depends on the land you have to work with. Lighthouse Sound shows the compromises when one has to significantly adjust the final outcome because of that reality.
by M. James Ward