ABERDEEN, Md. - When he bought a parcel of old farmland here several years ago, developer Jim Knott's plan was to turn it into an industrial park. But Knott, an avid golfer, eventually thought better of it. Instead, he put in a call to golf course architect Tom Doak.
|At a glance|
| Getting there: Beechtree Golf Club is at 811 S. Stepney Rd., Aberdeen, Md. Heading south on I-95, about seven miles south of the Susquehanna River, take Exit 80, Route 543 South. At the second light, turn left onto Route 7 East. Follow Route 7 for two miles to Stepney Road. Turn left on Stepney and follow it three-quarters of a mile. Beechtree is on the right. The phone number is 410-297-9700 or, toll-free, 1-877-233-2487. The Web site is www.beechtreegolf.com.
Green fees: Weekends, weekdays and holidays, $85. Rate includes cart and range balls.
Carts: Walking is permitted at any time, although cart fees are included.
Spikes: Nonmetal only.
Amenities: Posh country-club-style clubhouse, with restaurant and banquet facilities; locker room; well-stocked pro shop; driving range; putting and chipping greens. Outings welcome.
Rating: Excellent four-star daily-fee course with posh amenities; pricey but definitely worth a try.
Information accurate as of 8/12/2002
The result is the year-old Beechtree Golf Club, another first-rate, upscale, daily-fee course along the I-95 corridor between Baltimore and Philadelphia.
If you don't mind the drive, and you don't have to dip into the kids' college fund for the $85 per round, Beechtree is definitely worth a try.
Think of Hartefeld National, of another "country club for a day" just over the Maryland border - you know, a bag drop where they scurry out to your car, a pro shop where they've got plenty of quality merchandise, a restaurant where you feel a little boorish if you don't take off your hat.
Best of all, if you prefer your golf courses long and demanding, think of a track that plays 7,023 yards from the tips, with a very intimidating course rating of 74.9 and a slope of 142.
A 142 slope is serious golf. Merion is 144 from the tips. Pebble Beach is 142. Even from the white tees, from which Beechtree measures just 6,086 yards, the slope goes 130, well above average. Playing a round at Beechtree this past week, I got the sense that Doak wouldn't have - couldn't have - settled for anything less.
The reason is simple. Doak, who also designed Stonewall, the very exclusive private club in Elverson, Pa., is an outspoken, somewhat controversial rising star among course architects. He wants very badly to be regarded among the handful of elites in the industry, and he can ill afford a misstep at this point in his career.
That made Beechtree quite the opportunity for him. Situated just six miles deeper into Maryland than the much-acclaimed Bulle Rock, Beechtree was a chance for Doak to go toe-to-toe with the legendary and even more controversial designer Pete Dye, under whom Doak apprenticed. Given the proximity to Bulle Rock, Beechtree was sort of the golf equivalent of the young football coach staring across the sideline at his mentor.
But, as Doak recently told Golf magazine, "I learned a long time ago that you don't try to outdo Pete Dye. You compete by building something different, but, hopefully, just as worthwhile."
While it doesn't offer quite the large-scale drama of Bulle Rock, Beechtree is definitely large scale and unquestionably worthwhile.
Like so many new courses these days, it is built on what was once a farm. The front nine, the less interesting side, meanders across fairly open hill and dale, bringing water into play on a couple of holes and native-grass-waste areas into play on several others. The back nine, with a terrific stretch from the 12th on in, wends its way through more wooded terrain.
Beechtree has a modern feel to it, to be sure. But Doak, a student of the great architects of the last 100 years, here and abroad, has also made sure to integrate more classical design features throughout the course.
Fairways, often sloped or banked, are generally generous enough to higher handicappers, but they also offer better golfers a risk-reward scenario - i.e., carrying a distant and strategically placed fairway bunker. The bunkers, which are more plentiful in the fairways than around the greens, tend to be large and jagged, in the old style. But my favorite feature of Beechtree's is Doak's greens - they are large, gently undulating and subtly treacherous.
Much like Hartefeld and Bulle Rock, the entire course has an impressive, large-scale feel to it. Long and risky second shots are the norm, not the occasional test. Only one of the three par 5s is remotely reachable in two. There's not an easy - or, for that matter, short - par 3 on the course.
Because of the wide-open terrain, the front nine is the lesser half of the course, though it is hardly weak - a fact driven home as soon as you hit the fourth.
It's a par 3 - 185 yards from the white tees, 234 from the tips - and it has an almost dogleg look and feel. It has a huge, bunkerless green that defies you to 2-putt. The 466-yard sixth, with its yawning fairway bunker cut into the face of the fairway, begs big hitters to try and bomb one. But it's the back-to-back par 5s - the seventh, a sweeping downhill hole that's reachable, and the eighth, an uphill beast that is not - that contribute the most personality to the front.
As Beechtree heads back into the woods and into more rolling terrain, Doak demands you find your "A" game.
The 10th, a dicey little dogleg over a creek, is good. So is the 11th, a dogleg left that bears a slight resemblance to the 12th at Pine Valley. But the meat of the back nine begins at the 12th, a long, straight par 4 aptly named Up n' Over.
Indeed, it is on the back nine that the hole names suddenly take on more meaning. The 14th, a 441-yard dogleg, is dubbed Sahara for good reason - the series of bunkers guarding the green calls to mind the nasty cluster of sand at the par-5 fifth at Hartefeld.
The 15th, another downhill, sweeping, dogleg par 4, plays every inch of its 475 yards.
If you haven't yet had enough, there is the final test - the uphill, unreachable 18th that plays into a bunkered, two-tiered green that is higher in the front than in the back - as if you needed one more bogey on your card.
All in all, with Beechtree, Doak hasn't surpassed the grandmaster Dye's Bulle Rock. But in his effort to join the luminaries of golf architecture, he has added a significant course to his resume.
Originally published in 1998.