Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Baltimore (Five Farms) East Course

The East Course at Baltimore Country Club, known as Five Farms, is ranked #91 in the world. Five Farms, designed by A.W. Tillinghast, officially opened in September of 1926. Baltimore Country Club is located in two locations - one near the city and one north of the city, in the affluent horse-country suburbs. Word to the wise - make sure you go to the right campus if you are going to play the Five Farms Course, which is located in Lutherville, Maryland.

Straight to the point - the course is on the list because it is a Tillinghast gem. It has two of the best par fives he has designed: the par five 6th hole and the par five 14th hole. Tillinghast's other great par five is the 4th at Bethpage Black. The 14th hole at Five Farms is not just one of Tillinghast's best par fives, it is one of the best holes in all of golf, regardless of par or the course architect.

The clubhouse and fences

A road runs through the Five Farms course, as it does at many of the world's great courses. The first two holes are near the clubhouse and then you cross over Mays Chapel Road and play the remaining sixteen holes.

Tillinghast had a great piece of rolling terrain at Five Farms, and he made the most of it. The course is characterized by sweeping fairways, a great variety of dog legs and a nice mix of uphill and downhill shots. There is none of the hole after hole of relatively straight fairways, choked with trees, like you find at Tillinghast's Baltusrol and Winged Foot.

The course also has a nice use of cross-bunkers strategically placed on various holes, and many of the holes have back to front pitched greens. The use of elevated greens is also a characteristic of the course. More than half of the holes have elevated greens, sometimes severely elevated, so that a shot hit short will roll back to the bottom of a hill.

The par three 4th

The unmistakable classic Tillinghast bunkering is present at Five Farms, as you can see from the elevated par three 4th hole.

The par five 6th approach to the green

There are only two par fives on the course, and both are world-class. All the holes at Five Farms have a name. The sixth ("Barn") is the only par five on the front and has similarities to the Road Hole at St. Andrews. There is a red barn on the left side of the fairway that a daring hitter can try to hit over to cut the corner, similar to hitting over The Old Course Hotel on the 17th at St. Andrews. It is a classic risk-reward decision. Going for it will leave you with a shot into the green for eagle. Missing the shot will either leave you O.B. or in deep trouble. The hole is a sharp dogleg left after you drive the ball. The fairway on the hole sweeps from left to right, and there is a cross-bunker in the fairway to catch second shots that are topped.

The "Barn" 6th hole

You can land your approach shot short of the green short and the ball will roll up. A shot hit over the green leaves you with a difficult sand shot back to a green that runs away from you.

A World Class Hole

Hole #14 is a 603 yard par five known as Hell's Half Acre and is outstanding in every regard. The hole is a dogleg to the left and Tillinghast uses the terrain perfectly, following the contours of the hills. The four pictures below try to capture the majesty of this hole. After hitting your tee shot, you have to hit over "Hell's Half Acre", which is a mix of bunkers, high grasses and mounds. If you hit a successful second shot your ball is at the bottom of a hill, leaving you an uphill shot to an elevated, well-bunkered green. The green is very fast with a big front to back slope. There are perfectly sculpted, mature specimen trees framing the hole. The use of trees at Five Farms was done artfully throughout the course. They serve as focal points and backdrops and rarely come directly into play unless you are wildly off line. As an example, see the tree framing the 14th green below.

The approach shot on the fabulous 14th hole

The 14th hole as seen from Hell's Half Acre

14th green

I'm not sure you can pick it up from the pictures, but they are taken from atop a hill and look down to the elevated green, with a big valley in between. The 2nd shot on this par five is a blind shot since the hazards and slope of the fairway blocks your view. As you walk down the hole, the fairway and hazards become ever more visible, and the splendor and strategic options of the hole become apparent. As I walked up the fairway and the hole unfolded in front of me, I kept saying out loud, "wow", it is that good a hole.

I thought that the 6th, 7th and 8th holes were a brilliant stretch of golf, characteristic of the course. The 7th, appropriately named "Dogleg", is a 345 yard dogleg left with a sweeping hill to a well protected fast green that slopes front to back. The 8th hole ("Sidesaddle"), seen below, is a 345 yard dogleg right, also with sloping terrain to a well bunkered green. This is typical of the routing at Five Farms, a dog leg right, followed by a dogleg left, that makes for such an interesting and varied layout.

8th hole - "Sidesaddle"

Baltimore Country Club was founded in 1898, two years after Merion. The course has hosted several major championships, although the 1899 U.S. Open was played on a course that is no longer in existence at Roland Park. The Five Farms course hosted the 1928 PGA Championship, 1932 United States Amateur and the 1965 Walker Cup.

Having played seven of Tillinghast's courses thus far, I would rank Five Farms behind San Francisco and Bethpage Black but ahead of both courses at Winged Foot and Baltusrol. It's a more interesting layout than these latter four tracks.

I was hosted at Five Firms by a fellow golf aficionado who was a real gentleman and has played as many world-ranked courses as I have. We shared a real love of the same courses particularly National Golf Links of America, Yeamans Hall, Myopia Hunt Club and Sand Hills. The professionals at Five Farms are the most fashionable and well-dressed pros I have ever met. Aside from a world-class layout, Baltimore has everything I like in a course: we played fast, walked with caddies, there are no cart paths to mar the beauty, and cell phones have to stay in your car.


Brian said...

I am a member of BCC and I appreciate your kind words for our gem. We generally think it is an underrated Tilly masterpiece though with the staging of the Senior Players the last few years that may no longer apply.

Glad you enjoyed the East course.

keithjdunk said...

I have had the pleasure of playing the East and West Course and thoroughly enjoyed them both. The East has been enhanced as I understand and I can not imagine how to improve a gem. It is my feeling that you would be a great venue for an LPGA major. Your staff is very kind also.