Interstate-70 may not be Magnolia Lane, with the 60 picturesque Magnolia trees flanking the 330-yard stretch of pavement leading toward Augusta National Country Club. Still, I-70 has more than just one slice of links heaven.
Starting at the intersection of 70 and 695 near Woodlawn, visitors can drive west past Turf Valley in Ellicott City before winding through Mount Airy where Rattlewood and the Links at Challedon await minutes away. But it’s the highway’s entrance into the heart of Frederick County, home to 13 courses with a full menu of difficulties, layouts, and shot-shaping demands, that I-70 really begins to delve into some of the game’s finest.
There is Musket Ridge, a snaking course encompassing more than 150 acres in Myersville with an abundance of elevated tee shots, bunkers deep enough to swallow an SUV, and difficult, undulating greens with the Catoctin and Blue Ridge Mountains providing the backdrop.
In neighboring Ijamsville sits P.B. Dye, named after one of golf’s most renowned architects, and the Ernie Els designed Whiskey Creek. Where Dye is notorious for its precarious pot bunkers and railroad ties lining the greens and tee boxes, Whiskey Creek finds seclusion into the woods with dozens of boulders, brooks, and medieval-looking stone buildings adding to its aesthetic difficulty.
High school friendly Holly Hills and Hollow Creek, home to Frederick County powers Urbana and Middletown respectively, are just a short stop off of 70, as is Linganore’s home course, West Winds. Worthington Manor, a rolling, open course in Urbana designed by Ault Clark & Associates, the same company that provided touch ups to the U.S. Open-caliber Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, plays host to Tuscarora.
“I would say [Frederick County] has to be one of the best,” Musket Ridge head pro David Freiss said. “We have three or four of the top 10 public courses in the state.”
When GolfWeek and GolfLink published this year’s rankings for the top venues in the state, Worthington Manor, Musket Ridge, and Whiskey Creek were all in the top 10 and, although it didn’t make the 2012 cut, Maryland National has frequented the list in the past.
“We really truly are lucky,” Hollow Creek head pro Josh Ricketts said. “Besides the golf meccas of the world like Orlando and Myrtle Beach, you really won’t find as many golf courses as there are here in Frederick County. We’re really lucky. In fact, every course around is as good as any place you would go.”
People have begun to take note. As the economy spiraled downwards, Frederick courses began to entertain an increase in groups opting for more affordable, local golf trips rather than the traditional excursions to the south.
“I can tell you in my experience here people certainly have started to recognize [Frederick courses],” Freiss said. “They are no longer going to Myrtle [Beach] or Ocean City. They come to Frederick County. The word is getting around Pennsylvania and New Jersey.”
When “The Frederick Golf Guy,” Chris Moore, moved to the western Maryland county in 1992, there were just three golf courses. The picturesque views at Whiskey Creek and the tumbling hills of Musket Ridge had not yet been carved out, and to find an elite golf course at that time you had to make at least an hour-long trip.
But then in 1997 Worthington Manor sprouted up, and with it came four memorable par-3s and the first original, upscale, premium course in Frederick County. And then, as the saying goes, “if you build it, they will come.”
And more did. P.B. Dye opened in 1999 and was followed by Whiskey Creek in 2000 and then two years later came Musket Ridge, Maryland National, and Hollow Creek. In a matter of just five years, Frederick County had blossomed from an area bare of greens and fairways into a hidden hotbed of courses.
For Moore, the only problem was that it was still just that: hidden. In 2004 he opened a business that books group golf trips to Frederick County — labeling himself “The Frederick Golf Guy.” But the very young collection of up-and-coming courses in the area were still relatively unknown and still new.
“It is definitely still very young,” he said. “But from a quality standpoint only two of [Ocean City’s courses] have been in the top 10 and we’ve had four. That kind of quality is rare unless you go to South Carolina but I really don’t know of any other county. If I had to guess I can say there wouldn’t be another county in the country,” with the quality Frederick offers.
Despite being just one person to compete against a full staff of booking agents in Ocean City and Myrtle Beach, Moore has seen an increase in group trips to Frederick every year since 2004.
As slowly and as surely as the fairways and greens mature, the word about Frederick’s courses is creeping out.
The best part of it all? The only things needed are a car, a set of clubs, and a few minutes down I-70.