By Matt Hombach
As one of the oldest courses in Baltimore, the Suburban Club in Pikesville both stimulates senses and tests your golf game. The gorgeous, well-manicured par-70 layout places a premium on accuracy and quality of the short game. The course measures over 6,500 yards and can try one's patience. Chances are you’ll end up pulling every club in the bag before the day is over.
From the tips, Suburban's Par-4 fourth hole measures 420 yards. (Courtesy of Matt Hombach)
Suburban originally opened in 1903 with nine holes in what was then a rural area outside Baltimore City. A few years later, noted course architect A.W. Tillinghast was brought on to design an additional nine holes on the property to complete the tract. The course is classic in every sense of the word and is reminscent of other storied private clubs like Merion, Winged Foot and Oakmont (before they took down all the trees).
“The course features small, relatively fast greens; most of the holes are well-bunkered and there’s lots of rough,” said Mark Helffrich, PGA director of golf at the Suburban Club.
If that isn’t enough, hundreds of mature trees frame the holes and add another layer of defense.
By most accounts, the tees, greens and rolling fairways of Suburban Club are in near perfect condition. Ideal weather and the hard work of second-year superintendent Blake Murphy and his team get the credit for the immaculate bent grass turf.
“If there is one hole that is representative of what the course is all about here at Suburban, it may be No. 4,” said Helffrich, now in his 18th year with the club.
To start, the length of the hole adds significantly to the challenge. From the tips, the par-4 measures 420 yards.
When hitting the first shot from the picturesque tee boxes on No. 4, trees line each side of the area and create a visual “chute” out into the fairway. While it’s rare for low handicappers’ shots to hit the overhanging branches, the visual effect can be intimidating. The trees can distract you from choosing a wise aiming point for your drive, which is crucial to scoring well on this hole.
The hole isn’t a true dogleg, but does bend slightly to the left up by the green. This makes the shortest path to the green down the left side of the fairway.
Another attractive reason to aim for the left side is the unique land bridge that offers a refuge from the creek that cuts the right side of the fairway in half.
While you may be pleased with a drive down the left, that may fade once you arrive at your ball. A cluster of oak trees to the left and short of the green cuts off a direct shot at the pin in many cases. If you miss the fairway to the left and end up in the rough, you face a long, nearly impossible shot at the green. Playing a severe draw on the second shot is the only option to keep birdie hopes alive.
Another disadvantage to playing down the left side is it forces a player to carry a deep bunker that fronts the left side of the green with his approach shot. The right side of the fairway offers a safer, albeit longer, approach to the hole.
“A good drive that ends up short of the creek on the right side of four's fairway will leave most golfers with a 160- to 180-yard shot to the green,” Helffrich said. “That is definitely the safer way to go, but it can make for a long approach.”
The second shot from the right side of the fairway is no bargain either. In addition to another bunker to take into account, there is a 12-15-yard wide landing area or “ramp” that leads from the fairway to the green. From 170 yards out, that can be tough to hit. Rolling the ball up to the green is quite difficult on this hole. In most cases, it’s better to take a little more club and carry it all the way.
An added danger of taking more club is it brings into play the out of bounds markers that can gobble up shots flying long or left behind the green.
When you do end up safely on the putting surface, the challenge doesn’t end there. The greens at Suburban typically run around 10 or over on the Stimpmeter and have some subtle breaks. Trust the experienced and knowledgeable caddies at the club to give the right read.
While there are a number of memorable holes at Suburban Club, the fourth definitely stands out as a great test that has been challenging golfers for over a century.
The Suburban Club is open for play only to members and guests. For more information about the course, visit www.SuburbanClub.com.
Issue 2.26: June 28, 2007