On the tee box of the 16th, I mutter something unprintable. Before me is a golf hole requiring the kind of precision I normally reserve for threading a needle. Peril lurks everywhere. Water is along the right and the fairway has more intimidating interruptions— massive marshlands, nerve-racking bunkers, menacing trees— than I care to count. While I love golf courses that make me think, right now I feel like a Ph.D. in this sport would come in handy.
My husband, Terry, and I are winding (battling?) our way around War Admiral, a state-of-the-art course at GlenRiddle Golf Club in Berlin, Md. It is part of a development of homes and townhomes that includes a Ruth’s Chris Steak House and two championship golf courses— the private, parkland-style War Admiral and a daily-fee links course, Man O’ War. The courses are owned and developed by Thomas Ruark, owner of several award-winning courses in Ocean City including Rum Pointe, ranked one of Maryland’s top five by Golf Week magazine and The Links at Lighthouse Sound, often referred to as “The Pebble Beach of the East.”
GlenRiddle is as historic as it is beautiful. Built on what was once Riddle Farm, the famous horse farm that bred and raised two of the most famous thoroughbred racehorses in the world— “Horse of the Century” Man O’War and his son War Admiral— the land is so gorgeous that it is hard for me to concentrate on my game. At least that’s my excuse. Mature woods, sharp doglegs, narrow fairways and plenty of wind complicate my every shot. Greens are tricky, too. I often feel like I’m putting on top of one massive inverted bowl. From the extremely long first hole to the spine-tingling approach shot across water on the 18th, this course is filled with drama. And deceptions. Many shots look easier than they are because we think we can carry the preservation areas to safety but instead our balls wind up in the hazard.
Transforming a historic horse farm into two modern golf courses with two distinct personalities was the job of course architect Joel Weiman of McDonald Design Group in Jessup, Md., who consulted with U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk. “We wanted War Admiral to look more traditional and older, so we sculpted earth in a way that made the features appear to be excavated into the surrounding terrain, similar to how courses were created 80 years ago by the game’s greatest golf course designers,” says Weiman.
During course development, Furyk was on-site several times. Weiman says Furyk’s objective was to design a course that would challenge him and still be a course his mother would enjoy playing. Considering the difficult time I’m having, his mother must be a pretty good golfer. “You need strategy to get around this course,” adds Weiman. “If you get a little lazy and complacent, it will grab you and you’ll have a big number. You have to concentrate.”
The original stable where the famous horses were kept has been transformed into a sophisticated clubhouse and Ruth’s Chris restaurant. The main dining room is actually a series of several intimate rooms, each one with the feel of a classy, private club thanks to dark woods, earth-toned fabrics, leather chairs, mustard-colored walls and dim lighting. Handsome paintings commissioned by a local artist that depict the famous racehorses and scenes from the farm as it would have looked during its heyday are dotted about.
The loft above the dining room— ideal for a private party— uses the stable’s original beam and timber framework. All stall doors and hardware were preserved. Some are placed in a “stable wall,” depicting the look of the original stable, and others are used as tabletops in the bar where large murals of farm life embellish the walls. The menu is hearty Ruth’s Chris fare— steaks, chops and seafood.
After dinner we gravitate to the museum-like hallway filled with fascinating memorabilia that not only reflects equestrian history but is a snapshot of American life in the ’30s and ’40s. Photos of Man O’ War at various stages along with articles from the famous Seabiscuit/War Admiral match race held at Pimlico Race Course in 1938 are everywhere.
After a perfect day of great golf and a fine meal, we spend the night at the very Victorian, very charming Atlantic Hotel, a five-minute drive from GlenRiddle.
Count us among those who don’t expect to find extraordinary golf so close to Baltimore. We enjoy traveling the country to test our mettle on famous courses— Bandon Dunes in Oregon, The Blue Monster in Miami and Pebble Beach in California are notches on our drivers. We never thought our evening would be spent comparing a course in Berlin, Md., to our famous favorites, but we are doing just that as we turn out the lights. “Didn’t the 16th remind you of the ocean course at Kiawah?” Terry asks.
And such is the pillow talk of golf lovers.
GlenRiddle Golf Club
11501 Maid at Arms Lane
2 N. Main St.