stand on the first tee and 18 challenging holes lay before you. This is Gunpowder Golf Club. The club is located in Laurel, MD on Old Gunpowder Road. Bob Milligan bought the land in the early 1950’s. It had been a rock quarry. He designed the front nine and began building. He removed ton’s of stone. The stone that was removed was sold and he then designed and built the back nine. The course opened in 1956.
The course was designed to follow the natural topography of the land in the Scottish tradition. Over 50 years have passed since the opening and the course still holds that character. Fairways are tree lined and there are only a few that are relatively flat. Bring all of your clubs, you will find you need everything in your bag.
Follow with me on a short guide on how to score at Gunpowder.
The first hole is a down hill dog leg right. Tree lined down the right side and challenging golfers do not attempt cutting the corner. Trees are much taller today than 1956. The smart play is a shot of about 180-200 yards down the left center of the fairway. Your second shot will be about 100-120 yards to a medium sized green. Avoid going long or losing it right. There is a steep slope behind the green that feeds into the woods. Shots that hit short of the green may roll all the way through and off the back edge. The putting surface has a gentle slope from the left rear to the right front.
The second hole parallels the first, back up the same hill. It is tree lined on both the right and left side. There are several potential teeing areas. If the grounds keeper places it in the farthest point, you will find yourself in a shoot that challenges everyone. It requires hitting the ball about 200-220 yards straight up the right side of the fairway. If you pull the ball a bit left, you will be blocked out on your second shot. There is a stand of trees that run up the left side of the fairway beginning about 150 yards from the hole. They are old and tall and seem to be a ball magnet. Dump one here and bogey becomes a better than average score. If you hang it too far to the right, you will find yourself in the woods that separate the first and second fairways. It is also possible to hit the ball through the fairway into the woods. A well placed shot will leave you anywhere from 120-150 yards uphill to a smaller green. You have to trust your yardage as the actual topography leaves the illusion you are closer than the yardage may indicate. The safe bale out area is to the right of the green. If you go long, you will find the bushes that are a mere 5 yards behind the hole. The putting surface slopes severely from the rear to the front. There is a ridge that runs through the green and depending on the pin placement attacking the hole may be out of the question.
The third hole is a down hill, up hill gentle dogleg right par 5 that has the flavor of the 13th at Augusta…don’t know why, it just does. When the tees are up, it is a short par 5 that can be reached in two. If the tees are all of the way back, it becomes a challenging hole. There are trees on the left (separating the second and third fairway. The right side of the hole is woods lined. Depending on the tee placement, the woods on the right come in to play. Striking a tee ball that will leave you with a playable second shot to the green often requires using a drive or three wood and threading a flight path perilously close to the trees on the right (effectively cutting the corner of the dogleg). If you choose to hit a hybrid or long iron off the tee, you will be faced with a decision to try to carry a second shot over a pond to uphill area or lay up to an area that is about 125-150 yards from the green. There are woods on the right and left of the fairway from about 150 yards out through the green. The fairway in this area is uphill with a slope to the left. Should you attempt to reach the green in two shots, you will have to play the ball up the right side. This shot will possibly bring the trees on the right into play. ther is no bale out area right, left or long. There is a bunker short left, a bit of a valley then bushes long and trees to the right. The putting surface is quite large with a severe slope from right to left. There is also a ridge that runs from front to back on the right side of the green. The left side of the green does have a flat area. Balls resting on the upper right side are almost impossible to stop when putting down the hill. The safest spot is on the lower left (even the fringe) which will leave you with an uphill chip or putt. Scoring a birdie here is just as possible as leaving the green with a triple bogey.
The fourth hole is one of the hardest on the course. It is an uphill 160-190 yard par 3. There are trees on the left and right. The ground in front of the green is usually soft. There is a bunker along the right side of the putting surface. It is a large green that slopes from back to front. You can usually only see the upper 2/3rds of the flag from the tee area. Winds swirl through the trees. What may feel like a tail wind on the tee can easily be a wind in your face on the green.
The fifth hole’s tee can be located in one of two areas. It is either perched on a hill top or down below the elevated teeing area. The tee shot has to carry over a small pond. It is only about 150 yards across, but it is all carry. The shot appears much more intimidating than it really is. From across the pond, the fairway doglegs to the right and is tree lined on both sides, uphill to the green. A tee shot of 180-200 yards will leave you with a short iron shot of 100 yards or less to the putting surface. If you hit the ball a bit to the right, it can be lost in the forest. If you pull the ball to the left, it can end up in the trees or get knocked down into the pond. If you go for broke, you can hit the ball through the fairway into the wooded area at the bend in the dogleg. On the score card, it appears to be an easy hole. The lay of the land can thwart even the best placed shots. There is not bale out area left, rear or to the right. The left is wooded, over the green is a severe hill that leads down to the sixth tee and woods beyond and to the right is another steep hill that leads to the woods. Shots that end up left of the hole leave a delicate pitch to a green that is slick and slopes away from you. Shots that are long, leave you with a chip shot to a green that is above you and slopes away from you and shots to the right have to carry to the green or possibly land and roll back to where they began. The green is medium sized and slopes from the left rear to the right front. A putt uphill is desirable inasmuch as a downhill putt or side hill putt that doesn’t go in will continue to roll for several feet beyond the target.
The sixth hole offers yet another up hill blind shot, leaving you a mid iron to a green that is now below your feet. There are trees on the right and left and a large mound in the center of the fairway. A tee shot should be placed up the left side. Depending on the tee location (front, back or middle) he target area is 160-240 yards away. Balls that are struck to the right may leave you in position to see the green, but have no way of getting there. Woods run down the entire right side of the fairway and the trees are old and tall and block most direct routes to the green. Your second shot on the hole can range from 150-100 yards. the green is only visible from the far right side of the fairway. Depending on where your tee shot comes to rest, you may not even be able to see the flag. The green is just over a severe hill that runs from the front of the green around and down the right side of the fairway. This is another hole where you have to trust the yardage. The layout is visually deceiving. The green is large and slopes severely from back to front. Approach shots that land one third of the way up the green often roll back and into the fringe. There is a small bale out area to the right and in front of the green. Long is penalized by severe rough and right is into the woods.
The seventh hole is rated the most difficult on the course. It has a very long potential teeing area. There is about 50 yards difference between the front tee area and the tips. If the tees are up front, you are faced with a carry of about 175 yards over a natural bowl to a small flat area at the crest of a hill. In the middle of the hill is a directional pole. The pole was added a few years back ( I still remember standing on that tee during my first round there wondering “where do I go from here?”). If the tees are placed back in the shoot, there is a narrow tunnel. If the tees are more forward, trees on the left and right can come into play. A solid tee shot will leave you anywhere from 120-180 yards from the green. It is a large putting surface that appears to slope from back to front. It does not slope much at all. The downhill angle of the fairway creates the illusion. Balls struck too firmly will scoot off the back and down a slope towards the woods behind the green. There is a small bale out area to the right. Once on the putting surface, you will see breaks that do not exist. The lay of the land create the illusion that a ball has to break right or left and usually it is dead straight.
The eighth hole is another par three, mid to short iron over the lake and to an elevated green that falls from back to front. The tees on the hole can be placed from 100-170 yards from the hole. The nature of the surrounding trees create swirling winds that are usually against you greenside. There is no place to be short. The green is fronted by a hill that stretches from about 5 yards short of the putting surface to the pond below. There is bale out on the right and left. Shots that carry too long will come to rest on the hill behind the green. The putting surface does slope from back to front and chip shots aggressively played from the rear may end up through the green, down the hill and into the pond.
The ninth hole dog legs to the left and up a hill. The farther left the tees are placed, the more difficult it is to hit a ball closer than 175 yards to the green. There is a large tree at the turn of the dogleg. It can be carried by long hitters. A prudent tee shot right of the tree will leave you with 135-165 yards out. The second shot is uphill and plays about one club longer than you may think. You can not see the putting surface from the fairway, you may not even see the top of the flag. It is a large flat green that offers bale outs to the front, right, left and rear. There is a small bunker short and left of the green. Most putts on this green are a matter of feel regarding distance, There are a few areas where putts break, but for the most part the green is large and flat.
That is just the front nine.
Let the game begin…
as you move to the 10th tee. It is elevated. You can see the bunker on the left. The right side is obscured by the large tree on the right. (There was a time when folks just took it over the tree with a gentle draw). The eleventh hole is a dog leg left up hill par four. When I say up hill, the green is about 50 or 60 feet above your head from the fairway. Number 12 is a par three that can be reached with a mid to short iron. Of course, if you miss hit your shot you will discover a gulley before you, a lake to your right front and the absolute pits of hell to your left. The green is most exposed to the sun and the speed is quicker than most. The 13th hole begins “birdie run”. It is a short, slightly up hill par four. The 14th is an even shorter par four that can be reached with a solid drive. The fifteenth is a short par 5 that is not as difficult as the card reads. The sixteenth is a beautiful hole. You stand on a cliff (above the 12th green) and hit across a valley to a landing area about 180 yards away. From the landing area, you have to strike a shot over another valley to a green that is tucked into a green swale. The creek that winds from left to right and back again separated the three areas. The seventeenth hole is a short par 3. The green is severely sloped from back to front. (A ball will not come to rest in some areas of this green). Depending on the diabolical pin position…5 can be a good score! The back side closes out with a gentle up hill par four that is protected in the front by a gaping bunker. The green is not very deep and many second shots find there way to the hill side behind the green.
Not exactly. Gunpowder has regulars. I began playing there is the mid 80’s. I have played with many of the legends. There was the group that played weekends…ante up $7 , teams picked, score the best two net balls. I remember Alie, the fellow in charge when I first showed up. He made the rules and changed the rules as he saw fit. I remember Manny and watching him ride his cart backwards into the lake on the fifth hole. There was Ken and his helicopter sailing golf clubs after errant shots. I still play with the long time club champions…Whitehead and Hooker and Dunny.
My son learned the game at Gunpowder. Mr. Milligan gave him his first job. He learned to play. He learned to gamble. He still remembers playing in the club championship against Dunny the reigning champ. My son was two up after nine holes. He was barely sixteen. At the turn, Dunny stopped at the clubhouse for refreshments. On the tenth tee he told my son that he was really playing well. He offered him a beer. My son had his first beer and went on the blow his lead and lose the match. He has forgiven, but never forgotten.
There are many stories here. It is home. It is friends. It is in a way family. We know it is not the fanciest. We know it is not pristine. We know it is ours.
Gunpowder Golf Club
14300 Old Gunpowder Road
Laurel, MD 20707