Review: Bulle Rock Golf Course

Course Name: Bulle Rock Golf Course

Designer: Pete Dye (1998)

Location: Havre de Grace, Maryland

History: Built on an old farm in 1998 by Pete Dye, Bulle Rock is a public course perhaps best known for hosting the LPGA Championship between 2005 and 2009. Regarded as one of the best public courses in the region, Bulle Rock has earned the following awards:

  • #94 Best Public Course in America – Golf Digest (2021)
  • #7 Best Course in Maryland – Golf Digest (2021)
  • #7 Best Course in Maryland – Top100golfcourses.com (2020)
  • #1 Best Public Course in Maryland – Golfweek (2021)

Conditions: 8/10, Bulle Rock is in overall very good shape, with thick, healthy rough, well-conditioned fairways and teeboxes, and quick greens.

Value: 10/10, Surely one of the best values in America, Bulle Rock’s peak rates are $105 on summer weekends and this includes a cart and range balls. The course is much cheaper during non-peak times, offering tremendous value at well-under $100.

Scorecard:

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Black                       72           7375               75.6               147

Gold                        72           6925               73.1               141

Gold/Blue               72           6687               72.0              139

Blue                        72           6410               71.0               137

Blue/White            72            6206              69.7              135

White                     72           6055               69.2              133

Green                     72          5507               66.0              127

Red                        72           5320               71.7               139

Teal                        72          4133                65.3               119

Hole Descriptions: Amongst well-known architects with numerous top courses, Pete Dye is unique in that many of his top designs are available to the general public. I’ve always appreciated this about him and have been fortunate to play a number of his best courses for this reason. Bulle Rock had always been on my radar given its frequent status on Top 100 lists, reputation among Maryland public courses, and the fact that it’s an easy day trip from most Northeastern cities. I finally had the chance to play and certainly came away with an appreciation for the course. While Bulle Rock cannot compete with the likes of Dye’s Whistling Straits, Kiawah, or even Harbour Town due to their settings, it is your typical Dye championship layout, offering an excellent challenge with a strong routing and sterling conditions. The features that immediately stood out to me following my round are the course’s undulating terrain which creates many sidehill lies and its narrow greens, which make for difficult approaches from the wrong side of the fairway. With excellent rates and its history as an LPGA venue, Bulle Rock is arguably the best public option nearest to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Baltimore. I highly recommend it.

Pete Dye is sympathetic at the start with a 335 yard slight dogleg left par 4. This hole features a right-to-left sloping fairway lined by a prominent bunker down the right at 225 yards and two down the left at 170 and 230 yards. Driver isn’t needed here and might get you into trouble, as numerous small bunkers guard short of the green on either side. Like many greens at Bulle Rock, this putting surface is narrow and primarily runs right-to-left. This is probably the most boring hole on the course as well as the easiest – don’t lose a shot here.

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The par 4 1st

The 2nd is one of Bulle Rock’s signature holes as an excellent 555 yard par 5. With the entire hole in view from an elevated teebox, this hole begins with a severely downhill teeshot to a left-to-right sloping fairway lined by OB right the entire way. I found this teeshot to be visually intimidating, but there’s plenty of room down the left provided you can’t reach a left bunker around 300 yards. The golfer is left an interesting choice on their second shot, with a small creek running through the fairway about 90 yards short of the green. There is some fairway on the other side of this creek, but I don’t see the benefit of aiming for it unless you think you can reach the green. This green is elevated, runs back-to-front, and is guarded by deep bunkers short and right with several small pot bunkers long. Despite it being a par 5, there’s lots of room for disaster here.

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The par 5 2nd is a gorgeous hole
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The approach at 2

The 3rd hole is Bulle Rock’s first and shortest par 3 at 156 yards. Somewhat reminiscent of some of the par threes at Dye’s Blackwolf Run, this hole is most notable for a large tree that overhangs the right side of the green and blocks a right-to-left shaped shot. Even more danger exists left and long, with a severe drop off, numerous bunkers, and fescue. This excellent green is narrow and plays somewhat like a Redan.

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The par 3 3rd

The 4th hole is one of the stronger par fours on the course playing as a 380 yard dogleg right. Featuring a teebox hidden in the back right trees, a power cut is the preferred play off the tee. This entire fairway slopes left-to-right and is guarded by giant bunkers on either side beginning around 225 yards. This approach plays slightly uphill to a narrow, long green defended by bunkers on either side and a creek to the right.

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The sleek par 4 4th

At 405 yards, the 5th hole is a very difficult par 4 deserving of its number 1 handicap. A dogleg left playing severely uphill on the approach, this hole begins with a short forced carry over a creek to a generous fairway defended by a large bunker on the left side of the dogleg around 220 yards. Longer hitters need to be wary of a bunker on the other side of the dogleg at about 270 yards. This approach then runs at least one club uphill towards yet another narrow, right-to-left sloping green lined by numerous small bunkers on either side. Par is an excellent score here.

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The lengthy par 4 5th
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The 5th green

After some difficult holes, the 6th is a fun hole and one of my favorites on the course as a 387 yard par 4. This teeshot plays semi-blind and straight downhill towards a sloping fairway defended by numerous bunkers down the right. A creek marks the end of this fairway at about 310 yards and must be carried to another small, narrow green that runs slightly left-to-right and is defended by a giant bunker right.

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The par 4 6th
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The approach at 6

At 175 yards, the 7th hole is technically Bulle Rock’s longest par 3 but I think the 12th plays longer most days. This is a nice one-shotter running slightly uphill towards a well-defended green featuring multiple plateaus, four bunkers short right, and a small pot bunker left.

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The par 3 7th

The par fives at Bulle Rock are an extremely strong collection and the 481 yard 8th hole is my favorite of the group as a dogleg left beautifully laid out in front of you. Essentially playing as a Cape, fescue lines the entire left side of this hole, forcing golfers to choose their line carefully. Large bunkers down the left at 250 yards and right at 300 yards mark the start of the dogleg. From here, the fairway runs slightly uphill and progressively narrows with thick rough right and numerous bunkers and fescue down the left. This right-to-left sloping green is guarded by two deep bunkers left.

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The par 5 8th

The 9th hole is a dramatic and interesting dogleg right par 4 at 418 yards. One of the most difficult holes on the course, this teeshot is extremely intimidating with water directly in front of you and an 170 yard carry to reach the far left portion of fairway. The ideal line takes on this water and requires a carry of at least 220 yards over a trio of bunkers as well. This entire fairway slopes severely left-to-right and makes for a difficult approach to a small green defended by bunkers on either side.

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The golfer has numerous (but few appealing) options on the 9th teebox
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Notice a small portion of fairway to the far right longer hitters could perhaps reach

The back 9 is the longer of the two sides at Bulle Rock but begins with an easier hole in the 373 yard par 4 10th. A dogleg left that turns around 270 yards, this hole initially plays straight over a plateau to a fairway lined by numerous bunkers left and fescue to the far right. This green is again narrow and quite undulating defended by bunkers on either side.

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The par 4 10th
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The approach at 10

At 596 yards (and 665 from the Blacks!), the 11th hole is the longest at Bulle Rock as a true marathon, three-shot par 5. I counted nearly 20 bunkers on this hole alone, the closest thing to Whistling Straits here. This fairway is initially a slight dogleg left guarded by bunkers on either side around 220 yards and fescue to the right. It then runs downhill and narrows considerably with a set of five bunkers down the right about 190 yards short of the green. This green most notable for its right swale is defended by numerous pot bunkers on either side and a large bunker right. Despite getting five shots to work with, a par here is not disappointing.

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The par 5 11th
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The approach at 11

The 12th hole is arguably Bulle Rock’s signature hole as a 174 yard par 3. A classic Dye template and near carbon copy of Blackwolf Run’s 4th, this hole features water down the right you’ll have to carry the entire way if you want to take a straight line to this green. Three bunkers guard left and must be popular bailouts for those afraid of getting wet. This green contains some tricky pins with multiple plateaus.

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The par 3 12th is an awesome hole

A worthy number 2 handicap, the 13th hole is a difficult 428 yard dogleg right par 4. Featuring a tight fairway that turns right around 260 yards, you absolutely cannot miss right here with a large bunker at 160 yards and a valley of rough and OB afterwards. After a good drive, the golfer is left a difficult approach to a small, left-to-right sloping green defended very effectively by deep bunkers short and on either side.

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The par 4 13th requires both accuracy and power
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The approach at 13

At 331 yards, the 14th is the shortest par 4 at Bulle Rock and offers a chance to get a shot back after some tough holes. A downhill, semi-blind, slight dogleg right, this fairway is generous down the left but features bunkers right the entire way. At about 280 yards, this fairway narrows to essentially nothing with bunkers on either side. This approach plays as much as a club less towards another small, narrow green defended by several bunkers on either side.

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The fun par 4 14th
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The approach at 14

The 551 yard 15th is the final par 5 on the course and is one of the more interesting holes here. Featuring a split fairway, this teeshot is fairly straightforward and must play down the right to an uphill generous fairway that ends around 260 yards with a bunker down the left as well. From here, the golfer must carry a creek to access the second portion of the fairway to the left. Good teeshots will be rewarded with a possible heroic shot to reach this green in two. This green is extremely long and narrow and runs back-to-front.

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The par 5 15th
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The second shot at 15 gives the golfer options

The 16th hole plays similarly to the 6th as a 387 yard par 4 running severely downhill. This hole is pretty straightforward with bunkers down the right at 210 and 270 yards and trees left. This green again requires precision, playing very narrow with four bunkers and a mound down the left and a singular bunker right.

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The par 4 16th

The 17th is a 160 yard par 3 and is perhaps the easiest hole at Bulle Rock. While not a bad hole, it is rather forgettable and feels somewhat cheap coming so close to the end. Playing level, this hole features a large green with numerous plateaus defended by bunkers on either side.

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The par 3 17th

At a strong 459 yards, Bulle Rock saves one of its most memorable holes for last with the par 4 18th. Playing downhill, this tough hole features water down the left the entire way while the right is defended by a bunker at 310 yards and a large tree at 225 yards. This is probably the most intimating approach on the course, with water wrapping around an undulating green left and long and a bunker long right.

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The par 4 18th
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The approach at 18
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A side view of the 18th green and clubhouse

General Comments: Bulle Rock features an upscale clubhouse and excellent practice facilities, with a full grass range and nice short game area near the clubhouse. Pace of play was average when I played. The course is named for the first thoroughbred horse brought to the U.S. from England.

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Bulle Rock’s range is better than most private courses

Verdict: While not Pete Dye’s most memorable design, Bulle Rock is an excellent, affordable, and challenging upscale layout that rightfully earns its reputation as one of the top public courses in the region.


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