SILVER SPRING, Md. -- Of the nine municipal courses under the umbrella of Montgomery County Golf, Hampshire Greens Golf Course has the most upscale feel, and it has little to do with the million-dollar homes that surround it.
Opened in 1999, Hampshire Greens is the newest course in the Montgomery County portfolio, and it has the conditioning and quality design to match its affluent zip code.
But the most compelling reason to play Hampshire Greens is its combination of convenience and price. Finding another muni of this pedigree 10 miles from the Beltway in Washington, D.C., is downright impossible. In addition, the long-awaited and recently completed ICC toll road, which connects I-95 to I-270, makes Hampshire Greens even more accessible as it streaks by, just a chip shot to the south.
From the attentive service upon arrival, to the roomy clubhouse, to three-tiered driving range with grass stations, it is clear that Montgomery County Golf had a grander vision for Hampshire Greens.
Hampshire Greens Golf Course: On the course
By the time players reach the first tee, they realize the layout is a departure as well. Many courses open with a simple, straightaway par 4. But that's not the style of designer Lisa Maki. Her first hole at Hampshire Greens takes a 90-degree left turn uphill to a well guarded green.
Welcome to a course full of twists and turns, jagged edges, tilted fairways and blind tee shots. Some have taken Maki to task for her design philosophy, but there's no denying the thrill factor that comes when playing one of her courses. They're never dull, or short on ideas, innovation or ambition.
The result at Hampshire Greens is a challenging course with a great variety of holes. Consider the closing stretch. No. 16 is a 335-yard, downhill par 4 that will tempt some to try to drive the green. The prudent play, however, is a hybrid to the fairway, clearly is the best and safest way to make a birdie as it eliminates the knee-high fescue on the perimeter, a constant concern at Hampshire Greens.
No. 17, a 538-yard par 5 with a wide fairway that bends left to right, can be reached in two by big bombers, but humps and hollows present danger as off-target shots can kick every which way.
No. 18, the longest par 4 at Hampshire Greens at 428 yards, plays every bit of it with a significant tee-shot carry over a scrub-filled retention basin, then an uphill approach to a green fronted by pot bunkers.
Sand is the primary defense at this links-style course. Many of the bunkers are severe as they lie far below the raised greens. Players may be out of their comfort zone standing in a trap and contemplating an explosion to a green that's above eye level.
Measuring 6,837 yards from the back tees, Hampshire Greens might sound manageable, but the canted fairways and blind shots have a cumulative effect. For those who play it conservatively for fear of the unknown, the course will play long.
The four par-5 holes are examples. All are between 536 and 578 yards but none can be described as a two-shot opportunity.
Oddly enough, the longest par 5, no. 2, plays the shortest. It also is the best and most scenic hole on the course, though not representative as it is completely visible from the tee, playing gently downhill. The second shot, to a narrowing fairway, is a great test of decision-making. Even for bombers who can consider a go at the green, there are two routes -- one over a vegetation-filled basin, the other a shaped shot, right to left, which shirts the basin and uses the natural terrain.
Another fun choice awaits at no. 5, a 417-yard par 4 over water to a diagonal fairway where players must decide what line to take off the tee. A bold, well-executed drive will produce a short-iron approach. A timid tee shot can leave players with a fairway wood or hybrid approach, a tough way to go to one of those raised green/deep bunker complexes so prevalent at Hampshire Greens.
While no. 5 is a well conceived hole, it would be much better with an elevated back tee, providing a view of the fairway. Instead, the tee shot is a guessing game as players wonder what exactly lies beyond the tall fescue in the distance.
By contrast, the emphasis on the scoreable, straightforward par 3s is on the aesthetics as all play to picture-perfect green sites, three of them downhill, and none competing with the environment.
Hampshire Greens Golf Course: The verdict
Builing on featureless land that was formerly a landfill provided some challenges for the creators of Hampshire Greens. But there are some dramatic vistas and plenty of other reasons to enjoy Montgomery County Golf's most modern, opulent and interesting course.