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 is only one that is relatively flat.
Follow with me. The first hole is a down hill dog leg right. Tree lined down the right side and challenging golfers to not attempt cutting the corner. Trees are much taller today than 1956. The second hole parallels the first, back up the same hill. It is tree lined on both the right and left side. The teeing area is back in a shoot that challenges everyone due to the demands of hitting the ball straight. The third hole is a down hill, up hill par 5 that has the flavor of the 13th at Augusta…don’t know why, it just does. The fourth hole is the hardest on the course. It is an uphill 190 yard par 3. The fifth tee is perched on a hill top, you have to hit the tee shot over a small lake (?) to another dogleg right hole. The sixth hole offers yet another up hill blind shot, leaving you a mid iron to a green that is now below your feet. The seventh hole has another shoot placed teeing area. Off in the distance, beyond a natural bowl, is a small 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?”. The eighth is another par three, mid to short iron over the lake and to an elevated green that falls from back to front. The ninth is another dog leg (this one left) to a green that is well above your head when you stand in the fairway.
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.
14300 Old Gunpowder Road
Laurel, MD 20707