Playing 18 holes of golf is great, but the day's not complete until you've retired to the clubhouse for drinks and spent some time comparing drives, bragging about approach shots and razzing anyone who sliced onto an adjoining fairway.
Known as the 19th hole, the post-round clubhouse happy hour has become a tradition. We thought it would be fun to check out some of the area's public golf courses and rate the bars and lounges. Count on one thing: A course's pedigree is not a way to judge the clubhouse. While Raspberry Falls Golf Club's fairways and bunkers were designed by the great Gary Player, the Leesburg club's bar and lounge has all the charm of a hotel lobby -- well, a hotel lobby with a prominently displayed stuffed fox.
It's also worth noting that all the clubhouses listed below are open to the public during course hours, and sometimes after. If you want to break up the tedium of a commute up Route 7 to Leesburg, you won't need spikes and clubs to stop in at Goose Creek and meet friends for a cold beer on the patio.
Whiskey Creek Golf Club, Ijamsville, Md.
Styled as a Western hunting lodge, Whiskey Creek's clubhouse takes pride in -- what else? -- its selection of Scotch and bourbon whiskeys, from Makers Mark and Johnnie Walker to rarefied selections like Elijah Craig, a smooth, 18-year-old single-barrel bourbon, and several aged varieties of Wild Turkey.
Drink in hand, you've got two options: the airy lounge, with large leather armchairs grouped in front of a stone fireplace and deer heads mounted on high wooden walls, or the wide outdoor veranda. Given nice weather, I'd take the latter -- rattan chairs are arranged for a good view of the Ernie Els-designed course, including the ruined stone house and pond that mark the 18th fairway.
Poolesville Golf Course, Poolesville, Md.
After you've finished walking Montgomery County's longest course, you'll be happy to find the Potomac Valley Lounge adjacent to the 18th green. Actually, even if you don't know a wedge from a 9 iron, you can enjoy this old-school roadhouse.
You could call the Potomac Valley Lounge a dive, and compared to facilities at other golf courses in the area, it is certainly rough around the edges. The wood paneling is dated. The carpet is scuffed thin in some places. Entertainment boils down to half-a-dozen dartboards, three coin-op pool tables, a television and an out-of-order Keno machine. Out back, a wooden deck filled with plastic chairs offers views of the course.
Prices are as retro as the hairstyles on a faded Redskinettes poster hanging by the pool tables. A cheeseburger and a Bud cost a little over $6, and on Monday's happy hour special is "buy one domestic draft and get a second for a penny." (Speaking of burgers, ordering one is easy. Don't bother specifying "well done" or "medium" -- when it's ready, you'll get it and be directed to a self-serve condiment bar.)
On weekends, Potomac Valley Lodge caters to locals sipping Jack Daniels as well as to golfers just off the course. Later at night, it becomes "Club PVL" with live bands and DJs. But there's no disguising that this relic of old Montgomery County -- pre-Starbucks, pre-Bethesda Row -- is a bar worth visiting.
Needwood Golf Course, Derwood, Md.
For a both a hefty challenge and a healthy dose of Schadenfreude, there are few courses and clubhouses better than Needwood. Here's why: The approach to the 18th green requires players to drive over or pitch across a pond as wide and deep as the green itself. Many shots from the middle of the fairway wind up in the water -- and there's a perfect view of the pin and hazard from the clubhouse's second-story deck. Order a draft beer and cheap ($2.50) Italian sausage sandwich, settle in and watch the action unfold.
Penderbrook Golf Club, Fairfax, Va.
Set deep into a residential development off Route 50 and West Ox Road, Penderbrook's Traditions bar and lounge offers better deals than many nearby restaurants packed with after-work crowds. A Miller Lite draft sets you back $3, and buying a pitcher gives you access to a build-it-yourself nacho bar with beef and neon-yellow cheese. (Other snacks -- hot dogs, chips and such -- are also available.)
The restaurant décor is bland and it displays photos of Arnold Palmer lifting trophies and sinking putts -- this is a course "professionally managed" by Palmer's company -- but a spacious back patio overlooks a pond (a Canadian goose was standing sentry on my visit), the putting green and several fairways. Far away from the busy commuter arteries, this is a place to relax and catch your breath, where noise comes from birds and the ping of a well-struck drive.
If a bar with this patio and view was anywhere but a golf course, I'd expect it to be one of Fairfax's most popular happy hour spots.
Patuxent Greens County Club, Laurel, Md.
Patuxent Greens wants to be more than the place golfers go to tally scores over a pitcher of beer -- the monthly schedule includes karaoke night, happy hours with discounted burgers and Golden Tee tournaments. (Pool tables are in a "Members Only" lounge, though.)
Don't be fooled by the drab, smoky bar -- if you're in the Laurel area, Patuxent Green's cheap drinks and outdoor seating make it a good place to know about. Yuengling drafts are $3 and domestics are cheaper still, so grab a drink and head outside. Just off the restaurant, a wooden deck has tables, plastic chairs and a view over lakes and the approach to the 18th green. It's not fancy, but it works.
Goose Creek Golf Club, Leesburg, Va.
By now, a pattern is developing in this tour: ho-hum clubhouse, great view from the patio. Goose Creek is no different. Inside it resembles a basic family-style restaurant with televisions set to "SportsCenter," though it's comfortable, with lots of light. Beer is cheap -- $2.50 for a pint of Bud Light and $7.50 for a pitcher; microbrews Old Dominion Ale and Widmar Hefeweizen are $3.50 a pint or $10 a pitcher. Outside, a large deck looks over the beginning of the 1950s course, a treed landscape with a winding creek. Conveniently set off Route 7 between Dulles and Leesburg, this is a good spot for an after-work happy hour.
Renditions Golf Course, Davidsonville, Md.
Renditions's gimmick is that it's essentially a "greatest hits" course, containing reproductions of holes from legendary sites like Augusta National, Carnoustie and the TPC at Sawgrass. The "caddies" who help you get carts to and from your car wear plus-fours and newsboy caps.
Unsurprisingly, the bar also plays up the game's history -- it's dedicated to the men who've won the "Grand Slam" of the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Old photos, magazine covers and newspaper front pages cover the walls of the lounge, which tries to mix a country-club atmosphere with a small, traditional pub.
Annapolis's Fordham Copperhead Ale is available on draft; the top burger is the Blue Onion -- angus beef mixed with cracked pepper, and topped with melted blue cheese and one of the restaurant's delicious onion rings. This was one of the few courses to serve me a beer in a proper pint glass, but if you want to go sit on the patio at this Anne Arundel club, you need to ask for a plastic cup.
Caddies on Cordell, Bethesda, Md.
Though it's a couple of miles away from a golf course, Caddies in Bethesda deserves a mention as the area's best golf-themed sports bar. This is the kind of place you can come on a Sunday afternoon knowing the Masters or the Heritage will be on the televisions mounted over the bar. Prints of the Ryder Cup team and old advertisements hang on the wall; the draft beer system is shaped like a golf ball, and the cover of the menu is slightly dimpled.
Forget all that, though, and ignore (for a moment) the huge two-level patio, which fills with singles during happy hour. When you walk into Caddies, just look up. Hanging from the ceiling is a sea of pin flags from the biggest tournaments in the world of golf: the British Open, the U.S. Open, the U.S. Senior Open, the Masters, the Players' Championship. You may feel odd wandering around staring at the ceiling -- I did -- and I wish they were positioned lower so I could get a closer look at the heraldry on some of the British flags. Some are dated; many came from the 18th green.