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The First Resort

The marina is at the far end of the resort, anchored by a seafood restaurant and supply store topped by a canvas sail and other flourishes of neo-maritime architecture. The kids' club was in operation, as the resort was full of meetinggoers and at least some of their families. Though three groups were there during my visit, I didn't feel crowded out. They tended to meet and eat by themselves in ballrooms and whatnot. (Well, one night I felt the squeeze. I returned to Michener's for a nightcap and the bar was crowded four-deep with Maryland auto dealers. Afraid I would not escape without buying a car, I turned in early.)

The Hyatt has a beach, but let me be plain: Nobody should go there for a beach vacation. It consists of three strips of sand. One is taken up by the small watersports facility and the other "large" one is only big enough to accommodate a dozen or so lounge chairs. A few moms and kids played in the cool river, but signs warned that jellyfish enjoy the same territory. The resort extends its beach by adding some rafts that tether to the shore and let you bob in the sun. But if it's beach you seek, the ocean resorts are another hour down Route 50.

I played golf early the next morning. River Marsh Golf Club lies gently on the Chesapeake landscape, the holes threading around ponds and lake and strips of ungroomed wetlands that add both beauty and menace. Water comes into play on half the holes.

My threesome was serenaded by bobwhites, and we spotted more than a handful of orioles, with those distinctive orange shoulder patches, flitting out of the brush. A bald eagle, one of four known to make a home on the Hyatt grounds, did an unscheduled flyover of the second green. The birds were so big they appeared to the naked eye as if seen through binoculars.

Like any good resort course that wants players of different talents to move along, River Marsh has multiple tee boxes, wide fairways and big greens. But it'll test you.

The scariest hole in the mid-Atlantic might be No. 17. The tees are on one side of Shoal Creek, a tributary of the Choptank, and the green on the other, about 170 yards away. A long wooden bridge spans the water, and the white tee is connected to the bridge via a narrow plank causeway. You hit from a peninsula tee, a deck covered with artificial turf, with water on all sides.

I will never know how I managed to put the ball on the green in my first shot. But I know I was disappointed. I was sort of looking forward to arcing a few extra balls into that placid creek. Instead, I had to reveal my ineptitude with a far less satisfying four-putt.

Golf course writers have made much of River Marsh's 18th hole, a par-5 that doglegs slightly along the Choptank. A long set of narrow sand traps runs between the fairway and the water. They've compared it to the famed finishing hole at Pebble Beach, which is of similar length and layout, but lined by the Pacific Ocean.

One of my playing partners, Greg, a bond trader from Brooklyn, had a Pebble Beach tag on his golf bag. So I asked him about that comparison as we were about to tee off on 18. He looked and gave a long, judicious pause. From the fairway we were staring directly at the hotel, with its gabled courtyard and lighthouse topping.

"Well, it's not unlike it," he said. "But it's not the Pacific Ocean."

Which is, I think, the whole point of the Hyatt-on-the-Choptank. It's the kind of place where, as golfers say about a shot that winds up in some unexpected spot, you play where it lies.

Escape Keys

GETTING THERE: Cambridge, Md., is about 75 miles east of the Beltway. Take Route 50 east and cross the Bay Bridge. Stay with Route 50 at the 50-301 split. Continue past Easton and the signs for St. Michaels. After crossing the bridge spanning the Choptank River (a k a the Sen. Frederick C. Malkus Jr. Bridge), look for the Wal-Mart on your right. Take a left into the resort at Church Creek Road. Assuming no traffic delays, allot an hour and a half for the drive, more if you want to stop at the antiques stores and seafood places along the way.

STAYING THERE: The Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina has 400 rooms, including 16 Regency Suites. Under various package and discount plans, rates range from $150 per night (in a fourth-night-free package) to $355 per night (standard rates). We paid $244 midweek in June. The Chesapeake Bay Experience package, which includes different amenities depending on the season, is $195 a night during the week and $230 a night on weekends. Info: 410-901-1234, www.chesapeakebay.hyatt.com/property/index.jhtml.

BEING THERE: If you go for the golf, be sure to call the pro shop (reachable via the main hotel number) before you book to see if any tournaments or group outings may affect your plans. Rates range from $65 to $130 per round, less on weekdays and twilight times. About 15 miles back on Route 50 is Hog Neck (800-280-1790, www.hogneck.com), a regionally acclaimed 18-holer. A round is about half of what Hyatt's River Marsh charges.

The resort's 18,000-square-foot spa offers the usual pampering, but reservations are essential and weekend slots often sell out. On-campus outfitter Orvis (410-827-7065) can arrange fishing and hunting trips, along with bay charter fishing expeditions and skeet shooting at a nearby range. The hotel can arrange oystering and crabbing trips with local watermen. The watersports area on the beach rents kayaks, sailboats, paddle boats, skiffs and rafts. Prices range from $15 an hour for the paddle boats to $50 an hour for a catamaran.

EATING THERE: The resort's signature restaurant, the Blue Point Provision Company at the marina, is open Wednesday through Sunday. With entrees from $9 to $15, it specializes in such local seafood as crabs, oysters and rockfish. (The daily catch comes from Clayton's, a longtime family crab-picking company in Cambridge.) Blue Point is casual, takes no reservations and offers great water views. The resort also features the more haute (and pricier, entrees from $20 to $32) Water's Edge, a white-tablecloth restaurant that adds to the local catch Eastern Shore chicken and duck and game when in season. You can also eat more casually poolside, at Michener's Library or at the Eagle's Nest golf course restaurant.

INFORMATION: Dorchester County Tourism, 800-522-8687, www.tourdorchester.org.

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