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In Praise of Par-3s: Shorter Rounds for Shorter Days
A 9-Iron and a Putter Can Get You Across Md.

By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Txt msging instead of writing letters, downloading ring tones instead of whole songs, squeezing annual vacations into one weekend. In this Age of Abbrev. -- where everything's short, kwik, reduced -- par-3 golf courses make perfect sense.

With most par-3s, you need only a fistful of clubs, your eco-footprint is minuscule, and you're in and out in less than an hour. Play your score cards right, and you can golf your way across Maryland in one pretty weekend.

And autumn -- before winter weather forces the courses to close -- is the perfect tee time: Fall colors are appearing, and vacationers have vanished. I recently played my way from Annapolis to Deep Creek Lake, waking early on a Saturday morning and returning home by suppertime on Sunday. Along the road, I saw hawks circling in the air and dead leaves floating to the ground. And I pitched-and-putted, at my own pace, around three very particular par-3s.

* * *

I eschewed the courses on beaches and in big cities and started at the Severna Park Golf Center about 9 a.m. Saturday. It's a pretty little course -- with lights so you can even play at night -- just north of Annapolis on Ritchie Highway.

The first tee is a slab of carpet on the sidewalk that runs to the pro shop, while the hole itself is a junior gem that slides along the driving range. I 9-ironed a ball onto the green, walked 32 steps down to the fairway, drained the putt and was on my way.

Birdies on the green; birdies in the trees, chirping over the whirring of the mosquito fans. The fairways are small and easy, the greens small and difficult. There is one water hole. Had everything I needed, except shades for the sun low in the east.

On this day, the pace was leisurely. With only a few other people on the course, I even played a couple of practice balls now and then.

A father was teaching his son how to putt. "He's my retirement plan," says Andrew Arulanandam of Jack, his 4-year-old. Arulanandam lives in Annapolis but works at the National Rifle Association in Fairfax. To him, time is of the essence -- and a par-3 is parfait.

I strolled the Severna Park course easily in 45 minutes. And still had time to thwack a small bucket of balls at the driving range.

* Severna Park Golf Center is at 1257 Ritchie Hwy. in Arnold. Nine holes costs $11; a bucket of balls, $6. Open every day. Info: 410-647-8618, http://www.severnaparkgolf.com.

* * *

Next stop: Yingling's Golf Center in Hagerstown. On the two-hour drive northwest from Arnold, I swung by Rockville to have coffee with my wife, Jan. There wasn't enough time to explain to her why I was doing this and why I was enjoying it so.

For about $5, I grabbed a Big Twist (a hot ham-and-cheese sandwich with a special sauce), chips and iced tea at Richardson's Restaurant in Hagerstown. Then it was time to seek out Yingling's par-3 course, where the average length of each hole is 95 yards.

Playing the mile-long, 18-hole labyrinth on this particularly sunny September afternoon was a blessing and a curse. The blessing: I was alone. The curse: It was hot as blazes.

I overshot the first tee by 10 yards or so, but fortunately there was a chicken-wire fence to keep my Nike ball from rolling into somebody's back yard. It's a friendly place: Along about the 10th tee, the groundskeeper puttered up in a cart with cool water to drink.

Virtually treeless, the fairways are forgiving. There are some weeds here and there, but chances are you won't lose any balls. Again, I played two balls on certain holes to work on my short game. No one seemed to care. Fact was, there was no one else to care.

The whole affair took about an hour and a half, leaving plenty of time to stop by the Nike outlet store and buy a new golf cap.

* Yingling's Golf Center is at 20222 Jefferson Blvd. in Hagerstown. Nine holes costs $10; 18 will set you back $12. You can get a small bucket of balls for $5. Open year-round if the weather is good. Info: 301-790-2494, http://www.yinglingsgolf.com.

* * *

Another two hours on the road and I rolled into Swanton -- on the banks of Deep Creek Lake in the wilds of Western Maryland -- around sundown. I was greeted at the North Glade Inn Bed & Breakfast by its amiable proprietor, Fred Fulk.

The inn looks out over a pond and a sweet little nine-hole par-3 course. It's a private club, but if you're staying at the inn -- or one of the private homes in the Waterfront Greens subdivision -- you have guest privileges. "Play it whenever you like and as many times as you like," Fulk said.

The weekend I was there, Fulk and his energetic wife, Tammy, staged a chili cook-off, and guests at the inn were invited to join the throng. Talk about lucking into potluck.

The food was served at 7; music began at 8. The barn was lit with sparkling white lights and bare bulbs dangling from the ceiling. The shindig -- complete with music by American Pie, an oldies band from Pittsburgh -- drew more than 100 folks, mostly local. On a long table sat eight crockpots of chili, three kinds of wings, some cornbread and desserts. There was also lots of wine and beer.

The winning chili had pepperoni, but I liked Tammy's the best and secretly voted for it twice. When the dancing started, I slipped away and headed for bed.

The next morning, I was up at 6:30 and on the course at 7. Again, I was the only player in sight. The clubhouse wasn't even open.

The grass was heavy with dew. A groundhog scuttled into the brush. A vole darted across a fairway.

This is not a waterside links in the traditional sense, but the lake is nearby and the course is well-kept. These greens are more forgiving than those at Severna Park or Yingling's, but that doesn't necessarily make the putting any easier. I stopped several times to admire the beauty as the sun rose -- and to pick my three-putt ball out of a hole.

By 8 a.m. I was finished, which gave me time to get back to the room and take a shower before Fred and Tammy served bacon and eggs and large pots of coffee to the nine guests staying with them, including the bleary-eyed members of American Pie.

I asked Fred to hold the chili.

* Waterfront Greens is at 115 Clubhouse Dr. in Swanton. The course (open seasonally) is closed to the public but is free to guests at North Glade Inn. No public driving range. Info: 301-387-8851, http://www.waterfrontgreens.net.

* The North Glade Inn Bed & Breakfast is at 184 North Glade Rd. in Oakland. Rooms start at $125 a night, with breakfast. Info: 877-433-6911, http://www.northgladeinn.com.

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