Fountain Head course unique for golfers

August 04, 2003|by JESSICA DAVIS

Editor's note: Washington County was the first and is the oldest of 31 counties in the United States to be named after the country's first president, George Washington. This weekly series each Monday seeks out other places and items in the county that hold the title of "the oldest."

The "Jack Nicklaus of golf course design" outlined plans for Fountain Head Country Club's golf course, but never set foot on the rolling hills that give one of the area's oldest private golf courses it's "toughness and uniqueness," according to Bob Shanholtz, superintendent of the course.

The land for the course was walked by Walter Hatch, a field person for golf course designer Donald Ross. Hatch surveyed the property and made a layout of where the putting holes should be located.

He then left notes for Ross about how the course should be laid out over the natural land and the course was completed in 1924, the same year that the country club opened, Shanholtz said.


"I would say that Ross did not visit 70 percent of the courses that carry his name," Shanholtz said.

Ross also designed plans for the Chevy Chase (Md.) Golf Course among other courses, according to Shanholtz.

Darren Smith, 31, says he is one of the youngest PGA head golf professionals in the county. He has held that title at Fountain Head for seven years and maintains that the course has not changed much in its 79 years.

"We have tried to keep the integrity intact," Smith said.

The par-71, 18-hole course not only is different from other local golf courses in that players must either be a member of Fountain Head Country Club or a guest of member to play, but in that it has "square tees, narrow fairways and small greens, which make it a lot tougher," Smith said.

While most golf courses are built on flat land, Fountain Head's course is laid out over natural land, making the terrain more challenging.

"I get excited every time I play because it's a different golf course every time," Smith said. "My favorite part (of being head golf professional) is the wonderful people here and sitting around in the lounge afterwards, talking about the game."

"I play for the sheer enjoyment and the addiction of trying to perfect the unperfectable," he said.

Fred Funk, a PGA Tour veteran who won the Maryland Open when it was held at Fountain Head in 1987, visited the course, but most members of the country club are not golf professionals and play more for recreational activity, Smith said.

He said the club has a "nice variety" of players, ages 6 and up. A handicap system is used to "even out" the playing field, ranging from 2 under par (the best) to 50 over par.

Golfers can play on the Fountain Head links from April 1 through Nov. 1, but the course is busiest during the month of July, Smith said.

Shanholtz said he has seen a few trends in the world of golf that apply to his position as superintendent and groundskeeper.

When the course first opened, nitrogen was used for fertilizer, but now more specific products are used that go directly to the root of the grass on the course.

"We have also gone from horse-drawn heavyweight iron mowers to lightweight mowing equipment," he said.

He said the trend in golf is changing from private clubs to more public venues. He said that was due in part to the growth of semi-private clubs where golfers are not restricted to one club or membership.

Shanholtz said that the management of Fountain Head Country Club puts a high priority on customer service so that the course, and club, have a "home away from home" ambiance.

"We have to take it to the next level in order to attract and keep golf course members," he said.

Stereotypes of the average golfer as a white, middle-aged man who dresses in plaid shorts and high socks are based on images from the 1970s, Smith said.

The game of golf has become a more respected sport because of Tiger Woods, he said. He also thinks Woods is responsible for the way young people view golf today as more of a "cool" sport.

At Fountain Head, between 120 and 150 women and 320 and 350 men are registered golfers.

The game of golf originated more than 400 years ago and has a lot of "traditional roots," Smith said. But he said technology has had an impact on the game.

"Technology will push the golf industry but only as far as the USGA (United States Golf Association) will allow it, because integrity is the most important aspect," he said.

Professional golfers must be good at making sight measurements, so the USGA is hesitant to allow technology to replace skills that should be a part of the competence of a proficient golfer, Smith said.

Smith said he has been to all of the golf courses in Washington County and has enjoyed playing on all of them, but he prefers one in particular.

"I think our golf course is, without a doubt, the best in the area," Smith said.

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