Queenstown Harbor -- Atlantic Golf at Queentown Harbor's River Course -- Under Your Thumb

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos By Jeff Janas

QUEENSTOWN, MD -- It's hard to imagine what it must've felt like -- being summonsed to appear before the Colonial Lord, then being offered a thumb print's worth of land as a reward for many years of faithful service.

And it's even harder to imagine that a splotch of map under a thumb would eventually turn into something so extraordinary, in a golf sense. But that's exactly what's happened at Queenstown Harbor. Charlie Birney, co-owner of Atlantic Golf (which owns Queenstown, South River and Potomac Ridge), says there's much more to his Queenstown Harbor facility than two outstanding golf courses, stunning views of the Chesapeake Bay, and the sweet smells of salt on the breeze. There's a good story behind it too. 

This centrally located lake backs the 6th green, but also influences much of the River Course's back nine.

Birney tells it: "Legend has it that way back in Colonial times, Cecil Calvert, the second Lord of Baltimore, wanted to reward Henry deCoursey, his Secretary of State, for deCoursey's excellent treaty negotiating services. So he called him into his office. And as was customary at that time, Calvert offered deCoursey as much land as he could cover on a map with his thumb print -- in return for deCoursey's excellent work."

"I'm not exactly sure what the scale of the map was, or the size of deCoursey's thumb, but the thumbprint covered portion turned out to be about 1500 acres. Hence, it was called a thumb grant. deCoursey then took the land and turned it into a farm, calling it 'My Lord's Gift Farm' thereafter," Birney adds.

Though land acquisition deals tend to be handled a tad differently these days, it's undeniable the chunk deCoursey thumbed himself into was a quality piece of real estate. The back of the property borders Queen Anne's creek, and the Chester River runs along one side. The Chester flows into the Chesapeake Bay, and on a clear day, you can see Baltimore Harbor across the great bay. There's even a plaque on the tee box of the River Course's 14th hole that commemorates the writing of 'The Star Spangled Banner,' penned by Francis Scott Key on a ship in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812.

The property's story alone would probably merit a trip to Queenstown Harbor, but the golf courses makes it essential. Both are the Lindsay Ervin creations, incorporating the land's natural gifts with some creatively constructed holes, producing one of the Mid-Atlantic's best all-around daily fee golf experiences.

The 11th hole is a reachable par five, but you'd better have a perfect drive and second shot to avoid the plentiful trouble.

The River Course opened in 1991, and Queenstown Harbor subsequently expanded to 27 holes a few years later. The final nine was finished in 1996, and the newest two nines were combined to create the Lakes course. Having played only the River course on our visit, I'll concentrate on it here.

Queenstown Harbor's River Course is certainly the more famous of the two, probably because it offers the breathtaking views of the Chester River (and the Chesapeake Bay), which lies just a stone's throw from several of the holes. Having received any number of accolades from various local and national publications, the River's reputation certainly precedes it with most golf addicts in the Capital region.

Scot Forbis, Queenstown's Head Golf Professional, says it's the facility's location that attracts people in the first place, and the quality of the courses keeps them coming back: "We're fortunate that we're just far enough from the city to have an isolated type feeling, yet close enough where most of the population in the region is probably only 45 minutes away."

"And since most of our clientele is from Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia, they're close enough where coming back is really very convenient," Forbis said.

The River Course's signature 16th hole. Not an island, but it feels like one.

Forbis continues, "A lot of people tell us that coming here is like getting back to nature. There're always deer hanging around on the tees, and you'll see some bald eagles and hawks trolling the skies looking for prey." In other words, if you're not too adept at making birdies and eagles on the golf course, you can at least spot some when you're hacking up the fairways.

Which could be easy to do if you're not on your game. As you'd probably expect from a course in a coastal region, there's plenty of water and wetlands on the course. But there's also a surprising number of trees coming into play, too. The River Course's Green tees play to 7110 yards and a well-deserved slope of 138. All but two of the par fours measure at or over 400 yards, and the tenth (par four) contains 478 yards of 'My Lord's Gift.' At about that time, you're probably wishing deCoursey's thumb had been a little smaller.

In other words, a real championship test. But, Forbis points out that they mark the tees right up front to let you know where you should be playing from. "We have a sign on the first tee that recommends a set of tees based on how far you fly the ball. If you want to step back and try and carry the ball 220 yards over a hazard, there's a set for you. At the same time, if you don't want to carry a lot of hazards, the forward sets will take most of them out of play."

It works well. This somewhat unique approach to labeling tees is more effective than the traditional 'If you're a 0-8 handicap, play here' type approach.

It's hard to find fault with the views from the 5th green.

Forbis says the tee markers are a departure from the 'gender specific' systems of old: "We've gone away from gender specific tees. The front tees are what we call 'family' tees, perfect for the junior golfers and parents who come out and play. People don't need to feel guilty about having to play our gold tees, and that's what golf's all about -- playing from where you have a good time with the course."

Putting together the full package, it'd be hard not to have a good time on the River Course. In addition to the fine natural enhancements and exceptional quality of the layout, Queenstown Harbor is notorious for having some of the best playing conditions you'll find anywhere. The greens are in superb shape, though didn't dazzle with excessive speed. The fairways were pristine, and the bunker sand was fine and playable.

Finally, service. You're met in the parking lot when you get there, and sent on your way with a 'come back soon' after your round. Every need is attended to.

Looking at a few of the holes, the round begins with a relatively straight 404 yard par four, water down the right side and plenty of bail room to the left (though watch the rough, it's thick!).

From the 14th green, glance in the distance towards Baltimore Harbor.

Two looks plenty tame on the scorecard, a 155 yard par three, rated the #17 handicap hole. Glance to the left and there's the river, with some incredible views out towards the bay. Christopher Cross' voice may flow hauntingly through your mind with hints of his 'Sailing' lyrics, but you'd best keep your mind on golf. The green is small, and there are several large bunkers protecting it. Hardly a pushover, even at that distance.

Five is a nice par five. 551 yards in length, it doglegs left after the tee shot (with a very generous landing area), and from a distance might remind you of Augusta National's 13th hole.

Number nine is a challenging par four. 427 yards and dogleg right, you'll have to carry a sizeable wetlands field and avoid the trees on the right. Plenty of room left, but that'll make your second shot quite a bit longer.

The back nine is more wide open, and also seems to have more water -- not to minimize the wet stuff on the outward holes. Eleven (569 Yards) is probably Queenstown's best par five, requiring three precise shots to reach a large but well protected green.

Thread the needle off the 7th tee.

Fourteen and fifteen are a good pair of par fours, each playing on opposite sides of a lake. Read the sign on the fourteenth tee (talking about the Star Spangled Banner), then launch a 'rocket's red glare' shot of your own.

Sixteen's a classic par three, 196 yards in length and slightly downhill to a peninsula green. Water's everywhere in view, but the landing area is very generous.

Eighteen's a tough par five to end the round. At 585 yards, it's definitely a three-shotter, and you'll certainly need length and accuracy off the tee to set up your second and third shots. A hard earned par will cap off a grand trip around the River Course.

Finishing the round, take a glance around the property and you'll see a few holes from the River Course, the Lakes course across the way, the clubhouse and the cart barn (literally). It's hard to imagine this all started as 'My Lord's Gift Farm.' Then next time you've got your thumb on a map, start wondering 'what if?' -- or just head towards Queenstown Harbor and see for yourself.


Atlantic Golf at Queenstown Harbor (River Course)
310 Links Lane
Queenstown, MD 21658

Phone: (410) 827-6611
Toll Free: (800) 827-5257
FAX: (410) 827-5258

Website: www.mdgolf.com/Queenstown_River/queens.htm

Head Golf Professional: Scot Forbis
Course Architect: Lindsay Ervin

Tees Yardage/Slope
Green 7110/138
Blue 6599/132
Gold 5898/124
White 5026/123

Rates (In-Season):

Mon-Thurs, $66. Twilight (after 3:00 p.m.), $46.
Fri-Sun, $89 . Twilight (after 3:00 p.m.), $55.

Mon-Thurs, $50. Twilight (after 3:00 p.m.), $36.
Fri-Sun, $69. Twilight (after 3:00 p.m.), $45.

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