Swan Point -- Goin' To Swan Point In My Mind

SBy Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos by Aaron Frey

ISSUE, MD -- Three and a half decades ago, James Taylor recorded a song called "Carolina In My Mind," where he croons romantically of going to Carolina in his thoughts -- which certainly sounds like his version of heaven on earth. Taylor's vivid lyrical imagery makes you feel like you're almost there with him, and it also paints Carolina as the closest thing to Nirvana you'll find in your consciousness.

And as demonstrated by the popularity of golf in the Carolinas, many duffers seem to share Taylor's lofty impressions of the two states.


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View of the 4th hole's island green. If you're short, you're wet.

However, for those in the upper Mid Atlantic region, there really isn't a need to trek all the way to Carolina to find that golfing chunk of paradise, because the same sensation is found much closer to home. Case in point is Swan Point Yacht & Country Club in Issue, Maryland, along the banks of the Potomac River and Cuckold Creek, but hundreds of miles and hours closer than Taylor's echoes of Carolina (that is, if he's talking about Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head).

Having spent a fair amount of time teeing it up in the Palmetto State, I speak from experience when I say you'll have a hard time telling the difference between Swan Point and the Carolina low country -- with the possible exception of dodging alligators and eyeing trees filled with Spanish Moss.

There are other pleasing differences, however. Much of coastal Carolina is choked with touristy hotels, hordes of people and more golfers per square inch than anywhere you'll find this far north. Not so in southern Maryland. While Swan Point is part of a housing development, the houses don't come into play -- and you won't have to fight throngs of vacationing hackers for tee times.

And the seafood you'll encounter at local eateries is probably just as fresh as that pulled from the waters down there.


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Keep tee shots to the left on #13, or trees might block your approach.

Swan Point's quite a contrast to much of Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head, where the condos are so close you can whisper to residents from the tee box, or impale their family pet with a shot that's just slightly off line.

Joey Harrison, Swan Point's Head Golf Professional, says it's the 'low country' feeling that's so appealing about his club: "We've definitely got that Carolina feeling here, and that's a comparison we hear a lot. The course is fairly flat with lots of water, wetlands and trees, so you'd swear you're somewhere other than southern Maryland."

"We're also fairly close to a major population center, yet it feels like you're hundreds of miles away. We only have two holes that run parallel to each other (16 & 17), so most of the time when you're out on the course, it's just you and the surroundings. You certainly won't have to worry about other golfers playing your fairway," Harrison adds.

In fairness to Harrison, he's right -- Swan Point does seem like it's a long way from the hustle and bustle of the city. But it also takes a good chunk of time to get there -- probably an hour and twenty minutes from most places in the DC area. By the time you reach the course, it feels like you've driven to Carolina (okay, not really).


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Fly it high to the 6th hole's green.

Another allusion to points deep south at Swan Point are its fairways -- Bermuda in the summer and overseeded Rye in the cold months (new this year). The fluffy hot weather grass grows profusely, providing excellent fairway coverage and thicker rough than you'll find in the DC region (though it's not nearly as long as bluegrass or fescue rough).

"This is the first year we're going to overseed the fairways," said Harrison. "We've found that it's just too tough to keep the course in playable condition during the winter. Even though the weather's often warm enough to play, we didn't have any growing grass to soak up the moisture -- so we'd deal with a lot of mud and wait 'til the Bermuda sprouted in the summer. Now we'll be a lot more playable year-round." 

'Playability' being the operative word. Swan Point's golf course is a Bob Cupp redesign (yet another southern refrain -- Cupp is a household name in the south) of an older nine-hole layout that was expanded to its current 18 hole configuration in 1990. As previously mentioned, the setbacks from the houses are extremely wide, granting a break to the horizontally challenged average player and maintaining the 'private club' feeling on its fairways. The course isn't well known, but what it lacks in name appreciation, it makes up for in quality recognition (it received a four-star rating in Golf Digest, which is usually reserved for the highest quality upscale courses).

But Swan Point's also pretty challenging from the back tees, due to some sizable forced carries. Harrison describes the test: "Our course definitely presents every type of shot you'll bring with you. You've got everything from a dogleg left to a dogleg right; you've got holes where you can get very aggressive, and others where you'll have to play it safe; and you'll face every type of approach shot, from an in-between wedge to a full three iron."


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#9 -- 395 yard par four with water guarding the entire left side.

You've also got a 230 yard wetlands carry off the tee box on number two (from the tips) and several other tee shots where the wetland grasses obscure the landing area. Intimidation is the word. But as Harrison points out, there's always a bailout, even from the back tees: "We certainly have some big time carries, but you'll also notice that there's always a way to play them to the one side where you can choose to avoid having to fly it the full distance. There's a lot of risk-reward quality out there."

Being close to the river, the wind's also a frequent factor. Hole #11 is rated Swan Point's #2 handicap hole, despite being a 168 yard par three. Harrison says it's because the wind often whips off the river. "I've hit everything from nine-iron to two-iron on eleven, because the wind's always going to dictate how you play that hole."

Highlights on the front nine begin with the aforementioned tee shot on #2, but Swan Point's "Carolina" feeling reaches its peak on the fourth hole. Harrison describes it: "Number four is a par five with an island green. If you hit a great drive, you'll have the option to go for it in two, but you're hitting either a three-wood or a long iron into it. However, if you don't hit such a great drive, you'll still have the ability to make a birdie by playing it the more traditional three-shot way, with a wedge for the approach."

Six is another terrific par five, 571 yards from the back tees and multitudes of trouble on all three shots. The approach is to an elevated green, guarded by bunkers to the left and right, and steep slopes to the sides. Here's also your first look at the river (through a treeline). Quite a nice view.


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Greenside on the 2nd hole. Stay right of the wetlands!

The inward nine starts out with a set of great holes that will define your memories of Swan Point. Ten's a challenging 420 yard par four that requires an accurately placed tee shot to give you a good angle to a green protected on the right by a large bunker and a pond.

Eleven is the outstanding par three (as mentioned above), where the tall wetlands obscure your view of the green. The target's actually quite large, with a bunker wrapping the green on three sides and a generous bailout area to the right.

Twelve is another par three, and at 235 yards from the back, you'll need all the tailwind you can get. Wetlands guard the short and left sides, though it'll take a miss-hit to lose one short (probably 25 yards of landing area between the tall grass and the putting surface).

Thirteen's another fine par four with a wetlands view tee shot, though you'll probably need only 185 yards to clear it from the back box this time. If your tee shot's too far to the right, you'll have tree trouble on the approach.


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Looking back from the 11th green. Intimidation.

Swan Point's a fine course throughout, and definitely worth the drive. Harrison defines the mindset: "I want our players' thoughts to become lost in the golf course. If there's anything in the back of their minds that they may have had a little stress, hopefully they'll lose it when they come here. I think Swan Point kind of gives them the ability to do so." Almost like goin' to Carolina in your mind.

 


Details:

Swan Point Yacht & Country Club
11550 Swan Point Boulevard
Issue, MD 20645

Phone: (301) 259-0047
FAX: (301) 870-2951

Website: www.swanpointgolf.com

Course Designers: Bob Cupp
Head Golf Professional: Joey Harrison
General Manager: Roger Wolfe

Tees

Yardage/Slope

Championship

6761/130

Tournament

6290/128

Regular

5621/117

Forward

5009/116

Rates:

Weekdays, $59. Weekends, $79.

During the week, twilight is at 3:00 p.m. for $39.  Twilight on weekends is at 12:00 p.m. ($59) and 3:00 p.m. ($39).

All prices include cart. As the name would suggest, Swan Point also features a marina.


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E-mail Jeff Rendall, Editor:
jrendall@golftheunitedstates.com