My friend and I originally planned on playing the Links at Lighthouse Sound on Sunday afternoon, but while we were tee time searching we found a late morning time at River Marsh. That meant we could tee off earlier, and closer to home, so we decided on that option. This trip wasn’t quite the Ocean City golf experience that I had hoped for, but Sunday turned out to be a beautiful day! The temperature was perfect, maybe 80 degrees, and we enjoyed plenty of sun.
The one word that I can think of to describe the golf experience at River Marsh is “elaborate”. The course is associated with the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay, which towers above the area. The hotel is located on the beautiful Choptank River, which drains into the nearby Chesapeake Bay. Heck, the property even has its own marina, how crazy is that! This is definitely the spot to go if you have some cash to burn. We didn’t check out the hotel but I doubt you’d be disappointed staying here. It looks like some lots have been cleared for homes, but I didn’t see anything built yet.
River Marsh is on what I’ve called my “Mid-Atlantic wish list”. These are upper end public courses within a few hours of Charlottesville that seem to get good reviews. That wasn’t my only reason for wanting to play here, I also have found myself enjoying Keith Foster courses and he designed River Marsh. So, it was a kill two birds with one stone visit for me!
My friend and I checked in, immediately flip-flopped tee times with another twosome, and got going about 11:30. We got through the first few holes and caught up with a foursome. It was slow going for us from there, just because we had half of the people the groups in front did! The pace of play was actually pretty good, somewhere around 4 hours 15 minutes.
It won’t take you long to figure out that River Marsh is a resort course because of its wide fairways and ample spaces to play from. Trust me, you can miss the fairways, find it and take another hack! The greens didn’t have an extreme amount of undulation, which seemed odd for a course a modern course. Overall, I found the course to be very playable which should be nice for vacationers looking to play. We played the blue tees which are 71.2/129/6391 (par 71). The other option we considered were the gold tees, but at 6,800 yards those were going to be too much with the soft conditions. The blues turned out to be just fine as the course was wetter than I expected.
The regular rate here is $122, but we only we paid $70. While we got a good deal, I was still slightly disappointed with the conditions, especially for a course that gets ranked among the top public courses in Maryland. The fairways are bentgrass so they have to be kept alive in the summer with a lot of water and in turn, they were wet and littered with divots. Unfortunately, because of this, the course wasn’t unable to hide the play it gets. The greens were soft too, holding footprints, but they rolled smoothly and were a good holing pace.
I mentioned that the design is playable, and I liked that. However, the setting and routing of River Marsh, except for the last few holes, was a bit uninspiring. Sometimes I think I expect too much from a highly rated course, so I’m sure that has something to do with it. Or, maybe having to create a resort style layout took away from having one interesting hole after another!
The course is on some flat land with four holes paralleling the major road through town. The other holes have some hazards and large bunkers in play, but there are only a handful of memorable holes until the signature 17th and 18th. I’ve played a lot of golf in Florida and it felt like I was playing a place near Orlando as I made my way around River Marsh. I like Florida golf, but that is because of the ability to play year round!
The bulk of the “good holes” at River Marsh are par 3’s, and there are a total of five par 3’s. On the front nine, the 6th is a 200 yarder through a chute of trees. Bring the straight one or you might scare a few squirrels! The 8th is 178 yards and has a large bunker to the left and a water to the right. I bailed into that bunker and faced a nerve-racking blast back towards the pond.
On the back nine, the 15th is the shortest par 3 on the course. It plays 141 yards to a green that angles from front left to back right. The green is surrounded by bunkers and water lurks if you hit a really bad one. It is one of those par 3’s where you need to judge the distance perfectly!
River Marsh, like so many courses, saves the fireworks until the end of the round! The course closes with back to back signature holes as you get yards away from the Choptank River. The 17th is a 185 yard par 3 that is almost all carry over Shoal Creek, which feeds into the river. It is a brute and I was thrilled to hit the green and two putt for par! It is a big carry on such a long par 3, but there seem to be regulatory forces in play for the creation of the hole. I’d make sure to take an extra club, as short is no good. The 18th is a long par 5 that runs alongside the river, towards the massive hotel. There is no shortage of scenery on these two holes, so make sure to take it in!
If you get a deal, or just have money to blow, then River Marsh is a fine course to play. It isn’t the most engaging, but the final two holes are top notch and the area will likely put you in a good mood. The breeze off the river, seagulls flying by, and boats bobbing in the marina all offer that vacation vibe if you come to play golf here.
#1 (352 yard par 4):