Tuesday, August 9

Hog Neck: Exceptional Public Golf on the Eastern Shore

Text and images by John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. Used with permission.

GIVEN A CHOICE, I PREFER to play on public courses where foursomes are put together by chance. I often play with guys (and gals) just off work, firemen and construction workers, accountants and school teachers. It is reassuring to come into a public course where the parking lot is half full of pickup trucks and not BMWs.

The problem with such a game plan, however, are the courses. The majority of them don't measure up against private clubs that are manicured and groomed by a seasoned superintendent and grounds crew. 

There are, however, exceptions and this summer I played at one of the better public courses that I have come upon. 

On vacation on the Eastern Shore, I found Hog Neck Golf Course in Easton, Maryland, an 18-hole par 72 championship course, plus a 9-hole par 32 executive course. Both courses are spread over 255 acres of rolling landscape.

The Hog Neck Golf Course (with its unfortunate name) was, in fact, rated the "Finest Golf Course for 2012, on Maryland's Upper Eastern Shore" by Maryland Life Magazine's Readers Poll. It opened in 1976 on land given to Talbot County by Nettie Marie Jones, famous for her many gifts to the county. She played the game, as did her husband, W. Alton Jones, who was head of the Cities Service oil company (now Citgo) and one of Ike's "gang" of close golf buddies.

Alton also helped pay for the Eisenhower Cottage at Augusta National. He was a member of over 100 courses and kept clubs at all of them for his friends and himself. When he died his wife, Nettie Marie, gave the entire lot to the National Golf Foundation.

What separates Hog Neck from many public courses is that the county owns it and money and attention are spent on this course and buildings. The Eastern Shore is famous for its sailing but it also has some very fine public courses, Hog Neck being just one. 

There is a country club feel to the golf course once you arrive, having driven past flat fields of soybeans to reach the brick framed entrance and following a long curving tarmac road through groves of loblolly pines to a small pro shop, framed by parking lots, maintenance buildings, a practice range, putting clock and a separate short game area. There is also a café with a limited menu, but enough for a quick bite. You've come to play not dine. 

The two courses—championship and executive—are intermingled and the championship 18 is two different courses in one. The front 9 is tight with the holes surrounded by woods and water while the back side has an open, links-style feel. The championship course plays to a par 72 and is 7106 yards long. The 9-hole executive is 2182 yards from the back tees with a par of 32.

The head professional is PGA member Lance Houghton, who previously worked as the assistant pro. He is a local guy from Maryland, a schoolteacher before qualifying as a PGA professional, and before coming to Hog Neck he worked at two other fine public courses in the state, Queenstown Harbor and Prospect Bay in Stevensville.

What Houghton says, and what I would agree with, is what makes Hog Neck different is the attention to details. You see it on the course itself, and around the club house. There's friendly staff to help you find what you might need, from golf paraphernalia to coffee in the café. 

What else makes Hog Neck enjoyable is the lack of players. While there is a steady stream of golfers, it's more like a trickle compared to courses in major urban areas. And with the pro's help, it is easy enough to play around foursomes and golf outings when you just want to get in a quick nine playing alone.

Look for Hog Neck when you are on the Eastern Shore. You don't even have to book a tee time. Learn more at www.hogneck.com.

John Coyne is a bestselling author of three golf novels and more than 20 other books. Pay him a visit at John Coyne Books.

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