Bulle Rock’s course correction starting to pay off

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Bulle Rock’s course correction starting to pay off

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Bulle Rock’s course correction starting to pay off

HARVE DE GRACE, Md. – At Bulle Rock Golf Course, nearly half of the players on a busy Friday afternoon in June booked their tee times online. After their rounds, some of the players settled into the Bulle Rock Gourmet Pub & Grill to watch the U.S. Open on one of seven televisions while they enjoyed local craft beers with their crab cakes and burgers. And on June 23, Bulle Rock will host an outdoor wedding.

These facts and others might seem unremarkable, but at Bulle Rock, they represent a revolution.

It was only this month that the course established a simple means of booking online tee times. In past years, the smattering of golfers who wandered into the funereal restaurant, previously known as Silks, would have been more likely to see Fox News, muted, instead of a major championship on the two televisions behind the bar. And the wedding? It will be the first outdoor ceremony in the two decades that the course has been open.

Bulle Rock is in the midst of a transformation. It has been losing six figures annually, which is why it is up for sale, priced at $4.75 million. This is noteworthy because Bulle Rock isn’t just another mid-tier golf course struggling for survival. It has been the perennial No. 1 on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play in Maryland since it opened 20 years ago.

The current shakeup is led by Damon Klepczynski, a veteran course operator in the Mid-Atlantic region. Klepczynski lives a few miles from Bulle Rock and had some sense of the problems during his occasional rounds at the course. It was too expensive, had too many pointless rules, and rounds took too long on a course that was far too penal for most players.

Now, as Bulle Rock’s interim director of operations, a position he has held since February, Klepczynski has established some common-sense objectives: more golfers, more fun, fewer rules, faster rounds. It’s evident from the moment players arrive.

“This was like a dentist’s office,” Klepczynski said of the clubhouse entrance, which, like much of the facility, has been spruced up. The pro shop? “It was kind of like a library,” he said, laughing at the memory of staff and customers whispering about hats and shirts. Now the shop buzzes with activity and the sound of live golf on the TV.

“It’s golf,” Klepczynski said. “That’s all it is.”

And it’s supposed to be fun. Klepczynski has made many changes – he’s lowered prices, installed membership options and shaken up the staff – but some of the biggest changes have come on the golf course, where changes have been made to allow for faster play and fewer lost balls.

The effort seems to be resonating with area golfers. After touring the first two holes, Klepczynski noted, “We just drove past five groups of golfers, which is a rarity around here.”

Ropes give way to speed, customer service

Bulle Rock regulars will notice a difference beginning at the first tee. Ropes that used to limit access to fairways have been removed so that players can drive directly to their balls. Ropes also used to block off many approach areas, forcing players to park on the paths and walk to their balls. Those time-sucking features are gone. Klepczynski might reinstall some ropes if players start driving too close to tees and greens, but for now, he prefers to err in favor of speed and customer service.

Just off the fairways, the hay that used to frame the holes has been shaved back so that players have a chance to play recovery shots. When a player flared a drive to the right on No. 6, a short, downhill par 4, Klepczynski observed, “He thinks that’s a bad shot, but he’s going to have a chance to hit that on the green.” Previously, it would have been a punch-out – if the ball was even found. And the tall fescue along the right tree line on the uphill, dogleg-left fifth was a big no-no in Klepczynski’s eyes.

“It’s a hard enough golf hole as it is – arguably in the top two or three hardest holes on the course,” Klepczynski said. “We said, ‘OK, where there are trees, there should not also be high fescue. Why are we double-penalizing people?’ You might have tree trouble, but you won’t have Shinnecock and tree trouble.”

He also didn’t like the combination of fast greens and thick rough around the greens. One of those elements had to change, so green surrounds were trimmed up.

“I’m going to keep our greens faster and better than everybody else’s,” Klepczynski said. “So let’s let people chip to the fast green.”

The changes include a minor design tweak. The front half of a lengthy bunker right of the par-3 17th has been sodded over, a nod to weaker players.

“Let’s say you thinned it into the bunker, and then you had a 60-yard bunker shot. Who has that shot?” Klepczynski said.

These moves appear to be producing the desired effect. Business is up and rounds that used to take five hours now are coming in around four hours, 15 minutes, Klepczynski said.

If those trends continue, Bulle Rock’s financials might finally match the course’s lofty standing in the rankings. Gwk

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