From the website of Richard Mandell, golf course architect:

Blue Heron Golf Course was originally a nine-hole short course owned by Queen Anne’s County, Maryland. Richard Mandell Golf Architecture was hired to develop a new eighteen-hole golf course on the site of the original holes as well as a new tract of property separated to the south by an inlet and wetland known as Price Creek. Price Creek empties into the Chesapeake Bay within sight of the seventy-five acres I had to work with. Not only did I have very little land to work with, the total elevation change was just thirteen feet and the property was within the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area.

This is a true example of minimalist architecture at its best. The site was very minimal (barren with just thirteen feet of elevation change) but the budget was even more minimal. Blue Heron was not going to be one of those pseudo-minimalist projects where an architect moves a million yards of dirt to create golf holes “which looked like they were always there”. No, this was a project of minimalist proportions in the spirit of “wow, how are we going to pull this one off?” Even if funds were unlimited, my tendency for Blue Heron was to create something that solved the problems (create a facility for the public golfer within budget, work within environmental constraints) but also fit into the landscape properly. There is nothing I dislike more than riding along a flat expanse and coming across a moonscape claiming to be “links golf”. The challenge for me was to create enough strategy and interest without destroying the landscape both within the site and beyond its borders (from a visual standpoint).

The solution was to replicate natural landforms that tied into the ground and its surroundings as best as possible, meaning long ridges and subtle mesas, not bouncy-bounce golf. Coupled with this challenge was a very sensitive site with the need to control storm water. In order to properly control water quality and quantity, we developed a closed drainage system where everything drained into six connected man-made ponds. The pond system dumped into a created wetland and creek that ran 300 yards along the fourteenth hole before connecting to the existing wetlands buffering Price Creek.

This system was immediately embraced by the Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas Commission as well as the other permitting agencies because we not only controlled the quantity and quality of water, we increased the amount of wetlands on site by creating our own filtering system. We even created an impervious surface parking lot. We graded the site so all runoff was directed into our ponds and nothing went into the tributary of Price Creek.

We moved only 107,000 cubic yards of dirt with a total elevation change of just twenty feet. The lesson here is not how much dirt and how high, but strategically creating buffer for safety and knowing how to incorporate strategy into that same buffer. The result is a site which indeed looks like it was always there and doesn’t resemble a moonscape.

Because the site was so tight, it was necessary to maximize the land for safety yet still satisfy the basic criteria for golf. Double tees were utilized and ponds acted as protection throughout the site. The blank canvas allowed me to create a routing that maximized not only strategy and safety, but minimize forced carries.

One last design feature I utilized was a triple green. Because of the lack of space, it was impossible to create three completely separate green complexes within this particular area of the course, but it was possible to create some common-use areas. The result was one putting surface that served three holes (all playing from different directions). The key to the feature’s success was not just in the routing of holes but also in creating enough elevation change between each putting surface (six feet) to develop enough safety buffer. The result is three completely isolated playing experiences on the same green. This feature certainly had some influence on Golf Range Magazine naming Blue Heron Golf Course one of the Top Ten Short Courses In America in 2006.

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