Five Things to Know: Caves Valley Golf Club
August 24, 2021
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
- August 24, 2021
Flyover: Caves Valley Golf Club
The FedExCup Playoffs have reached the penultimate week as the top 70 do battle to secure either a place in the TOUR Championship, or a better starting spot at East Lake.
RELATED: Caves Valley photo gallery
Course familiarity though has been thrown out the window for most as we visit Caves Valley Golf Club just outside Baltimore, Maryland, for the first time. Not since 1962 has a PGA TOUR event been held in Baltimore.
Here are five things to know about this pristine venue as the season’s best prepare to do battle.
1. Caves Valley has hosted several big tournaments prior to this PGA TOUR debut, with a few noteworthy names returning.
From the 1995 U.S. Mid-Amateur won by Jerry Courville Jr., the course has hosted several significant events. Those include when Don Pooley became the U.S. Senior Open winner in 2002 - defeating Tom Watson in an epic five-hole playoff.
Perhaps most interestingly – in terms of the BMW Championship – were the 2005 NCAAs and the 2007 Palmer Cup held at Caves Valley.
In the NCAAs, Canadian James Lepp took individual honors with a playoff win over three-time Korn Ferry Tour winner Michael Putnam, but the winning team that year was Georgia. The Bulldogs team comprised of PGA TOUR winners Kevin Kisner, Brendon Todd and Chris Kirk. Kisner and Todd line up this week with Kirk already owning a FedExCup Playoffs win from 2014.
Also in that field were Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson, to name a few. Although both future major winners missed the 54-hole cut in 2005 Johnson, Simpson and Kirk returned in 2007 as part of the U.S. Palmer Cup team that would spank Europe 18-6.
Joining them was former FedExCup winner Billy Horschel and TOUR players Brian Harman, Luke List and Jamie Lovemark. Horschel and Harman also return this week.
Caves Valley additionally hosted the Women’s NCAAs in 2009 and the 2014 LPGA International Crown before being the venue for the 2017 Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS Championship won by Scott McCarron.
2. Tom Fazio designed the course after being first hired in 1986.
Les Disharoon – the former CEO of Monumental Corporation – had been trying to create a high-end club of his own since moving to the Baltimore area in 1977. But it wasn’t until 1986 that he bought 962 acres overlooking Caves Valley, just 20 minutes outside the city.
The course first opened in 1991 and just four years later was the site of the 1995 U.S. Mid-Amateur. Fazio originally designed a three-hole short course near the clubhouse with the idea that it could be a twilight loop for members after a long day at the office or even a quick practice loop. Nowadays the area is still maintained but primarily used as a range.
Incidentally, Fazio was also designing Conway Farms in Chicago at the same time, another former BMW Championship venue.
The clubhouse at Caves Valley is a converted old farmhouse that overlooks the valley and reportedly dates to the 1930s.
The club prides itself on hospitality of its members and guests over all else and has a reputation as an industry leader in that category. At least three sitting Presidents have played the course, while Michael Jordan has held membership.
3. The nines are flipped for the BMW Championship and have distinctly different feels, although the whole course has a Muirfield Village footprint.
Caves Valley’s superintendent is Kyle Steidel, who was previously employed at Muirfield Village. Steidel has brought the work practices from Jack Nicklaus’ showpiece course in Ohio to Maryland, and has also leaned on the advice from Paul Latshaw, a former Muirfield Village Superintendent who now holds that position at the world-class Merion Golf Club.
The usual back nine will serve as the front side for this FedExCup Playoffs shootout with most holes framed by huge trees on both sides. The dense forest will be near impossible to escape in certain spots if wayward shots find their way into the timber.
Here we will also be spoiled by two dramatic par 3s – the third and fifth holes for the tournament – that play over ravines to narrow and well protected putting surfaces.
The usual front nine that will serve as the closing holes this week showcases more wide-open spaces but also some interesting water hazards. Nos. 11 and 12 of tournament week have large ponds flanking the right side of the hole while the par-3 13th is a long 221-yard hole that basically necessitates carrying a pond the entire hole.
The holes drop down in elevation early before finding a way back up towards the clubhouse with the finishing hole featuring a creek down the right side. High heat and humidity along with elevation changes will put a premium on fitness.
A recent renovation was undertaken to get the venue to PGA TOUR tournament standard and was a great success. For tournament week the bentgrass greens are expected to provide smooth, consistent putting conditions, having benefitted from extra aerification and topdressing over the past two years.
The bentgrass tees, fairways and approaches have also received extra maintenance and have a firm foundation. The rough inside the rope lines is newly established and is largely a combination of tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. The bunkers have excellent drainage and are filled with a premium sand supply.
The target green speed is 12.5 feet; the tees, fairways, and approaches will be mowed in the range of 0.300 – 0.400 inch; the intermediate rough will be mowed at 1.25 inches, and the primary rough will start around 4 inches.
4. Buddy Marucci – the man who almost took down Tiger Woods at the U.S. Amateur – is a key piece to the Caves Valley puzzle.
Marucci is the General Chairman of the BMW Championship this year and has been a long-time member at Caves Valley.
“Buddy has been absolutely instrumental as our man on the ground,” Vice President of Rules and Competition Stephen Cox says. “His experience with Tom Fazio and around top-level golf has been crucial as our team works with the club.”
While he may be most famous for taking on a 19-year-old Woods in the 1995 U.S. Amateur final, Marucci has had a seriously distinguished career in golf.
He won four Pennsylvania Amateurs, was a two-time Walker Cup player (1995, 1997) and then two-time captain (2007, 2009), and won the 2008 U.S. Senior Amateur among many accomplishments.
Marucci has overseen some significant build outs and changes to the course to get it ready for the Playoffs.
5. Speaking of buildouts, the grandstands are some of the highest in FedExCup Playoff history.
With the benefit of the open course design over the tournaments closing holes there will be a distinct stadium feel to the closing stretch at Caves Valley as players not only vie for the BMW Championship trophy, but also a spot in the TOUR Championship.
The huge land space and topography allows for large grandstands and significant ability to space out spectators in a safe manner. With around 100,000 fans expected to attend Caves Valley over the week, Chairman Steve Fader told local media he felt like it was a “Preakness on steroids.”
Of course, the area is famous for hosting the second jewel of the triple crown in thoroughbred racing every May, the Preakness Stakes at nearby Pimlico Racecourse. The famous horseracing venue is about eight miles from the golf course.
While, outside of major championships, spectator stands might be eight to 10 feet off the ground on average, the BMW Championship at Caves Valley has several at 20 to 30 feet high. Combined with natural elevation the views are stunning.