At the grand opening of Caves Valley Golf Club in 1991, Tom Fazio was rightfully the star of the day. After all, he had just designed a beautiful layout in the rolling hills outside Baltimore, and the course would go on to host several national championships, including the 1995 U.S. Mid-Amateur, 2002 U.S. Senior Open and both the men’s and women’s NCAA championships.
He presented his thoughts about the layout, which now measures 7,226 yards, and opened the floor to questions. Somebody asked what would make Caves Valley a great club one day.
“That’s easy,” Fazio responded. “It’s the people. Without the people, it’s just a pretty place.”
Since Day One, the founding members have set down a road map of service and hospitality that form the crux of the Caves Valley experience, which has given the club a deserved reputation as one of the best golf retreats in the country.
Extremely popular among the regional business community—Baltimore, the Washington Beltway, Philadelphia—and beyond, the club possesses an entertaining-friendly infrastructure that rivals that of any club in the nation. Located in the horse country north of Baltimore, the club occupies 962 acres emanating from the clubhouse, a converted farmhouse that sits on a ridge overlooking the valley and dates to the 1930s.
Instead of expanding the house into a monolithic structure, the club wisely added smaller buildings—all built to complement the clubhouse design—to house the locker rooms, pro shop, meeting spaces and administrative offices. This compound evokes the tranquil warmth of a small village and encourages interaction between visitors as they traverse the park-like complex.
The true sense of belonging begins as visitors drive up to the bag drop, where members of Director of Golf Dennis Satyshur’s staff greet them as if they were checking into a resort. The comparison is apt, as the club’s hospitality is the keystone of the Caves Valley experience.
Just steps away are the club’s five cottages, arrayed along the left side of the opening hole. While many national clubs hide their overnight accommodations from the course for maximum privacy, Caves Valley’s approach does have an inspirational effect. The sight and smell of the freshly mown fairway dissolve the aches from the previous day’s 36 holes and stir up enthusiasm for another day of golf.
Truth be told, players need little external influence to find the first tee. Much of the front nine sits in the sparsely treed valley marked by subtle slopes, while the holes on the back nine are bordered by forests and have dramatic elevation changes. There is a good mix, from the 385-yard 2nd, the first of the open-land holes, to the 435-yard 9th, where a stream meandering down the right side encourages players to hew closer than they feel comfortable to the fairway bunker left of the fairway.
Following a well-paced back-nine stretch, the three finishing holes form a stern 1,370-yard gauntlet of long par 4s that test driving skills, iron and hybrid play, recovery shots and putting nerves. As matches reach their denouement, winners certainly enjoy their spoils after playing these holes well.
Word of the Caves Valley experience has spread quickly among the highest levels of golf’s pyramid of influence, both by word of mouth and through the club’s efforts. “Our national members are our best ambassadors,” says Tony Deering, who succeeded founding chairman Les Disharoon. “They are proud of the club and they bring many future members as guests.”
Of course, it helps when the membership rolls include connectors like Buddy Marucci, captain of the past two U.S. Walker Cup teams. The week prior to the 2009 event, he bivouacked the squad at the club for several days before heading to Merion Golf Club, where they won.
Promoting top-tier amateur golf is an important plank of the Caves Valley platform, and the club has hosted the Chesapeake Cup, a better-ball amateur event. In 1991 the inaugural Chesapeake Cup marked the club’s official opening with a four-ball match between two teams of top amateurs: Vinny Giles and Danny Yates against Jay Sigel and Fred Ridley.
Another important emissary is Satyshur, a longtime golf insider who was assistant captain of Tom Kite’s 1997 U.S. Ryder Cup team. Satyshur has arranged special events like the nine-hole match a couple of years ago featuring Ryder Cup and Walker Cup captains: Kite and Marucci vs. 2004 European Ryder Cup captain Bernhard Langer and ’07 and ’09 Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup captain (and Caves Valley member) Colin Dalgleish.
The match raised money for the club’s foundation, which provides financial aid to area students. Many of the scholars work at the walking-only club as caddies, forming part of the Caves Valley experience to which everyone contributes.
The members bring enjoyment and appreciation of the game, a quality that permeates through every corner of the club. General Manager Nancy Palmer and her gracious staff provide great food, comfortable accommodations, warm service and attention to detail. Superintendent Steve Glossinger oversees one of the best-conditioned courses in the country, a layout ever at the ready to challenge and delight whoever happens to stop by, whether it is a tour pro, business titan or political heavyweight.
As Caves Valley’s de facto social director, Satyshur greets and treats both longtime members and guests as if they were the same. “I don’t have to worry about whether my guests are having a good time,” says Mac Brawn, who brings a group of clients once a month from the Boston area. “Dennis takes care of that. I just turn the whole program over to him.”
Brawn, who sells casualty insurance, entertains at Beantown’s biggest tickets—Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots games. But the invitation his customers covet most is an overnight trip to Caves Valley. “It’s the single best thing we do,” says Brawn.
That is certainly high praise, topped only by that of Brad Burris, a three-time club champion and University of North Carolina graduate, who offers the ultimate compliment while talking about the club and Duke University alumnus Satyshur.
“I can’t find fault with any part of the club,” says Burris, a member since 1995. “I fell in love with the place and people. And that’s really saying something, because it takes a lot for me to love a Dukie.”
Photography by L.C. Lambrecht