Maryland's Eastern Shore doesn't grab many headlines, golf or otherwise. A scenic countryside speckled with refurbished Victorian homes and charming fishing villages, this corner of the Delmarva Peninsula is a land of quiet, rustic pleasures. Golfers in search of a mellow experience are discovering the region, and not just for what it doesn't offer—summertime hordes, T-shirt shops and baroque resorts. Chesapeake Bay has a wealth of lovely courses, many in the prairie style, and some noteworthy newcomers. Just be sure to find the water's edge by day's end: Unlike those dread six-footers, there's no reason to miss a single spectacular sunset.
Most of the best golf is located within Talbot County's 259 square miles of flat farmland, home to the villages of St. Michaels in the west and Easton ten miles to its east. Mobilize in St. Michaels—a bustling waterfront parish of antique stores, art galleries, B&Bs, old-time saloons and boutiques operating out of those restored Victorians. Easton is quieter and inland, with some neat shops, including a gunsmith, Albright's Gun Shop.
Few places offer drivers so much enjoyment. For a rural inland loop past fruit and vegetable stands, take Route 309 to 404 to 328; for a coastal excursion, drive west on 33 to Tilghman Island and over the country's busiest drawbridge at Knapps Narrows. Then head back to St. Michaels via Oxford and a ferry ride on what's believed to be the country's oldest privately operated service, the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry (410-745-9023), established in 1683.
Get your bearings close to St. Michaels by teeing off at Pete Dye's undersized but formidable course at the Harbourtowne Golf Resort & Conference Center. A wide-open front gives way to a well-treed, winding and shorter back that puts the accent on strategic iron play through a gauntlet of pines. The exception to the length quotient is the par-three eleventh, where you must produce an accurate 220-yard shot into a deathly Dye green, with the only bailout being the fairway short. Thirty-six-a-day types should then head over to nearby Easton Club, a short track with some precarious water carries, including the blustery 174-yard par-three thirteenth that from an elevated tee requires a well-judged wind cheater into its island green.
Next, visit Hunters Oak Golf Club before the "preview" rounds end and the club goes fully private—although that's two years off and a few resorts will retain privileges. Located on a hunting-and-gaming reserve with two B&Bs and a large brick-and-stone manor clubhouse, your newfound accuracy will come in handy at this three-year-old links. Painfully skinny fairways are framed by a canvas of well-placed mounds topped with fescue that has been mercifully shortened to help the average player. Sand bunkers abound as do pleasingly old-school grass bunkers; also in play are a few strategic dry moat areas, like the one fronting the green on the par-four thirteenth, plus a host of closely mowed roll-away areas on several holes, emphasizing precise approaches, or else.
Set deep in the heart of Maryland farm country, Hog Neck Golf Course was indeed once a hog farm. Marked on nearly every hole by slanted cluster bunkering meant to catch errant tee shots and highlight pinched fairways, and with sloping greens and a few blind tee shots, this is one of many area designs by local architect Lindsay Ervin, who also created the thirty-six holes at nearby Queenstown Harbor. Of Queenstown's pair, the River course is the more challenging and scenic. Five holes offer views of the picture-perfect bay; a few wander wide-open meadows while others are routed through thick pockets of vegetation and over wetlands. Most are framed by colorful wildflowers, including a bountiful lot along the short par-four sixth, which requires an exacting drive through a shoot to a wide landing area. A plaque alongside the fourteenth tee commemorates Francis Scott Key's writing of the "Star Spangled Banner" while captive during the War of 1812 on a ship in Baltimore Harbor—a spot purportedly visible from here. You'll play the final five holes with that inspiring tune in your head.
Farther south, in Dorchester County, is the Golf Club at River Marsh, part of the vast new Hyatt Regency. Designed by Keith Foster alongside the resort's thirteen-acre nature preserve, the course features reachable par fives and troublesome par threes. The two finishers are the most dramatic: The 205-yard par-three penultimate demands a long inlet carry from the back tees, with the Choptank River as backdrop, while the 567-yard eighteenth is a demanding straightaway hole along the river. The course was made from land once belonging to a state mental institution; rest assured that your experience here will not drive you to distraction.
Save for dessert the spectacular Upland Golf Club. This gorgeous links opened in April 2002—a full year after it was completed. The maturation shows. Knee-high fescue that sways gently in the wind frames each hole; the conditioning is flawless. The little things are spot-on too, like elegant wrought-iron tee signs with playing tips. At 6,635 yards, Upland plays short only on the card: The steady breezes make for tough par fours—including four on which even better players will likely face approaches of more than 200 yards. Of all the region's tracks, Upland is both the most refined and the most interesting.
Already ideally located for area golf, with the addition of forty waterfront suites and deluxe rooms with balconies and terraces overlooking the Miles River, the Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels is now to our mind the premier lodging on the Eastern Shore. (The Inn can make arrangements for guests to play any of the above courses.) Rooms in this clapboard Colonial mansion feature four-poster beds, antique armoires and chests, and come stocked with luxe Molton Brown toiletries (ask your wife). Try the scallops wrapped in bacon in the airy, sun-drenched tavern, or relax in the adjoining sitting room, newly redesigned with a nautical theme.
For rusticity, try the Inn at Easton. The front foyer's goldenrod parlor with a sunburst mirror on the wall above the marble fireplace compliments the countrified guest rooms, whose beds are covered in European linens. Also in Easton is the stately Tidewater Inn, where the outsize lobby features a sweeping spiral staircase and an equally grand fireplace, circled by Federal era couches and chairs. The Five Gables Inn & Spa in St. Michaels offers stay-and-spa packages, including specialized deep-tissue massages, soaking hydrotherapy jetted baths, facials and the like by specially trained therapists from as far away as Great Britain. For a more voluminous experience, head to the aforementioned Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina, where 400 rooms (including sixteen suites) and five restaurants beckon.
The stately porch lined with overflowing potted plants, beside a lush garden, is the perfect place to eat the steamed mussels at Mason's (410-822-3204) in Easton. Also don't miss the smoked-salmon appetizer. As an escape from seafood overload, go with the grilled beef tenderloin, the signature dish and only menu item that doesn't change seasonally. Chef Mark Salter conceives impressive culinary delights for the Inn at Perry Cabin's (410-745-2200) elegant dining room; you can also enjoy sterling views of the Miles River at the Town Dock Restaurant (800-884-0103), also in St. Michaels. At 208 Talbot (410-745-3838), opt for the baked oysters and, in summer, panfried soft-shell crabs. For drinks, head to Carpenter Street Saloon (410-745-5111) in St. Michaels (or "C Street" in local parlance), which features live music on the weekends.
At the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (410-745-2916), about the only thing you won't learn is that the resourceful residents of St. Michaels, upon learning of a planned naval attack by the British, affixed lanterns to treetops and the masts of ships, fooling the Brits into overshooting their cannons. Just outside Easton, roam the 400-plus acres of the Pickering Creek Audubon Center (pickeringcreek.org), or make your way to Pintail Point (800-697-1777) for some game, duck or clay shooting and a bit of fishing. You can also rent a canoe or a kayak from a host of outfitters to get closer to area wildlife. Board the sixty-five-foot Patriot (410-745-3100) for a narrated tour of the history of the Bay, or jump aboard the Express Royale (888-312-7847) to get a closer look at how fishermen harvest those luscious Maryland blue crabs.
ATLANTIC GOLF AT QUEENSTOWN HARBOR GOLF CLUB (RIVER), Queenstown; 800-827-5257. Yardage/Slope: 7,110/138. Greens Fees: $76-$99. Architect: Lindsay B. Ervin, 1991. T&L Golf Rating: ****
HUNTERS OAK GOLF CLUB, Queenstown; 800-697-1777. Yardage/Slope: 7,072/135. Greens Fee: $85. Architect: Ian Scott-Taylor, 2000. T&L Golf Rating: ****
UPLAND GOLF CLUB, Denton; 866-288-6400. Yardage/Slope: 6,635/129. Greens Fees: $56-$80. Architect: Joel Weiman, 2002. T&L Golf Rating: ****
THE EASTON CLUB, Easton, 800-277-9800. Yardage/Slope: 6,703/129. Greens Fees: $45-$55. Architect: Robert D. Rauch, 1995. T&L Golf Rating: ***1/2
HARBOURTOWNE GOLF RESORT, St. Michaels; 800-446-9066. Yardage/Slope: 6,320/120. Greens Fee: $65. Architect: Pete Dye, 1971. T&L Golf Rating: ***1/2
HOG NECK GOLF COURSE, Easton; 800-280-1790. Yardage/Slope: 7,100/131. Greens Fees: $45-$55. Architect: Lindsay B. Ervin, 1976. T&L Golf Rating: ***1/2
GOLF CLUB AT RIVER MARSH, Cambridge; 410-901-1234. Yardage/Slope: 6,801/126. Greens Fees: $50-$125. Architect: Keith Foster, 2002. T&L Golf Rating: ***
FIVE GABLES INN & SPA, St. Michaels; 877-466-0100, fivegables.com. Rooms: $150-$385.
HYATT REGENCY CHESAPEAKE BAY GOLF RESORT, SPA AND MARINA, Cambridge; 410-901-1234, hyatt.com. Rooms: $90-$325. Suites: $250-$3,700.
THE INN AT EASTON, Easton; 410-822-4910, theinnateaston.com. Rooms: $140-$395.
THE INN AT PERRY CABIN, St. Michaels; 800-722-2949, perrycabin.com. Rooms: $295-$685.
THE TIDEWATER INN AND CONFERENCE CENTER, Easton; 800-237-8775, tidewaterinn.com. Rooms: $120-$200.