Course: J Ville was designed by Donald Ross, who was the guy responsible for Pinehurst No. 2 and Aronimink and is generally a legendary course designer. Let’s just say I’m not a fan of this course because Ross designed it; I’m a fan of Ross because he’s behind old J Ville. In fact, the only way I found out about Ross was because I liked the course so much I wanted to know if there were others in the area designed by the J Ville guy. Only then did I find out about Ross. Turns out there are plenty of courses in the area designed by him, but I will not be playing them any time soon unless I join one of the clubs or get an invite. Alas, you have one of the area’s best values in this course. I almost hate writing about J Ville because of the possibility I’ll give it more play and make it tougher for me to get on. Who am I kidding, no one will ever read this. Playing J Ville for what they charge is like driving a Lambo around just by paying your Ford Focus monthly bills. Many pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to play courses Ross designs, you can pay a fraction of that for the same experience (relatively).
I believe there has been a considerable effort to ensure conditions are up to snuff, and they are. Great design, great conditions, very little cost, close to Philly. If we stopped there, this course would still be in my top tier, but there’s much more. For starters, this course doesn’t back up after you tee off. Even during peak season during the weekend. It’s a great course to walk, friendly starters and cheap food/beer (a must for me). No. 1 is the biggest pain in the ass hole on the course. I say that affectionately. You dive right in with a par 4 that forces you to tee off with your best draw shot before having a longer approach to a tiered green with bunkers over on the left. If you can’t draw your tee shot, like me, you basically try to cut the corner and avoid the bunkers or hit it straight with your ball going through the fairway. 2 is no easier, with a downhill fairway looking at a raised green across a creek. Things ease up a bit before a massive par 5 on number 6. This time you better know how to fade it or you’ll have problems on the tee. The hole then dog legs right into a downhill green. 8 is about 185 downhill and over a creek to a green that severely slopes to the creek. 12 forces you to make a tough decision on your second shot; lay up or try to blast it over a creek. This is one busy creek here. 17 and 18 stretch their legs and give you complicated dog legs with a creek on 17 (not sure if it’s the same one or not) and a lake on 18 (which shouldn’t come into play but I occasionally figure out a way to get it involved). Greens are in great condition and are difficult. The grass used for the green agrees with my putter, so kudos for that. You get a panacea of players here, from the guys who know this place is a steal and index their handicap to guys who live in the area and wanted to take the sticks for a walk. That’s how I found out about the place myself.
As for difficulty, you need to play well to score here, but the challenge in this course is unassuming. Bunkers come into play, greens are tough and you have to manage the course to avoid trouble. It also helps to know how to draw and fade the ball. I’ll get there eventually. You don’t walk away from the course thinking one thing or the other was really tough; rather, you usually end up blaming yourself for any scoring miscues. Maybe that’s the magic of the course in that respect.
The above was one of my first reviews. I thought I’d add a hole by hole review as well:
The First starts off all business as a 434 yard (Whites) par 4. The tee shot is to an uphill fairway that dog legs left and bunkers are at both sides of the fairway at the turn. You must blast your tee shot to get a clear look at the green, but still have a mid iron into the green, which is multi tiered and bunkers on the left side of the green. It’s a great hole, but I’m usually happy with a bogey. I like to blame it on not being warmed up yet; there’s not even a driving range!
Tee shot at the First, during Fall
Second shot territory
Second shot territory, in the Fall. Partially blind approach shot.
Approach to the green
Looking at the green from the right side. Bunkers on other side of those mounds.
Looking back down the First fairway from the green.
The Second starts a series of three holes that soften up a little and give you some chances to score. It’s a 333 yard par 4 that tees down hill, then turns a little right over a creek to a raised green. Driver is usually too much here as it will either go through the dog leg into the trees on into the creek at the bottom of the hill. The approach shot is a little tough because anything off green leaves you with a difficult recovery shot, but the green is large enough that getting it on in regulation shouldn’t be a problem.
Going down the fairway
Second hole, Fall
The Third is a 282 yard par 4 and is an uphill hole. There are fairway bunkers on the right and the green complex undulates with a lower and upper tier. It’s possible to drive the green here, or get close to the green for a short chip shot, but the putting can be tough if your ball is far from the hole.
The Third, Fall
Approaching the green
Fairway bunkers on the right side of the hole.
View of the green from the right side. Patented Ross mounds surrounding the green along the sides.
More looks at it
The Fourth is the short par 3 you find at most Ross courses. It’s 135 yards to a narrow but long green surrounded by bunkers. Going long actually doesn’t help because the green slopes from back to front. I’d actually like to be short and be able to chip on my second shot.
The Fourth, Fall
Another view of the Fourth
Showing how deep the green side bunkers are
The Fifth is the last of three easier holes, as a 355 yard par 4. It’s straightaway, with a few bunkers on the right side. The green is very wide but narrow and anything long goes down a very steep drop off and is essentially dead. The green has a lower and upper tier. Pin placements on the right side/upper tier are manageable while any pin on the left/lower tier is much more challenging.
Tee shot at the Fifth, Fall
Approach at the Fifth, Fall
A look at the Fifth green. The left/lower side starts sloping down on the other side.
The Sixth begins a set of three holes that are on the tougher side, a par 5, 4 and 3, respectively. The Sixth is a par 5 measuring 557 yards. It is regarded as one of the better holes in the area. It’s a double dog leg, teeing off uphill to the first dog leg that turns right and begins descending to the green at the turn. The fairway then goes downhill another 150 yards before dog legging left to a raised green. There are bunkers on both the left and right of the first dog leg, then on the left side of the second dog leg, then a bunch of bunkers await short and right of the green. There are a ton of ways to play this hole. The long bomber can usually get over the hill, leaving them with a chance of getting on in 2 if they’re able to control their approach from that far out. A lot of players will end up at the first dog leg and have a blind second shot, deciding either to try and hit it beyond all the bunkers short of the green for a nice approach, or hit to the second dog leg, which leaves you with a longer approach, but is probably the most conservative play. Of course, your third shot will probably have a significant downhill lie, which always brings the bunkers on the right side in play for me. The green slopes from back to front as well. This is one hole you could play over and over and never get tired of it. You can’t get away with a bad tee or approach shot to score well and there are a lot of management decisions to make.
Tee shot at the Sixth, 2012
The Tee shot at the Sixth, 2013. I like how they let the area between the tee and fairway grow out
At the first dog leg of the Sixth
About 200 yards out. The green is visible straight ahead.
The approach at the Sixth. Bunkers on the right also cutting across the front of the green.
A close up of the raised green at the Sixth
Looking at the mounds from the green to the fairway. Any shot too short of the green is subject to the random bouncing and rolling of those mounds.
The Seventh is a 366 yard par 4. The tee shot is yet again uphill, but dog legs right to a very elevated green surrounded by bunkers. The approach shot is extremely difficult, as the green is only mid sized and even if you get on the green, it is multi tiered, which leaves you with some very tough putts and the real possibility of three putting. I usually make a mess of this hole and am close to putting it on my nemesis list.
Tee shot at the Seventh, Fall. Aim for that big tree in the center, the green is about 10:00 diagonal from there.
And approach shot at the Seventh. You can see the pin on top of the mounds.
Approach shot, Summer
The Eighth is a 181 yard par 3. A visually challenging shot for sure. What I mean by that is there are holes where just be looking at them, you may involuntarily swing out of your shoes, or look up too soon because you want to see the ball follow that path you laid out just before you swung. The visuals of the hole could possibly affect your swing if you don’t stay even keeled. That’s the case here, as the tee is perched on top of a hill. The hole proceeds down hill to a creek at the bottom, which then goes up hill to the green, which slopes back to front. Even if your shot is safe on the green, the severe slope makes putting a challenge. And the creek minimizes your ability to hit it downhill of the green for an uphill putt.
The Eighth, Fall
The Ninth goes away from the clubhouse and is a 369 yard par 4. After the last 3 tougher holes, this one is fairly scoreable. The hole is a slight dog leg right. The tee shot is raised, with a creek below the tee, and the beginning of the fairway rises so it’s almost level with the tee area. There are cross bunkers that are staggered across the fairway from each other. The green is on the easier side and is protected by bunkers short left and on the right side.
Tee shot at the Ninth, Fall
Approach at the Ninth
The other side of the Ninth
Looking back at the Ninth fairway from the green
The Front nine is among my favorite in the area. I can’t really think of a hole I do not love. Each is unique and calls upon different shots, with a mix of short and long holes, bunkering, creeks and trees. The par 3’s are great, the par 5 is very good while the par 4’s are all well done in their unique way, with the First being my favorite. Ranking the front 9, it would be 1, 6, 8, 2, 5, 7, 9, 3, 4.
The Tenth is another “breather” hole before tackling some tough ones. It’s a 337 yard par 4 with a generous fairway and a green that yields a good amount of birdies. The score killers on this hole are the bunkers that sit in front of the green on the left and right side. Those are tough to get out of.
Approach shot territory
The Tenth, Fall
The approach at the Tenth, from the left side of the fairway
The Eleventh is a 377 yard par 4. The fairway is fairly wide, but be careful that any drive that rolls to about 250 will end up in a very narrow creek that crosses the entire fairway. The approach shot is to a very tough green complex, which is elevated. Bunkers are carved into the left of the hill side of the green while the right side of the green is abutted by trees and rough. The green undulates in a lot of directions, so you can get some unlucky bounces even if you hit the green. The green generally slopes severely from right to left as well.
Approach shot territory, just before the creek
The Twelfth is a 190 yard par 3, but is pretty straight forward. The green is slightly uphill from the tee area, but is fairly large and aside from a bunker on the front left and some mounds, there’s not much trouble.
The Twelfth, the pin is far left
The Thirteenth is a 408 yard par 4. From the Eleventh, difficulty goes from hard to easy, while the the Thirteenth goes back to hard. The tee shot is usually blind because there are mounds and bunkers, along with a fairway that starts going downhill, that make it tough to see where your tee shot ends up. The approach shot is usually on the longer side and requires you to carry a creek and hit a green that sits on a ridge above the creek area. The green is also enclosed by trees, so anything off center is usually dead. Very steep bunkers are also along the right side of the green. The hole requires very good tee and approach shots. Otherwise, pray you only get away with a bogey.
The Fourteenth is a 320 yard par 4. A short hole, but the tee shot is blind to an uphill fairway and usually anything off center ends up lost. The green slopes from 11:00 to 5:00, severely and is one of the tougher greens on the course. I’ve scored everything on the hole from birdie to snowman; it just shows you how rewarding or punishing it can be.
The Fifteenth is the last par 3 and is Ross’ long one. I believe every Donald Ross has a short and long par 3, although LuLu’s long one was only 175. The one here is 198 yards and is yet another hole that dips, then rises to the green. There are bunkers left of the green and short right, but the green sloping from back to front makes any down hill putt hopeless. This green is probably the toughest on the course.
The Sixteenth gives you a little breather before facing the brutal Seventeenth and monster Eighteenth. It’s a 361 yard par 4 with an elevated tee shot and dog leg right. The hole is tree lined, making it impossible to cut the dog leg. The green is on the smaller side and the Ross patented mounds surround the green, along with a bunker short right of the green. There’s not much leeway with your tee and approach shots.
Just in front of the green
The Seventeenth is a 431 yard par 4 with a severe dog leg to the right. A large tree protects the dog leg and makes you go around. After the dog leg, the fairway proceeds gently downhill to a creek, then back up to the green (see the theme here with the downhill, then uphill to the green thing?). Driver could be too much and if you hit through the dog leg, a group of trees blocks you from going for the green. The green is large, so it’s a longer approach shot that can be done. It’s the number one handicapped hole, likely because the trees and rough, and the well placed creek, can multiply strokes quickly.
Second shot territory, at the dog leg
Then there’s the Eighteenth. A 516 yard par 5 that is the grand finale for sure. The tee shot is angled towards the right side of the fairway, with a raised bunker on the left side of the fairway, which also blocks your view of the fairway in general. There’s water along the left side of the fairway and trees line the right side. The fairway dog legs right once it reaches the distance of the green, so it’s basically impossible to reach the green in two because of the trees. Two good shots can get you clear of the trees for a look at the green. The green undulates, pooling in just a couple flat areas, but mainly sloping severely from back to front. Yes this hole is protected almost every way imaginable. Yet it’s not impossible or, “unfair.” You can try to carry the trees to get on the green in 2, try to get the ball close to the green for an up and down, or be conservative and get a nice short approach shot to be on in 3. Any bad shot usually results in at least a double.
A look down the fairway
Approaching the green. A good spot for the third shot.
Closer to the green
Generally, the back nine is equally enjoyable as the front, but a little more challenging. Maybe I’ve played here so much, but every hole sticks out as unique. The back 9 rankings are 18, 17, 11, 13, 16, 10, 15, 12, 14.
The par 5’s are world class, the par 4’s are very strong for the most part and the par 3’s range from appropriately scoreable to the challenging Eighth.
Gripes: Only because this section is here- no driving range, the usual suspects in the way of senile regulars (one time a group of them actually rooted against Team USA basketball because said team didn’t resemble the Larry Bird Celtics of the 1980’s), and Diet Pepsi, no Diet Coke.
Bar/grill: Small indoor and outdoor area. Really great sandwiches and cheap beer.
Clubhouse: Well sized and great selection of moderately priced apparel and equipment.
Nearby: My pick is Chap’s, about 2 blocks away. Great beer selection, great food and tons of plasmas. Sign me up.
Getting there: Main Street of Norristown or Route 422 exit Trooper road, then another 10 minutes.
UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE
November 2012: Out of all my reviews, I have done this one the most injustice. No photos, short description and worst of all, I’ve played here most of any course this season but haven’t posted any updates. The reason for this is I just enjoy myself too much here and forget about pics, then when I do remember, it’s too late in the round and I figure I’ll do photos when I come back. Well, now we’re coming to the end of the season, so I got out for the sole purpose of getting photos of the course.
I like this course more every season. It is the best municipal course in the area by far. As my original post (which is also one of the first I did) states, the course was designed by Donald Ross. Despite this, the place was not in very good condition a decade ago and it seemed like JVille was going in the direction of Cobbs Creek; a master piece whose best days were behind it. Fortunately, I believe a coordinated effort between the township and investors realized what they were sitting on and put some money in the course to turn it around. They were successful. Conditions became much better and the course became respectable once again. In fact, I began noticing all of the design features of the course and started to actually appreciate them so much that my whole foray into course design began.
The design is the best characteristic of the course. Mainly, the routing sets up perfectly on challenge, as it gets tough, then softens, tough, soft, and so on. The holes come in series, almost like acts in a play (or a boxer’s punching combination attacks), all at the right time during the round. The course is also extremely walkable, which I find refreshing. And I’m surprised how quickly you can get around the course even when it seems like it’s crowded. The greens are pretty stern but not tricked out and I seem to always putt well here. The food and beer are cheap. I always enjoy myself here, and not because I find a way to usually have a respectable round. I’ve played here for years and more than any course in the area, am able to chart my progress as a golfer every time I play. You can say that this is as close to a home course as I have, which is why I seem to measure courses against it. If a course charges more than JVille, it better be as good or better.
I believe the slope ratings have gone up as well, as I realized that you get a steep 134 from the Whites (at 6,150 yards) and a 136 from the Blues. The greens look a little faster and the fringes look a little slicker, so maybe that’s it. After looking at it, the slope rating has increased a whopping 10 points from the beginning of the season! I need to check if the scorecards were simply misprint.
I was only able to get in 12 holes during my recent round here and could only get photos of the first 10 holes before it got dark on me. But I’m going through all the holes and will post photos of the last 8 holes soon.
J Ville remains one of my favorite courses. It never disappoints. The combination of difficulty, design and aesthetics provide one of the area’s best classic park land courses open to the public.
UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE
September 2013: Finally, was able to make it here this season. It’s been killing me it took so long, but it was a great day and was finally able to get the photos I’ve been trying to get for a couple years. This review is now where I’ve wanted it for a while.
As for my experience, I got around in 2.5 hours, conditions were great and I scored well. For like $30. A really nice round. If anything, I thought the course looked better than I remember. I really like the direction the course is going. The rough stayed short, but would get up in certain places and the greens stayed at their usual moderate speed.
I remain a huge fan of the place and need to get back there soon.
UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE
July and August 2014: I made it here twice this summer. Conditions were great and it still remains one of my favorite plays in the area. It is the course I have played the most frequently and longest, meaning I have played it every year since about 2000. So in addition to the design, conditions, service and hot dogs, this place has a pretty good history for me.
A few things stuck out to me these couple of times. First, the course plays much more difficult now, which is reflected in the hike in slope rating. I think it may be with the green complexes. The greens seemed much faster and approach shots were tough to hold. The mounds and ridges around the bunkers also seemed much more rigid.
The course really challenges the tee game. Placement, distance control and accuracy are necessary.
Finally, there is a full variety of holes here, making the routing better than I noticed before. Lots of different looks and approaches to the greens, varied distances of holes and the elevation changes create different looks and angles.
AND, the hot dogs are still fantastic.
The course still gets a lot of play and a round mid morning on a Sunday took a whopping 5 hours. Also, they start you on the Ninth most weekdays for some reason, which is agitating. I like to play holes in the order they’re supposed to be played. Especially here, where the First is one of the better starting holes in the area.
J Ville remains one of the better examples of a municipal course in my opinion. The clubhouse area is small yet comfortable, the staff are good people and the course is a great design that’s well run, especially with the amount of rounds it takes on. I’m still a big fan.