White Clay Creek

6,467 yards, 135 Slope* from the Black tees

*reading the slope rating card is like advanced calculus, so this is my best guess

Course: White Clay Creek is one of the area’s premier courses.  Delaware Park is doing its best to become a destination, so it needed an upscale course to help the cause.  WCC was designed by Arthur Hills among wetland terrain that includes many elevated greens, forced carries and demanding approach shots.  Hills is known for designing difficult courses and this is no exception.  The course is in pristine condition, each hole demands you hit at least one great shot, there are very few bail out areas and there is almost no risk reward factor. Oh yeah, and it’s tough to stick the greens or leave yourself with a decently easy approach shot. The greens have all kinds of undulations, so putting is no picnic either. I can safely say I’m not good enough for this course. Then again, I suppose I’m not good enough for any course where I don’t score under par, but still. Usually, I play here any time I feel like my game is on to see if it gets any easier, but it doesn’t. I don’t think it’s unfair difficult, it just makes you manage the course and execute your shots.  Two words to describe this course are appealing and demanding.

WCC provides a high end experience for the public golfer.  The course is in terrific condition, the practice area is one of the best around, carts are well equipped and the clubhouse is well done.  I know there are memberships here, but it’s public and I’ve never had a problem getting a tee time. I think it’s important to have pubic tracks like this. Some times you want the private course treatment and a course you’ll never be able to figure out. You usually have to go to some golf destination to get someone to commit to a course like this, so it’s nice we have WCC in our backyard.

The First is a 375 yard par 4.  The first forced carry over the creek is on the second shot, as the approach is fairly long to a green tucked in at the end of a curl to the right.  Anything right is done while too far left puts you in a bunker blind to the green.

The First

Approach shot territory

The Second is a shorter par 4 at 357 yards.  The tee shot is an easy forced carry over some wetland area to a second sized fairway, setting up a shorter approach shot to a long, narrow elevated green.  It should be a pretty easy hole, but the rough off fairway is punishing and if you don’t hit the green, your recovery shot will be pretty tough.

The Second
Approach shot territory

After a 10 minute cart ride alongside the Delaware Park track, the Third is a longer par 5 at 559 yards.  Again, the tee shot is a forced carry to a fairway that has a bunker in play on the left and woods to the right before it opens up.  The fairway then proceeds straight ahead to the green, which of course is raised on a ridge and your shot must carry another wetlands area.  Water also runs alongside most of the right side of the fairway.  This is a tough hole, mainly because your first two shots must be flawless to get in a good position for the difficult approach shot.  Any miscues will usually put you in a position where you’re either playing for bogey, or gambling with a hero shot you can’t pull off that often, like a 200 yard carry out of three inch rough.

Tee shot of the par 5 no. 3

Another look at the tee shot

Approach host territory
Looking back at the Third from the green

The Fourth is the first par 3 at 208 yards.  The green dips down from the hole and there is no room on the far side, but the green is fairly large and you can hit it short so it runs on to the green.  A club down is usually a good idea here as well.

The Fourth

The Fifth is a 386 yard par 4 with a dramatic forced carry tee shot over a ravine.  It’s a risk reward shot, as the more of the ravine you decide to take on, the shorter your approach shot, which will run downhill closer to the green.  Personally, I prefer flat lies over downhill ones, so I tend to cut off much less than the ravine in exchange for a longer approach shot, with a flat lie.  Of course, the green is downhill of the fairway, so that eases the distance concerns.  If you’re going to miss on your approach, miss left, or short since right and long mean you’re dropping.

The Fifth

Second shot on the Fifth.  The green is downhill and slightly right.

The Sixth is a 422 yard par 4.  The tee shot is elevated, but you must carry over the creek to a pretty wide fairway.  The approach shot must contend with a few well placed bunkers, but the green is enormous and subtly undulates from the center to the perimeter.  I’ve always found this hole to be an easier one and a good chance to make up any scoring blunders.

The Seventh is a 208 yard par 3.  That’s right both par 3’s on the front 9 are over 200 yards, but both gave greens set downhill from the tee area and both have fairly large greens.  The front of the Seventh green is pinched by bunkers on either side, then the green curves around the bunker on the right, giving it kind of a kidney shape.  This too is more of an easier hole.

The Seventh

The Eighth is another monster par 5 at 486 yards.  The distance is fine, but there are not one but two forced carry shots spaced out just right to make this a demanding hole.  The tee shot is the first forced carry and it’s significant, about 200 yards.  Suffice to say your driver must be well hit to carry this wetland area, but then you must also set yourself up for a good second shot, which will also be a significant forced carry to a smaller fairway choked on both sides by trees.  The green area has an gigantic false front and is set on a hill, but if you nailed your first and second shots, your approach shot in should be rather short.  I have never scored well on this hole.  It is my nemesis.

The Eighth

The Ninth is a shorter par 4 at 316 yards.  This hole has the distinction of being the closest I’ve ever been to an eagle.  My approach shot was into the sun, but felt good through impact and I knew it was at least on the green.  The green is pitched, so I couldn’t see anything until I climbed up to the hole, where I saw my ball on the lip of the hole, refusing to go in.  At any rate, the tee shot is raised and again, you must carry a wetland area to get to the fairway and there is water on the right that is in play.  The approach shot is blind to the pitched green.  Quite honestly, the pitch is so steep that missing the green puts you in bad shape.  Anything left is OB while anything to the right goes down a steep run off, leaving your ball at the bottom with a tricky shot back to the green.  The green is on the small side, which is likely because the hole is on the shorter side and you’re expected to nail your shorter approach shots.  It’s a nice short par 4, with just a little gimmick thrown in, but not enough to complain about.

The Ninth

Generally, the front nine is fraught with forced carries, elevated and pitched greens and a number of demanding shots.  It does try to ease up in places, but even the easier spots require precision.  It’s a nice test of skill, where good shots are often rewarded.  I’d rank them 1, 3, 9, 8, 5, 7, 6, 2, 4.

The back nine starts with the 557 yard par 5 Tenth.  Hopefully the theme of this course is apparent.  Forced carries and pitched green.  On the Tenth, the tee shot is elevated to a narrower than normal fairway, with the forced carry shot lurking far enough away that you need a good tee shot to make it manageable.  The second shot is a forced carry and very much blind.  There are bunkers to contend with, and I take issue with, since the shot is blind and there is no way to know where they are until you’re in one of them.  The green is narrow yet long and and the sides to the green are steep, so hit the green.  This is another hole I don’t think I’ve ever scored well on, but think the challenge is a little forced and may be set up a little too much for pros instead of amateurs.

The Tenth
Heading down the fairway towards the forced carry

The Eleventh is a 398 yard par 4.  With a slope running alongside the left and the creek along the right, it’s important to keep your tee shot on the fairway, as the approach shot is a forced carry over the creek to a very large and wide green, where a large and deep bunker on the right collects most errant shots.  It’s a nice short par 4 and along with the Twelfth, gives you a nice break after dealing with the Tenth.

The Eleventh

The Twelfth is a 304 yard par 4.  The hole bends to the right and of course, features a forced carry on the second shot.  Driver is usually too much off the tee and the forced carry area is generally far enough away to force you to hit up to it, leaving you with a manageable approach with a good tee shot.  The green is raised and narrow but long, with  deep bunker guarding it on the left and the creek further on the right.

The Twelfth

The Thirteenth is a 183 yard par 3.  It’s a tough hole and not really any where to bail out.  OB to the right is pretty close off the green while deep bunkers are along the left of the green.  The green slopes left to right and with the elevated tee shot, yardage played slightly short.

The Thirteenth

This point is as close as you get to the clubhouse before the end of the round.  The range and short game area are near the Fourteenth tee area, so feel free to bail here and get some practice in before moving on.  I’d be lying if I told you that I haven’t done that before.

If you solider on, the Fourteenth is a very short 325 yard par 4.  Although it’s short, the visuals on this hole can complicate matters.  From the tee, there are cross bunkers and with the creek running alongside the right of the hole, it looks like there’s no where to place the tee shot.  There’s a lot more room on the left and center than it looks though and if you’re a long bomber, you can try cutting off the dog leg altogether.

The Fourteenth

The Fifteenth is a 540 yard par 5.  The hole slightly dog legs left and it wouldn’t be WCC if there wen’t a forced carry involved.  Off the tee, a draw is he best shot, as there’s water on the left and bunkers if you hit your drive too far straight or right.  The second shot is the forced carry, with bunkers on the right and water on the left to contend with.  The water on the left runs up to the green and the fairway narrows significantly as you get closer to the green, so leave yourself a nice and short approach shot for your third into the long and narrow green, which is one of the few that aren’t pitched or raised.  Although it’s also a bear, it’s probably the most manageable par 5’s on the course.

The Fifteenth
Second shot territory

The Sixteenth is a 361 yard par 4.  It too dog legs to the left slightly and while the tee shot appears narrow, the fairway widens considerably.  The approach shot is a forced carry to a raised green with little room off the green, unless you’re short.  It’s an awkward hole, as both tee and approach shots offer unusual visuals with the cart path.  And as the fairway is CPO, bringing the correct club for the yardage is a challenge in itself.

The Seventeenth is what I feel is the easiest hole on the course.  It’s certainly the shortest par 3 at 145 yards, and likely plays shorter than that based on the elevated tee.  Water is to the left of the green, but there is a generous slope on the right side that makes it the best places to miss.  The rough on the slope, however, will keep most balls on its side instead of falling down to the green.  It’s even easier putting on this green.

The Seventeenth

The Eighteenth is a 337 yard par 4.  The tee shot is probably the toughest on the course, as the forced carry is over 200 yards.  There is some room before the carry, but not much.  The hole then hard dog legs to the right, with the green hidden under an upslope and rather long.  Your approach shot will be blind to the green.

The Eighteenth

Generally, the back nine is a little quirkier than the front and the Eleventh and Twelfth or a little too similar that it meshes a lot of holes together, when combined with the creek intruding on the right side of so many of the holes.  Still though, the challenges are similar to the front nine and there are a handful of shots you must pull off or face dire consequences.  I’d rank them 15, 12, 18, 14, 11, 10, 13, 17, 16.

The par 5’s are pretty well done, as are the short par 4’s.  The par 3’s are only decent, while the longer par 4’s are hit or miss.  The course in its entirety keeps a consistent theme and although it does a great job being challenging and demanding without being unfair, there are few chances to get creative.  The tee system is good at ensuring golfers of all levels are able to play here, so don’t be discouraged by the challenge if you’re not getting your PGA tour card any time soon.  WCC succeeds is providing a very top notch experience to the public golf scene and really, is still able to remain a pretty good value.

The carts have GPS, which helps. Most people I’ve been paired with here are nice and can play. The practice facility is the best in the area. Free balls and an awesome short game practice area.

                                         Short game practice area

You should play here early so you can take advantage of it or later for some practice before the round. The cart girl takes care of you and the starters give you free tees, divot tools and ball markers. For the green fee, this is an awesome golf round. Just don’t expect to have a killer score unless you play your best game. Feel free to take out of towners or plan all day rounds with your buddies here.

Playing advice:  Err on being short of the green on most holes.  Long will kill you.  Missing left or right leaves you with difficult chip shots where you can easily end up on the other side off green.

Gripes: This course is CPO more than I think it should be. You really need the right mindset here. This course doesn’t let up, so you really have to appreciate the challenge and try to take every shot in stride. Some of the par 3’s actually give you a good chance to birdie, so there you go. Can get crowded. Some times even the bar is crowded. The grass is different from a lot of courses in the area and I feel your divots are about twice as much. That bothers me.

Bar/grill: Awesome food and beer. I recommend the lobster mac and cheese. Great indoor area with tv’s every where, dark wood, and smiling staff.

Clubhouse: Big and has everything you need.

Nearby: A Chili’s and some other Mexican food chain. Also a Golf Galaxy if you want to get golf stuff before or after the around. And you have Delaware Park nearby to go bet on the ponies or get the sport betting going on. Honestly, maybe I’ll stay at the nearby Hampton Inn and really abuse this place for a few days.

Getting there: Off 95 after the Wilmington exits.

Update, September 2012:  Arrived on a gorgeous day, but a few things prevented me from enjoying myself as much as I usually do.  First, it was CPO, even though there was no rain for almost a week.  I noted in my initial review and I’ll say it again; this course is terrible if playing from the cart paths.  I’d love to walk instead when it’s CPO, but you can’t; they make you take carts.  So basically, you can’t use the cart’s GPS and you have to bring a million clubs with you to your ball to make sure you have the right one.  The paths are also set further away from the fairways, so you’re walking a few hundred yards to your ball every time.  So what if you duff your shot and it dribbles 75 yards?  You walk back to the cart, drive up, and walk back to your ball, or walk the 75 yards to your ball, hope the clubs you have can fit the shot you need to hit, then walk double the distance back to the cart.  Compound that with an already difficult course and it gets trying pretty quickly.  Ugh.

The starters also made me play with three guys from a local private club who probably should have went off by themselves.  A lot of back handed compliments, never wanted to wait around for my shots, yet we had to wait while one of the guys hit 3 balls off the tee trying to carry one of the waste lands, and no chit chat whatsoever.  I play a lot of courses as a single and 99% of the time the guys/gals I play with are great, talkative and enhance the experience.  Let’s just say this was the 1% of other times.  There was a two some behind us and they teed off when my tee time was scheduled, so it would have been great if the starters put me with them instead.

Regardless, the course continues to be an insurmountable challenge.  You have to be impeccable off the tee and even on your second, and sometimes third, shot.  You’ll probably have a few recovery shots, so you need to be able to scramble to avoid big scores.  And there are a lot of elevated greens, so high, quick stopping approach shots are necessary.  It’s small victories here for me, like this time, I parred the Seventh and bogied the First (both from the Back tees) for the first time.  Yet some other holes continue to get me every time.  The Second, even though it’s a relatively short par 4, you need two near perfect shots to get on the green in regulation.  I usually am only able to muster one at most.  The Third is the same; you need 3 great shots to carry the wasteland directly in front of the elevated green.  This time I got to the green in 4, but 3 putted.  The Fourth, a simple par 3 to a slightly down hill green, continues to absolutely kill me.  Ditto with the Eighth, I just can’t hit the correct second shot over the second waste area.  And finally, the hole that has my number likely forever, the Eighteenth.  A short par 4, my tee shot here has never been good, which kills me before I ever get started.

I appreciate the challenge.  It keeps me coming back and I like to measure myself every time I come here.  The frustration gets compounded because of this, but it helps the focus.  I like to think that one day, I’ll show up, play consistent level headed golf and finally break 90 here.  Crazier things have happened.

As for the design, this is very much target, cart path golf.  Arthur Hills is known for this particular style, which you can see locally at Lighthouse Sound down in Ocean City, MD or Regents’ Glen CC in York, PA.  I’d characterize it as modern for sure.  Some may not like it because it differs from the classic park land style that predominates the area, but I like the difference.  Forget the bump and run here, most every shot needs to be in the air and to the correct area of the green.

This might be one course where the holes in conjunction as a whole, not individually, make the golf experience.  For example, the par 3’s really aren’t all that unique, but they are refreshing when getting killed by the tougher holes.

The practice area is reason enough to visit the course.  Grabbing a couple beers and a rack of golf balls and practicing my wedge shots is a lot more fun than some rounds I’ve had.  In fact, I wouldn’t think twice about coming down here and spending the whole day at the practice area.  At some point I would break down and take a crack at the course, but still.

I took some more photos as well:

Second/third shot at the Third.  The green is raised and is in front of the carts in the background.

A close up of the carry to the green at the Third.

Tee shot at the Sixth from the back tees.  The Whites tee off at the beginning of the fairway below.  No matter, I par this hole either way.  One of the few holes that doesn’t murder me.

Second shot at the Eighth.  Usually just before everything goes wrong for me on this hole.

Third shot at the Tenth.  The flag can be seen in the middle of the photo.  Play your approach short here, unless you’re sure you can stick it.

Update, November 2013:  Although I’ve revised the main review, just thought I’d throw in when I last visited, which was one of my last rounds of the season last year.  It was cold, but on the bright side it wasn’t CPO for change.  I was in the middle of a few swing changes, so it wasn’t the most pleasant round for me personally, but the course was still in good shape so late in the season and service was great, even though there were only a few of us out that day.

This is the first winter they plan to be open year round, so I will probably be coming here a few times to take advantage (and not have to deal with CPO).