Bella Vista

6,474 yards, 134 slope from the Blues

Course: Now we’re getting well on down Route 422. Located in Gilbertsville, PA (not the one in Appointment in Samarra), BV is a nice track that attracts a better set of golfers. There are a lot of subtleties with this course that when added up, make it a pleasant round. There are no dog legs, everything is straight away. 5 makes you tee off at an angle over an abutment and you have the option of teeing straight before your second shot is an angle, but that is the most turns you’ll see. No dog legs is a rarity for this area. There are also very few forced carries. Instead, the course relies on its hills, bunkers, trees and rough to penalize errant shots while planning approach shots to confounding greens. My ball sped up on a few uphill (or at least seems uphill) and vice versa a number of times. The course has a sprawling feel to it and most holes don’t share common fairways, though there are exceptions. It is easy to remember the holes here because each is distinct. 1 is a par 5 with OB on the right and left up to a raised green surrounded by bunkers. Simple yet effective. 2 is a par 4 playing 100 yards more than it shows due to the extreme uphill to a raised green with a number of nooks and crannies.

Tee shot at the Second

Approach at the Second

3 brings you down to earth with a nice 160 yard par 3, before another par 4 that goes downhill. 5 is a short par 4 with the tee shot I mentioned above that is actually a little difficult with an even tougher approach.

Tee shot at the Fifth

6 is a killer long par 4 that goes uphill to twist the blade. Then another refreshing short par 3 protected in front by a deep bunker. 8 goes down hill to a complicated approach shot with water on the left.  9 is a forced carry tee shot over the same water then down to an elevated green. I’ve just gone through each of the first 9 holes without even realizing it. And really, that’s what it’s like playing here. The routing and characteristics of each hole come perfectly right after the other that you start enjoying hitting the shots and the round without realizing what number hole you’re actually on (even though I like every hole of this course). I like the back 9 just as much even though I’m doing my best not to go through each one.

The island green par 3 14 is a fun shot. After many times going in the water, I finally got one to land on the green, so have declared myself ready for Sawgrass.

The island green Fourteenth

10 may also be my favorite hole on the course, a leggy par 5 where you have a second shot on a ridge to a green across a valley to a raised green. Trees line of the fairway, making it tough to try and belt the ball for an easier approach. 18 ending with a par 3 is also different, but gives you a better chance to end on a high note birdie. Cart girl comes around often enough, the people I’ve been paired with have always been nice and generally competent golfers, and green fees are reasonable considering conditions and quality of the course. I also always get a kick out of the tree on 16 that was struck by lighting. They put a plaque on the tree and I think it’s petrified now. Pretty cool to see.  Service is great. I deem this one of the area’s best sleeper courses and is on my upper tier.

Gripes: No range. Some starters are a little on the power trip side. Can get crowded, but not terrible. Watch where you park your car, as a lot of spaces are in range of hole 9.

Bar/grill: Located in an old barn or house, there is a great indoor area with tv’s. Also a nice outdoor area looking at 18.

Clubhouse: Located in another barn or house, decent sized with some good deals on equipment and apparel.

Nearby: There are some nearby bars you can find on the way to Ridge Pike or on Ridge Pike itself. I personally like hanging out at the course afterwards though.

Getting there: Kind of a bear. Off 422, then side roads for a while.

Update, September 2012:  This is the fourth season in a row that I’ve played BV in the early fall, but not the Summer.  Every time, my game is slumping and the course seems a lot tougher than it should be.  I’m hoping one of these days I show up with my game on all cylinders to see what damage I could do.  Regardless of my score, I enjoyed the course just as much as I have in the past.  A few things stuck out for me this time.  First, I still think the routing is well done.  Nothing seems forced and really, this is a great walking course.  Maybe someone would raise the fact that the Tenth through Twelfth puts you back at the clubhouse, then you walk around the Tenth tee to get to the Thirteenth, but it’s a short walk and you get another pass at the clubhouse in case you need anything for the home stretch.  The strong run of holes here is the Seventh through the Fourteenth.

It seems like a good measure of whether I like a course, and whether a course is good in general, is the quality of the short par 4’s.  It’s fairly easy to bland out a short par 4, but takes some creativity to make them challenging, intriguing and fun to play all at the same time.  BV has some great short par 4’s, like the Fifth, which I described above.  The challenge is carrying a creek about 175 yards on your tee shot to a fairway that is angled about 2:00 from the tee area.  A well struck tee shot is rewarded with a short approach to the nicely guarded green.  The one thing I would change on this hole is to make the area straight off the tee all the way to the trees 200 yards out all fairway.  That would give you a choice of wimping out on your tee shot, leaving you with a pretty difficult approach that would also be blind.  Instead, your only choice here is to fade or angle it over the creek; anything else is pretty much done.  The Eighth, Eleventh, and Seventeenth are also very good short par 4’s.

Ranking the front 9, I would put them 8, 9, 2, 7, 1, 5, 4, 6, 3.  The Fourth, Sixth and Third are decent, but the great variety of other holes really makes the course stand out.

The back 9 would be ranked 10, 11, 17, 18, 12, 14, 16, 15, 13.  The par 3’s are all fun, especially the island green Fourteenth while the short par 4’s are very good and the Tenth is a great par 5.

I played on a weekend and even though the course was packed, it moved fairly well.

A few things I noticed.  You could probably play this course with 3 or 4 clubs.  The same distances kept coming up.  I thought maybe it was just my game, but a few of the guys I was playing with noticed it too.  The scorecard some what supports this as well.  Also, the houses bothered me more this time around than in the past.

Regardless, I still think my initial characterization of this place as a sleeper upper tier course holds true.  It may not get the love or hype of Glen Mills or Wyncote, but everyone I know likes playing here.  It presents a solid playing experience.  Maybe some day I’ll show up and show it who’s boss.

I took some photos.  Some are below and some are plugged in the initial review.

The par 3 Seventh.  The boomerang green around the deep bunker in the center makes an intimidating tee shot

Tee shot at the Eighth.  It goes downhill to a green next to water.

Looking at the Eighth from the Ninth tee.  The Eighth green is on the left.

Tee shot at the Ninth.  

Approach at the Tenth

Tee shot at the Thirteenth

Approach at the Sixteenth

The Eighteenth.