Raven’s Claw

6,370 yards, 128 Slope from the Blues.

Course:  Raven’s Claw is in Pottstown, PA and was designed by Ed Shearon in 2005.  Shearon has a small yet impressive resume, which includes Riverwinds and Renault Vineyards.  He has worked with many of the bigger name architects and tries to incorporate many of their design philosophies in his work.  Based on what I’ve seen of those courses and of Raven’s Claw, I really enjoy his design style.  It’s very much what I would characterize as links style, but you can tell he wants to ensure you encounter different playing situations throughout the round.   And I have no idea about the name. Isn’t there some Harry Potter reference here?

At any rate, the Claw is part of what I call the “422 posse.” If I had to rank Posse 422, this would go 3rd behind J-Ville and Bella Vista.  It’s a nice course where you can tell a lot went into the design and lay out.  There are severe dog legs, severe elevation changes and a good combination of forced carries and accessible greens.  The challenge here is not subtle, but is rather pretty up front where you’ll have problems.  Yet RC is full of character and makes the most out of the elevation changes.  Most of the holes are unique without coming off as gimmicky.  There are lots of different looks and angles while I find the greens to be undulating yet manageable.  And there is a factor that maybe I am making up, but it’s the fun factor.  Here, the fun factor is quite high in terms of pulling off certain shots and watching the ball go.  I’ll point them out as the come up as I go through the holes.  So yes.  This is a fun course to play.  While there is some strategy, a lot of it is out in front of you and on a course like this, I think that makes it better.

I play Raven’s Claw frequently, but keep forgetting to take more photos and go through each hole.  I finally remembered after my last round there, so here goes.

The First is a 506 yard par 5.  The hole is generally flat and straight, but the rough does start pinching the fairway in spots.  The green is also protected by mounds with bunkers on the left, which lures second and third shots towards the right, which creeps closer to OB.  I actually like starting with a par 5 and find this one a nice way to warm up while still getting a bit of a challenge with the rough and mounds.

The First

Second shot territory

Approach shot territory

The Second is a 351 yard par 4.  Another straightaway, but the sides of the fairway drop off to either OB on the right or water on the left.  The fairway leads up to the fairway, while bunkers are on the sides as well far enough away that most straight shots will score easily on this hole.  Anything too far to  either side gets difficult rather quickly.

The Second
Approach shot territory

Looking at the fairway from the green

The Third is a 177 yard par 3.  It’s a forced carry and while the tee seems elevated to the tee, it’s actually more level than it looks.  The green is wide yet shallow and the bunker and rough on the far side, as well as the water and marsha short side, makes distance control a precious commodity.

The Third

The Fourth is a 376 yard par 4.  The course starts to twist and turn and pretty much doesn’t let up on that until the round is over.  This is a dog leg right where a hillside on the right blocks our a good part of the fairway, which also goads you into hitting your tee shot further left than necessary.  The approach is rather easy and the run up/bail out area short and to the right of the green makes most mis hit end up with a manageable recovery shot.

The Fourth

Approach shot territory

A look at the green and run up area

The Fifth is a 411 yard par 4.  The hole bends left, then straightens out to the green, which runs from left to right.  Taking the right line off the tee is key to set up the ideal approach shot while the green is one of the tougher ones on the course in terms of undulation.

The Fifth

Approach shot territory

Closer to the green

The Sixth is a 150 yard par 3.  The hole is called “Redan,” but I always thought the green had to tilt more while the bunker was more towards the front side for it to be in line with a Redan, but a pin set to the right as shown in the photo makes this an interesting risk/reward hole, either going for the pin or going for the safe part of the green.  It’s a nicely set up par 3 for sure.

The Sixth

The Seventh is a 503 yard par 5.  The tee shot is elevated with the fairway sitting below you, with the twin chutes on the horizon bellowing out smoke.  The fairway eventually dips downhill and turns right, and seems to keep turning right into the green.  Bunkers line the outside of the turn while there is OB right, which the fairway slopes towards.  There is a bit of strategy in plodding down towards the green and working the angles of each shot is paramount.

Fairway of the Seventh
Approach shot territory

The Eighth is a 302 yard par 4.  It’s a very nice and very short par 4 that still tempts you to try for the green even though the widest and easiest place for your approach shot is about 160 yards out.  The green is hidden from the tee and things tighten up considerably near the green, making it one of the more difficult approach shots if you are not in proper position.  Lots of decisions here and it’s a lot of fun.

The Eighth

Approach shot territory

The Ninth is a 377 yard par 4.  It’s certainly a hole unto itself and seems to be a love it or hate it type of situation.  I am in the love camp, mainly because I find the visual intimidation of the approach shot very effective.  The tee shot is elevated, but dog legs right sharply and the green is hidden from the tee.  Once you reach the fairway, you realize the green is set on a bluff above, forcing you to hoist your ball up to it.  Again, it’s a hole you’re not seeing too often and it’s fun actually pulling that approach shot off.

The Ninth

Approach shot territory.  The height of the green is not noticeable in this photo

The front nine seems to start off gradual, then culminates with the last three delving into more daring designs and creative plays.  I’d rank them 8, 4, 9, 7, 3, 6, 1, 2, 5.

The back nine continues right where the Ninth ended, with no type of return to the clubhouse.  You solider on.  The Tenth is a 619 yard par 5.  It’s one of if not the most favorite hole of mine on the course.  The tee shot is straightaway, but things get interesting with the second shot, when you realize the fairway splits left and right.  Left goes a little downhill and leave an angled approach shot to an uphill green while right goes uphill and leaves you either level or a tad downhill of the green.  So many options here and with its length, placement of each shot is critical to ensure you get on the green in regulation.  It’s one of those holes I could play over and over and never play it the same twice.

The Tenth

Second shot territory

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory-left side

Approach shot territory – right side

The Eleventh is a 391 yard par 4.  The course continues to set itself apart with another elevated tee shot to a slanted and angled fairway where driver is typically too much club.  The approach shot is yet another forced carry to the green, which has a severe slope off on the front and right of the green.  Another fun hole that really forces you to hit precise shots or gets penal.

The Eleventh

Approach shot territory

The Twelfth is a 362 yard par 4.  Yet another fin elevated tee shot to a wade fairway below with the approach shot to an elevated green.  Really though, the the shot is a blast.  I love watching my ball disappear into the scenery every single time.  Just note the pesky pot bunker residing right in the middle of the fairway.

The Twelfth

The Thirteenth is a 400 yard par 4.  The hole is a dog leg left that is all downhill to the green.  The tee shot is partially blind and if you try to take too much off the dog leg, like I recently did, there is a bunker to greet your ball that you can’t see from the tee.  I’ve always found this hole easy to score on, probably because the fairway runs right onto the green and is rather wide, so you can end up short and your ball will keep running to the hole.

The Thirteenth

Approach shot territory 

The Fourteenth is a 125 yard par 3.  It is the shortest par 3 on the course and yet another good chance for a birdie, as the tee shot is elevated, making the distance even shorter.  There is also a bail out area almost the entire length of the hole, collecting a lot of mis hits.  A pin position to the left of the green, such as below, makes things more interesting, as there is some risk reward bringing the deep bunker on the left into play.

The Fourteenth

The Fifteenth is a 368 yard par 4.  The fairway climbs to the green and is rather wide, but there are bunkers in all kinds of places you might end up hitting to.  The green sits on a plateau with bunkers carved into it on the front left.  While the hole is inviting to straight shots, even if short or long, anything too far off to the sides is trouble.

The Fifteenth

Approach shot territory

The Sixteenth is a 370 yard par 4.  Instead of the uphill of the Fifteenth, we go back downhill, all the way to the green.  There really is no trouble other than a bunker on the right, but this hole sets up for getting on the green and scoring well.  Just as the middle of the course challenged you in a variety of ways, there are a few holes towards the end that give you a breather and makes the course ebb and flow.  This is one of them.

The Sixteenth

Approach shot territory

Looking back at the fairway from the green, getting another look at those smoke stacks

The Seventeenth is a 228 yard par 3.  So right back to the challenge, as this is one of the tougher longer par 3’s in the area.  The green is blind from the tee, a forced carry and feels constrained from the tee.  But the green and area in front opens up, which is where to plan to go if your shot misses.  Anything too far left is in long grass while anything right ends up in a monster bunker with a very difficult up and down.

The Seventeenth

A nice little bunker on the right side

The Eighteenth is a 354 yard par 4.  There is a tree right in the middle of a raised tee shot, with a wasteland to the right of it, then a slope going towards he wasteland to the left of the tree.  If you get past all that on the tee shot, your approach is to a multi tiered green protected by bunkers on the right and no room on the left.  The trouble is pretty obvious and demands precision on both your tee and approach.  You find a lot of those situations at this course, but since you know where the trouble is, and if you execute your shots well, you’ll be rewarded and can score.

The Eighteenth

From the middle tees

Approach shot territory

A look at the green.  And yes, that is my drive towards the front of the green.  It doesn’t happen often

The back nine is really the clincher for me as you’ll see some set ups you can’t find any where else that are well done.  Ranking them, I’d go 10, 18, 11, 12, 17, 13, 15, 14, 16.

Generally,  tee shots are probably more important here than most other places. I have had some of my best scores here.  I also consider those scores well earned, as this course is no slouch. To me, this means the course rewards you for hitting well placed tee and approach shots with greens that are true for the most part. That is refreshing, as there are a number of places where hitting good shots or playing well doesn’t necessarily translate into better scores (White Clay anyone?).  So if your game is on and you want a challenging, interesting and potentially rewarding round, this is your place. You can find some really good deals online, which makes playing here a virtual cash grab. The service is great and you get the feeling they want to do things right around here. Cart girl comes around enough and the course is usually in great condition. Free tees.  Again, the online deals are usually so good and abundant that this place is a super secret value play.  This course does all the things that matter right and fits my eye (and swing).

Gripes: Carts could use an upgrade. The guys you get paired up with range from, well, they range. Houses can come into play, residents not always very understanding about your presence in their vicinity. I feel like tee placements vary the distance significantly from time to time.

Bar/grill: Small outdoor area overlooking green on 18, but big indoor bar and restaurant area with great beer selection, normally priced.

Clubhouse: Well sized and stocked to the brim with everything.

Practice area:  A nice putting and shipping area that’s not too big and a moderate sized range with mats.

Nearby: Although the course is great, there’s an entire center in Collegeville that has a ton of restaurants and bars that is worth checking out. The pub in the Wegman’s, Champs, or the Movie Tavern are all good.

More photos below:

Another look at the tee shot at the Eighteenth.  The green is to the right of the tree, to the left of the bunkers.
Approach at the Eighth.  There is a deep bunker in front of the green that you can’t see until you get up there.  Very sneaky.

Tee shot at the Ninth.  The green is hard right and on a bluff.

Tee shot at the Eleventh.  A fade is best here, while the approach is among the toughest.
Tee shot at the Twelfth.  The bunker in the middle gives this hole, and the tee shot, a little character.
Tee shot at Thirteen
The short par 3 Fourteenth.  An easy hole but I like the bunker placement and sloping to make sure not just every shot is ok.

Tee shot at the Fourth.  The green is beyond the first bunker on the right.

Approach at the Fourth

Tee shot at the Seventh.  Enjoy the view of the twin smoke chutes.

Update, May 2012:

I took photos that are now above.

The course was in great condition.  The greens were slow, probably because they were being watered between groups.  I’m starting to appreciate the front 9 more than I did before.  The set up and design didn’t disappoint.  The service was good, as I was able to grab a hot dog from the kitchen before my tee time with no problems.  It definitely was a lot more crowded and backed up than I remember, but it gets a pass here since it was a holiday weekend.  Still finished under 5 hours, even though that’s not much of an achievement.

The cart girl situation was terrible.  It was above 95 degrees and we saw her once.  Sorry, but that’s just bad.

Generally, I am fine where this course is in my rankings.  Deerfield may pass it at some point, but otherwise, it’s a nice play with a good challenge that rewards good shots.  The course has recently received accolades from one of the golf magazines as one of the top 10 public courses in the state.  Hopefully that’s good motivation to keep the place running as smoothly as it does now.   As far as value goes, I would almost put this in a tie with Lederach, so that is also another plus.  Bottom line, I continue to enjoy my rounds at RC and will keep coming back, by myself and with friends.

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE

May 2015:  It’s been a while since I last played here, but the course continues to be in nice shape and a fun play.  Service was fantastic as well.  I like where it is in my rankings and it certainly is on my short list in the area.  In addition, there are deals to be had here, which make it all the more appealing.

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