Broad Run

6,396 yards, 132 from the Blues.  Designed by Rees Jones.

Course: Hope you like hills. In the hills of West Chester, this course has severe elevation issues throughout. And I like it. Broad Run is challenging in a fun way and the hills presents some great views you can hit your ball into. In fact, the views and hawks you don’t get in very many other courses in the area. The hills are dramatic and there are many carries over gorges, valleys and arroyos that makes a good tee shot a premium. Approach shots are usually on the easy side, but there are some that will make you call on your best Mickelson impression, like 1. It used to be private and there are still regular members, but BR does something that a lot of other recently private turned public courses don’t do; they are reasonable with their rates. In fact, through websites you can play this course for as little as $20, an absolute steal. And the bag guys start you off right by getting your bag from the car and your cart ready to go. The cart girl comes around occasionally. The players I’m usually paired with are nice and range from players to guys who decided to get out on the course for a change. This is a laid back area and it shows with the local clientele, or at least non-members.

The course itself is a Rees Jones and as he is well known for, demands hero shots almost multiple times on each hole.  In fact, you really can’t hit it too far off center without going OB, so if you miss it, miss straight and short or long.  Most of the fairways are pretty narrow, but the contours along the sides slope towards center, which helps get your ball in play.  The rough can be pretty deep, but not impossible to deal with.  Most of the bunkers are severe and the green side bunkers are usually pretty deeply set in the hill sides, which leaves you with some steep uphill sand save attempts.  Really, playing this course from the pin to the tee is important, as your tee shots have to be precise and really dictate how you’ll score.    

The first few holes are tough; in fact, you really don’t see your first easy play until the 5th hole.  This is definitely one of the more difficult opening holes in the area.  The first hole gives you a forced second shot with a longer approach with not too much room to lay up without dealing with the severe slope and bunkers that protect the green.  It is a par 5 though, so you do have the luxury of not trying to go for it in two, as the green is set uphill.  I don’t think I’ve ever scored well here.  The second hole (number one handicapped) is also a forced carry on the second shot, but set for a much shorter approach to a downhill green.

Second shot at the Second.  The fairway ends at the white stake in the middle of the photo.  The green is actually down below about 170 yards from the stake.  The fairway above in the background is the 15th.

The Third is easy enough, but there’s really no bail out room left or right.  The Fourth gives you a dramatic tee shot across a valley to an uphill fairway.  The approach is to a nice sized green, but anything short gets swallowed in rough or a nasty bunker.

Tee shot at the Fourth.  Nice dramatic view of the fairway from above.

Approach shot at the Fourth.  The green is basically on a terrace.

The Fifth is short and straight, giving you a breather and a great chance for a birdie.

Tee shot at the Fifth.  Even a short straightaway hole like this is interesting, with the contoured fairway, the obstructed view from the tee and the raise green, only accessible through a narrow opening on the right.

The Sixth is a dogleg left that turns downhill to the green.  A draw off the tee is suggested, but keep in mind that the fairway does cut off, so it’s possible to go too far off the tee.  The Seventh presents a narrow fairway with a ridge and bunkers along the left to a pretty large green.  The Eighth gives you the first par 3.  Except for 17, the par 3’s here are some what weak.  In fact, 8 and 13 are pretty similar, but I have a special place in my heart for 8, as I came 6 inches away from the old hole in one.  My advice is to aim left and let the ball roll down to the hole.

The Eighth.  Just replace the bunkers on the right with water and you can picture the par 3 Thirteenth.

The Ninth has forced carries off the tee and second shot to a nice green sloping back to front.

The green on the Ninth.
The driving range, which you pass on your expedition to the Tenth

So for those keeping count, only one par 3 on the front 9.  Strong holes include 1, 2, 4, 6 and 9.  You could also make a case for 7.  Difficulty in my opinion (from toughest to easiest) goes 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 6, 3, 5, and 8.

After a 10 minute cart ride, the Tenth is another par 3 to a deep yet some what narrow green.  The Eleventh has an elevated green, but is straight and simple.  Anything right goes into a depressed rough area while the green is protected by some nasty bunkers and mounds, which actually make you hope you go in the bunker instead of staying up and leaving you with a awkward side hill shot.

The Eleventh.  Last time I was here there was all kinds of activity with bulldozers towards the right of the fairway; it’s unclear whether that construction is suspended or not.

The Twelfth is a monster par 5 that goes uphill to a well protected green that narrows with bunkers and a ridge on the left.  This is a great hole to play, as there are a number of options and strategies in working your way up to the hole.

Tee shot at the Twelfth.  One of the better holes in the area.

Another view of the Twelfth

The Thirteenth is another par 3 that is similar to 8, as I mentioned above.  The Fourteenth is a forced tee shot to an uphill fairway and green.  The bunker placement is interesting on this hole and the approach is pretty challenging, as any ball that runs off the green will give you fits.  And as you get with 4 and 12, you’re going uphill the whole way.

Tee shot at the Fourteenth.  

The Fifteenth is a par 5 that is one of the flatter holes on the course.  Trees on both left and right keep you in check, then open up for your approach shot.  This hole is also a good chance at birdie.  The Sixteenth is also a good birdie opportunity and is a shorter par 4.

The Second is in the background and shows you how the holes go up, down and around the hills.

The Seventeenth is a nice little par 3.  You tee off on a bluff into a green a few hundred feet below.  The green has some nice undulations and the tree/bunker placement are well placed.  Take about 2 clubs less.

The Seventeenth.  One of the guys in my group hit his tee shot to the lip of the hole.  One more roll and he would have had an ace.
View from the below, looking up at the tee shot of the Seventeenth.

The Eighteenth is my favorite hole on the course.  It’s a par 5 with water on the right and a slope with rough running along the right side.  There are a number of mounds and undulations on the fairway to make things interesting and the green has bunkers front left while water goes around the rear of the green, collecting any overcooked approach shots.  It’s a great finishing hole.

The Eighteenth, view from the Seventeenth tee box

Another view, looking towards green
Tee shot at the Eighteenth

It’s a tough call, but I like the back 9 a little more than the front.  The strong holes include 12, 14, 15, 17 and 18.  Order of difficulty, from toughest to easiest, is 12, 18, 14, 15, 16, 11, 10, 13 and 17.

Generally, Broad Run is easily one of the better public courses in the area, so long as it’s well maintained. Aesthetically, I love playing here, as you see hawks soaring around and making you way around the hills gives you a lot of dramatic views.  There’s a lot to like with the lay out as well, as it presents a challenging, interesting and not very forgiving lay out.  Not very many bail out areas, so plan accordingly.  The opening series of holes makes it easy to get thrown off your game early on, but the Fifth through Eleventh gives you a breather before a few tough closing holes.

My most recent time here I played with two guys from Louisiana who were in the area on business.  They were pretty good players and obviously golf a lot; they remarked that the course was better than anything they usually play and were surprised they could get on a Rees Jones designed course for a reasonable greens fee.  I agree with them, but it also made me think again about how great the Philly public golf scene is.  I mean, I don’t even have this place in my top 10 even though I love it.  It made me appreciate the golf scene around here even more.
Gripes: You can run into some conditioning issues here. At times, some of the greens are in deplorable condition. There is also a construction project going on (2011) that is putting several houses along the fairway of 11. I don’t know how that will impact things. You cannot walk this course; the holes are too far from each other. You get a tiny sense of bitterness about the course being opened to the public, but nothing that takes away from your round.  This is one of the few courses where I get agitated with the routing.  All the par 4’s on the front 9 get a little redundant.

Update, June 2012:  I put a lot of my recent experience above, but conditioning was great.  The tee boxes were a little beat up, but the greens and fairways were good.  Much better than last time I was here.  As for the construction, I’m not sure what’s going on.  There are no houses or framework, just lots.  I know the course was recently purchased, so not sure if that would affect the houses or not.  Hopefully the purchase means the conditions will stay as well as I saw them.  At this point though, the course is good to go.  Also, I found the service very good and everyone else was pleasant as well.  Definitely a few notches up form last time and I’ll be back soon.

Bar/grill: A nice little indoor area with tv’s and a sensible menu. Some good beers on tap.

Clubhouse: Above average. Usually good deals on balls and gloves.

Nearby: Farms and cows. West Chester is your best bet, about 15 minutes away. The clubhouse is the way to go.

Getting there: More difficult than most. Off 202 on a bunch of side roads. Just have faith in your GPS.


August 2013:  I recently played 36 holes here on a Friday.  I took some photos, which are below.  To get to the point, the course is jumping up in my rankings.  Conditions were very good and I no longer had the concerns I did from a couple years ago.  It’s not as difficult as I used to think, so it’s more playable and continues to provide some spectacular scenery.  The cart girl was great.  And apparently with a new chef, the food is now awesome.  The smoked wings are some of the best I’ve ever had.  Design wise, the par 4’s stuck out as better than I remembered, although the par 3’s on the whole are only average.  I’ve always liked the par 5’s here.

On the other hand, I think it might be a time for an upgrade on the golf carts, as me and my partner had to get out and push ours up some of the hills.  The second round took forever because of a backed up course.  Then again, it was Friday afternoon, so most public courses in the area are typically crowded.  

Generally, BR is back where I remembered it being several years ago; as a top notch public course with great conditions, better views and a layout that challenges the longer clubs more than anything else.  It moves up a few spots on my short list.

On the way to the First tee

The Third

The Fourth
Approach shot at the Ninth

Tee shot at the Twelfth
The drop shot Seventeenth