7,011 yards, 131 slope from the Blacks

Course:  Applecross is a three year old course in Downingtown, PA.  Its design was led by Michael Nicklaus.  Nicklaus is the youngest son of the Golden Bear and is part of the Nicklaus Design team.  This is the only course in the Philadelphia area designed by the Nicklaus clan.  There are two others in PA, but one is in the Poconos and the other is in Western PA.

There was a lot of excitement and anticipation for the Cross to open.  It’s been a while since a course opened in the area and a Nicklaus design made it even more appealing.  The course is private though, so it wasn’t like I was going to be able to drive up on opening day and tee off.  I’m not a member of any club, but I checked out the membership plans since the club offers a pool and a lot of other things that I would need for the rest of the fam if I were to join a club.  Ultimately, it’s just too far from where I live, but the area was excited to include the course to its resume.

The course is owned by the Talamore Group, which also operates Talamore CC and Old York CC.  There’s another course they operate down in NC near Pinehurst.  If you’re a member of one of those clubs, you’re able to play at all of them.  This group seems to have a business plan different than what many might think of a private club.  Non-members are able to secure tee times through certain promotional avenues, as a no pressure way to check out the course.  So the idea seems to be to welcome the public to check out the place and determine if they’d be interested in a membership.  That seems like it would generate modest revenue while at the same time luring potential members by showing off the product itself.  Not surprisingly, a lot of other private courses are now offering non members tee times.  It’s easy to control the day and times these non members are able to play, so as not to interfere with the more coveted tee times that should really go to the members, as they’re the ones investing so much into the place.  At any rate, I obviously like the idea and I’m sure I’m not alone.  In addition to playing the course, the web site is informative and accessible.  Any club interested in raising its membership would do well to take a page from Talamore.

The plan at the Cross appears to be to start a residential community revolving around the club.  Houses abounded around the course and are still being built.  In that sense, the course had a Lederach or Raven’s Claw feel to it.

The course itself meanders through areas of wetlands preserve, features rolling hills and dog legs frequently.  Bunkers are used sparingly yet effectively.  Greens were interesting but not unfair or tricked out.  Conditions were terrific.  The lay out had a Carolina feel to it, with all of the carries over wetland areas and their use to shape a lot of the holes.  It reminded me a lot of Deerwood in that respect.  But it was hillier than Deerwood and had a lot more dog legs.  Applecross fits in well to its surroundings, is fun to play, and yields good opportunities to score.  My one word to describe the place:  inviting.   

By that I don’t mean hospitable and that the facilities were welcoming.  I mean, they were, but the course itself was inviting.  It’s a place that rewards smart play and gives you a chance to battle out of trouble, hence rewarding recovery shots.  Don’t read easy, as you can’t get away with going out there and not thinking your way around the course.  It’s a nice design with a sense of familiarity that is fun and interesting without being harsh.  It makes you feel comfortable.

I started on the back 9, which as you guys know I’m not ever happy about.  The course has a flow to it, which is intended to start at the First.  But I’m a guest here, so I’m fine with it I suppose.

The First is a 332 yard par 4 from the Golds.  It’s a dog leg right with an elevated green.  The only thing the fairway dog legs around is long grass, so the green baits you to bite off as much of that long grass as you can for a little risk/reward shot.  There’s a bunker short left of the green as well.  The Second is a narrow uphill 340 yard par 4 that dog legs slightly left.  The narrow fairway makes driver risky, along with the bunkers along the right side of the fairway.

Tee shot at the Second

The Third is the first par 3 of the course, at 205 yards.  It’s downhill though and a bunker protects the front left of the green, although there is plenty of room on the right.

The Fourth is a short par 4, about 279 yards, that dog legs slightly left.  Driver could be too much here, as it’ll blast the fairway, but two mid irons here will do the trick.

The Fourth

The Fifth is a 424 yard par 4 and is the number 1 handicapped hole on the course.  The tee shot is a forced carry over a wasteland to a pretty wide fairway, then the fairway goes gently uphill to the green, with the green protected by bunkers front right.  I remember the rough on this hole being pretty high, which bites you for missing the green on your approach.

Tee shot at the Fifth

The Sixth is the second par 3, at 165 yards.  It’s uphill with real good bunker placement front right and front left, leaving you with a narrow opening to the green, which is blind from the tee.  The green is rather big, but fast, so you have some leeway to hit the green yet keep in mind too much club will end up off the green long.

The Sixth

The Seventh is an interesting hole.  It’s yet another short par 4, at about 354 yards.  The tee shot is angled towards the right of the fairway while an array of bunkers separate the fairway from the green.  Everyone in our group hit their tee shot towards the right.  My ball some how stopped short of the wall, but the others were not so lucky and ended up on the bluff above the fairway, OB.  It was an interesting tee placement, as the fairway was pretty straightforward to hit just short of the bunkers.  You then have to carry the bunkers to an elevated green to a wide and shallow green.

Tee shot at the Seventh.  That wall on the right is a ball magnet.

The Eighth is a par 4 at 408 yards.  That’s right.  One par 5 on the front 9.  It sure felt like a lot of par 4’s at the time.  The hole works its way downhill to a nice sized green.  It’s ranked as the 3rd toughest hole on the course, but I thought it was pretty standard.  My tee shot went right and I was still able to get the old GIR for par.  It was a nice hole no doubt, but you get a lot of distance if you put your shots on the fairway.

Tee shot at the Eighth

Approach at the Eighth.  Some nice scenery going on here.

I wish more holes here were like the Ninth.  It’s a par 5 with bunkers bottlenecking the fairway, which then drops downhill for another couple hundred yards, with the left side consisting of bunkers and funneling downhill towards the green while the entire right side is cuddling with a lake.  It’s a great hole and can be played a few different ways.

Tee shot at the Ninth

After the, “gateway” bunkers

A closer look at the Ninth green

In ranking the front 9, I’d go, 9, 5, 2, 7, 8, 4, 1, 6, 3.  I really liked 9 and 5 while the par 4’s gave you different looks and the par 3’s gave you good chances at the old hole in one.

The Tenth is a 310 yard par 4.  I know there were some environmental permit issues with this hole, but I like how it turned out.  You have the choice of going with a couple irons to the green, or trying to bite the dog leg off with your tee shot to the green.  The green is pretty welcoming, most of the trouble is off the tee.

Tee shot at the Tenth

The Eleventh is a par 3 at about 150 yards.  It’s downhill to a wide shallow green.  Bunkers are left, right and long and a fade is probably the best shot here.

The Eleventh

The Twelfth is a par 5 at 550 yards.  It dog legs right for the tee shot, then goes down, then uphill to the green.  Bunkers are hanging around the dog leg and the green.

Tee shot at the Twelfth

Approach at the Twelfth

The Thirteenth is a 400 yard par 4.  The tee shot gives you a nice landing where hitting it far enough rewards you with a downhill to get you in position for a manageable approach shot.  The hole dog legs right to the green with a fair amount of bunkers to the right and long.  The green slopes from back to front, some what severely.

Tee shot at the Thirteenth.  That bunker straight ahead left can be carried.

Approach shot at the Thirteenth

The Fourteenth is a 200 yard par 3.  It’s a carry over a waste area and you have to get all of that 200 yards for the carry.  There’s a bunker on the front right to collect those shots that leak over there from over ambitious long iron shots.

The Fourteenth

The Fifteenth is another par 5 at about 500 yards.  Its features include a narrow fairway, with trees on the right and deep grass on the left.  It dog legs right and there are a couple bunkers  along the sides of the hole, then protecting the green.  With the hole so long, you need to crush it without going too far right or left.  The Sixteenth is a par 4 at about 411 yards.  The fairway is bisected with a wasteland and driver is too much here.  Once you get to the end of the first fairway, you’re hitting to a green with a false front.

The Seventeenth switches back the other way and is a par 4 about the same distance as the Sixteenth.  Your tee shot must carry a waste land and the green is hidden behind a bunker complex on the right side along with a false front behind that.   

Tee shot at the Seventeenth

The Eighteenth ends the round with a par 5 at about 500 yards.  It’s pretty wide open, except bunkers make the approach shot a little surgical.

Tee shot at the Eighteenth

Ranking the back 9, I would go 13, 12, 10, 11, 14, 18, 15, 16, 17.  The last four holes ended pretty weakly in my opinion.  Maybe that’s why they start you on the back 9, as I thought the front 9, especially 7 through 9, were good holes.

Generally, I enjoyed the round.  Conditions were great and I liked the shots the course made me hit, then executing them.  If the course were public, I would probably play here once a season because of the distance to where I live.  But the cart girl came around often, they had a great selection of beer and everyone was nice.  Nothing really excited me about the round, except for the Ninth, but it was a seamless round and I felt refreshed afterwards for some reason.  Some times, it’s good to get that from a round.

Would I join to play this course the majority of the time?  Probably not.  There’s the distance issue, but like I said, very little intrigued me here, from a design stand point.  Private courses have to come under much stricter scrutiny, as you’re deciding to play some where exclusively over and over, and pay a good chuck of change for the privilege.  Although the place has a lot of positive attributes, considering that high standard and that it would take a lot for me to settle on playing once course over and over, I couldn’t do it.  The standard is high and although this place as a chance of cracking the top 20 in my rankings if it was public, there’s not enough for me to settle here.  I just played it once and the course itself is relatively young, so maybe a few repeat plays in the future would change that.

Gripes:  The houses were a distraction.  There was the noise from construction, but the houses were every where and blocked the view of the surroundings.  Lederach and Raven’s Claw are a couple courses with houses, but they’re placed differently.  The design was underwhelming at points.  I don’t like starting on the back 9.

Clubhouse:  A lot of Titleist stuff.  Their hats looked pretty good.  I should have picked one up.

Bar/grill:  Just one room that was used as the restaurant as well.  So what happens if I finish a round and want a few, but there’s a bunch of people having their nice Sunday dinner or what have you?  Shouldn’t the bar/grill area be separate from the final dining room?  Maybe I missed it.

Nearby:  Downingtown and the Victory Brewery.  Always worth it.