Course: Located in North Hills, PA, LuLu is one of the older courses and private clubs in the area. The course was designed by Donald Ross, his first course in the area, about 100 years ago. That’s right, this course has been around for a century. LuLu has opened play to the public this season and appears to be a semi private club at the moment. Times are tough for most country clubs nowadays and LuLu is no exception. I believe that the club is under new management and may either have been recently sold or is about to be bought by a golf management company, but who knows what’s going on for sure. It looks like the club is aggressive about recruiting new members and is finding ways to increase its revenue all in the name of keeping true club and course alive and prosperous for years to come. After playing this course, I hope that they succeed.
Anyone who has read my J-Ville review knows that Donald Ross is what started my interest in golf design. One day after a round at the old JV, I asked myself why I liked it so much. I decided to find out who designed it only to figure out whether I had played any other courses from the same designer to determine whether course design was a factor in my enjoyment, and lo and behold I found out Donald Ross designed JV. Since then, I have sought out and tried to play all of the Ross courses I could, so when I found out I could get on to LuLu, I booked a tee time and bolted to the course.
There is a description of the course on the first tee that is apt of what to expect during your round:
What stuck out for me were the bunkers. There were cross bunkers usually around the landing areas of tee shots and each green was usually surrounded by coffin bunkers. And Ross was noted for his use of “turtleback” greens, which are crowned and repel vertical approach shots, to a point. Mainly though, I feel Ross was great at giving each hole its own personality. Each hole is unique, not to be found again on the course, or any other course. Throughout the round, I kept saying things to myself like, “Wow, I’ve never seen a short par 3 so this before,” or “This makes sense for a dog leg par 5, I can’t believe no one else has copied it,” etc. Most Ross courses are not known for their particularly tough putting greens, but there was a lot of undulations here that made reading breaks difficult. Generally, the course is set on rolling terrain and utilizes contours, trees and bunkers to shape the holes. There are few forced carries, but the ones that exist present a number of course management decisions.
At the outset, I’ll let you know I loved this course. A few years ago, there was this game on PS2 called Shadow of the Colossus. The game was known for revolutionizing the video game industry because it broke from traditional video game format. Traditionally, a video game presents a series of levels and in order to get one from level to the next, you must beat or get past a boss, or guardian at the end of each level, usually using some strategy you picked up from that level. Shadow of the Colossus decided to change that by including only the bosses, but required so much intricacy, time, and strategy to defeat each boss that it took infinitely longer to beat each boss than it did in a normal video game. In some instances, figuring out how to even attack the boss took a lot of thinking. That’s probably more info you wanted on video games (and just about all I know about them), but the course reminded me of that game Shadow of the Colossus. There was no signature hole, no breather holes and no holes that felt like they were setting up the next one. Here, each hole made you think about how to attack it. And each hole had to be attacked differently, and also left various options on how to attack. What I left with was one of the more interesting plays in the area that probably can never be played the same way twice.
I arrived and made my way to the pro shop. The clubhouse and pro shop are pretty understated, giving me the impression that it’s all about the course here. I was told where the practice area was, which consisted of walking across a few fairways, and was able to warm up before my round. Really liked the oak trees lining the practice area and it was a nice session before I got started.
The First is a 461 yard (from the White tees) par 5. There’s a bunker to the left of the fairway to collect tee shots, but otherwise you have a generous landing area. The hole starts uphill and keeps climbing while dog legging left to a green that is surrounded by bunkers, except from the front. Most greens had coffin bunkers on each side of the green, which are narrow and long, almost like trenches. The green slopes from back to front and if you managed to stay out of trouble, the hole gives you a good chance of par or better.
Tee shot at the First
A look at the First 2 years after the above photo
Second shot territory
The Second is a 331 yard par 4 that goes down to a Biarritz, then back up to the green. Driver is too much here, as the Biarritz comes into play if you hit it too long off the tee. From the middle of the fairway, you can’t see the false front, but there’s about 20 -30 yards before the green that is simply open area. I hit my approach shot to this area thinking I was on the green. A great design feature here.
The Second green. You can see one of the coffin bunkers on the left and the false front on the right
Taken two years later
Approach shot territory
The Third is a 410 yard par 4 that goes gradually downhill to a larger green. There are bunkers on both sides of the fairway around the tee shot landing area and trees along the right side to collect shots going that way.
Two years later
Approach shot territory
The Fourth is a a short par 3 at 95 yards, but has a bit of a mental aspect to it, as the green sits on a plateau surrounded by severe hill sides. It’s an easy shot, but there’s no room for error, so there’s a little more pressure on you. None of the guys in my group hit the green for some reason.
Two years later
The Fifth is a 439 yard par 4 that features a blind tee shot, then a carry over another Biarritz to a green that undulates severely from left to right and back to front. And there are bunkers around the tee landing area.
Tee shot at the Fifth
Looking back at the fairway from just short of the green
The Sixth is a 165 yard par 3 to an uphill green. The green is multi tiered, so it’s about pin position on this one.
The Seventh is a 404 yard par 4. The tee area is angled towards the tree line on the right side, even though the hole proceeds left and uphill to an elevated green. There are cross bunkers about 20 yards short of the green and not a whole lot of room over the green, so you have to hit the green to score well here.
Tee shot at the Seventh
The green at the Seventh
The Eighth is a 400 yard par 4 that tees off down hill with trees on both sides of the fairway. There are mounds that further complicate things on the right as well. The punchbowl green is set after another false front and really made this hole one of my favorite on the course.
Second shot territory
The punchbowl green at the Eighth
The Ninth is a short 300 yard par 4 that goes uphill and features terraces up to the green. These terraces consist of mounds and bunkers, so if you get caught in them, it’s entirely feasible you’ll be hitting from one terrace to the next. Placement off the tee is key here; get it reasonably left, which leaves you with a nice approach shot. If you’re bad off the tee, this short hole will end up killing you slowly.
Approach shot territory. The flag is in red right of center
Ranking the front 9, it’d be 8, 7, 1, 9, 4, 2, 5, 3, 6. There were no weak holes, 8, 7, 1, 9, 4 and 2 were world class while 5, 3 and 6 were very good.
The back 9 starts out with a bang, as the 486 yard par 5 Tenth is another world class hole. The tee area is elevated to the fairway below, which runs to a creek running diagonally from 7:00 to 1:00. Even a well struck drive leaves you with a long iron to the green and to carry the creek. The creek is the only water hazard on the course by the way. The green is tucked in towards the right side after the creek and there is bail out room about 100 yards on the diagonal left of the green. Even though I nailed my drive, I decided to go for carrying the creek on my second and came up short, even though I liked how I hit my 3 wood. I enjoyed that the hole challenged me and made me take the riskier option; it as just too enticing.
The second shot at the Tenth. Look how inviting trying to carry the creek is. Also note how hidden the creek is from here.
The green at the Tenth, still before the creek
A closer look at the green, more recently
The Eleventh is a 333 yard par 4 that goes uphill. There are mounds and bunkers that tier the fairway, leaving a small landing area for the best possible approach shot. Anything left off the tee is in real trouble and anything trailing to the right ends up in a bunker, like my tee shot. If you’re like me in the bunker, a decent shot gets you out and near the green while hitting it poorly can leave you any where from the woods to the right or off the severe hillside to the left. The green is tucked in to a knoll of trees on the left with a severe drop off along the left side of the green, leaving most approach shots with only a partial view of the green. Lots of ways to attack this hole, or dig yourself out of trouble, as the case is.
Tee shot at the Eleventh
Another look, more recently
The bunker I found myself in at the Eleventh
I really liked this stretch of holes, they’re a lot of fun without being pushovers. The Twelfth takes you directly next to the clubhouse and is a downhill par 3 at 162 yards. The green is rather big and slopes towards a bunker on the right side of the green. Hitting the green is almost a necessity here, as the rough surrounding the green and bunkers make sure you have a tough up and down.
The Thirteenth is a 438 yard par 4 with a blind tee shot over a hill. The clubhouse runs along the left side of the fairway and if you get enough of your drive, the crest of the hill gives you a lot of roll for a great approach shot. The green is big enough, but bunkers are swarming and long is dead.
Approach shot territory
The Fourteenth is a 329 yard par 4 that allows you to select your angle off the tee. Just don’t crush your tee shot and hit the one small limb that encroaches the tee area about 100 yards out, like I did. There are staggered bunkers as you approach the hole, then cross bunkers that guard the green. This is a great hole.
The Fifteenth is the last par 3, a short 128 harder with vast bunker short of the green and to the right. It looked like there was also a coffin bunker to the left of the green, but now appears to be a bail out area with a steep bank climbing the green. Another hole where hitting the green is paramount. If you miss, miss left and pin high.
The bail out room to the left of the green on the Fifteenth. Loved the flags and this pic in particular, with the clubhouse in the background.
The Sixteenth is a spectacular short par 4 at 299 yards. You have a blind tee shot over a hill, which then leads downhill to a green that has a trench bunker protecting the entire front side. So you can bomb your tee shot if you want, but then you’re dealing with a substantial down hill lie you need to get up as a lob shot over that trench bunker. You could also go shorter off the tee and set yourself on the ridge of the hill looking down on the green, but then you need to get up and down from about 150 yards for your birdie. I bombed it and couldn’t pull off the difficult approach shot. Next time, I’ll try the shorter off the tee approach. And that is an example of this course in general. Many different ways to play each hole and implement different strategies, giving golfers a chance to play their own game.
The approach at the Sixteenth
Another look at the green
The Seventeenth is the last par 5 at about 500 yards. The hole proceeds gently uphill and is straight, with a tree line along the left side of the fairway, while the driving range, and trees, are along the right side of the fairway. The fairway then narrows before you reach the larger green with bunkers scattered about to catch your errant approach shots.
The Seventeenth, over on the left side
Approach shot territory
The Eighteenth is a glorious par 4 at 366 yards. The tee shot is to a generous fairway downhill from you, which then climbs back up to the green, which is set to the left of the fairway and is fronted by bunkers at the bottom of the embankment that elevates the green. There is also a bunker to the right of the green, which qualifies as cross bunkers. The approach is tough and putting is as well with the tougher green. Standing on the green gives you a view of the Thirteenth through Eighteenth holes, with the clubhouse next to you. A great way to finish the round.
A more recent photo
Approach shot territory
I enjoyed the back 9 immensely. Ranking it, I’d happily go 10, 13, 16, 14, 18, 11, 15, 12, 17. The routing was phenomenal while the par 4’s were all world and the Tenth was a phenomenal par 5.
Generally, this is one of the stronger classic courses in the area open to the public. It makes you think without being overly difficult, yet allows you to play it in a variety of ways. I was pleasantly surprised to see the punch bowl green on the Eighth and some of the bunkering designs, I thought they were features you’d see more with a C.B. MacDonald or Raynor course. It’s one of those courses I immediately wanted to play again and love thinking about even weeks afterwards, how I can better play each hole, etc. An interesting, unique, classic course, I will be here early and often.
So would I become a member here? If it were completely private and I could afford the dues, yes absolutely. I know a lot of members of clubs take pride in their courses and I would certainly feel that here, not to mention never grow tired of playing the course. But as a semi private, where I can show up any time and play, I don’t know the advantage of being a member, only that maybe it turns private and you’re already in. Of course, I can’t think of a semi private going completely private in the area since Trump bought Pine Hill. With all that said, however, I would consider becoming a member here just to give me a reason to play this course all the time and really get to know it.
I don’t know what issues the club is having, but I heard rumblings about it possibly closing last year. That simply can’t happen, as losing this course would be an unnecessary tragedy. I hope they figure it out and raise whatever capital they need to thrive; there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be happening with a course like this.
One more play here and the course is eligible for Rankings Mania. It’ll probably go 4 or 5 and the practice facility will probably go 4.
Gripes: No cart girl. Maybe most country clubs don’t have them, but it would seem like a great way to make money. I would have certainly paid top dollar for something to eat and drink during the round. I played the Friday of Labor Day weekend and was behind a very slow group. Hopefully, play isn’t always this slow and crowded.
Bar/grill: The bar was cozy, with dark wood, televisions and a nice bar set up.
Clubhouse: Small and simple. I will say LuLu has one of the best logos in the area, which make the hats and shirts awesome.
Nearby: A few other country clubs, like Manufacturer’s and Huntingdon Valley, as well as stuff in Fort Washington.
Getting there: About 5 minutes off the Fort Washington exit of the PA turnpike.
UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE
May and July 2014
I recently played here a couple times and have added more photos above. I’m happy to report that the course is in much better condition than last time I played here a couple years ago, with the greens most notably in exponentially better shape. Off fairway and off green areas were also much better maintained and grown in. The differences can be seen above, as there are photos taken last time I was here juxtaposed with photos from my recent rounds. I had two terrific rounds here, as the holes continue to impress while offering an enjoyable test of ball striking and short game. But the improved conditions are such a highlight that we may have some more jumbling in the rankings. It has changed this course from some where to visit every now and then to experience because of the design and history to a course I’d consider playing on a regular basis as one of the top echelon courses in the area.
A couple other not so good things I noticed though include that they now charge to use the range. It’s not much of a member fore a day program if you’re not allowed to use the practice area as a member would. Also, there is no halfway house. It’s some what confusing where to get anything to eat or drink, as the halfway house sign is in what looks to be a storage room and the bar is tucked in the middle of the clubhouse. Finally, the jury is still out on what I’ll call reception of the club to the public. I wasn’t getting a lot of return hellos or even nods and a lot of the staff seem tolerable at best to me and other non members at the course. It doesn’t take much, but I think a little bit more should be done to project a sense of hospitality that is emphasized at several high end public, and private, courses alike.