6,619 yards, 127 from the Blues

Course:  In Yardley, PA, which is essentially south Bucks County, is Makefield Highlands, a relatively new course (2004) that strives to be a higher end public course option for the Philadelphia area.  It has been ranked the #9 course you can play in PA by Golfweek in 2013 and has hosted the 2013 GAP Patterson Cup Qualifier, 2014 Philadelphia Open Qualifier and will be hosting one of the 2015 US Open Qualifiers.  Rick Jacobson designed the course, whose work can also be found at Bear Trap Dunes and Bayside GC in Delaware, and built something that can truly be called links style for its tall fescue lining many of the fairways and its susceptibility to wind, which is typically a dominant factor during play.

MH’s tag line is “redefining public golf.”  I believe they’re trying to provide a first rate golfing experience that you would find at most private courses.  They sure have done a lot to provide that experience, with a great practice facility, clubhouse, and pretty good course conditions.  And the course itself has its moments, which I’ll get into later.  Yet I find myself not really clicking with this place.  Most of that has to do with how I feel about the course.  But I don’t think my feelings about the design should dominate the tone of this review.  The course succeeds in many respects in providing a better than average golf experience and even I like a good part of the course.  I have heard Makefield referred to as a “prairie style” course and I think that is fitting.  There are few trees in play and the course tends to stay low on the terrain, without many raised greens.  Wind whips through the area and wrecks havoc on most of the holes.  There are some elevation changes and forced carries, which only accentuate the effect of the wind.

I certainly appreciate the course, but we’re still working out a few differences.  Personally, I think it’s tough for a course to be well designed when wind can become such a dominant factor.  If the wind isn’t up, the course can be too easy.  If the wind is real strong, the course can be virtually unplayable if it’s impossible to utilize the ground game, such as punch shots, because of too many forced carries, etc.  If the holes aren’t placed in a loop, the wind can be too one dimensional.  The list goes on.  Here, I think many of the fairways do not account for wind at all, because they’re too narrow, have the cart paths too close to the greens or fairways and not enough fescue, rough or collection areas to account for the wind.  The slope rating should be higher, but it’s tough to rate a course based on wind.  As it stands, many of the holes already call for a good amount of precision without wind, so once it starts kicking up, the course becomes exponentially tougher.  Aside from that, while there are a few holes that stand out as good, there are many that feel redundant to me.  Regardless, it’s certainly some where I will keep playing, mainly because I enjoy a lot more without the wind and some of the holes make it worth the price of admission.

The First is a 414 par 4 (from the Blues).  Cross bunkers pinch the fairway leading up to the green, which is slightly raised and surrounded by sunken bunkers.  The green is large and is full of complexity, which is largely a theme you’ll see throughout the round.

The First

Moving up the fairway

Approach shot territory

The Second is a 412 yard par 4.  It’s the same distance as the First, as it should be since it goes back the opposite way and ends in the area of the First tee.  There is little but a cart path and a stretch of rough separating the holes and with the wind kicking up, many groups were criss crossing the holes chasing their balls.  You also had the Seventh fairway directly on the left.  Just another moment where I was scratching my head on some of the design choices here.  As for the hole, most of the bunkers are on the left side here for your tee shot, then more bunkers force your approach shot to either move to the right or carry them outright to reach the green.  I actually like how the approach shot is set up; the hole clearly tries to make you favor the right side, which then check mates you into a forced carry over bunkers on the either the left to right.  The closer you get to the bunkers on the left leaves you with a better look and shot at the green.

The Second

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory

The Third is the first par 3, and also the shortest, at 146 yards.  Bunkers front the green and are quite deep on the right, while there is a run off area on the left and far side of the green, which slopes severely from back to front.  I found the green to be one of the more difficult on the course.  So although you have a shorter distance here, there’s a lot of other things going on to make sure par doesn’t come easy.

The Third green

The Fourth is a 321 yard par 4.  This shorter par 4 is also downhill, tempting the long hitters to go for the green.  With a downslope immediately before the green and the green moving front to back, there’s the possibility you could lose your ball by it rolling off the far side, which at least should be enough to have you consider a shorter club off the tee.  There is a bunker on the right, but with the fairway canting left, you almost have to aim for it.  I like short par 4’s, yet this one seems a bit contrived.  Still though, it makes you think and provides options, which is always nice.

The Fourth

Approach shot territory

The Fifth is a 317 yard par 4.  Again, almost identical distance from the hole prior.  The green can be seen from the tee area, sitting below and off to the left.  The hole dog legs left over a ridge, then descends to the green.  Long hitters will again be tempted to go for the green and what you can’t see from the tee is a pot bunker on the front of the green, while there is no room on the far side of the green.  You almost have to attempt to carry the swath of bunkers on the hillside to the left of the fairway, as any shot over the ridge runs the high risk of going off the fairway into the rough on the right.  So either take a shorter iron and hit to the top of the ridge, leaving yourself with a clear approach to the green below, or aim at the bunkers on the left and carry them to leave yourself with a short pitch to the green. Or just hit a huge gigantic draw to have your ball roll right on for an eagle putt.

The Fifth

A look at the green

Looking back at the tee area from the top of the ridge

The Sixth is a 420 yard par 4.  Three par 4’s around the same distance (1, 2 and 6).  The tee shot is to an uphill fairway that crests, turns left, then heads towards the green on a more gradual ascent.  Bunkers are strategically placed for those that hit their tee shot too far, and then again for those that may overcook their approach shots to the left.

The Sixth

Moving down the fairway

The Seventh is a 599 yard par 5.  It’s a massive par 5 that I find to be one of the more interesting holes on the course.  The elevated tee shot is to an “S” fairway, with water on the right, yet exactly straight ahead of the tee area.  The fairway then shifts right before heading to the elevated green, with bunkers essentially littering both sides of the fairway.  The sheer distance of the hole makes it a true three shotter, yet the water, bunkers and shape of the hole provides more challenge and strategy than simply trying to hit the ball as far as possible.  The green remains interesting while also providing a reprieve for all the strokes it probably took you to get to the green.  It’s a well done hole.

The Seventh

Second shot territory
A look back at the hole from the green

The Eighth is a 193 yard par 3.  This seems to be one of the the higher areas of the course, and one of the most susceptible to the wind.  Cross bunkers lead up to and pinch the green, which wraps around the bunkers on the left.  I could see a nasty pin placement on the front left side for sure.  With the wind up, I could see this turning into a driver hole pretty easily.  As it stands without wind, it’s demanding precision out of your longer clubs.

The Eighth

The Ninth is a 498 par 5.  Another whopper and facing one of the strongest head winds of the day, it was comical to think about reaching the green in 3.  The fairway is on the narrow side, with water to consider off the tee that sits off to the right.  Bunkers line the left side of the fairway and with trees guarding the right side, the hole is trying to force you into hitting near the left side bunkers for a clear second shot.  More bunkers await as you get closer to the green, but the fairway also widens a bit.

The Ninth

Second shot territory

The front nine features a pretty good par 5, some nice par 3’s and par 4’s that don’t really resonate with me and feel a bit redundant.  Ranking them, I’d go 7, 3, 8, 9, 2, 5, 1, 6, 4.

The back nine starts with the 436 yard par 4.  The tee shot is simple enough, with the challenge being with the approach shot.  The green cuts in to the hillside towards the left, which is also elevated with bunkers carved into the hillside on the right, while bunkers on the left are about 20 yards further away.  It’s a nice par 4 that is interesting without trying to do too much.

The Tenth

Second shot territory

Me and partner drove our tee shots this close.  For the record, mine was closer to the hole!

Approach shot territory

The Eleventh is a 427 yard par 4.  The fairway goes slightly uphill, with a fair sprinkling of bunkers on both sides leading up to the green.  The run off area on the front and right side is a welcome feature, spicing up the short game options.  Yet another nicely done par 4 that isn’t overdone.

The Eleventh

Approach shot territory, not he left side of the fairway

A look at the green and run off areas

The Twelfth is a 519 yard par 5.  It plays shorter because the entire hole runs downhill and there is not a lot of trouble to contend with.  It’s a good opportunity to gain some strokes back.

The Twelfth

The green

The Thirteenth is a 268 yard par 4 as the shortest par 4 on the course.  Just like the Fifth, the green is situated below and to the left of the the area, as the fairway dog legs left over a ridge and downhill to the green.  Once again, there are bunkers alongside the left side of the fairway, which aiming over is a good line for the hole.  This green is easier to reach from the tee than the Fifth, but the wind certainly can complicate matters.

The Thirteenth

The green

Looking back at the fairway

The Fourteenth is a 207 yard par 3.  It is likely the toughest par 3 on the course, as the narrow but deep green slants off to the left, with bunkers cutting into the left side of the green.  Even more precision is required of the longer clubs than the Eighth, as the slopes of the green have the potential to repel shots into the bunkers on the left, or away from the green towards the back of the green.

The Fourteenth

The Fifteenth is a 407 yard par 4.  The tee shot is a forced carry and so is the approach.  The tee shot also requires a draw, or a shorter club than driver, to stay in the fairway.  And staying in the fairway is paramount, as the approach shot is a carry over a quarry style pond to a wide yet shallow green.  A challenging hole where both shots to the green must be pretty flawless.

The Fifteenth

Approach shot territory

The carry over water to the green

The Sixteenth is a 462 yard par 5.  The fairway runs significantly uphill with the left side slanting to almost the center of the fairway with bunkers.  Bunkers continue up the left side to the green, with a couple on the right side for good measure.  Distance control is paramount on this hole to avoid the bunkers and rough for a chance at par.

The Sixteenth

Moving up the fairway

Approach shot territory

The Seventeenth is the last par 3 at 150 yards.  At the highest point of the course, the wind was howling here last time I played, making me use my 200+ club to hit the green.  Bunkers around the green, making it imperative to get your yardage right, which again can be extremely tough is the wind is blowing as hard as it can around here.

The Seventeenth

A look at the green

The Eighteenth is a 423 yard par 4.  Going in the opposite direction than the Sixteenth, the tee shot is elevated to a downhill fairway, which ends at a gully before starting back uphill to the green.  The second shot is a challenge, as carrying the gully and avoiding the larger than average bunkers on either side is a tall measure.  And the green slopes severely from back to front, providing a good deal of challenge for your final strokes.

The Eighteenth

Moving down the fairway

A look at the green

Looking back at the fairway from the green

The back nine is the stronger series of holes in my opinion, as the par 3’s are nicely done and a few of the par 4’s are understated yet interesting.  I’d rank them 10, 14, 15, 17, 11, 18, 16, 12, 13.

Generally, Makefield Highlands is a nice enough course, but suffers from a few design issues in my opinion.  The short par 4’s are a little redundant and gimmicky while the bunkering is overdone.  There are also a number of shots where it appears wind isn’t taken into consideration enough.  Admittedly, my gripes are rather subjective, as I know many who thoroughly enjoy playing here.  I myself enjoy it enough to keep coming back, especially with the friendly service, great cart girls and above average conditions.  And there’s no denying that the course is a nice challenge while providing a taste of links style golf.

Gripes:  Other than the above quips about the design, I find Makefield a nice place for a round.

Bar/Grill:  A nice area with outdoor and indoor seating with great food and beers.  We spent a while watching football on a Sunday and had a great time.

Clubhouse:  Well stocked with golf playing on the tv.

Practice area:  One of the better ones around, they have a natural grass range, short game area and putting green.  Definitely some where I would go just to practice.

Nearby:  New Hope is nearby, which has a nice collection of restaurants.

Getting there:  Located just off I95 in Bucks County, about 45 minutes from Center City.