When I thought 2013 couldn’t be topped, 2014 came along and gave me more golf, more courses and more good times. My game continued to improve, turning a big corner in late August, playing some of the best golf I’ve ever been able to muster. Course wise, I did a fair amount of traveling to other areas and locally, was able to hit a good amount of courses, but not as many as I wanted. Just something to focus on for 2015, as I’m already scheming and planning on where to go.
One thing I focused on this year was getting back to some of my favorites and doing a more detailed hole by hole review. LuLu, Bulle Rock and White Clay are among those that received the upgraded treatment. So although the list of different courses may have been a little lower this year than in others, there was lots of restoration work that took place.
Golf in 2014 was about change. I took a lot more lessons, decided to laugh off the mis hits and wanted to get to a few courses I had not yet played while taking advantage of playing a few others when the opportunity presented itself. I’ll do a separate 2015 preview, but let’s just say Philly Golf Guy has taken on a new and exciting goal that is going to mean more reviews and with a broader base of areas. And hopefully, the good golf keeps getting better!
With the weather seeming to be a little friendlier this year than last, hopefully everyone is able to get in more rounds, leading to more fun out there. I know I will!
Here are some of the 2014 highlights:
States played in:
Favorite public round locally at a course I played for the first time
Berkleigh Golf Club. The grand scale of the course was impressive as was the shaping of the holes through elevation changes, trees and water. It’s a classic parkland style done very well. Subtle greens, punishing but not impossible rough, lots of character and a serene backdrop that reminded me of Glen Mills, Berkleigh’s place among the state’s top ranked courses is well earned. Yet another example of a course just about an hour away that offers a fantastic round in many respects.
Honorable mention goes to JC Melrose Country Club. A semi public course designed by Alistair MacKenzie minutes away from Center City with some of the best greens in the area. It’s pretty close to me and sadly, I just found out about the place several months ago. It’s a great example of a classic course not needing length to be plenty challenging and still testing every facet of the golf game, including the long game. Many visuals used in different ways by the good doctor and of course, placement off the tee is vital. It’s a gem that stays under the radar, which is good by me.
Favorite Philly Round this Year:
For the sake of mixing it up, Glen Mills and Jeffersonville are exempt from this category. I played both multiple times this year, enjoyed myself immensely and they remain among my favorites, but I’d like to select other courses every now and then to keep things a little fresh. With further adieu.
Philmont North. It’s private, but my group was able to play there by winning a silent charity auction. It quickly became one of my favorite courses ever, with the character of holes, the gargantuan bunkers and similarly sized greens that managed to remain subtle and challenging from any point. The company of the round, my score, the shots I remember and the mounts of being wowed by the course made this my favorite round of the season, where a total wave of content washed over me afterwards and reinvigorated my passion for the game.
Honorable mention to LuLu. Conditions were much improved from last time I played here and it’s a terrific Donald Ross design that is challenging for its bunkering and sloped greens. I am drawn here, as I enjoy the design and the challenge is enough to keep me wanting to take it on again and again. The particular round that takes the cake was 4th of July weekend towards dusk, where we had the course to ourselves. Another masterpiece, available to us all, in the area.
Most Improved Course:
Riverwinds. I played here in late November and decided beforehand not to review it because 1) it’s very difficult to get decent course photos with the long shadows so late in the year; 2) it was freezing; 3) I played here years ago and was very unimpressed, so in combination with the time of the season, didn’t think photos or a review would be all that productive. Well, it was the pleasant surprise of the season. Conditions were very good and more importantly, it appeared that the holes had undergone a pretty good make over. I will be back next season for a full review. Lots of forced carries, a few blind shots yet manages to stay playable and fun. RW came under the ownership of Jaworski a few years ago and similar to the other courses he now owns, this one is now a great option just over the bridge.
Renewed love affair at a Philly course at one of the more fun rounds of the season:
Broad Run. The transition is complete. After a rough patch a few years ago, BR now is in full swing with great conditions and all the challenge you can handle. We showed up and decided on match play. Even though my game had been firing on all cylinders at that time, the course still kept me from scoring what I expected, mainly with the Eighteenth essentially ripping out my heart and forcing me to lose the hole, moving to a tie breaker at the short game area (which I won btw). I’m really glad to see this place back to where it belongs.
Lives up to its hype. Ballyowen. It’s ranked in some publications as the number one public course in New Jersey, which I thought was a tall order considering Atlantic City Country Club is now public. But it did not disappoint and even after the first 5 holes, I was hooked. The design imposes itself on you, rising, turning and force carrying all over the place. The rough is hellish, but it works here for the most part by providing bail out areas. I’m a big fan.
Biggest Course Disappointment:
Bulle Rock. Terrible service and drastically over priced. It’s just not worth what they charge in my opinion. Aside from my recent experience there that mainly involved a rain delay issue that was poorly handled, the course does not offer twilight rates, resident discounts or that much a replay rate. The green fee was recently reduced to $130, but it’s still in the upper stratosphere of what public courses in the area charge. It’s too bad, as it’s a nice Dye design, but to me it’s an example of a course resting on laurels, charging a bundle and forgetting to ever roll out the welcome mat. It’s an easy fix though.
They should consider closing to renovate and/or sell:
Springfield GC. What could be a a nice shorter course with an emphasis on the iron game has turned into an afterthought as it appears the new hotel and stream of weddings and other formal events is now the focal point. The grass may have been in a transition point when I played here this season, but conditions were sub standard and the sign on the Eighteenth in the middle of the fairway warning players to avoid hitting the hotel is downright enraging, especially when installing netting would take care of the issue (although I suspect netting taking away from the view of the hotel guests is the reason this doesn’t happen). The hotel itself looming so close to the fairway is very poor planning and/or indifference to the course in my opinion. Just turn the place into a pitch and putt or re-route the First and Eighteenth to veer away from the hotel and improve course conditions a lot.
Courses I played and loved but didn’t review because of technical issues
Another unfortunate long list this year
Riverwinds. See above.
Mercer Oaks West. Another round late in the season when I thought lighting and course conditions would make for an unhelpful review. But conditions were terrific and the layout meandered through the woods and included a handful of effective water hazards. As one of the municipal courses, it’s fairly priced as well, being a wonderful value with a slid design.
Bella Vista. Although there is a review for it, I was in a heated match and forgot to photograph the holes for a more detailed review. It remains a fun course, but I have to admit there are a handful of forgettable holes. But conditions were good and I wouldn’t hesitate playing here.
Great Gorge. This is near Ballyowen and is one of the Crystal Springs courses. I played it before Ballyowen and wanted to make sure I had enough battery power for that course. GG seems to focus on giving golfers a place to have a good time, as the starters and staff all don Loudmouth outfits and as the place used to be owned by Hugh Hefner as a Playboy type club, it rocks the retro theme throughout the clubhouse and offers a number of drink specials. The course is full of steep elevated tee shots and views of the surrounding mountain scape. It was a good time, but not some where worth driving to if you don’t live in the area.
San Dimas Canyon GC: In San Dimas, which is in Southern California and part of famous lore in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” there are oak trees throughout the course that are environmentally protected, so they sit in the middle of fairways and actually give the course a little more character and interest. A few elevation changes are used nicely and it gives you fits of easy holes along with some pretty challenging ones.
Scholl Canyon GC: Located in Glendale, CA, just west of downtown Los Angeles, SC is a shorter executive type course that offers tremendous views of the city with the back nine literally climbing then going down the other side of the nearby canyon hills. There’s a lot of quirk, but I loved the views and felt the place was a lot of fun for those care free rounds.
PGA National, Palmer course: In West Palm Beach, the Palmer is one of the courses at the PGA National resort. I was there for a weekend and still need to put out my review of the Championship course, but I played Palmer the first day and was focusing more on the competition, forgetting to review. It’s a nice course, but didn’t really stand out to me as anything other than standard Florida golf resort fare. It is a challenging course and ends with my favorite hole of the course, the par 5 Eighteenth.
Non-Philly Courses Awards Section
Best Non-Philly Course played this year
Pasatiempo. One of the best days of golf I’ve had, not from a scoring perspective. It’s a special place that I didn’t want to leave.
Honorable Mention goes to the Dye Preserve. Yet another review I need to post, it’s a private course in Jupiter, FL that’s easily one of the better Dye designs I’ve played. In what seemed to be a surrounding wetlands sanctuary, Dye was able to create the feeling that the course had been among the terrain all along. It goes down as my favorite course in Florida to date.
Best Non-Philly Golf Value this year:
Heritage Hill. Located just South of Louisville, this course was a steal. The top notch design and conditions made it a bargain and would probably command triple digit green fees out here.
Now to the section I like adding but hope no one reads, the personal golf milestones section…
Best shot of the year:
There are two, mainly because of sub categories I just made up.
In terms of getting the ball closest to the hole for a best shot, that goes to me at San Dimas Canyon, the par 3 Fifth, where I hit a 5 iron rental club to 3 inches of the cup. When I hit it, I thought it was a miss, as it started a little lower and to the left, but came back around and rolled right to the hole, before stopping just short. It’s not the shot I envisioned, but it almost ended with my first hole in one.
But in terms of shots where I mapped it out, executed it really well and great things happened, that would be my shot at PGA National – Championship course, the Seventeenth par 3. It’s the last hole of what is known as the Bear Trap, a stretch of really tough holes on the back nine. It was all carry to the green with a water hazard directly in front and we played it from the Championship tees. After getting slaughtered on the previous two Bear Trap holes, I stepped up with my 4 wood, as the wind was swirling pretty good. I hit it a little low on the face, but the ball went straight at the pin, made it over the water and rolled right past the hole to the fringe, leaving me with a longer birdie putt. Based on the circumstances and difficulty of the hole, I was elated and it’s a shot I’ll remember for a long time.
Worst shot of the year:
Not one sticks out as more ghastly than the others, but my main miss of topping the ball was one for the ages. There’s the shanks, then there’s the tops. I went through it for stretches this season, but seem to have figured it out.
But if you really must know, I was yet again at a tournament this year (just like last) and one of the first to tee off. Yep, another whiff in front of everyone. At least this time everyone laughed and screamed, “not again!” I redeemed myself, but ugh, maybe I need to practice my tee shots with a crowd of people watching.
Also, at Riverwinds at the par 3 Eighth. A nice little short drop shot with water off to the right. I cold shanked it right in the water. Teed it up again and yep, another shank. Blah.