Mercer Oaks – West Course

6,618 yards, 134 slope from the Blues

Course:  Mercer Oaks is one of the public courses that comprise the Mercer County collection of courses.  There is an East and West course, with the West generally more parkland while the East is more open and of the heathland style.  Both courses are great plays and in general, Mercer County is a prime example of a public county funded course system done very well.  In addition to both courses are Mercer Oaks, there is Mountain View, and Princeton Country Club.   The green fees are reasonable and county residents enjoy even lower rates.  While I have yet to play Princeton, the other courses are well run, nicely designed and generally make public golf very appealing.  I am envious of the residents that get to enjoy these courses and those low green fees.

As for Mercer Oaks West (“MOW”), the course was designed by the architectural firm Ault, Clark & Associates, who also built the interesting and under-appreciated Springwood in York, PA, as well as one of the local greats, Wyncote.  MOW utilizes heavily wooded trees to shape a number of holes as corridors that meander through the landscape while also using contours of the terrain, water and larger bunkers to shape the holes.  Dog legged holes are prevalent while distance of holes vary nicely.  There are many interesting holes and shots, many of which involve carries or avoiding water.  In a more general sense, the course uses the landscape without it feeling manufactured.  A very nice parkland hybrid course.

Fair warning and I apologize in advance, but this is a mini-review of sorts, as I didn’t take as many photos as I normally do.

The First is a 375 yard par 4.  The fairway runs slightly downhill to the green with mounds lining each side of the hole and rough off fairway.  The fairway swirls to the green, creating a semi-forced aerial shot and separating this hole from standard fare that would have the fairway run straight into the green.

The First

Moving down the fairway

The Second is a 340 yard par 4.  The hole enters the woods and dog legs right, with trees lining both sides.  The trees open a little at the green where a well carved bunker is on the left side of the green and rough is along the right until you hit the trees.  The greens undulate and ripple throughout the round are of well proportioned size.  That holds true here, with the deep and some what wide green that runs from back to front.

The Third is a 395 yard par 4.  In stark contrast to the Second, this hole opens up through the woods to reveal open space and water along the left side.  The tee shot can be confounding, as it faces the water and bunkers along the left side, tempting you to try and bite off as much of both hazards as possible.e  Mounds and a tree line are on the right side, cautioning against bailing out away from the trouble.  Choose a line over the right side of the bunkers or shape your shot to get in the fairway, which will be rewarded with a fairly easy approach to a large, back to front green.

The Third
Approach shot territory

The Fourth is a 525 yard par 5.  A sharp dog leg right with bunkers and wetland on the inside of the leg  that all comes into play off the tee.  The fairway to the green then straightens out slightly uphill, but is fairly benign except for a couple bunkers on the right side before the green.  It’s definitely a three shotter, unless you’re able to successfully carry a lot of the trees and wetlands off the tee, then hit a monster second shot.  Most strokes lost here, however, will be off the tee.

The Fourth.  You can make out the deer in the fairway, almost mocking us from there.

At the dog leg looking at the green

The Fifth is a 192 par 3.  There is a lot of room to miss off to the right and the green is fairly large, but it is a test of your acumen with the longer clubs.  It’s a fairly straightforward hole.

The Fifth, looking at it from the left side

The Sixth is a 450 yard par 4.  It’s the number 1 handicapped hole likely due to its length, but it is straight and the green is mild, with bunkers along the right side of the green.  The wind could complicate matters and aside from the length, the difficulty of the hole is only really felt if your shots fall too far off line and end up in the rough or OB.

The Seventh is a monster 550 yard par 5.  The fairway turns a little left off the tee, then snakes up to the elevated green, which is well guarded by bunkers on the sides and the elevation.  The fairway is narrower than most, with a tree line along the immediate left while mounds dip and rise in rough off to the right.  I find it a more challenging hole than the Sixth and a par here seems to be more rewarding, mainly because the approach shot will likely be long and require a pretty good shot.

The Eighth is a 167 par 3.  The green is essentially perpendicular to the green and is elevated from the fairway, so pin position can affect the distance quite a bit while any shot will have to be fairly high to stick the green.  Because the green is perpendicular, it is some what shallow and any shot that does not pay attention to distance control will be scrambling.

The Ninth is a 365 par 4.  The green sits over water off to the right, but cannot be seen from the tee.  The width of the fairway also cannot be seen from the tee, but rest assured there is plenty of room; the key is figuring out what club to hit off the tee that gets the green in clear view without running off the fairway.  There is no hiding from the approach shot, which is a forced carry over the water to the green.  It’s a very fun hole.  

The Ninth

Approach shot territory

The front nine consists of a variety of parkland terrain, from tree lined holes to wide open ones with heroic shots and forced carries.  The par 5’s stick out while there are par 3’s and 4’s that are hit or miss, but generally the routing works and it’s an enjoyable series of holes.  I’d rank them 9, 7, 3, 8, 5, 1, 2, 6, 4.

The back nine starts with the 370 yard par 4.  One that is rare for this course are fairway bunkers that come into play off the tee, but they are on this hole on both sides.  The green is set a little of to the left of the fairway, again perpendicular to the fairway but is generous in size.

The Tenth

Approach shot territory

The Eleventh is a 410 par 4.  The Tenth and Eleventh set up similar to the First and Second, in terms of their direction and that the first hole of each are wide open while the following hole narrows considerably from trees.  They set themselves apart pretty well, however, and the Eleventh sets up a difficult and narrow tee shot to a green that is elevated, again perpendicular to the fairway.  A bunkers is along the front of the green while there is water on the right that comes into play fairway quickly for offline approach shots.  I enjoyed this hole.

The Eleventh

Approach shot territory

The Twelfth is a 392 yard par 4.  It’s a shorter hole because the second half of the fairway is downhill to the green and only becomes difficult if you start getting too sideways.  It’s a nice scoring opportunity.

The Twelfth

The Thirteenth is a 150 yard par 3.  Aside from the trench bunker on the right side, the hole is yet another nice scoring opportunity and the green is pretty large from a shorter distance off the tee.

The Thirteenth

The Fourteenth is a 330 par 4.  A short par 4 where a number of options are available to you.  The hole bends considerably to the right, taking driver out of play unless you’re able to really shape your shot.  There are also bunkers on the inside of the turn and a number of bunkers surround the green, making the approach shot crucial, which is all set up with your tee shot.  Figuring out what to hit off the tee to generate the best approach shot opportunity is where the strategy comes in and if one of your shots does not come off well, recovery shots will be challenging.

The Fourteenth

Approach shot territory

The Fifteenth is a 490 par 5.  I can’t believe I didn’t take more photos of this hole, as the green complex is something else, as it sits atop a field of bunkers.  The tee shot appears to be to a narrow fairway, but there is plenty of room.  The fairway then turns right to the green and again, setting up the best opportunity for an approach to this well guarded green is of the utmost importance.

The Fifteenth

The Sixteenth is a 207 yard par 4.  The green is elevated and a bunker is on the far side of the green to gather those overambitious shots.  A bit more challenging than the Fifth.

The Seventeenth is a 385 yard par 4.  Coming off the Sixteenth green to the Seventeenth reveals a fairly large lake that provides a nice serve background to the closing holes of the round.  There is a break in the fairway and a massive tree blocks out the green on the right side, so stay in the fairway on the left to left center to set up an approach to another challenging green, that requires an aerial approach.  Anything too far offline to the right or long will end up in the water while the green is also fronted by bunkers.  It’s a terrific hole.

The Seventeenth
A look at the lake off to the right of the Seventeenth

The Eighteenth is a 525 yard par 5.  The tee shot is elevated and the hole is fairly straight.  There are fairway bunkers that come into play off the tee and the rough off fairway will make this hole more difficult than it should be, but the green is receptive to a number of shots and runs from back to front.  The green is surrounded by bunkers, however, but considering its size, it shouldn’t be all that difficult to avoid them and land on the green.

The back nine may feature more tree lined holes than the front, but there is also a little more character and diversity amongst the holes.  Ranking them, I’d go 17, 15, 14, 11, 18, 12, 16, 10, 13.

Generally, Mercer Oaks West is a nice public course at a fantastic value.  The design does well to create diversity and places the challenge during the round towards the end each nine holes.  The scenery and atmosphere is also well done for a public venue.  The challenge is off the tee and your longer clubs will be called upon a little more than other courses, yet the greens are fairly manageable and the rough and bunkers around the green provide a reprieve of the short game.  It’s a terrific example of a public golf system and some where worth trekking to for us in the Philadelphia area.

Gripes:  Although they actively police it and are some what effective, pace of play can be an issue here.

Bar/Grill:  Pretty good, with outdoor and indoor seating.  I’d say above average from other courses on its level.

Practice area:  A range with mats and grass and fairly large putting green where you can also chip, or at least I’ve seen people chip on to it.

Nearby:  There are a lot of stores and restaurants nearby on Route 1.

Getting there:  About 5 minutes off Route 1, just north of Trenton.