Mercer Oaks – East Course

6,772 yards, 127 slope from the Blues

Course:  After reviewing the West course of Mercer Oaks here last year, I finally had a chance to get to the East course.  While I mentioned this during last year’s review, it bears repeating that the public course collection in Mercer County is very good, with the Mercer Oaks courses the crown jewel of them.  With 36 holes, a full practice facility, a nice clubhouse, the green fees for residents is almost reason enough to move here.

The East course compliments the West nicely.  While the West fluctuates and moves between tree-lined holes, contoured mounds and over water as a nicely done parkland course, the East is more open and relies on the terrain and bunkering for the majority of its challenge.  There are parts of the course, however, that resemble the West and vice versa, but each course certainly maintains a separate identity.  Long grass, bigger greens and more complex bunkering is found on the East, which to me provides more opportunity for recovery shots and creativity than the West, which demands well done ball striking at the outset.  The East is also more susceptible to wind and incorporates that possibility in its design.  I’d actually like to play it on a windy day, as I think it would be a lot of fun trying different angle and running the ball up to the green on a lot of the holes.

So I suppose the question will come up as to which course, the East or West, is better?  I don’t know if I’m able to say which course is better, but as far as which course I prefer, a slight edge goes to the West.  Both courses are terrific in terms of conditioning, interest and challenge but the West is a stiffer test while providing sufficient variety.  I’d say the East is a little more fun, with more opportunity for creativity.  Playing both courses in one day, with the East first, would be a great day of golf.

The First is a 392 yard par 4 (from the Blues).  Cross bunkers narrow the safe landing area, but the more left you get, the more clear your approach shot into the green will be.  Anything too far right puts the greenside bunkers in play and blocks a view of the green.

A word about the greens.  They are subtle and tough.  I like them a lot, as they require you to focus all the way until completion of the hole.  This holds true on the First, where even a center pin placement makes for tough putting from any angle.

The First

Approach shot territory

The Second is a 550 yard par 5.  It looks wide open, but cross bunkers again make sure your tee shot is true and long grass beyond the bunkers on either side confound really bad tee shots.  As the fairway slinks towards the elevated green past the bunkers, the area for third shots is some what small, but a close approach is a good idea with the greenside bunkers slope of the green waiting to greet your ball.  Staying below the pin is also a good idea.  The Second is a nice wake up call for your game to get in the round.

The Second

Moving down the fairway with a look at the bunkers on the right

Approach shot territory from the left side

The Third is a 335 yard par 4.  This shorter par 4 curls left around water to the green, with a bunker complex at the turn.  Lots of options off the tee to get in your preferred approach shot position to a green that angles away from the fairway and runs form back to front rather briskly.  Lots of ways to attack the green as well makes this a fun one.

The Third

Approach shot territory

The Fourth is a 410 par 4.  The fairway provides a nice landing area, but there are bunkers that line the right side that come into play.  The green is slightly elevated and multi-tiered, so pay attention to the pin position and be mindful that bunkers continue to line the right side all the way to the green.  The approach shot will likely be a mid-iron or longer, making it a tougher approach, especially with the green.

The Fourth

Moving up the fairway with the green straight ahead

The Fifth is a 148 yard par 3.  The green is elevated from the tee, with two bunkers guarding the front of the green and another on the back right.  The green is very wide and deep at least on the left side, which generally runs from back to front.  For such a large green, this hole is fairly demanding, but gives you a chance to recover par from just about any where.

The Fifth

The Sixth is a 440 yard par 4.  A dog leg left that dips down, then rises up to a wide open green.  Bunkers greet tee shots off to the left while a bunker off to the right is closer to the green.  Trees on the right side as the hole slopes downward can also complicate matters for tee shots off to the right.  I enjoy the green area, as it sits above the fairway and there are so many ways you can get to the pin.  The high shot, low check up, bump and run, flippity-flop, Oregon Trail, Good and Plenty; they all work here.

The Sixth

Moving down the fairway

The Seventh is a 515 yard par 5.  One of my favorite holes on the course and I only manages to take a photo off the tee.  The hole is a double dog leg where it’s tough to find out where to hit it off the tee unless you’ve played the hole before (off to the left).  A longer bunker complex does a good job of masking the fairway and on the other side of it, the fairway opens up before spilling right and downhill.  The green is perched uphill and is generally blind from most approach shots.  The flow of the hole and the number of lines you can take to the green make it one of my favorite holes on the course.

The Seventh

The Eighth is a 208 yard par 3.  Once again, you hit to an elevated green.  The green is multi tiered with the steps from right to left and then a large collection area off the green to the left.  Shots from the collection area can be tough, especially if hitting to the tier on the right.  Another fun hole.

The Eighth

The Ninth is a 400 yard par 4.  The fairway is on the narrower side and there is a large bunker off to the left where the fairway goes downhill then curls right to the green, which sits perpendicular to the fairway and runs from back to front.  A well struck tee shot sets up a manageable approach, but the hill side and green compounds any poor shots.  I caboodled a tee shot here, which hit the hillside and ran another 15-20 yards.  One of my more favorite shots of the round.

The Ninth

Approach shot territory

The front nine is a nice collection of holes.  The par 5 Seventh really sticks out, the shorter par 4’s at the Third and Ninth and the longer par 3 at the Eighth are among my favorite while the others are good plays in their own right and none that I don’t enjoy.  I would rank them 7, 3, 9, 8, 6, 1, 2, 5, 4.

The back nine starts with the 412 yard par 4 Tenth.  The fairway heads straight out and is wide open.  The green is protected on the front left with the opening more on the right side of the green.  Easy enough.

Fairway of the Tenth

The green

The Eleventh is a 365 yard par 4.  Bunkers define this hole, as they bracket the fairway that snakes up to the green, which sits off to the right, but is on the larger side with a significant slope.  A more demanding hole than it looks.

The Eleventh

Approach shot territory

The Twelfth is a 170 yard par 3.  The green is fat at the front, but then narrows and lengthens as it goes right with bunkers on the front and back sides.  Water is front right as well.  Another hole that is fairly challenging.

The Twelfth

The Thirteenth is a 540 yard par 5.  The fairway angles right a little, with bunkers off to the right and water to the left.  The fairway then turns left around the water to the green.  The green itself is fairly benign but it’s a reprieve from the demands of getting to it.

The Thirteenth

Moving down the fairway 

Approach shot territory

The Fourteenth is a 304 yard par 4.  A great short par 4 with two fairways and bunkers down the middle that separate them.  The green is uphill on the left.  Deciding where to place your tee shot while avoiding the bunkers, or deciding to try to go for the green, makes this hole pretty exciting.

The Fourteenth

The Fifteenth is a 430 yard par 4.  Up to this point, I really like the course.  It’s interesting, open and oozes fun.  The Fifteenth through Seventeenth, however, are essentially duller versions of holes you encounter on the West course.  Trees become much more of a factor and before you know it, frame the holes and turn things into the same type of test as the West.  With the Fifteenth, the fairway is still on the wider side, dog legging right and the green set on the left side of the fairway.  Bunkers are set on the inside of the dog leg.  Ho hum.

The Fifteenth

Approach shot territory

The Sixteenth is a 188 yard par 3.  Trees are not much of a factor here unless your tee shot is really bad, but the bunkers pinch the ideal landing area to the shallow yet wide green.  Short and left is the acceptable miss here.

The Sixteenth

The Seventeenth is a 390 yard par 4.  This hole is narrow and tree-lined on both sides, straight to the green, with a single bunker on the left side.  The hole is completely out of character from the rest of the course and pretty benign.  I would love to see if turned into a short par 4 instead, with more bunkering and a punchbowl green off to the right side.  I’d take out a good amount of trees as well.

The Seventeenth

Approach shot territory

The Eighteenth is a 575 yard par 5.  Coming out of the trees, the tee shot is pretty generous, but there are bunkers on the right and the fairway actually slopes down to OB on the left.  The second and third shots face a lot more bunkers, which really are the prominent hazard here.  The green is on the small side and undulates with a few ripples.  It’s a nice return the what makes the course a lot of fun.

The Eighteenth

Moving up the fairway

Approach shot territory

The back nine starts off well, culminating with the short par 4 at the Fourteenth.  The par 5’s are good and a nice amount of par 4’s are fun, but the three hole stretch of 15 – 17 do not fit in, which means the overall course suffers.  Up to the Fifteenth, the back nine has great routing and does a great jb of staying interesting and exciting.  Ranking them, I’d go 14, 11, 18, 13, 12, 10, 16, 15, 17.

In general, Mercer Oaks East is a nice open layout that provides an entertaining round, even more so when the wind is blowing.  The course does well to present holes with different identities and challenges, with a few really rising to very good.  The bunkering is creative, the moderate terrain is used creatively and water comes into play just enough to hold interest.  There are no houses along the course, so the natural landscape of the surrounding woods and wetlands can be enjoyed to the fullest. As a public course with great conditions, active and courteous rangers who ensure pace of play is always brisk and a design that relies a lot less on trees than most courses in the area, Mercer Oaks East, and Mercer Oaks in general, is a very good public course complex and an excellent value, even for non-county residents.

Gripes:  Holes 15 – 17 just don’t fit.  If they were better, this would be one of my top courses in the Philadelphia area.  I don’t usually complain about this, but the grill area could be bigger and a little more comprehensive.

Bar/Grill:  There’s an inside and outside area, but the outside area really doesn’t receive service.  The inside area is limited and with it servicing crowds for two courses, can get tight.

Clubhouse/Pro shop:  On the smaller side, but has some pretty good apparel.

Practice area:  A range with mats and a grass area, as well as a putting green on both courses that you can chip on.

Nearby:  There’s a few restaurants, bars and shops, including a mall, off nearby Route 1.