Schuylkill CC

6,539 yards, 132 slope from the Whites

Course:  In Orwigsburg, PA (about 25 minutes north of Reading), lies Schuylkill Country Club.  A month ago, if you asked me if I knew about SCC, I would have said it sounds vaguely familiar, I think it’s off 422 near Royersford, probably some where near the river.  So really, I had no idea what I was talking about.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m alone.  While the course is just over an hour away from Philadelphia proper, it is relatively unknown to many.  But as the Philadelphia area has shown time and again, there are so many hidden gems and this is definitely one of them.

SCC was started as a nine-hole course in 1921.  A couple decades later, Donald Ross was hired to build a second nine holes and re-design the first nine as well.  The result is one of the more fun Donald Ross courses I’ve played, with an emphasis on wild greens and great use of the topography.  Trees are probably more prominent here as a design feature than any other Ross course I’ve played, as there are a couple holes where trees very aggressively dictate your tee shot, which I found similar to many shots I encountered at Harbour Town.  One of the other features that gets overlooked on many Ross courses is the bunkering.  It varies from rigid lip lines that jut up around the sides, others are longer and occupy an entire side of the green (I call them trench bunkers) while others are simply larger and deeply set.  Here, you find all of them.  The conditioning of the course was also very good, even after an entire night of rain.  I enjoyed the transition between the holes and how they are set on the existing terrain.  For example, you aren’t simply going up and down the hills, but some times are straddling or moving across them.  To me, it made the holes a lot more diverse.  Out of the Ross courses I have played, I’d say it’s a more wooded LuLu with less forced carries with the ridges and mounds of Ravisloe and as of recently, Jeffersonville.

There’s no doubt that SCC is a hidden Donald Ross gem.  It is a private club, but they have a member for a day option that lets you experience the course and facilities.  If you have the opportunity, spend the day here and experience a course that shows off a lot of what made Donald Ross such a heralded course architect.

The First is a 389 yard par 4 (from the Blues).  A gentle dogleg left introduces you to the round, with a welcoming fairway for the opening tee shot.  The green is deep and generally runs from back to front, but there are a lot of bumps and contours that will affect ball movement in multiple directions.  Like most of the greens, the opening is clear, which allows for a multitude of shots to the pin.

The First

Moving down the fairway, with the green straight ahead

A look at the green

The Second is a 354 yard par 4.  The hole bends slightly to the right, the fairway is also smaller.  Accuracy off the tee is important because of the trees on both sides and the rough on either side won’t hold most shots from going in the trees.  The challenge continues at the green, with bunkers protecting the front and a run off area on the back right side for errant approach or chip shots.

The Second (apparently playing in the dark)

Approach shot territory

A look at the run off area on the right back side of the green

The Third is a 490 yard par 5.  This is one of the holes where trees dictate play more than any other Ross course I’ve played.  Here, a tree on the right side off the tee forces you to the far left end of the dog leg, which then leaves a much longer second shot.  You can hit it around and over the tree as well, but it’s something that must be dealt with one way or another, requiring acumen with the driver. I aimed for the top left side of the tree and was able to hit it there, which left me with a nice second shot to the green.  The green provides more access and visibility from the left side of the fairway while the more right you go, the more blind the green becomes and the more grenade bunkers come into play.  The green runs off the back side and runs from front to back, which I wish I knew before playing the hole, as my approach shot was at the middle of the green and promptly ran off the back.  A challenging, thrilling hole.

The Third

Moving down the fairway at the turn

A look at the green from the right side

The green from the back right side

The Fourth is a 181 yard par 3.  A series of bunkers spreads out on both sides of this pitched green, which is well-sized, but fraught with ripples and undulations that make it necessary to hit the correct part of the green to score well.  Most bunker shots will be tough to recover from, with it becoming more difficult as you get further from the hole.  The trees in the background provide a nice frame for the hole, which is wide open.

The Fourth

A closer look

The green from the left side.  Notice the ripples that almost run its length

The Fifth is a 392 yard par 4.  While trees stay out of the way on the Fourth, they come back into the mix off the tee on this dog leg left.  Trees on both sides but especially the left dictate your line of play to ensure you have a clear look at the green on your approach.  A tree further down on the left blocks out the green on that side if you’re too far over, so center to right center is a good line to a green that is deep.  The greenside bunker on the right is one of the trench bunkers I was talking about, as it covers the entire side of the green, but this one is a little wider that the ones I’ve seen in the past.

The Fifth

Approach shot territory

A look at the bunkering on the right side

The Sixth is a 202 yard par 3.  Trees are very much in play here and limit the acceptable line of play while the green is multi-tiered, running from right to left.  The carved out trench-isn bunker on the left can be a pain if the pin is on that side.  I aimed for the front of the green and was ok, but had to go down a tier to get to the hole.  A very deceptively tough hole.

The Sixth

A closer look

The Seventh is a 391 yard par 4.  Trees line the entire left side while the fairway while there’s some scant room between the trees on the right side.  The fairway cants from right to left as well up to the green, which is, to be honest, hiding amongst the trees.  There is not a whole lot of room off the green and the right to left severity gets a little more and is the direction in which the green runs as well.  Coming from the left side is probably best, but that’s just my take.

The Seventh

Second shot territory

The green from the right side

The Eighth is a 558 yard par 5.  A longer par 5 is made a touch shorter since it’s downhill to the tee, which terraces before going downhill again to the green.  The green is tamer than most, but as it sits well below the fairway and is fairly shallow, distance control on the approach is a must.

The Eighth

Moving down the fairway

A look at the green

The Ninth is a 355 yard par 4.  Going back up the hill upon whence you just came, the hole plays longer than 355.  The hole bends right just a tad, with the green above the fairway.  I thought it was a tougher approach shot with the lie I had, and most shots will have similar, severe uphill lies.  The green runs hard along the hill as well, making front pin placements difficult to get to.

The Ninth

Approach shot territory

The front nine featured a lot of strong par 4’s, a very good pair of par 3’s and a memorable par 5 with the Third.  The greens add a lot of excitement, but the contours, bunkers and trees are all creatively incorporated.  I’d rank them 3, 4, 5, 7, 6, 2, 9, 8, 1.

The back nine starts with the 398 yard par 4 Tenth.  One of my favorite tee shots of the course with a nice view of the hills is to a fairway that’s angled from the tee.  A left to right ball flight off the tee helps, but to avoid going off the fairway on the left, you’ll have to take an aggressive line over the trees and bunkers on the right.  The fairway opens up all the way to the green, which is perched on a hill side and balls too far to either side will repel, bounce and roll much far from the green (OB is actually off to the right and very much in play).  A great par 4.  

The Tenth

Approach shot territory

The Eleventh is a 160 yard par 3.  It’s a drop shot par 3 where trees block out the right side with water along the left side of the green and a fairly large false front area short of the green.  The green is large, where the entire dynamic of the hole can change depending on pin position.  It’s a challenging drop shot par 3, mainly because you have to hit the green and even after that, you have your work cut out for you if you’re far from the hole.

The Eleventh.  The tee is right center, up the hill.

The Twelfth is a 341 yard par 4.  Another unique tee shot over water to a nice open left to right fairway which then bends to the right to the green that is a little pitched.

The Twelfth

Approach shot territory from the left side

The Thirteenth is a 403 yard par 4.  The tee shot is to an uphill fairway that then dips back down and sweeps to the right before jutting back up to one of the more challenging greens on the course, which is deep.  The approach shot is likely on the longer side and a lot depends on placement off the tee.  It’s a great hole.

The Thirteenth

Moving up the fairway

Approach shot territory

The Fourteenth is a 479 yard par 5.  A narrow fairway goes straight away to the green with trees lining both sides.  The green tilts from back to front and there are bunkers fronting the green.

The Fourteenth

Moving up the fairway

Approach shot territory

The Fifteenth is a 448 yard par 4.  A beast of a hole where the second shot will be a long one.  Trees line this fairway as well while the green is literally amongst the trees, so the approach shot is a tight fit.  No surprise this is the number 2 handicapped hole.

The Fifteenth

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory

The Sixteenth is a 130 yard par 3.  Donald Ross typically has a shorter par 3 and this one is a great one.  The green is elevated while a swarth of bunkers are carved into the hill where the green sits, protecting it on all sides.  And once you get to the green, it runs from the back to the front and in every other direction depending on the undulations.  A great example of a short par 3 done well.

The Sixteenth

The Seventeenth is a 515 yard par 5.  While the tee shot is to a wider fairway that slopes from left to right, trees line the fairway and narrow things down to the green.  The green is protected by trench bunkers on either side, with the opening of the green being on the right side.  The green and bunkers give this hole its character.

The Seventeenth

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory from the left side

The Eighteenth is a 348 yard par 4.  Another hole where a tree forces a lot more precision with the tee shot.  You can choose to go to the left of it, which dramatically lengthens the approach shot and runs the risk of running off the fairway into the trees on the left, you shape your shot around the tree, or try to go over it.  I went with option C and carried the tree, rewarded with a short approach into the green and made par.  It’s a great example of a risk reward hole.  After the tee shot, the fairway turns right and up to the green, which is fairly big yet undulating.  Probably my favorite par 4 and a great closing hole.

The Eighteenth

Moving down the fairway

The green

Another look from the back side

The back nine has a strong pair of par 3’s and every par 4 is very good.  The degree of involvement of the trees varied, but their use on the Eighteenth were brilliant.  Ranking them, I’d go 18, 13, 10, 16, 11, 15, 12, 14, 17.

Generally, Schuylkill Country Club is a very good Donald Ross design that features many of his well known traits, such as the bunkering and mounds, yet goes beyond these with its creative and effective incorporation of trees and outstanding greens.  The course is lots of fun, especially in firm and fast conditions.  An array of shots and skills are necessary to score well here while the paucity of forced carries makes it accessible to a broad range of skill levels.  The wooded, rolling terrain setting is ideal for golf and while many architects might have fallen in the trap of laying out a run of the mill parkland course, the design features mentioned above, as well as the routing, set this course apart in several ways and produced a handful of holes you won’t see any where else while the others have enough unique character to remain a distinct play.

You can say that Donald Ross spurred my interest in golf architecture.  In my review of Jeffersonville GC, I mention a little how I enjoyed playing the course so much that I looked into who designed the course so I can find courses of a similar design.  When I learned that the course was designed by Donald Ross and that there are thousands of courses by him, including some that are the best in the world, I became even more intrigued and the rest is history.  Thinking of why I enjoy Donald Ross courses so much, I think a lot of it has to do with how even what appears to be a standard hole is some how tweaked in a subtle way to make it one of a kind.  And this is done without using gimmicks or appendages, but is a combination of the demands of parkland courses with the creativity of links courses.  I can safely say I have not yet come across a Ross course I don’t like and SCC is yet another that is very good for several of the reasons I enjoy them as well as some unique features that set itself apart for the better.

Gripes:  There’s a road that provides some traffic noise at the Eighth green, Ninth tee, Twelfth green and Thirteenth tee.  It was enough to be noticeable, but most of the round is well away from it.

Bar/Grill:  A great patio area overlooking the First, Eighteenth and short game practice area and a very nice indoor area as well.

Clubhouse/Pro shop:  Fairly large with a lot of good stuff.  Nice course logo, so kudos to the shirt and hat game.

Practice area:  A smallish range and spectacular short game practice area and putting green.

Nearby:  Clueless here.  Looked like there was a bunch of places about ten minutes away.

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