Hickory Valley – The Presidential

6,290 yards, 132 slope from the Whites

Course:  In Gilbertsville, PA, Hickory Valley GC is about 45 minutes northwest of the Philadelphia area, in the same general area as Bella Vista.  Boasting two courses, the Presidential and the Ambassador, HV is in an out of the way location, so the area is fairly quiet and bucolic.  While the Ambassador was the first course on the property, the Presidential is widely regarded as the flagship course and for that reason, generally gets a lot more play.

The Presidential was built by Ron Prichard and opened in 1996.  Prichard designed TPC at Southwind in Memphis and is well known for his restorative work at Aronimink and, one of my favorites, Jeffersonville.  While Prichard is very adept at restoration work, there’s also a lot to like at his original design of Presidential.  A parkland course on moderate terrain, trees and forced carries shape most of the holes, with mounds and bunkers getting a lot more wild closer to the green.  Most of the tee shots were inviting, the shots to the green would vary considerably from hole to hole.  There are multiple severe dog legs and forced carries, yet almost no blind shots.  The course calls upon an array of different shots, but everything is out in front of you, to plan accordingly.  The greens are challenging and in some cases, are the main protection for the hole, ensuring that good ball strikers will not push the course around.  The trees attack and subside from hole to hole, but come into play in one way or another on pretty much every hole.  Apparently the course is set on an old nursery and this becomes more obvious as you get through the round and enjoy the scenery, which very much feels like a very nice, and big, park.

While there are a few holes that stand out and others that are still nice plays, most of the course doesn’t assert its identity to set itself apart from many of the other parkland courses in this area of the country.  Tree-lined holes with a forced carry to the green, dog leg with water or rough on the far side; most of it felt like I had played something similar before.  There doesn’t have to be anything wrong with that, as if the course routs well, presents varying degrees of challenge, thrill and fun, it is a solid layout even if you’ve encountered a lot of it some where else in the past.  That’s how I view the Presidential; a nice layout with sufficient challenge and fun, but overall there’s so many aspects of the course I could find fairly easy elsewhere, likely with a shorter drive.  But I would also play here over many other courses closer to me.  Its high points put it in the top half or third of public courses in the area, however, and the challenge it presents with some very good deals on green fees make it a terrific value course as well.

While I had played here for 36 holes when I was just starting to play several years ago, I had an opportunity to come back, with what I was hoping was a slightly better game and maybe a more discerning eye.  It was a rough 36 holes, hitting in to many of the water hazards, so I also wondered what type of scar tissue I would have from those rounds so many years ago.  Either way, I warmed up at the range, tried to clear my memory and stepped up to the First tee with all the best of intentions.

The First is a 340 yard par 4 (from the Whites).  A dog leg right where driver off the tee means you need to shape the ball off to the right or you will run out of fairway, trees form the hole on both sides.  After the turn, the fairway leads straight to the green, which falls off on the far side.  It’s a gentler opening hole.

The First

Approach shot territory

Closer look at the green

The Second is a 387 yard par 4.  Another dog leg right, but water is at the outside of the turn, running up to the green.  A ridge is off to the right at the turn, so a little more precision is needed to make sure you have a nice look at the green on your approach.  The green has longer trench type bunkers on either side and runs from back to front, with some undulations mixed in as well.  It’s a much more complex green from the First and is more in line with what to expect form the greens for the rest of the round.

The Second

Approach shot territory from the inside of the dog leg

A look at the green from off to the left side

The Third is a 354 yard par 4.  A hole that is straight away with trees closer on the right side while rough is over on the left.  Cross bunkers occupy the front of the green and narrow its opening, which is slightly raised and runs from right to left.  The green complex is a good one and certainly makes the approach and putting a little more demanding.

The Third

Approach shot territory

A closer look at the green

The Fourth is a 521 yard par 5.  The first par 5 is a challenging one, as trees and bunkers narrow the tee landing area.  A forced carry closer to the green makes it necessary to get your ball as close as possible to it in two shots in order to have a manageable approach shot.  That means there is little margin for error on the first two shots.  Of course, I had 200+ yards for my third shot because I was tangles up in the one of my bunkers, but got my ball over the forced carry anyways.  The green runs from back to front and bunkers are on either side of it.  A fairly challenging, brawny hole.

The Fourth

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory

The Fifth is a 137 yard par 3.  A shorter par 3 with a forced carry over water, the pin position influences a lot, as anything over to the left being the water directly in play while over to the right brings the bunkers more into play.  Anything over the green will not be in good shape.  The green runs from back to front and is severe enough that it’s exponentially more beneficial to stay below the hole.

The Fifth

The Sixth is a 465 yard par 5.  The trees subside on this hole and you’re left with a wide open dog leg right, with a forced carry tee shot over long grass and bunkers on the inside of the dog leg.  After the turn, there’s another forced carry over to the green, that has bunkers below it on either side.  A shorter par 5, but the forced carries and dog leg ensure that a measure of ball striking and course management is necessary to score well.

The Sixth

Moving down the fairway, in the tee landing area

A look at the green off to the left

The Seventh is a 141 yard par 3.  A forced carry over water to a green that runs perpendicular to the tee with bunkers on the far left side.  A pin position off to the right turns this into a risk-reward hole, with taking on more of the water resulting in getting closer to the pin while safer shots off to the left mean more work to be done on the green.  The green runs from right to left and back to front.

The Seventh

The Eighth is a 390 yard par 4.  Very similar to the Sixth, it’s a dog leg right with a forced carry to the green, which is elevated above the fairway.  Your tee shot has to clear the trees on the right so you have a clean look at the green.

The Eighth

Approach shot territory

The Ninth is a 362 yard par 4.  An elevated tee to a fairway beset by trees on both sides and a line of bunkers bisecting the fairway, challenging you from the tee.  The hole then dog legs right with a forced carry to the green at an angle.  While the forced carry approach shots begin to feel repetitive, at least there are different looks and distances for each.  The green is fairly large and falls off towards the right side.

The Ninth

Approach shot territory

The front nine is on fairly mile terrain and features a number of forced carries and dog legs.  Trees factor in to varying degrees depending on the hole.  The setting is nicely parkland and quiet, with the holes separated from each other well very well.  Ranking them, I’d go 4, 9, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 3, 1.

The back nine starts with the 428 yard par 4 Tenth.  Another dog leg right with trees and bunkers along the right side and a wilder than normal green, which is multi-tiered.

The Tenth

A closer look at the green

The Eleventh is a 188 yard par 3.  A longer par 3 with one of the only blind tee shots on the course, this par 3 has a large false front before reaching the green, so hitting it longer than you think is usually a good idea.  The green moves from right to left and should be accounted for off the tee as well.

The Eleventh

The Twelfth is a 362 yard par 4.  Things narrow considerably here with an imposing tree-lined fairway.  The green is slightly elevated, moving from left to right.  One thing I noticed on this hole, which applies to many of them, is that hitting just off green makes the hole a lot more difficult, as the slopes or rough do not provide a lot of relief for those shots.  Hitting to the high side of every green is probably the best approach to minimize the bumps and rolls you get after the ball lands.  Here, that is prevalent, as any shot over to the right will go off green and roll over to the tree line.

The Twelfth

Approach shot territory

The Thirteenth is a 369 yard par 4.  The trees continue to tighten on this dog leg right, which has a semi-forced carry to the green where bunkers encroach on the left.  There are bunkers on the far right of the green, so there is a modicum of precision necessary for a safe approach shot.

The Thirteenth

Approach shot territory

The Fourteenth is a 528 yard par 5.  A tree line runs along the entire left side of the hole while the fairway slopes from the left to right.  Trees on the right begin to come in to the mix near the approach shot to a green that is slightly elevated and is protected by bunkers on either side.  Use the first two shots to position yourself for the best approach and anyone that wants to go for the green in two, I would aim for the front of or just short of the green.

The Fourteenth

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory

The Fifteenth is a 112 yard par 3.  A short par 3 with a forced carry over water to a green that runs from back to front.  It seemed like the easiest hole on the course when we reached the tee and the scorecard confirms it.  Just don’t top your tee shot into the water and make the hole harder than it needs to be, like some people I know…

The Fifteenth

The Sixteenth is a 420 yard par 4.  The course website boasts that the last three holes are as good as anywhere else and I’d agree they’re good.  The holes switch back and forth over a creek, which comes into play at various points of each hole.  Here, it’s in play only as a forced carry off the tee to fairway surrounded by trees on both sides.  The corridor continues to the green, which is elevated with a larger bunker protecting the front side.  I almost wish we saw more green complexes like this on the course, as it undulates, invites various angles and flights into the green and allows for interesting recovery shots for those just off the green.  

The Sixteenth

The Seventeenth is a 451 yard par 5.  The tee shot is another narrow one through a chute formed by trees to a fairway that abruptly ends at the aforementioned creek.  The tee shot is this critical to get our ball in a position to get over the creek on the next shot, while longer hitters may have a chance at getting over the creek off the tee.  If your tee shot is in good position, then you have a lot of discretion in figuring out how you would like to attack the green, as there really isn’t anything impeding your progress.  So figure out what distances you’re comfortable with and execute.  Again, however, it’s all set up with the tee shot.

The Seventeenth

Second shot territory, at the end of the first fairway

Approach shot territory

The Eighteenth is a 335 yard par 4.  The fairway is much wider than the last two holes to a fairway that is set to the left a little.  The approach shot is a forced carry over the creek, which widens a lot more and requires a healthy shot over.  There really is little room for mis-hits on the approach.  The green has a ridge through it and seemed to have a few quadrants where balls end up and putting across and over it is a challenge.

The Eighteenth.  The late summer shadows are making their presence known in these photos

Approach shot territory

The back nine is a little flatter and milder terrain-wise than the front and trees impose themselves a bit more as well.  The last three holes are a nice finish that emphasize different aspects of the game.  I’d rank them 18, 16, 17, 11, 14, 10, 13, 12, 15.

In general, the Presidential is a strong showing of a prototypical parkland course that presents an enjoyable and fairly challenging round.  The course does not overly rely on a single design feature and while some are more prevalent than others, it avoids becoming redundant.  The conditions were nice and the greens had some complexity to them, all of which made it a solid play.

Gripes:  The front nine doesn’t return to the clubhouse, but there is a halfway house after the Tenth.  It was closed, even though it was pretty hot on the day I played and since I was walking the course, was fairly agitated.  The grounds crew seemed to think their work was more important than what anyone else was doing on the course.  Sprinklers left on wetting bunkers and greens as you’re playing them, driving lawnmowers, etc. directly behind us and a terrible temporary tee made all detracted from the round.

Bar/Grill:  There’s an indoor area with a television.  It’s a standard set up.

Clubhouse/Pro Shop:  Kind of in the same area as the bar area and has a decent set up with soft and hard goods.

Practice area:  A range on mats along with a putting green.

Nearby:  While the course seems to be amongst farm land, it’s near Ridge Avenue, closer to Bella Vista GC and Route 422, which has a number of shops and restaurants.

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