Laurel Creek CC

6,564 yards, 142 slope from the Blues

Course:  In Mt. Laurel, New Jersey is Laurel Creek CC, a private course designed by Arnold Palmer in 1988.  Laurel Creek is a better known course in the area and I had heard good things before finally having a chance to play it.  I really didn’t know all that much about its characteristics other than it was a nicer club in Southern NJ, but it’s known for its strong course, as opposed to its ostentatious clubhouse or impressive member list.  Based on the number of other Palmer courses I had played and really enjoyed (Silver Rock and Bear Creek stick out), I jumped at the chance for a round when the opportunity presented itself.

It would turn out that the timing of the round would have a lot more significance than I had anticipated.  Arnold Palmer ended up passing away shortly before the round.  His death was a major loss to the golfing world and in many ways, the end of an era.  Palmer popularized golf to unimagined heights for many reasons.  Always unassuming, accessible and charming, Palmer appealed to the masses, in turn making the game more appealing to a bigger sector of the population.  Coupled with the advent of televised tournaments on a regular basis, Palmer embraced his role as an ambassador to the game and never wavered from being personable and approachable.  With his unique swing and persona, it was fun to root for Palmer and he responded in kind with some dramatic victories.

Like many, I was a big Arnold Palmer fan.  I loved his cavalier attitude on the course that was a lot more calculated than it appeared.  My first golf bag was an Arnold Palmer bag, which some how made an impression.  As he aged, two things struck me about him as very poignant.  I remember Nicklaus talking about him once and how much Palmer loved golf.  Nicklaus would invite him fishing or whatever and Palmer would decline, telling him it would take him away from playing a few rounds.  He truly loved playing the game and as he became older, I remember him being very open about how frustrating it was to start losing his game, despite loving it so.  It happens to us all, but watching mortality work its ways with someone who had used his passion and talents for so long and gave us all as much as he could was sad to see.

Of course, Palmer took his love of the game to course architecture and there are several outstanding courses to his credit.  As I drove in to the course that day, I couldn’t help noticing the flag was at half mast.  And before we all drove off to whatever hole we were starting the tournament on, we all had a moment of silence for the man that likely resonated with us all in some way, many of us without actually ever meeting him, because of the common bond we all have with this game.

Perhaps it was fitting that the course was one of the better Palmer designed courses I had played.  Considering the time frame of when it was built, the course was certainly ahead of its time in that it broke away from the mantra that course length trumped all and instead emphasized options and variety with a visually impactful course that is challenging without being overly penal, all resulting in an enjoyable round in a spacious setting.  Contours of the existing terrain bend and twist on rolling terrain amidst extensive bunkering and forced carries over water, with trees framing corridors on a few occasions.  When all was said and done, I felt that LC is one of the more well thought out courses I have played that were designed by Mr. Palmer.

So as we all traversed the course and settled in to our starting holes, we celebrated Arnold Palmer how I at least like to think he’d want most of us to; play a round of golf with good company and have a good time.  While it was my first time meeting the fine gentlemen I played with, we became fast friends in large part discussing the course that Palmer built for such occasions decades before.

The First is a 410 yard par 4 (from the Blues).  From the opening shot, the serenity and beauty of the course are immediately apparent.  The elevated tee shot is a forced carry over water with a risk reward depending on how much you try to carry of the water.  The approach shot is to a bottleneck green with bunkers on the right and mounds are on the left.  The tee shot really determines most on this hole, as the approach is manageable.

One thing you notice is the row of upscale houses lining the right side of the hole.  The course is in a housing development, so it’s something you’ll notice throughout the round.  There are those that feel houses on a course some how detract from its character and the enjoyment of the round and I may agree with that depending on the course.  But it’s something that never really bothers me and there are so many courses with houses on them, including Pasatiempo, Harbour Town, Pebble Beach and Riviera.  In fact, some times the houses can be interesting in their own right and add to the experience.  At Laurel Creek, the houses were never anything I took notice of either way, although a guy in our foursome ended up nailing one pretty hard on a tee shot.  At any rate, most courses rely on the housing for its revenue and membership and add to the community it’s trying to foster.  How the course and houses interact together is always part of the design effort and a much bigger factor in the success of a course than it would be in an ideal world.

The First

Another look from the tee

Approach shot territory

The Second is a 365 yard par 4.  Another forced carry tee shot over a bushy ravine to a wide fairway. The trees on either side intimidate more than anything else; there’s plenty of room for the tee shot.  The approach shot is of more concern, as the fairway rises to the green with contours, bumps and nooks wrapping around it primarily on the right side.  There’s also a deep bunker complex directly in front of the green you need to carry on the approach.  The green is large enough, but undulates significantly and I was seeing a lot of movement not immediately apparent.

The Second

Approach shot territory

The Third is a 156 yard par 3.  The green is slightly elevated from the tee and is set at an angle almost perpendicularly from the tee.  There are bunkers between the tee and green while plenty of bail out room is off to the left.  It’s safer to go off to the left, but will leave you with a longer putt or chip.  Going for the pin means you need to carry the bunkers, so take more club than you think.  I know this more experience.

The Third

The Fourth is a 391 yard par 4.  A blind tee shot to a fairway off to the right of the tee.  The fairway is wide, so lining up the tee shot is the biggest challenge and you should get some roll since the fairway starts a little downhill to the green.  Leading up to the green things get interesting, with the fairway jutting up on the left and the green is well protected by bunkers, its slope from right to left and back to front and its smaller size.  The course is wide open at this point, which probably makes it quite interesting when the wind kicks up.

The Fourth

Approach shot territory

A closer look at the green

The Fifth is a 503 yard par 5.  The tee shot is similar to the Fourth in that the fairway is set off to the right, but this tee shot is a forced carry over water, which encroaches on the left side a little up the fairway.  The second shot is more likely than not blind because the fairway starts downhill, then curls to the left towards the green.  There’s lots of leeway in where to place the approach shot, and using the downhill slope is also an option.  The peninsula green is surrounded by water except for on the front side and again, be mindful of the movement from front to back, towards the water.  It was a fun par 5.

The Fifth

Moving down the fairway, with the green off to the left

Approach shot territory

The Sixth is a 414 yard par 4.  An almost identical tee shot to the Fifth, it’s a forced carry over water, with the fairway more set straightaway from the tee.  Based on the length of the hole, a well hit tee shot is crucial to score well here.  Hitting wayward into one of the bunkers is no good, nor is hitting in the rough.  The green is fairly large, but there is a false front that makes it seem like there’s a lot more room and could lure you into ending up well short of the pin.  It should be an easier hole but will get difficult in a hurry if your ball striking is off.

The Sixth

Approach shot territory

A look at the green

A little closer look

The Seventh is a 187 yard par 3.  A challenging par 3 where there isn’t a whole lot of safe places to end up off the green.  First, there’s a forced carry over water, then there’s a large bunker complex extending along almost the entire front of the green.  The green is wide but shallow, perpendicular to the tee area.  Once on the green, getting it in the hole is a project, as it runs from left to right and is hilly.  The course started to pick up interested for me here.

The Seventh

The Eighth is a 339 yard par 4.  This shorter par 4 is a forced carry over native grass and good luck figuring out where to hit if you haven’t played here before.  Thankfully we had someone in our group who had and the answer is the green is off to the left, although there’s plenty of room straight and right even though it makes the approach longer.  By going left, you can end up with a nice wedge into the green.  Oftentimes, driver may be too much club though.  It’s a nice short par 4.

The Eighth

Approach shot territory

Looking back at the tee area from the fairway

The Ninth is a 535 yard par 5.  It’s probably my favorite hole of the course.  The tee shot gives you two fairways to choose from; the safer option on the left to the a fairway that dog legs right to the green, or to the right, which is a longer carry, but sets up a much shorter and better look approach shot.  Whatever you do, don’t hit it straight, which either ends up in water or a large bunker complex. And too far left will get wet too.  I decided to go up the left, which was a indeed a safe shot and allowed me to figure out what type of approach I wanted, albeit my options were limited because you’re still pretty far from the green.  You can also choose to attack the hole from the safer, left side, or challenge the water on the right for a shorter distance to the green.  The green is large, but undulates fiercely and due to its size, three-putting is likely typical.  Because of its scenery, options, challenge and variety, this is one of the better holes on the course.

The Ninth

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory

A look at the green

Generally, the front nine starts off nice enough but the latter holes are when the course really starts to set itself apart from others and the fun really kicks in.  The par 5’s really stand out, as does the short par 4 and the second par 3.  Ranking them, I’d go, 9, 5, 7, 8, 1, 2, 4, 6, 3.

The back nine starts with the 404 yard par 4 Tenth.  The tee shot landing area is a little smaller than it looks, as trees and a bunker on he left confine things a bit.  The fairway proceeds a little uphill before dipping to the green, with a bunker complex on the right short of the green, then another greenside on the left.  A hole that should be relatively scoreable but gets tough in a hurry if you miss to either side.

The Tenth

Approach shot territory

The Eleventh is a 385 yard par 4.  The tee shot is a forced carry over long grass and is some what blind, with rough on the left and a drop off on the right side.  The approach shot is challenging because the green is surrounded by water except for on the left, where there’s a bunker.  I found it to be one of the more challenging holes on the course and looking at the scorecard, indeed it’s the number 1 handicapped hole.

The Eleventh
Approach shot territory

The Twelfth is a 420 yard par 4.  Another forced carry tee shot framed by trees on both sides, very similar to the Second.  The fairway is set more to the left with a good amount of rough on the right side.  There is ample room from the fairway to the green and it should be a relatively easy hole so long as your approach is just in the vicinity of the green.  Another hole that I could see becoming very interesting with the wind.

The Twelfth

Moving up the fairway

The green

The Thirteenth is a 374 yard par 4.  A challenging hole and one of the few that’s not a forced carry from the tee, the fairway is narrower than usual and the approach shot is very exacting.  Bunkers on the left front and a very small opening from the fairway off to the right makes it necessary to attack the green aerially and with another bunker on the far side, there’s no room to miss off the green.  Yet another hole that would be great in the wind, this one is a handful without it.

The Thirteenth
Approach shot territory

The Fourteenth is a 157 yard par 3.  The shot is completely blind and a forced carry over lush vegetation.  The green is actually quite large and runs from left to right and back to front, fairly quickly.  It’s much better to be in front of the hole than above it.  This is certainly a pressure shot and you need to get the ball within the pin distance to avoid a big number.

The Fourteenth

The green from the front

The Fifteenth is a 510 yard par 5.  Another great par 5 where the tee shot is over water and long grass to the fairway, set over on the left side.  Moving up the fairway is safe enough on the left, but an enormous bunker complex is on the right, challenging anyone going for the green from further out.  The false front and green are large, so those that are able to carry the bunkers on the right are rewarded while those who stay on the left side have a nice clear look at the green from that angle.  The risk reward aspect of the hole and its sight lines make it a nice hole on the course.

The Fifteenth, from the left side

From the Blue tees

Moving up the fairway

The green

The Sixteenth is a 405 yard par 4.  The fairway rises then falls to the green, making most tee shots blind.  The hole is straightaway, with OB on the left and a small area of rough on the right before houses and OB.  While the fairway sits above the deep but narrow green, “bunker ponds” surround it on all sides.  I call them ponds because they cover so much surface area and reside amongst and between mounds.  So hitting the green is all important here and if your approach is from a less than ideal lie, you might want to lay up short.  A nice challenging hole for sure.

The Sixteenth

Approach shot territory

The Seventeenth is a 199 yard par 3.  The toughest par 3 on the course, as well as the longest, there is a smaller corridor in which tee shots are allowed to fly at the green and there really is no acceptable landing area except for on the green.  So a longer shot that you must finesse and land with a good amount of precision is all you need here for a shot at par.  The elevated tee helps some what with distance and getting the ball up in the air and over the trees.  No doubt about it, it’s a tough hole where par will feel well earned.

The Seventeenth

A closer look

The Eighteenth is a 410 yard par 4.  The forced carry tee shot should be center to left center since too far right is dead and you need to clear the trees on the right to get a clear look at the green.  The green is a little elevated and a longer than usual approach shot awaits.  There’s a lot of room to work with short of the green, but the fairway and green narrow considerably, so really there isn’t any where to miss laterally.  There are lots of assorted bumps and undulations on and near the green, so take those into account as you try to figure out how to get the ball close to the hole.

Closing the round out on the Eighteenth, with the Ninth hole off to the left, gives you a nice look back at the area.  For the first time, it struck me how prevalent water was throughout the round, along with other wetland areas and moderate use of trees.  It’s a peaceful part of the property and a good one to end the round, with the clubhouse a short drive over, well, more water.

The Eighteenth

Approach shot territory

A look at the green

A closer look at the all the slopes and undulations

Generally the back nine was a little more interesting and tougher than the front, with the par 5’s being terrific and a few of the par 4’s sticking out.  The par 3’s were tough one shotters and in no way served as a reprieve for the other holes.  I’d rank them 15, 11, 13, 18, 16, 10, 12, 17, 14.

In general, Laurel Creek is a challenging, visually pleasing course that seems to strike a good balance of emphasizing forgiving and tougher areas as the round progresses.  A strong tee game is necessary to have any decent score while ball striking is more important than a good short game, simply because most holes don’t offer much forgiveness if you hit off the green and those that do give you a lot of room to work with.  There were several holes that seemed to be designed to accommodate the wind, although others, like the Seventeenth, would play almost a stroke more in those conditions.  Bunkers were relied on a lot yet creatively.  Most of all, the tranquil setting made for a nice round, even with houses in many areas, which seemed able to offer solace to those who may not have played their best, assuring all of enjoying themselves for a few hours.

Gripes:  The range is a good walk from the clubhouse and we weren’t able to drive out carts over there for some reason, which was not all that convenient.  In looking back at the course, there are a few more holes than I remember where I only feel lukewarm about.  The holes I liked really outshine the rest, however.

Bar/Grill:  Nice areas both inside and out to enjoy yourself after the round.

Clubhouse/Pro Shop:  The club logo is a little vanilla, but the shop has a nice selection of equipment and apparel, including some collector item stuff from the most recent Ryder Cup.

Practice area:  A large putting green, a separate short game area and a nice large grass range with various hitting areas.

Nearby:  Mt. Laurel has most anything you’d be looking for, while the rest of south NJ, including Haddonfield, are nice to visit.