Morgan Hill GC

6,407 yards, 130 slope from the Greens

Course:  In Easton, PA lies Morgan Hill, emphasis on the hill.  The course is set on a severe piece of property with frequent elevation changes that yields a variety of lies, bumps and rolls, as well as some breathtaking scenery uncommon for our area.

As the last review of 2016, I finally found one of the hidden public gems in the area that is likely the best value you’ll find.  While the course architect, Kelly Blake Moran (nearby Lederach is his as well), faced the challenge of not only building the course on such hilly terrain but also navigating amongst a residential development, Moran succeeded in showcasing the advantages of the terrain, which results in a fun and unique play, with challenging greens yet inviting fairways and a layout that rewards course knowledge and short game acumen.  The views of Lehigh Valley on the back nine are worth the price of admission as well.  I really liked the green complexes and found them amongst some of the best in the Philadelphia area public course scene.  The variety of lies, which ranged from the ball being significantly above or below your feet, even on the fairway, added a component of challenge, especially to greens that appeared to menace above you.  The bunkering also gets a mention for its creativity in shapes and placement.  Overall, Morgan Hill is a bold design that takes advantage of its hilly terrain resulting in its own unique and interesting identity.

I have wanted to play Morgan Hill for a number of years, yet had never made the trek to the course.  Perhaps it was worth the wait because the course changed ownership recently and set out to improve the course in a number of ways, including some tree removal, filling in some bunkers, spacing out tee times and putting GPS in the carts.  These changes were focused on speeding up play and increasing its playability.  Oftentimes, these types of changes run the risk of eroding the identity and unique features of a course, but any changes that were made didn’t seem to have that effect.  Frankly, I’m unaware of what was changed because I hadn’t played the course before the changes, but at no point did I feel the course was a pushover or bland.  Really, it ended up meeting my expectations and in line with what I had heard form others.  Based on my round, it is welcomed into my top 20 rankings.

The First is a 475 yard par 4 (from the Greens).  The opening tee shot is along a ridge line on the side of a hill that dog legs hard to the right, dips down before a false front goes back uphill a little to the green.  The tee shot can easily go through the fairway so it’s easier to either shape it left to right and/or try to carry the drop off on the right and cut the dog leg for a shorter approach.  The green has a lot of movement left to right, but is inviting enough for an opening hole.

The First

Just short of the green

Looking back at the fairway from the green

The Second is a 403 yard par 4.  Going back in the direction in which you came on the First and still along the hillside, the hole is straightaway albeit narrower and with a lot more slope from right to left.  A bunker on the right comes into play off the tee and the green is on the smaller side.  With the second shot likely being a difficult one with a tricky lie, par can be a challenge here.

The Second

Moving up the fairway

The green

The Third is a 226 yard par 3.  A longer par 3 with the green slightly below the tee, there is a large false front primarily on the left side that trickles down to the green, all of it moving from left to right. Short game acumen is good to have for this hole, as most who can’t reach the green have multiple options in using the green complex to scramble for par.  One thought I had here is I’d like to see the tree line on the right taken out to open up the right to left shot as an option from the tee as well.  With the length of the hole, I think it would add more possibilities and creativity.  The first three holes certainly set the tone for the challenge and creativity you can expect throughout the round.

The Third

The Fourth is a 421 yard par 4.  The tee shot is a shorter forced carry to the fairway, which runs at an angle from 4:00 to 11:00, perpendicular from the tee.  The fairway also runs downhill, so hitting the right spot on the fairway means you’ll see a good bit of roll.  The fairway dog legs left to the green, while bunkers are off to the right and the green runs from right to left.  A little more discretion than the prior holes in how to attack the green and the tree line in the distance is a nice backdrop.

The Fourth

Approach shot territory

The Fifth is a 524 yard par 5.  A dog leg right that’s uphill the whole time.  Bunkers are nestled on the outside of the dogleg to the right and then protect the green on the short side.  With the elevation, this hole is a beast and you need 3 healthy belts to get the ball on in regulation.  The green runs from back to front, with a lot of short grass on the left side.  Anything above the hole will be infinitely more difficult to handle.

The Fifth

Moving up the fairway

The green

The Sixth is a 410 yard par 4.  A dog leg right that slopes severely from left to right, so much so that aiming for the trees off the left side is a good idea.  If the tee shot is caught correctly, you should see a nice amount of roll towards the hole.  The green is slightly pitched and falls off on the right side, so just like the tee shot, aiming left and having the ball trickle to the right is usually the best play.  It should be a good scoring hole for many.

The Sixth

Looking to the right on the tee

Back right of the tee is the clubhouse

Approach shot territory

The Seventh is a 186 yard par 3.  A drop shot par 3 to a narrow yet deep green, running from right to left, with bunkers encroaching on both sides.  You should pray your ball ends up in a bunker if hit off to the left; otherwise it may be jail.  Equally worse is above and to the right of the green, where there is some short grass, which requires finesse to get the ball to even stay on the green with the slope working away from you.  It’s a great par 3 that leans on your ball striking, or your scrambling acumen.

The Seventh

The Eighth is a 331 yard par 4.  A great shorter par 4 that presents a lot of options off the tee to the fairway below, which turns right and then then climbs back uphill to the green.  Shorter off the tee is safer, but leaves a much more difficult approach shot while taking more risk off the tee, flirting with the drop off on the left and trench bunker on the right, means a shorter, much more manageable approach shot to a blind green, that essentially runs from left to right from the center, then right to left towards the fairway from the center.  A great hole.

The Eighth

Approach shot territory

The Ninth is a 142 yard par 3.  A forced carry over a ravine with bunkers protecting the front and back right.  The green moves right to left, towards the hill side.  The green is also wide yet shallow, so get your distance control dialed in and stay out of the bunkers, which will make this exponentially more difficult, especially the ones on the back right.

The Ninth

A look off to the left of the green

Generally, the front nine is the more subdued of the two, but its par 3’s are great and there are a few great par 4’s.  The middle holes lagged for me a little while the first and last few left an impression, but each one was distinct and presented its own challenges.  I’d rank them 8, 7, 2, 1, 3, 5, 9, 6, 4.

The back nine starts with the 357 yard par 4 Tenth.  One of my favorite holes on the course, the elevated tee to a downhill fairway with trees lining the left side and the fairway canting from left to right.  The approach shot is to a well protected and hidden green amongst mounds that is wide and shallow, also running from right to left.  Aiming for the left side of the green always seems like it would be a good idea based on the slope.  Water is off to the right near the green.  The views in the background are expansive for this area and I really enjoyed the shape and topography of the hole.

The Tenth

Approach shot territory

The green

The Eleventh is a 406 yard par 4.  The severity of the terrain starts to assert itself a little more here, as the tee shot is to a fairway that drops suddenly downward to the green.  It also turns to the right.  The signs warning you about houses and telling you not to hit driver or aim to the right are off-putting and are an indication that houses were built too close, but hitting the fairway to maximize roll is fun, which should ideally leave you with a shorter pitch to the terraced green.

The Eleventh

Approach shot territory

Looking back to the rather hilly fairway from the green to the tee

Another look

The Twelfth is a 182 yard par 3.  A dramatic drop shot par to a larger green that is semi-visible from the tee.  In fact, there’s really no area off the green to miss, but there’s enough area to be a manageable shot.  The view continues to be terrific in the background as you descend to the bottom of the hill.

The Twelfth

A closer look at the green

View of the background

The Thirteenth is a 488 yard par 5.  You start to climb back up the hill and the fairway is uphill all the way to the green, which is set on the left side, running from right to left.  A nice wide fairway and a good scoring opportunity, coming nicely in sequence from the last three narrowish holes.

The Thirteenth

The Fourteenth is a 196 yard par 3.  A longer uphill par 3 to a semi blind green that’s much deeper than it looks from the tee.  There’s really no tolerance horizontally, with OB off to the left and a bunker on the right.  The green has lots of shape to it, including a fall off area on the front left before the bunker.  The green generally runs from back to front.  A challenging par 3 that demands plenty from your long game, yet comes at the right point in the round.

The Fourteenth

The Fifteenth is a 508 yard par 5.  Welcome to Morgan Hill.  Probably the most extreme hole on the course in terms of slope, the tee shot is out to a fairway that is pretty much a cliff going left to right.  I don’t know if you can aim left enough.  If you hit the fairway, you’re rewarded with the ball significantly below your feet.  The good news is the green and rest of the fairway is below you and dog legging to the right, so a good shot is rewarded with a shorter club into the green.  The slope of the fairway is so severe, however, that I doubt most with be able to pull off the right shot.  At least I didn’t.  Nor did I pull off the next few.  Just get the ball to where the fairway levels off so you have a good shot to the green, which provides enough reprieve for what came before.  It’s a challenging second shot for sure.

The Fifteenth

A look at the green
Views from the tee

More views

The Sixteenth is a 387 yard par 4.  A terrific hole that utilizes the severe slope of the hillside a little better than the Fifteenth, this dog leg left slopes from right left fairly healthily, leaving a tricky shot to a hidden green that sits atop a valley resting between it and the fairway.  As you climb towards the green, you get to what I believe is the highest point of the course, with spectacular views of the Lehigh Valley as you manage the green.  It’s a great layout, with the green being deep and narrow, rumpling across a little and running from right to left.

The Sixteenth

A look at the left side from the tee

Approach shot territory

Looking out to the left from the fairway

A closer look at the green

Great views up here

The photos don’t capture how inspiring it is up at this point; you feel like you’re level with the clouds

The Seventeenth is a 409 yard par 4.  Going back downhill, the marvelous view from the tee continues the charm of this course, as the fairway turns slightly right and is tree-lined on both sides.  There are bunkers on the left side hidden from the tee, so keep those in mind, as well as the fact your ball will roll a lot once it lands.  The fairways bounds down to the green, which is contoured nicely and has a cut out area off to the right, which provides a lot of safety, but leaves you with a delicate shot to the pin running away from you.  Another great hole.

The Seventeenth

My favorite view

Another look

The green

A look back at the fairway

The Eighteenth is a 356 yard par 4.  The tee shot is blind and is to what is best described as a grass wall.  You hit over it and on to a fairway that turns left a little to a narrow and deep green protected by bunkers on both sides.  It’s a nice closing hole that strikes the balance of challenge and scoring opportunity well.  After you putt out, look behind you and drink in the view one more time.

The Eighteenth

A view of the course off to the left of the tee

Approach shot territory

Another splendid view, this one on the other side of the hill

Generally, the back nine punctuates the character of this course and is where we see the severity of the property, along with the benefits of that from an aesthetic and playability perspective.  A very fun and unique nine holes that I would rank 10, 16, 17, 18, 13, 14, 12, 11, 15.

Morgan Hill is a terrific course that certainly boosts the portfolio of the Philadelphia area’s public course scene.  The hilly terrain is used dramatically yet creates a fun, exciting and at times challenging round that likely plays differently from round to round and rewards repeat play.  It boldly asserts itself as unique, all to the benefit of the player.  It certainly is one of the best values you’ll find as well.

Gripes:  There is no driving range.  While they’re actively doing what they can, crowds can become an issue here.  Not a gripe, but if you like to walk, make sure you’re in shape before taking this course on.  The Eleventh signs and houses off to the right are not ideal.

Bar/Grill:  A nice indoor area and an outdoor covered patio with a nice view overlooking the First and Eighteenth.  It appears to be some where non-golfers come to eat and drink as well.

Clubhouse/Pro Shop:  Nicely stocked, nothing one way or another on it.

Practice area:  Not much; I’m not even sure there’s a practice green.  There are nearby driving ranges, though.

Nearby:  You have Easton, Phillipsburg, Lafayette College, etc., so there’s a good amount of stuff that the Lehigh Valley has to offer.

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