After skipping a year with a recap, looking back on the 2016 golf year for PGG shows a focus on quality over quantity and a realigning of old favorites. Admittedly, the free time I had in 2016 was less than in years past, so all in all 2016 was about making the most of the time I had out on the course while making sure the one golf vacation I had this year was one for the ages. Golf-wise, it was a streaky year for me, playing very good golf for months but running into two periods of the swing kind of falling apart on me. While I saw big plans for a huge drop in my handicap that never came to fruition, even though I did get to my lowest index ever. And even though the travel was down, some new states were knocked off the list! I guess you can say 2016 was about trying to golf while dealing with a busier work schedule and kids getting older, something I’m sure a lot of you deal with. With limited time for golf, learning to maximize the time you have, at a course you know you’ll enjoy, is one of the mainstays of this blog and hopefully helps in deciding where you’d like to spend that precious time on the course.
So here are some highlights of 2016 and a few things I noticed throughout my time on courses in the area throughout the year.
States played in:
Favorite public round locally at a course I played for the first time
Morgan Hill Golf Club. The severity of the terrain combined with the boldness of the design results in a course that allows for a variety of bounces and rolls, calculating how to get close to the hole a number of different ways. The views on the back nine are some of the best of the Philadelphia area public scene and all of this is at a tremendous value. There’s a lot to like here and as my first time was when the trees were in their autumn colors, was one of the highlights of last season.
Honorable mention goes to Twisted Dune. Over the years, I had hears a lot of good things about the course so I was a little concerned it wouldn’t live up to all the good recommendations, but I found it to be a much more complex course than I was expecting with very good routing. The design allows for high winds, yet still plays well without it. I was impressed with how familiar it felt to a links course. In this case, do believe the hype.
Favorite Philly round of the year. As is the case in past years, Glen Mills and Jeffersonville are exempt from this accolade. I play the majority of my public rounds at these two courses and I can easily recall a number of rounds at both courses that could win this one. While Glen Mills continues to maintain its stellar reputation with great conditioning, limited crowds, a serene setting and engaging Bobby Weed design, Jeffersonville keeps improving in every way. It’s my sentimental favorite, although the two are like kids to me, I could never choose one over the other.
With that said, my favorite Philly round of the year was at a course I didn’t review; LedgeRock GC. LedgeRock is a private course about an hour west of Philly in the Morgantown area that I had no idea existed until last year. It’s a Rees Jones design. Once I was able to play it, I really liked it, for its distinct character of emphasizing contours and mounds over trees, which frees up lines of play and also allows for some spectacular views. It’s a challenging course, but is in no way penal and its ability to entertain a variety of different plays makes it enjoyable and engaging.
Honorable mention goes to Lederach. I always enjoy the course when I play it and just before the Fourth of July, I played a solo round on a h-o-t day, which actually emptied the course. After an eye opening lesson, I was looking forward to getting out of a swing funk and this round was when it happened. The ball was going where I wanted, putts were falling and the frustration I had on the course for a couple months washed away. I would have destroyed my PB, but of course I realized it and tripled the last two holes! It was just a great round and one of the rare times golf loved me back.
Most improved course
I’m putting Jeffersonville here. It was just ranked as one of the best public courses in Pennsylvania and seeing firsthand how the conditions have continued to improve, the course removed a lot of trees this past year that also improved the quality of the round. Green fees continue to remain reasonable and really, it is one of the most, if not the best, examples of a spectacular classic municipal course.
Biggest surprise that most except locals probably don’t know about
Bensalem CC. In full disclosure, I first played here in 2015 when me and my buddy were simply trying to find some where to play that was a halfway point for us. I liked it, so went back in 2016 for an early morning round to check it out again. The best way to put it is I paid attention to the course a lot more the second time and I really liked it. The trees constrain it a little too much in places, but the greens, canted fairways, dog legs and blind shots make for a nice thrilling round. Green fees here are a steal and its location actually makes it a very attractive play. The big knock on it is crowds, so either get settled in for a long round or play on an off peak time.
Donald Ross gems you can play in the area not named Jeffersonville
Seaview – Bay Course. Especially for the green complexes and bunkering, Seaview is a great Donald Ross classic that’s a prime example of great golf from yesteryear that focused more on strategy and shot-shaping than distance and corridors. Another course that would be fun in the wind, which comes off the bay often. Go in the off season to avoid the higher green fees.
I’ll also mention Schuylkill CC. While it’s a private course, they do have a member-for-a-day deal that is absolutely worth taking advantage of to experience another terrific Donald Ross course that emphasizes variety and challenge off the tee with gorgeous bunkering all on rolling terrain. Great fun here.
Biggest Course Disappointment
Not my favorite section to address, but gotta go over the good and the bad. Unfortunately, this year I have to put White Clay Creek here. The course is on tricky wetland area and I think it received a lot of rain this year, resulting in a lot of undesirable conditions. At least, I hope that’s the case and it’s not lax maintenance or a general giving up on the course. It truly is one of my favorite places to play in the area, so hopefully things turn around there. I’ll have more later this year.
Worse than usual
Walnut Lane. Nice friendly staff, but the course is suffering. It’s starting to become unplayable. I really hope things get better, especially because of the First Tee program there, but it’s been on a steady decline for the last few years. It’s a Findlay classic and a nice walk in the park, but in need of a lot of TLC ASAP.
Non-Philly Course Award Section
Best Non-Philly Course Played this Year
Dismal River Red. Pure golfing joy here on an unfiltered Tom Doak design that provides so much variety in play and terrain that I could play here on an endless loop and never tire of it.
Honorable mention goes to Bear Creek GC in Denver. The challenge and emphasis on the aerial game amidst brilliant scenery provides one of Arnold Palmer’s stand out courses. This is a big boy course, so bring your A game, or a lot of balls.
Best Non-Philly Golf Value this year
Folks, allow me to introduce you to Terranea in Southern California. It’s a par 3 nine hole course right on the coastal cliffs of the Pacific Ocean, providing the same views you get at nearby Trump National Los Angeles and even Pebble Beach, both of which you’d pay hundreds of dollars for. At Terranea, you’re paying around $50 for a very well designed and challenging par 3 course that’s received plenty of awards and accolades. If you’re short on time and/or want to save a lot of cash, hit up Terranea for a fun nine holes (or 18 with a small replay rate), then grab some food and a beer overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Nelson’s. It’s on site and so close to the ocean that you can see whales cruising on by.
2016 golf milestones
Obviously a little self-indulgent, but time to reflect on my good and bad on the courses this year.
Best shot of the year
Surprisingly, a few come to mind. Probably the best was on the First at Moselem Springs CC. My tee shot pushed right a little and ended up in the rough on a hillside above my feet. Using my 5h from about 170 yards out, I was able to draw it in to the green and it ended up inches from the hole for a tap in birdie. Considering the lie, the rough and the moment of the green, a lot went well for me on that shot.
Jeffersonville, the Sixteenth. 125 yards out and with an 8i, hit it to within 2 inches for a tap in birdie. Someone sign me up for the tour.
Dismal River Red, the Fifth. A 239 yard par 3 where during two man match play I hit my 3w to within 10 feet and two putted for par.
Worst shot of the year
Ugh, there’s a lot of them. There was the Eighteenth at Pilgrim’s Oak, where I could’t get the ball in the air the entire hole, 90% of my shots at Bear Creek from the fairway when I kept fanning open on my backswing, or the Seventh par 3 at Lederach, where I shanked my tee shot during match play (my opponent got in my head!). There’s certainly ups and downs for all of us and boy did I have some downs this year.
As winter does its thing and some of us retreat to the simulators or simply ignore golf for the next couple months, do whatever it is you do to pass the time, get ready for the 2017 season and have a blast out there! As for me, I’m starting to plan out the season, possible vacation spots and will report back soon with a preview of 2017.