Blue Bell Country Club

6,397 yards, 140 from the Blues

Course:  In Blue Bell, PA, about 40 minutes northwest of Philadelphia proper, sits Blue Bell Country Club, a course designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay that opened in 1994.  BBCC is in a residential community and like many courses built during that time, was part of a real estate development plan to attract homeowners to purchase the houses that line the course.  Laurel Creek is the other local course that followed a similar housing model with Palmer while Commonwealth National Golf Club is the third Palmer design in the area.  BBCC embraces its Palmer roots; the scorecard features (or used to) a full length photo of the King himself while the restaurant on site is named, “Arnie’s.”

The course is set on moderate hilly terrain that includes several water hazards that narrow landing areas and oftentimes create forced carries.  Much of the course is visually pleasing and requires a good amount of proficiency with ball striking.  The greens straddle the line for me between engaging and gimmicky, mainly because some of the slopes are a little much and in some odd spots.  There is serious rough beyond the fairways, even severely punishable in spots.  The course was in great condition when I was there and overall, the round was enjoyable.

BBCC provides a nice playing experience for its members and for outings it hosts.  The course demands good golf in spots and there’s a good amount of accessibility for higher handicaps.  Beyond that, it’s more of a one-dimensional point and shoot course, meaning most of the holes are straightforward and limited in how they can be played.  Much of the design is similar to other courses built around that time in housing communities and because of that, there’s not a lot that’s memorable or gives the course a sense of distinct character.  While it may not be an architecturally complex course, it’s a nice example of a well conditioned attractive course being able to providing enough for a nice round.  For many golfers, that will do.

BBCC is fairly close to me and some where I have wanted to check out for a while.  The pro has done wonders for my friend’s short game and recent work to the course has piqued my interest in getting over there.  Even though the course got a lot of rain the night before, it held up impressively well.  After taking a look inside the clubhouse and locker room, we headed out for a wet early spring round.

The First is a 319 yard par 4 (from the Blues).  The hole angles left from the tee, with a group of trees on the left side of the fairway to protect that side from the tee.  The fairway widens out after the trees to promote aiming the tee shot off in that direction, which lengthens the approach shot.  The more left you go off the tee, the shorter the approach.  After the tee landing area, the fairway narrows and is bottlenecked between bunkers leading up to the green, which is a nice size and runs from right to left.

The First

Approach shot territory

The Second is a 428 yard par 4.  The elevated tee shot give you a choice to lay up short of the water, where the fairway is wide, or try to belt driver up the left side of the fairway, which narrows considerably to the left of the water.  It’s a nice shot to ponder, yet the approach even short of the water isn’t all that long.  The fairway widens back after the water, leading up to the green, which moves from back to front.  There’s also a ridge running from the back to the front of the green that moves balls away from the center, so make sure you’re on the right side of it on the approach.

The Second

Approach shot territory

A closer look at the green

The Third is a 190 yard par 3.  Water yet again dominates, running along the right of the hole and creating a forced carry to the green.  There is a short grass area straight off the tee as a bail out area, while the green curls out to the right with bunkers along the far side.  Point and shoot over the water.

The Third

The Fourth is a 422 yard par 4.  The tee is set on the left side of the fairway, which is wider than we’ve seen thus far, and remains so up to the green.  There are cross bunkers to ensure that tee shots stay honest and the green tilts to the left, with a short grass collection area off the far left.  The green undulates, then slopes substantially from back to front and right to left.  This was Palmer’s favorite hole of the course, which is one of the more natural and lends itself to be played a number of ways from its width.  It’s an interesting hole for Palmer to like, which to me signifies the owners/developers were driving some of what we see on other holes a little more than they should have.

The Fourth

Approach shot territory, from the left side

The Fifth is a 357 yard par 4.  From one of the more pure holes on the course, we get one of the uglier ones, with power lines running just off to the right and the driving range within easy reach, with its abysmal ground running the length of the hole.  The fairway cants from left to right, so the second shot will likely be below your feet to a green that’s tilted left to right as well and above the fairway.  At this point, the redundancies with the course are noticeable.

Approach shot at the Fifth
Same, a little further left

The Sixth is a 154 yard par 3.  With the power lines in full glory, the green is set uphill from the tee, with a larger bunker wrapping around the front left side of the green.  The green pulls from left to right and is on the subtler side.  Anything too far away from the green will likely be in rough.

The Sixth

The Seventh is a 491 yard par 5.  The uphill par 5 is of moderate width, then narrows once the wasteland on the right comes into play as the fairway dips downhill over the crest seen from the tee.  The fairway widens again after the waste area, then narrows once it reaches the bunker complex on the right.  Bunkers then guard the green on all sides but the back right.  It virtually screams at you to play aerial target golf.

The Seventh

Moving up the fairway

Approach shot territory

The Eighth is a 421 yard par 4.  It’s a shorter double dog leg that turns right first around a raised bunker, which goads you from the tee to challenge it.  Any shot over or close to it leaves you with a much better and closer approach shot and likely takes the water to the left out of play.  The green is large, moving from right to left, with a green side bunker on the right.  The tee shot sets up the hole, so get that right and you should be making out well.

The Eighth

Approach shot territory

The Ninth is a 519 yard par 5.  The fairway dog legs right off the tee, then narrows when it reaches water on the left side.  Bunkers line the left side after the water while bunkers on the right come into play on the approach.  The green is wide and fairly easy to hit.  Really, the only challenge on this hole is if you hit it wildly sideways, in which case you’ll end up in water, rough or a bunker.  Otherwise, the fairway and green are wide enough to keep it in play for par.

The Ninth

Moving down the fairway

Further down the fairway 

Approach shot territory

Looking back at the fairway

The front nine has a few nice holes and some interesting shots.  Most of it, however, is pleasant target golf on enterprising greens.  I’d rank them 4, 2, 8, 7, 1, 9, 3, 6, 5.

The back nine starts with the 180 yard par 3 Tenth.  The green is downhill from the tee and is angled diagonally from it, asking for a draw into the back pin positions and maybe a fade into the front positions.  Rough and below the hole awaits for any shot to the left of the green while a bunker on the right awaits those shots.  Short of the green is safe, but it will not be the easiest of shots since the green initially runs away from you at that point.

The Tenth

A closer look

The Eleventh is a 450 yard par 4.  While a longer par 4, the fairway runs downhill to the green from the tee, creating roll of the ball and making things a bit shorter.  The tree lined fairway is on the narrow side and gets narrower towards the green, where it turns right.  The green is slightly raised and there’s not a whole lot of room off green to miss on.  Again, not whole lot of variety here, although the green is open to the fairway so those wanting to punch their approaches up there may do so.

The Eleventh

Approach shot territory

The Twelfth is a 147 yard par 3.  The green is right before you, with large bunkers on either side of it and the green moving from left to right.  The green is large but must be hit to avoid the likely more challenging recovery shot you will have.  Plenty of ways to go right at the pin here.

The Twelfth

The Thirteenth is a 373 yard par 4.  This dog leg left runs uphill from the tee, then swings left around the tee landing area.  Getting off the tee in good shape is necessary for the approach shot, which demands more of you than usual to carry uphill and over the large bunker that stands directly between you and the fairway.  It appears this bunker is part of the recent work to the course and it’s a great improvement, creating a unique challenge to the approach.  The green runs from back to front, so pin positions in the front either need to stick the pin or can use the green to get closer, depending on how much you want to risk losing it in the bunker.  Any shot long of the green ends up in the rough, below the green, which is a difficult recovery since the green runs away from you there.  There’s also room to the left of the bunker, in case you want to avoid confronting it altogether.  A nice hole I enjoyed playing that sets itself apart.

The Thirteenth

Approach shot territory

The green, from the right side

The Fourteenth is a 488 yard par 5.  A dog leg left that initially runs downhill, the fairway eventually ends at a creek then returns on the other side running perpendicular to the first fairway and straight to the green, all of which cants from right to left.  The shorter distance actually opens up a lot more options on how to attack the hole, with longer hitters contemplating reaching the green in two shots while there is plenty of room to lay up for a comfortable third shot into the green.  The contours and angles of the hole add nicely to how the hole plays as well.  Another one I enjoyed playing a lot.

The Fourteenth

Moving down the fairway

Looking back at the fairway from just below the green

The Fifteenth is a 435 yard par 4.  From the tee, there is a wide landing area before the water on the right, which will take less than driver to get to.  Once the fairway reaches the water, it narrows considerably and with the slope towards the water, it’s almost not worth risking.  Similar to the Second, those who opt for the safer tee shot face a longer approach, but this approach is a big one, to an uphill green with a false front.  The water will need to be carried as well.  It’s a big boy shot and those who overdo it may end up in the short grass area on the far side of the green, facing a tough shot to a green running downhill away from them.  I like a few do-or-die shots during the round and this is one of them here.  No where to miss and comes at the right point during the round.

The Fifteenth

Longer approach shot territory

A little shorter 

The Sixteenth is a 170 yard par 3.  The final par 3 of the round is uphill, with a bunker in the center creating a false front, as the green is still a ways from it.  Bunkers on both sides of the green as well make sure that the tee shot has to be precise and like the other par 3’s, hitting the green is paramount since the off green areas present tougher recovery shots.  The green runs downhill with some undulations as well, adding yet another wrinkle to the hole.

The Sixteenth

The Seventeenth is a 465 yard par 5.  A dog leg right where the fairway is level with the tee before turning right and downhill, at which point the fairway straightens out to the green, which cants from right left substantially.  The green is well defended by bunkers on both sides with a couple ridges that sets it off in different directions.  Another shorter par 5 where you’re likely to have an extra shot to play with to ensure coming away with par.

The Seventeenth

Approach shot territory

The Eighteenth is a 388 yard par 4.  A dog leg left set out a little similarly from the few holes where the  ridge from the tee drops the fairway downhill, making it necessary to get paste ridge and the turn for a manageable approach shot.  The approach itself is wide open, with it being pin position dependent and anything off to the right side brings the large bunker on the right in to play.

The Eighteenth

Approach shot territory

Looking back at the fairway from the green

The back nine features the more interesting holes, with Thirteen through Seventeen being a nice stretch.  Ranking them, I’d go 13, 14, 15, 17, 16, 18, 12, 11, 10.

Generally, BBCC has some nice holes and the round overall was satisfying, but it doesn’t take much thought, strategy or creativity to play.  Like many courses built in this era, the course was meant to accentuate the housing and surrounding areas more than it was supposed to be revolutionary course architecture.  Make it nice to look at, tough enough for a respectable course rating with a signature hole or two by a big name architect to make it an attractive venue was the mantra at that time.  A couple things that detracted here were how close the houses were, which made a lot of areas near the fairways OB and translated into probably a more penal course than it should be.  This meant that keeping it straight was rewarded more than anything else, which again robs it of variety and excitement.  None of this means I didn’t like the course, it’s just not my first preference.  It’s a sign of an era in course architecture where different aspects were prized more than others today.  I happen to prefer the aspects more prevalent and highlighted in today’s architectural climate.

Gripes:  Nothing that hasn’t already been addressed.

Bar/Grill:  Decent space overlooking the Eighteenth.

Clubhouse:  Mostly below the bar/grill area, a nice sized shop yet the course insignia is a little too replicative of Pine Valley.

Practice area:  A putting green near the clubhouse and a range off the Fifth fairway.