Course: In Mohnton, PA, about an hour west of Philadelphia and 20 minutes west of King of Prussia, is LedgeRock GC, a private course that opened in 2006 and designed by Rees Jones. As one of the newer courses in the area, it has quickly become one of the more well regarded courses in the western suburbs and is slowly becoming more well known in Philadelphia.
In full disclosure, I’ve been a member of LedgeRock for a few years. Sure there’s a bias because I obviously like the course and want others to enjoy it as well, but I also know the course a lot better than most courses I reviewed. I decided on doing a review of Ledge because for me, it brings out a perspective of course architecture that I’d like to address in general.
Before we get there, I’ll get into how it all started. I remember reading that the club had won one of the GAP (Golf Association of Philadelphia) championships and wondered where the club was since I had never heard of it. Seeing where it was, I didn’t think anything of it until I was at a tournament and saw someone with one of their shirts on, so I talked with him a bit about the course. After a few more discussions and a little bit of research, the preliminary consensus was it was very scenic, and very difficult. I was intrigued but still not moved. It wasn’t until I was thinking about joining another club when that membership chair mentioned LedgeRock was too difficult and he didn’t understand how anyone would want to torture themselves by playing there.
And that was it. I had to play it. What made it so challenging that most people I talked to felt compelled to mention it? Why had I never heard of the place? I find challenging courses interesting for a number of reasons; they can require strategy, focus or simply force you to elevate your skills, there are various types of difficulty that appeal to me. I wanted to know exactly how this course challenges the golfer. By reviewing photos, it appeared that the course was set on hilly terrain where most of the trees had been cleared of play. There seemed to be some forced carries and monster bunkers, but nothing from the photos jumped out as atypically difficult.
And really, there’s a lot more to Ledge than its challenge. After my first time playing the course, what struck me most about it wasn’t how hard or easy it was, but rather how unique the course played. It’s indeed set on hilly terrain and there’s a lot of freedom in using the hills, slopes and curvatures to play many of the holes a number of different ways. It’s also wide open for the most part, so there’s no constraint on ball flight or direction in approaching the holes. The sweeping nature of the fairways, flowing and switching different directions down and through the hills to the greens, then spilling over and around it to short grass areas, gives the course a tremendous sense of movement and continuity. That’s what really struck my about the place. Its movement. It was unlike any course I had played in the area and I was impressed.
To be sure on the point as well, it is challenging. There are several shots on the course where there is no where to hide and you simply must execute. The greens run fast and while they incorporate the hills in their slopes, show restraint and are much more subtle than wild. While challenging, however, the course is not overly penal. Balls are easily found for the most part, providing a chance for recovery while the forced carries have bail out areas and other avenues to avoid lost balls. If you get out of position, how you decide to recover is typically vital in determining whether you salvage the hole or drown in a barrage of strokes. Thoroughly thinking through shots out of position is another appealing aspect of Ledge, as staying focused, strategic and avoiding temptation is paramount.
Beyond this, Ledge is terrifically scenic. The severity of the hills provides panoramic views of the course and beyond while it’s set on an isolated tranquil site, among hills, woods, ponds and streams. It’s about a 45 minute drive from my house to the course but for the ambience of the setting alone and getting to the bucolic countryside, it’s well worth it.
So putting this together, I decided Ledge was some where I could belong to and play over and over without any sense of boredom, redundancy or monotony. And that has held up very much so to this day.
Alas, we get to the point of course architecture I want to address, one of its cardinal rules as far as I’m concerned. Play what you like. Set aside any preconceived notions of what other people say, who designed the course, what “era” it’s from, how it’s ranked or even what your score is, and figure out which courses speak to you. Then play those places as often as possible. For me, it’s something I try to do on any course I play, whether it’s ranked as one of the best in the world or regarded as not very good. All of that goes out the window as I give the place a clean slate to figure out my thoughts. Some courses have earned their reputation while with others, I simply see something different than the general consensus. I’m sure I’m not alone on that.
As course architecture has risen in popularity over the years, it’s been great to see more focus on design and attention on different styles. Places like Bandon Dunes, Streamsong, Cabot and now Sand Valley have raised the awareness in North America of different types of design than what was popular in the U.S. for the last couple decades. What’s been a little unsettling, however, is that most courses designed during this past era are now being summarily dismissed as bad golf, so are undergoing renovations or restorations to meet the approval of the trend, or otherwise have been held in disfavor. Even more unsettling is that architects well known for their work during this era almost now have a strike against them when looking at their courses. This type of reflexive thinking contradicts the entire philosophy behind the art of course design and the reasons behind its rise in recent popularity. The awareness of course design nowadays is about recognizing the artistry of the game and how the craftsmanship of the course can evoke certain emotions and skills that comprise the round. The backlash we’re now seeing of courses built in decades past lies in the sheer number opened (and now closing), the focus more on eye candy than actual play, or focus on distance and penalizing slightly wayward shots, or how more money was spent on an elaborate clubhouse than on the course itself. These types of courses should still be evaluated on their merits, but the good part of course design nowadays is that attention is where it should be placed; on how the course plays.
This does not mean, however, that any course built during the Golden Age is automatically great and every course built in the 1970’s through 2000’s is a “Dark Age” course that should be passed. If this type of thinking holds, we’ll see a different homogenization of golf courses pretty soon and I believe we’re starting to see it already. I mean, I’ve heard guys with their own podcasts say they just wouldn’t play a course designed by Fazio, or Robert Trent Jones, or Nicklaus. That type of generalization is just as bad as anything else when discussing architecture. Being able to rattle off every course designed by Flynn while shirking off any course built after 1940, in my opinion, goes against the entire enlightenment course architecture is now experiencing.
Which brings me to Rees Jones. The son of RTJ, Rees has been involved in golf course construction his whole life. His portfolio of designed courses is immense and includes Atlantic GC, Cascata, Poppy Ridge and The Bridge. In Pennsylvania, he has designed Broad Run, Totteridge (both reviewed here), Huntsville and Lookaway. His first design in Pennsylvania was called Eagle Lodge and opened in 1981. In 2001, the course was purchased by ACE Insurance, was renovated by Gary Player and is now called the Ace Club. The courses he has performed remodeling work on is likewise immense but includes Bethpage Black, Sleepy Hollow and Sahalee, with total renovations done at courses including Bellerive (where the PGA Championship will be held later this year), Duke University and Congressional. At some point, he was known as the, “U.S. Open Doctor,” as he would renovate courses so they would attain the caliber of consideration, and oftentimes get rewarded, with a U.S. Open. Rees would institute changes to the courses that frequently made them more difficult, tightening fairways and adding bunkers, but this too is a generalization. As is wont to happen with such a large body of work, some of his work, mainly some of his renovations, have recently come under fire. Whether justified or not, the unfortunate consequence is that his courses are generalized, his bunkering scheme has been labeled rote and some pass over the chance to play courses designed by him based on this. At any rate, I’m glad I’m not one to do this, nor would I ever prejudge a course by its architect, as it would inevitably lead to missing out on memorable golf.
The point is Ledge is not a difficult US Open Doctor style course by Rees meant for low single digit handicaps. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, it’s a course set on severely hilly terrain that incorporates those hills to invite the aerial and ground game throughout the round. It slaloms through the hills, shifting from strategy and creativity to downright do or die challenge. Its visuals and setting make it difficult to feel too bad about the bad shots, providing a constant calm throughout the round. Every aspect of your game is called upon yet there are several ways to get the ball in the hole here. The course plays well in the wind due to its width. The conditioning is superb. Mind you, however, it’s not without its imperfections. Playing it as often as I have, I’ve noticed some holes that could be improved, at least in my opinion, which I’ll get into once we get there.
Driving up to the clubhouse, one gets the feeling of arriving at a mountain resort. Just beyond the clubhouse, the hills immediately jut above it, with the First, Third and Eighteenth fairways seemingly miles above. The clubhouse and locker room have a modern rustic feel, with the driving range below and across the Fifteenth, the original clubhouse now serving as a practice and learning center, with indoor hitting bays next to the outdoor spots. The aesthetics of the course extend to the range as well, hitting down into the woods and hills beyond.
As you’re on the First tee, you may glance over to your left and see, alone by itself on the ledge of a hill, a green, and wonder how on earth that green comes into play. Don’t worry, we’ll get there soon enough as well.
The First is a 347 yard par 4 (from the Greens). The fairway climbs uphill from the tee, with the bunkers on the left side below the fairway while the right side bunkers are level with the fairway. The fairway dog legs to the left, up to the green. One of the green side features we see where, and throughout the round, are bunkers completely monopolizing one side or the other in front of the green. Here, the green side bunkers are on the left side while there’s an opening on the right from the fairway, with the hillside coming into play as a sideboard. It may be tempting to go right at any pin on the left of the green over the bunker complex, but the landing area gets very tight on that side. Instead, I usually go up the right side and use the slope to kick the ball towards the left. For left pin positions, I may go at the center of the green, which still will leave me with an uphill putt. The green moves from left to right and back to front. A nice opening hole that gets you in the hills right away.
Approach shot territory
The Second is a 140 yard par 3. The green is a little below the tee with a forced carry over a ravine. The green is wide yet shallow and while the left side gives plenty of room, the right side tightens up, with a green side front bunker on that side to collect short shots. The green moves from left to right and back to front, so any shot or putt from the back side of the green, or rough, or bunker, will be a tricky one. An easier hole, but be sure to hit the green. There are places to miss off to the right, left and short but things get dicey quickly.
A closer look
The Third is a 323 yard par 4. This short par 4 is a mild carry over the same ravine to the fairway, which rises before cresting and running slightly downhill to the green. There’s a bank of rough on the left of the fairway while bunkers are on the right side, below the fairway. A well hit tee shot will hit the crest and run forward towards the green, leaving a short approach shot. Tee shots to the left of the fairway will get the benefits of bouncing and running towards the center, yet another example of utilizing the hills to your advantage. The approach shot is open to the fairway while a bevy of bunkers is off to the front right of the green. These bunkers mainly collect errant approach shots and make you think twice about your sand shots from the left side, since the green runs from left to right, into them. They are deep and inject some trepidation into that shorter approach shot. I love running my second shot from the fairway onto the green, then getting out my flat stick. There’s simply too much that can go wrong very quickly if you mis hit your approach bad enough. Of course, club selection off the tee to leave a long approach may actually be a better play for some.
A little closer look
Looking off to the right of the tee
Approach shot territory
The view off the back of the green, one of the better view spots
Further right from the same spot
The Fourth is a 185 yard par 3. Going over the ravine, the tee shot is a forced carry to a wide green with a ridge running through the center near the back of it, yet generally runs from left to right and back to front. Bunkers on the left are carved below the green while a short grass area runs from below left of the green all the way up to it. The hole usually plays every inch of its stated yardage, usually more. Wind can be a factor here as well.
This is one hole I could see being improved. Already running the risk of being seen too similar to the Second, the width of the green lends itself to being a terrific Redan. If the green was tilted more to the right, the cart path was taken out and bunkers put in, I could see this hole asserting more distinction while playing extremely fun, especially since the tile of the green would be against the hillside. Or you could tilt the green to the left, use the bunkers already there and then have a ton of movement right to left, using the hillside and build up the right side off green as a sideboard.
As it stands, it’s a longer forced carry testing your acumen with the longer clubs and is another part of the course exposing any weakness in this regard thoroughly.
The Fifth is a 406 yard par 4. At this point, you are at the top of the hill and will now start descending until you get to the Ninth. Like the Third, the fairway crests before falling downhill, making the tee shot some what blind. Here, the fairway sweeps to the right while terracing in different spots until it curls back at the last minute to the green. The hill side on the right faces the green, so it can be used to bounce balls off of towards the green. The green moves from left to right and back to front, dropping off severely on the back and right side.
There are so many different ways to play this hole. A longer tee shot will hit the downhill and can result in a shorter approach, yet the further left you are (even though you have a better look at the green), the more precise you need to be due to the long and right sides off green dropping off so suddenly. A longer approach, however, especially from the left side, can utilize the hillside to get the ball close to the pin. Even punching it towards the green from the correct angle can use the slopes around the green. It’s one of my favorite holes of the course.
Approach shot territory, from the right side, with the green peeking out
Sunken bunkers on the right side of the fairway, coming into play off the tee
Approach shot from the center of the fairway
Shorter and more to the left
Looking back from the front of the green
The Sixth is a 350 yard par 4. A shorter par 4 where the fairway yet again crests before going downhill to the green. The fairway cants from left to right and significantly downhill. A bounding tee shot can get fairly close to the green. Here, however, hitting the fairway is paramount, as anything left is in rough on a severe slope, and anything to the right is likely on the hillside, in deep grass. Club selection off the tee doesn’t need to be driver and some may take less than that to end up on a flatter part of fairway. The approach shot can be right at the pin, but any pin on the right means you’ll have to take on the larger bunkers carved out on that side. One of my favorite shots of the course is to punch, or even hit a mid-flight shot, to the left slope just above the green and watch it roll on, cozying up to the pin. Whether by air or ground, it’s all there for you to decide.
Approach shot territory
Looking at the bunkers on the left side in front of the green, with the Seventh fairway beyond
Looking back at the fairway from the green
The Seventh is a 566 yard par 5. The pendulum decidedly moves back to challenging here, the well earned number one handicapped hole. It’s time to put your boots on and salute with the first two shots. The tee shot is a forced carry over a pond and getting it as far down the fairway as possible is critical, especially if the wind is against you. The fairway starts uphill and slowly turns left, with slopes on each side running towards the fairway, which is on the narrower side. The second shot needs to get as far down as possible as well, but keep in mind that it drops downhill for about 20 yards before ending at a ravine. Staying on the level fairway before the downhill is preferred, which gives you a good look at the green. The approach shot is a forced carry over the ravine, with bunkers on the left side below the green. The green is one of the tougher on the course in my opinion, with no real easy pin placement. I suppose back left is what I think is easiest, but even then there’s a lot of movement from right to left and back to front.
It’s a tough hole that requires three well hit shots to reach the green, then some work with the putter to earn par. I would like to see how it would play by shortening the rough on the hillsides on either sides of the fairway (but the right side would even be good), to either use to get more roll towards the hole and give a little more of a bail out area for that second shot, especially if you’re playing out of trouble off the tee. As it stands, if I par or bogey here, I start thinking a nice scoring round is on the way.
Moving down the fairway
Closer to the green
The flag is peeking out..
Approach shot territory
The slope before the green
The Eighth is a 509 yard par 5. Back to back par 5’s, although this one is much different. As the pendulum swings, we go back to more fun than challenging here. The tee shot is a forced carry over the ravine to a fairway that crests before shifting downhill and curving progressively to the left. The fairway drops gently to the green, with long grass on both sides of the fairway, yet with enough room to find your ball. The second shot is completely blind, so local knowledge and repeat play are a huge benefit here, knowing exactly which tree to aim for in the background to get down the fairway. The great thing about this hole is that the second shot can be almost any club you want. The wind is blowing with you most of the time and with the downhill, you’ll get a lot more roll and push towards the green. Just get it on the fairway. If you decide on a longer club, a well hit shot in the right place gets you very close to the green. Using the ground on the second and third shots can also result in smart plays, while the fairway runs right into the green, which runs from back to front and right to left.
The Eighth is my favorite hole of the course. The number of ways it can be played, the differences it plays in wind and firm/fast or wetter, its quirk and blind second shot, the creativity around the green and its scenery make it not only my favorite hole of the course, but one of my favorites period. After playing it for the first time, I remember thinking that unless the back nine was a train wreck, I’d become a member here to play this hole over and over. The below photos don’t adequately capture it; I’ll be posting more soon.
The Seventh fairway on the left
A closer look at the Seventh end of the fairway
A look at the clubhouse from the tee off to the right
Down the fairway
Approach shot territory, off the right side, with the Ninth fairway in the background
A closer look at the green from the right
On the green looking back, the Seventh fairway, then Sixth, in the background
On the green looking back towards the fairway
The pin from way off to the right, showing the drop off on the right and back sides
The Ninth is a 327 yard par 4. Another short par 4, but it plays longer than stated because of the hill it climbs to the green. The tee shot is a forced carry to the fairway, which is set at some what of an angle from left to right. Bunkers are sunken to the right while rough is off to the left. The approach shot is blind to an uphill green that moves from back to front and has a short grass collection area about the left side. The green side bunkers on the right should be avoided at all costs. The view from this green across the course is yet another one to drink in.
Approach shot territory
The bunkers off to the right
Looking across the fairway near the green from the right side
The green, from the back side
The front nine initially climbs to the higher hillside of the course, then starts descending until climbing up another incline for the Ninth. The back to back par 5’s are the obvious crescendo, but I like the swing seen in the holes on the front from challenging to fun/strategic. Candidly, the par 3’s could be stronger. While the Second is still in the warm up stages and presents as a good test of your short iron coming at the right time in the round, the Fourth could assert more distinction from the Second than it does. The par 4’s are all unique and present different plays while the Eighth has a very heathland feel to it that’s a lot of fun. Ranking them, I’d go 8, 5, 6, 3, 1, 7, 4, 2, 9.
The Tenth is a 166 yard par 3. A drop shot that’s typically a two club length difference, it’s one of the longer drop shots I know of, at least in the area. The green is fairly large and in general runs from back to front. There’s room to miss off to the right and a little room off to the left, but hitting the green is imperative here to avoid any bad bounces into the brook that crosses in front of the green, the water on the right, or water further left.
A closer look
A look back at the tee
The Eleventh is a 387 yard par 4. Now on one of the lower parts of the course, this dog leg right makes it clear where you need to hit your tee shot. The correct tee position for level of skill is important here, as if you’re able to take on the fairway bunker complex on the right and carry it, you’re rewarded with a short approach shot in to a semi blind green. If your length off the tee is unable to challenge the fairway bunkers, get it out to the left side and if it reaches the plateau area, you’ll be rewarded with some roll. Unless you carry or cut some of the bunkers off, the approach shot will be on the longer side. More bunkers protect the front right of the green, so if the pin is on the right, you’ll have to decide whether to take those on as well. The fairway feeds into the green on the left side, with the green moving from back to front and left to right, although the right side of the green moves back towards center.
The isolation of this hole highlights the beauty and calm of the natural surroundings. With the terrain and hillside, I’d like to see how this hole would play by roughing in the fairway bunkers and sliding the green off to the right a bit. This would create a few more options to play it while taking more advantage of the contours. As it stands now though, it’s a hole I enjoy that provides plenty of challenge while leaving options into the green.
During the fall, the course takes on exquisite visuals with the changing of the leaves and this hole is no exception
The water off to the left
Moving down the fairway
A closer approach shot area
A peek at the green
From the back side
The Twelfth is a 262 yard par 4. Set above the Eleventh on the same hill side, this short par 4 looks simple enough, as the green is straight ahead, just slightly uphill from the tee. The hillside on the right will push tee shots towards the fairway, unless they get caught up in the rough on that side. The left side off fairway are bunkers set below the fairway. While the fairway runs into the green, there’s a depression on the left side that spills down the hillside, leaving you about 15 feet below the green. The green is large, more deep than wide, with several quadrants running in different directions.
There are a number of ways to play this hole. Whether it’s taking a shorter club off the tee to leave yourself a longer approach, trying to use the right hillside to advance the ball close to the front of the green, or trying to drive the green itself, the entire left side is best to be avoided while there is leeway off to the right. It’s a fun short par 4 allowing a good amount of creativity.
Approach shot territory
The left side, below the green
Lots of movement on the left side
Off to the left of the green, down below the short grass area
Looking back at the fairway from the left side
The Thirteenth is a 527 yard par 5. On the tee, the hole is in front of you and the green seems like it’s a mile away. The fairway is below the tee, with bunkers on the left and the hillside on the right sloping to kick balls towards the fairway. The fairway then drops down before ending at a stream. Getting your second shot on the top level of the fairway is an ideal spot, as you’re able to better carry the stream and navigate where your approach shot should end up. Bunkers are scattered on most of the ground leading up to the green, with the fairway sweeping right around them and up to the green. There’s a smaller fairway on the left, above the bunkers, that gives you an ideal angle and look at the green, but there’s a lot of risk hitting over there and only the most precise longer shots will reach it. I’d like to see that left fairway a little longer to become a more viable option to the green. The green runs from back to front, with green side bunkers on the right and back side. So many different ways to reach the green, a great hole that gives you strategy, beauty and a healthy dose of challenge.
The slope on the right side
Looking back at the tee from the beginning of the fairway
The plateau of the fairway, an ideal tee shot landing
Moving down the fairway
In the center of the fairway. The alternate fairway on the left provide a better look and angle into the green
The bunkers on the left below the green
Short approach shot territory
The green complex from the Ninth tee
Looking back at the fairway from the green
The Fourteenth is a 157 yard par 3. The last par 3 of the round, the green wraps around a bunker on the left front side, with water along the left side and a hillside of fescue on the right. The green is deep yet narrow, rippling from back to front and right to left. Wind is typically a factor here as well. Placement on the green is important and while safer shots to the center avoid the trouble lurking beyond, the work towards par is hardly finished, as longer putts will be challenging as the slopes and ripples will need to be outmaneuvered. It’s my favorite par 3 on the course.
Looking off to the left at the driving range and learning center
The green side bunker front left
Looking back at the tee, with the Ninth in the background
The Fifteenth is a 425 yard par 4. An elevated tee shot to the fairway the bends slightly right before diving downhill to a ravine, with fairway bunkers on either side and fescue beyond. A well placed tee shot is necessary for the longer approach, which is to a large green complex with a run off area on the front, steeper on the left side. No doubt about it, two good shots are needed for a chance at par here. While the tee shot is a good one with a nice view, the green complex is a lot of fun, with countless different recovery shots and lies possible based on the contours and bunkers. It’s just as easy to par here than it is to double.
The view from the left of the tee
The start of the fairway
Moving down, off the right side
Approach shot territory
The slope leading downhill to the end of the fairway
Short of the green, on the other side
The green complex, from the right side
Looking back at the fairway from the green
The Sixteenth is a 295 yard par 4. The shorter dog leg left has a mild carry over native grass while bunkers on the left side are in play off the tee. Closer or over the bunkers gets rewarded with a short approach shot into the green, which sits slightly above the fairway. The fairway also cants from right to left. The green slopes off on the left, back and front right side while the hillside slopes downhill to the green on the direct right side. The green is one of the more subtle on the course as well.
While a short par 4 with a generous fairway that I regularly hit off the tee, this hole is my nemesis. The wind blows across the green often and the lie is usually above your feet and maybe this explains it, but I flub the approach in a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s an easy par, but other times trying to keep it below the wind, or fire at the pin, or use the green to get it close to the pin, some how goes awry. There’s always next round to figure it out.
Approach shot territory
Fairway bunkers on the left, looking back towards the tee
The green side bunker on the right while the clubhouse looms
The backside bunker
Looking back at the tee
The Seventeenth is a 379 yard par 4. The fairway bends just slightly to the left, with the right side banking hard leftwards and the fairway canting left for the most part. Depending on where the tees are placed, driver may be too much, but getting as close to the end of the fairway is ideal, as the further out you get it, the shorter the approach, which in this case is a very good thing. As for the approach:
“The vital thing about a hole is that it should be either more difficult than it looks or look more difficult than it is. It must never be what it looks” – Tom Simpson
And so it is with the approach here. The green sits like a throne above, playing any where from a club to a club and a half longer than it looks. There’s room to miss, but not a whole lot. The best result is to ensure your shot ends up level with the green, or slightly before it, never past it. The shot is undoubtedly intimidating and certainly has the potential to ruin a good scoring round. And really, there’s no where to hide from it either; you either execute or end up paying for it.
At the end of the day, the shot is not as difficult as it appears. It’s a longer club into a deeper green with a carry. But I love its presentation and how it has the capacity to affect those with weaker resolves, myself included. To me, however, the shot comprises much of the identity of LedgeRock. There are a number of ways to play the tee shot, calling upon creativity and strategy to set up the approach, while the approach is more about do or die challenge, calling upon a different mental strength, that of fortitude and confidence in one’s game. The back and forth between fun and challenge with this hole is representative of the course in general, which ends up testing most every component of a golfer’s arsenal. Playing here over and over, and this hole in particular, has made me a stronger golfer, able to play other courses with more confidence in my ability and much disinclined to intimidate easily, knowing that the approach at Seventeen will always be there for me to take on.
The green runs from back to front, with an upper and lower tier, running off on all sides. Any putt downhill should be handled with the utmost delicacy. Once you finish the hole, looking out onto the course and clubhouse provides one of the nicer views of the property, so take that in before climbing up to the Eighteenth tee, where a higher and more expansive view awaits.
Note, the above is a description of the Seventeenth before its renovation in 2020. For a description of the renovations, see below these photos.
Moving down the fairway, the green coming into view
The right side can be used as a sideboard to get closer to the end of the fairway
The green, now full in view
A closer look at the fairway and right side
A closer look at the green
The left side of the fairway on the other side of the ravine
Recently widened a bit, you can always lay up over here…
Moving closer to the green
The bunkers before the green
Getting to the green
Looking back at the fairway
A great view from the green
UPDATE JUNE 2020
The Seventeenth was renovated and is now finished in its new version. The identity of Ledge is invariably tied to the Seventeenth and how polarizing it tends to be from golfer to golfer, so I was hesitant when I first heard of the rumblings to renovate it. Probably like any gruff old soul member out there who, “likes it just the way it is,” I was generally concerned that the hole would get neutered and simply be a weaker par 4 ruining the glorious one-two punch finish already in place. And mind you, this is coming from someone who typically does not fare all that well on this hole. Yet I appreciate its visuals, its perfect place in the routing and its effect on the golfer leading up to the denouement of the Eighteenth tee shot. Fortunately, the changes were a collaborative effort with the Rees Jones team and Alan Fitzgerald, our greens superintendent who has been here since opening and knows this course better than anyone. As the plans were ultimately rolled out and I had a chance to see things coming along, trepidation went out the window, replaced with excitement and anticipation.
In general, the changes invite a bevy of creativity and options at the approach and around the green. The bunker before the green is now off to the right, leaving a lot more room for the fairway on the left to be used as an effective bail out area. This also allows much more room leading up to the green to be used well. Now, the ball may roll downhill some, but will not go in the bunker (unless you’re off to the right too much), but instead will settle in some rough. The green side bunker on the left is gone, replaced by a short grass hollow where the golfer will be vexed between putting or chipping to the pin. The green in general was expanded, with run offs on the high side that can be used as sideboards similar to a punchbowl green. The right side has a bit more width, which should make things more manageable on that side.
For me, keeping the green where it was and having that intimidating presence above the fairway was vital and it’s still in place.
So the changes have evolved the hole into more of a cerebral challenge around the green yet retains its stunning visuals at the approach. Conversely, the changes near the green leave the golfer a number of decisions and factors to ponder, all of which will change as the pin positions jump from this place and that. I used to favor the right side to avoid OB left and the bunkers on that side, fine with off green and in the rough because I could rely on my chipping. Now, the thinking changes depending on where I am in the fairway. If I’m in a bad spot off the tee, I now can still make it over instead of simply pitching to get in position by going to the much more receptive fairway on the other side. Or I could still pitch and set up a better approach position. At the approach, I can now start thinking of that left side, although all the short grass and sloping means the ball could roll into some precarious spots. It could also mean setting up an easier recovery with the flagstick. The back side of the green now becomes a lot more appetizing, using those slopes to feed the ball back towards the green. Of course, putts above the pin here are still very tricky.
My first time playing it after the renovation, my tee shot was one of the better I had ever hit, surely due to my excitement in getting to the green. In prime position, I badly pulled the shot yet it made it over the ravine, settling in the rough on the other side. A second approach shot landed just short of the green and rolled down the apron 15 yards. But not in the bunker. Before the changes, the first shot would have been gone and the second would have ended up in that bunker. The shot from the fairway ended up 10 feet above the pin while the apron shot ended up about 2 feet away. Two different plans of attack, with slightly different results (I missed the 10 footer).
The changes make the hole better. As the course sways back and forth from challenge to strategy, the Seventeenth embodies both from shot to shot. The green goes from one of the more uncompromising to one of the more versatile. Using the slopes of the terrace upon which the green sits, I look forward to getting to know my new and improved friend.
Photos of the changes below.
The Eighteenth is a 598 yard par 5. The tee shot is at one of the higher points of the course and the fairway is seemingly a quarter mile away, but it’s easy to reach considering the height differential. There’s a ridge above the bunker on the right and if your tee shot gets past it, the ball will advance downhill another 10 – 15 yards, leaving a level lie. Any tee shot too far right will likely end up on the Seventeenth fairway, which is not bad at all. It’s a blind shot back onto Eighteen, but there is enough room and space to advance the ball as much as you want. The second shot may be reachable for some (I’ve only seen one successful try), but for everyone else, there are options. The fairway continues towards the green, then drops downhill before ending at the ravine. So you have to decide whether you’d like your approach to be on the top part of the fairway looking down on the green, or a closer shot with the green above you. The main focus is making sure your ball stays on the fairway, so even hitting something shorter yet straight and leaving a longer approach is something I’ve done in the past. The green is multi-tiered, with the upper portion back right and lower tier to its left, moving towards the front. The green is inviting, but staying below the hole is preferred.
The climb to the tee. True story, 5 seconds after taking this picture, a substantially sized snake was on the path, then went back in the bushes when he noticed I was coming… I teed off from the Whites instead.
View from the White tees
Looking down the fairway from the right side. The banking on the left side is visible as well.
Approach shot territory
Looking back at the fairway from the green. The drop off from the fairway to the creek can be seen.
The back nine loops around the lower portion of the property before climbing to one of the higher points with the Seventeenth and Eighteenth tee shot. There are great par 5’s, a nice collection of diverse par 4’s and the best par 3 on the course in my opinion. The last 3 – 4 holes can be a tough closing, yet they maintain the theme of swaying between challenge and options. I’d rank them 13, 15, 18, 12, 17, 14, 11, 16, 10.
Generally, LedgeRock has a style of its own that makes it a terrific and unique play in the area. Its versatility invites a number of different shots and plays while there are points during the round where the challenge becomes very focused. The versatility also extends into its ability to play well in a variety of weather conditions, from firm and fast to slower to windy and any combination thereof. All of this makes it an outstanding match play course as well. The setting and conditioning are first rate, which makes the ground game a lot more available than it initially appears. What I think helps set Ledge apart is that despite its hilly terrain, it resists the urge of being yet another mountain target golf course with woodsy corridors and opened things up, allowing width which in turn creates a lot more options and lines of play. It embraced the severity of slopes upon which it sits and recognized that in order to use such severity ideally, width and open air was necessary. The strategic use of the slopes is likewise one of the characteristics of the course that give it a style of its own. As I continue to play here, I’m becoming aware of a lot more of its subtleties as well. There are decisions to make for each shot and sometimes, the decisions of where to miss are even more important.
Ledge is certainly a modern design. Maybe even post modern. It incorporates features of the links and aerial game, as well as featuring some heroic shots, all while requiring strategy throughout the round. I’d posit that Ledge is the result of Rees’s design style evolving, as can even be seen from his courses in Pennsylvania. Aside from Eagle Lodge, the timeline of his Pennsylvania original designs are, Huntsville 1994; Lookaway 1999; Broad Run 2000; Totteridge 2001; and LedgeRock 2006. With Huntsville, a lot of holes are framed by trees, but there are some open holes and paths from fairway to green, even though some of those paths are constrained. With Lookaway, the terrain is flatter, trees are used prominently and a lot of greens are pinched with bunkers, yet we see sweeping fairways and tiered fairway bunkers. At Broad Run, we see his use of hills becoming more prominent with a little more width, even though there are some awkward forced carries. We also start to see more restraint with bunkers and better use of off green areas. Totteridge shows an embracing of width and openness, relying on slopes and hills much more efficiently and naturally. The way I see it, Rees progressed in his design philosophy with Ledge in promoting width, embracing the natural contours and slopes, as well as making forced carries a strategic feature as opposed to awkward and disrupting the flow of the course. While I have heard comparisons to other Rees courses in Pennsylvania, there may be some similarities but it is and plays much different than those. In fact, as I’ve mentioned, any preconceived expectation of Ledge based on Rees will be surprised. This course does not fit in to a convenient category and my hope is that others experience LedgeRock for themselves and reach their own impressions. In fact, that’s something I hope for any course. Otherwise, I don’t see how course design evolves or progresses.
Gripes: A sand based grass is used on the range that you see on most links courses. It gives extremely tight lies, which is different from what you encounter on the course. It’s probably easier to repair the grass this way but wish it had a little more cushion.
Bar/Grill: The main clubhouse has a large indoor area, as well as a smaller one, with an expansive patio over looking the course. Always a great beer selection and the food is top shelf. The learning Center, which is the building near the driving range, was the original clubhouse, has a large living room with a bar and big patio area overlooking the water of the Fourteenth.
Clubhouse: The pro shop is in the same building as the locker rooms and is well stocked.
Practice area: A putting green near the First tee, as well as a grass driving range, learning center with indoor hitting bays and a short game practice area. It’s ranked as one of the better driving ranges in the country.