Northampton Valley CC

6,402 yard, 126 slope from the Blues

Course:  In Richboro, PA, which is about an hour northeast of Center City, is Northampton Valley Country Club, a course built by Edwin Ault, opening in 1963.  Ault has some nice courses to his credit, including Baltimore Country Club (West), Las Vegas Country Club and TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm.  He ended up forming a design firm, which ultimately included his son, Brian, who has a nice portfolio to his credit with some courses I like a lot, primarily including Wyncote and both Mercer Oaks courses.  Ault is renowned in the industry and his son’s design firm remains as busy as anyone else today.

I wish I could say I sought this course out after diligent research to play one of the few Ed Ault courses in our area, all in my relentless pursuit of covering Philadelphia’s public golf scene.  No, the sober truth is this course was a halfway point for a friend and I, was affordable and seemed nice enough from the photos and website.  I had heard of Northampton before and had never heard anything bad about it, I just hadn’t really heard anything one way or another.  Nevertheless, my friend and I were looking to play and wanted a faster round on a Friday morning, so we settled on NVCC.

And with that, I ended up discovering yet another pleasant classic course with lots of variety, strategy and delightful greens.  I think a chainsaw would do a lot of good here to lighten up on trees in some sections, but generally Northampton was yet another course I stumbled upon that ended up being a great play.  I could see the locals already knowing this but for everyone else, it’s worth giving a play and possibly adding to the rotation.  Moderate hills with many of the holes being tree lined, with some forced carries over water and good use of the terrain that will not kill you with difficulty yet gives you different paths to the green while ensuring your tee game is in good shape to score well.  I should stumble onto courses more often!

The First is a 328 yard par 4 (from the Blues).  From an elevated tee, the narrow fairway has cross bunkers to contend with before reaching the green, which has a false front leading slightly uphill to it.  Trees line either side but are heavier on the left.  The green moves back to front and right to left.  While it’s a nice gentleman’s handshake of an opener, selection off the tee to get it on the fairway is critical to starting the round off right.

The First

Approach shot territory

A look at the green from the back right

The Second is a 338 yard par 4.  Going back in the opposite direction, this hole climbs uphill to the green, with the fairway ending before a bunker, then rough, before a short grass apron in front of the green, where the opening in the front is pinched by green side bunkers.  The green moves strongly from back to front and the approach will likely need to be aerial to carry over the bunkers and rough. Again, placement off the tee is important to set up the approach, as the green is small and has lots of movement.

The Second

Approach shot territory

The Third is a 218 yard par 3.  A longer par 3 that plays a bit shorter than the stated yardage since the green is below the tee, the green is well protected by larger bunkers one the left and front right side.  As is the theme here, there is a nice apron short of the green, providing a way to avoid trouble surrounding the green and instead test your mettle with the wedge and flat stick.  The green moves from back to front, so saying below the hole is a good idea.  In fact, going long is a bad idea all around, with the trees and rough back there.

The Third

The Fourth is a 410 yard par 4.  At this point, the holes have been straight from tee to green, yet far from redundant or dull.  Using the undulations of the terrain, bunker placement and green shaping are all used nicely to vary the play among the holes, showing that it’s possible to switch back holes if there’s enough room while tee and green placement is done properly.  As for the Fourth, the fairway starts uphill from the tee, widening a bit towards the landing area, while a tree line runs up the entire left side of the hole and a few trees are off to the right.  The fairway crests and starts downhill, narrowing as it gets closer to the green, which is well bunkered.  Again, the green runs from back to front and the apron is there as an option on the approach.  The approach gets fairly precise, so do what it takes to avoid the bunkers and get on the green.

The Fourth 

Approach shot territory

The Fifth is a 185 par 3.  A deep green with bunker pools surrounding most of it, the green is set a little above the tee.  Bunker pools is basically my coined term for wide, shallow bunkers that typically cover most of one side of the green.  Like here, bunker pools will take about 85% of the balls hit off the green, so you either hit the green or get ready for a sand shot.  Good bunker pools on this hole, which rang true on mis-hits.  Kind of a standard hole you’ll encounter from time to time.

The Fifth

The Sixth is a 388 yard par 4.  The hole starts off to the right more than it dog legs, with bunkers lining each side of the fairway, trees just beyond the bunkers on the left side while the driving range is along the right.  The fairway narrows as you get closer to the green, but there’s a short grass collection area at the front left of the green.  It’s a scoreable par 4, but there’s not a whole lot of leeway if you get sideways.

The Sixth

Moving down the fairway

The Seventh is a 530 yard par 5.  Straightaway with trees lining both sides, the fairway is narrower than you would expect, with a larger bunker on the right enveloping most of the fairway for the second shot.  After the bunker, the fairway widens and flows into the green, with a single green side bunker on the right.  There’s not much to it.

The Seventh

Moving up the fairway

The Eighth is a 410 yard par 4.  The number one handicapped hole, the fairway meanders through trees on either side, starting right before snaking in both directions over a crest, leading downhill to the green.  Cross bunkers are effective at taking tee shots missing their mark while the green is well defended, as any shot that misses the green will be met with a recovery shot out of rough in the trees or in a bunker.  Of course, short of the green is the reprieve, but even that area will be challenging to navigate to the pin with the undulations in the green.  It’s a nice challenging parkland par 4 that uses the terrain to assert some distinction.

The Eighth

Approach shot territory

The Ninth is a 315 yard par 4.  This short par 4 is even shorter than the stated yardage because of its elevated tee shot.  The hole dog legs right around a pond, with trees protecting on the inside of the turn to protect the angle directly to the green from the tee.  Closer to the trees and over the water gives means a shorter approach shot, while a more conservative tree shot off to the left leaves you with a longer approach yet likely a better angle into the green.  Temptation is strong here to take on the water from the tee, but any shot just a tad off to the right puts you in more trouble than you need to be here.  A nice risk reward hole.

The Ninth

The front nine takes on the north and west corners of the property on mild rolling terrain.  The holes are well placed in a smaller radius of property, yet it never feels cramped.  That’s likely due to smart placement of trees and green/tee placement.  An enjoyable front nine, yet the par 5 falls into the standard rota of parkland holes that are encountered too often in our area.  Ranking them, I’d go 8, 9, 3, 6, 2, 4, 1, 5, 7.

The back nine starts with the 366 yard par 4 Tenth.  Yet another example of a straight hole presenting as one that twists and turns based on the shape of the fairway and areas of rough.  It is indeed a straight hole with an elevated tee shot that starts slightly ascending uphill to the green.  The range is off to the left and while trees surround the right and far sides of the green, it’s fairly open so long as you’re not off to the right.  The bunker off to the right seems like an ode to Oakmont, with church pews contained therein.  The short grass areas off this green, especially off the left side, are some of my favorite on the course.  Lots of sloping and many different ways to get the ball to the pin.

The Tenth

Moving down the fairway

The bunker complex off to the right

The Eleventh is a 433 yard par 4.  Straight out with trees on either side, this is usually the stuff of my nightmares.  This area is fraught with tree-lined corridors that switch back 18 times and call themselves a golf course.  This course, however, is an example of doing it right.  Using the terrain to create visual variety, bunker placement and green complexes can all be used creatively to constantly engage the golfer.  This course does that well, as with this hole, which is straight to the green, yet the fairway climbs to the green, with cross bunkers, and the apron running to the green, along with the green side bunkers, asserts its identity.  Yet another one nice green complex, running from back to front.

The Eleventh

Looking back towards the tee

The green, with spectators

The Twelfth is a 422 yard par 4.  Straightaway yet again, but trees are not encroaching as much as on the prior holes.  Cross bunkers along the fairway, then the slightly raised green set off to the left of the fairway with a larger apron sweeping the right side.  The green runs towards its front and there is plenty of width around it to receive all sorts of approach shots.

The Twelfth

Approach shot territory

A look at the green

The Thirteenth is a 400 yard par 4.  Straight, but the tee shot is semi blind with the fairway dropping downhill.  The pond on the right side just before the green is the feature hazard, ensuring that the approach must be true to the green, which in turn makes it important to get the tee shot in the fairway, as any recovery out of the trees or bunkers means a much tougher choice of whether to go for the green or lay up before it.  The green is wide, allowing extra space to carry the water, yet runs back to front, so any putt or chip downhill brings the water back in play.

The Thirteenth

Approach shot territory

The Fourteenth is a 545 yard par 5.  A dog leg left set on the edge of a hillside on the left, which tumbles down to water that runs along most of the left side.  While the hole is high above the water, it’s very much in play off the tee, yet you never would know it’s there if you haven’t played the hole before.  Even with this knowledge, the tee shot becomes a lot more important, and challenging, as you balance staying out of the water, far enough out for a healthy second shot and not in the trees off to the right.  From the fairway, the green can be seen, below and to the left.  There are two fairways so to speak, one closer to you before a creek, and one further away on the other side of the creek.  The closer fairway amounts to a very short second shot and is likely best utilized if you’re in trouble off the tee, while the further fairway leaves you with a shorter approach into the green, which is surrounded by bunkers.  It’s a cool hole and with its open space and elevation change, is much different than the others on the course.  In retrospect, it felt like the holes before it from the Tenth, all par 4’s and in the trees, set up this par 5 coming out of them rather well.

The Fourteenth

Second shot territory

The Fifteenth is a 170 yard par 3.  Believe it or not, we have not seen a par 3 since the Fifth.  Moving back into the trees, the tee is a little above the green, with green side bunkers pinching the opening of the green in the front, trees on the back side and a bunker on the back right.  The green is subtle, moving from left to right.

The Fifteenth

The Sixteenth is a 388 yard par 4.  This dog leg right climbs uphill to the green, with a tree line outlining the left side and bunker “lakes” taking over the right side.  These are large bunkers and they must comprise most of the surface area over there.  The tee shot is important to avoid trouble, as the approach will be a longer one, over rough (between fairway and green) and to the deep yet narrow green, with greenside bunkers on either side.  The green almost moves fro the outside in, with the bunkers proving a lot of its slope on the edges.  It’s a challenging hole and with the Fourteenth, has a bias towards the aerial game.

The Sixteenth

Approach shot territory

A look at the bunkers on the right side of the fairway.  There’s actually a lot of them.

The Seventeenth is a 349 yard par 4.  A dog leg right around water on the right, driver is likely too much club off the tee unless it’s a prolific shot that swings over the left treeline or water towards the green.  And even then, a bunker sitting right in the middle of the fairway before the green must be negotiated.  For most of us, needling the tee shot between the water and trees leaves a shorter approach into the green, which becomes necessary to hit the green to avoid the multiple bunkers surrounding it.  The green is one of the more flatter on the course though, so even longer putts can be easier to get in the hole.

The Eighteenth is a 207 yard par 3.  Ah, ending on a par 3, uncommon yet can be seen on a number of terrific courses.  This is the longest of the course, where the water we see on the Seventeenth comes into play here off to the right and must be carried.  The green is deep with a long apron in front of it, with bunkers dotting the left side and one in the back.  There’s room to miss, so long as it’s not to the right, or short right to be exact.  The green runs from back to front, which is actually accommodating for this hole, where most will be short of the the hole anyways, leaving a more manageable uphill putt.  A nice ending to the round.

The Eighteenth

A look at the green from the left

The back nine is on more diverse terrain and uses it nicely.  I enjoyed it a little more than the front.  I’d rank them 14, 18, 16, 17, 10, 12, 11, 13, 15.

Generally, Northampton Valley is a good classic play that’s a nice example of design ensuring that straight, or even straight and tree lined holes, can be interesting and different from one another if the right things are paid attention to.  Many parkland courses focus on forcing certain corridors and angles into the green, then making the green far too severe, for its challenge.  Here, width is actually in the right places and the aprons in front of the green operates as a bail out area that can be used strategically for a player of any skill level, which also ensures the course is accessible to all.  The greens had movement, but did not try too hard to create unnecessary difficulty.  In all, I was glad to have stumbled upon it and would liken it to Downingtown, but shorter, on less rolling terrain and with Downingtown having a better collection of par 3’s.  Yet it belongs in the grouping of interesting classic parklands that I’d be fine playing any day of the week.  Alas, another affirmation that the Philadelphia area is rich with great golf, and quite pleasantly and surprisingly, I have yet to discover all of it.

Gripes:  Some of the grounds crew, bluntly, were annoying.  Sitting off of the green as we hit our approach shots, hovering as we did our best to putt out and get out of their way, and on one occasion, one of them on their phone.  We were one of the first groups out on the course and I understand they have a job to do, but the serenity of those early morning summer rounds was a little lost here with grounds crew.  Get there earlier, come up with a different way to wait for golfers to get through the hole, I don’t know.  It took a little away from the round.

Bar/Grill:  An area close to the Tenth and Sixth holes, both inside and out, along with a formal dining area.

Clubhouse:  Decently stocked with friendly staff.  I kind of use clubhouse and pro shop interchangeably.

Practice area:  A driving range and putting green.  Good enough.