Country Club of Harrisburg

6,420 yards, 127 slope from the Blues

Course:  In Pennsylvania’s capital, the Country Club of Harrisburg was established in 1896.  The course was designed by William Flynn and while he was born in 1890, surprisingly, he did not design the course when he was 6.  The club moved to the site of the current course and Flynn built it at that point, which opened in 1917.  Set on the foothills of the Blue Mountains, CCH has a nice history, with Henry Picard and Jack Grout among its club pros.  It’s also one of Flynn’s earlier designed courses and with the heaving terrain upon which it is set, he makes good use of the land, with a combination of quirk, vistas, variety and challenge seen throughout.  Each hole certainly has its own identity, with slopes crashing headfirst into greens, fairways tumbling over ridgelines before climbing to unheralded heights and greens gallantly pulsing in several directions at once.  One of the most fun parts of the round was watching how the ball would move down the fairway towards the green, then suddenly shift directions once it hit the green, either towards the pin, or terrifyingly away from it.

The Philadelphia area is fortunate to have a number of different courses built by Flynn that are still around today.  I’ve played a good number of them and what struck me most about this course from the others was the par 5’s and the quirk found throughout the course.  Taking the hills head on with a good number of blind shots, sharp lines and banks, as well as jutting ridgelines creates a lot of shots and holes unique to the course unseen elsewhere.  There were also, however, some holes that didn’t stir as much excitement as others and while this added to the rhythm of the round, it left a yearning for more.

I’ve always believed that golf course architecture is art and like most other forms of art, golf course design evolves and changes over time.  This evolution or progression applies to the architect as well and I like to think Flynn was finding his stroke here on setting a course on such a dramatic piece of property.  The result is a lot of fun and some very memorable holes.  Flynn went on to design such masterpieces as Shinnecock Hills, Huntingdon Valley, Lancaster, Atlantic City Country Club and Rolling Green.  As seen from CCH, Flynn’s genius in routing and use of the existing terrain for a natural feeling course was well and alive in his early years of design, which then grew and developed further from his work and success here.  Playing here certainly made me appreciate Flynn’s proficiency even more.

The First is a 397 yard par 4 (from the Blues).  Things start off with a blind tee shot to a fairway that plummets from the tee before turning left just before getting to the green.  There are trees on either side, with the right side falling downhill in even more trees.  It’s a great opening hole and sets the tone for what to expect throughout.  Hitting my approach shot five yards before the green and watching it bounce and roll to the green, then roll and curl around until it cozied up to the hole just showed how much fun the hills can be as they’re incorporated into play.

The First

Approach shot territory

From the fairway looking back at the tee

A closer look at the green

The Second is a 219 yard par 3.  I don’t know what it is but I feel like most of Flynn’s par 3’s are over 200 yards.  I’m sure that’s not correct but it’s just the impression I have.  This hole supports that, as it’s a forced carry to a wide green that runs back to front and a little right to left, in defiance of the hillside.  There’s plenty of room running up to the green, keeping shorter shots very much in play for par.  Even ending up in the green side bunker on the right is ok, but any shot off the reservation will likely be lost or locked in the trees.

The Second

The green, from the right side

The Third is a 357 yard par 4.  An uphill par 4 with a blind tee shot that carries over a sharp ridge.  The other side of the ridge is a fairway canting from left to right.  The hillside upon which this hole is set pulls balls to the right a lot more than it looks, especially on the green.  Great use of the hillside and placement of the green here.
The Third

A closer look at the ridge
Approach shot territory

Looking back towards the tee

The Fourth is a 318 yard par 4.  A hard dog leg left that starts climbing uphill at the turn.  The right side will push balls away from the green while the closer your tee shot to the treeline on the left will result in a closer approach.  Too far left, however, will block you out of the green by those trees.  The hill to the green is steeper than it appears, so clubbing up is a good idea.

The Fourth

Approach shot territory

The Fifth is a 413 yard par 4.  The number one handicapped hole is fairly straight away, but the hills and ridges make it strategic and engaging.  The tee shot is to a fairway that’s downhill and depending on where you hit it, will get a lot of run more on the left side.  The approach is to a green sitting below the fairway, but the fairway dips below it before rising up, so I should say most approach shots will be from the fairway above the green.  While the corridor to the green is wide, the fairway is narrow, with most of it rough.

The Fifth

Approach shot territory

Looking back at the fairway

The Sixth is a 147 yard par 3.  The shortest par 3 on the course, it’s a carry to the green, which is tear-dropped shaped, starting narrow in the front then widening as you get to the rear.  A shelf creates two tiers on the green, with the higher near the front, so placement from the tee is critical to avoid traversing tiers and risk three-putting.  There really isn’t much room off green to miss, so precision is premium here and the green was one of the more challenging on the course.

The Sixth

The green

The Seventh is a 435 yard par 4.  One of the flatter holes on the course that runs slightly uphill from the tee, with trees on either side.  There’s not much to the hole and it almost feels like it’s use is to get us back over to the other side of the property to set up the last two holes of the front nine leading to the clubhouse.  This and the Thirteenth run parallel with each other and on similar flat terrain, but the Thirteenth is slightly more interesting because more was done with the green and lead up to the green.  Here, well, it’s a good scoring hole.

The Seventh

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory

The green from the left side

The Eighth is a 503 yard par 5.  A wild par 5 that starts out straight and wide, the second shot is likely completely blind, as the fairway rapidly descends down before crashing into the green.  Knowing where to hit the second shot, is paramount here, even though it’s completely blind.  There’s a lot of ways to play it, while using the severity of the fairway to your advantage will end up making the hole much shorter.  The fairway is high above the green, even within 20 yards, while the back side has a bunker and the green moves away from you towards the front.  The views, slopes and placement of green in relation to the fairway make this one of the more exciting holes on the course.  

The Eighth

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory

The green, from the right side

From the fairway

The Ninth is a 377 yard par 4.  A dog leg left with a forced carry off the tee to a fairway that juts up in front of you and immediately and continuously climbs uphill to the green.  The fairway also cants from left to right, so aiming close to the treelike on the right is always a good idea so it falls towards the center.  The approach shot is tough depending on the lie and could be blind if played from more on the left side.  The pull of the hill is likewise felt on the subtle green.

The Ninth

Approach shot territory

The green from the right side

Looking back towards the tee, which shows the canting of the fairway
The front nine embraces the hills, which results in a some very good holes and a good amount of distinction.  I would rank them 8, 1, 3, 2, 9, 5, 4, 6, 7.
The back nine starts with the 175 yard par 3 Tenth.  A drop shot par 3 to a green that curls off to the left with the right bunker above the green and the left bunker below.  Short of the green slopes away from the green, but is safe.  With the hills of trees as your gallery, hit it to the right side of the green since that side moves towards the center.  Yet another nice par 3 that is wide and allows different lines to the green, but narrows its focus with how the ball moves once it hits the ground.
The Tenth

From the left side
The Eleventh is a 562 yard par 5.  Yet another wild par 5 to an uphill fairway that slopes hard from right to left.  Aiming at the treeline on the right and getting as close to it as possible is a good line from the tee, which will move the ball down the fairway and left.  There is a break in the fairway to force the second shot, but with the fairway dropping and turning to the green, there are options as to how to advance the ball and set up your approach, or try and go for the green in two.  With the green so far below the fairway, it’s tempting to go for it, so just keep in mind it’s better to miss left than right.
The Eleventh

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory

A look at the fairway from the green
The Twelfth is a 153 yard par 3.  Set on a terrace, it’s uphill from the tee, with the slope on the front and back of the green moving balls downhill towards the tee.  It’s a straight forward hole, but any shot off the green and/or above the hole will need to be met with the deftness of delicacy in accommodating the slope fo the hillside to get the ball close to the pin.
The Twelfth

A closer look

From back and above
The Thirteenth is a 400 yard par 4.  Running parallel with the Seventh, it is likewise one of the flatter holes on the course.  Straightaway and tree lined on both sides with no fairway bunkers, the green provides a little intrigue here being raised from the fairway and undulating left to right, but otherwise this seems more like a way to get from point A to point B on the property.
The Thirteenth 

Approach shot territory
The Fourteenth is a 525 yard par 5.  While straight, there is a little more rolling terrain here.  The tee shot is a forced carry over water to a fairway that slopes left to right.  The fairway then starts downhill to the green, canting the same direction all the way up to it.  Trees on both sides confine you to the stay within the fairway but there’s enough width to work with.  The fairway feeds into the green but becomes raised as you get towards the rear, with anything too far back blocked out by trees.  The back of the green also provides a view of the Susquehanna River, showing just how much the terrain juts vertically from the river banks.  
The Fourteenth

Moving down the fairway

Still moving down

And closer to approach shot territory

Approach shot territory

Looking back at the fairway

Showing what’s off green and how raised from the back

A view of the river

The Fifteenth is a 424 yard par 4.  The number 1 handicapped hole on the back and number 2 overall, the tee shot is exacting to a rumpled downhill fairway that moves and kicks the balls in all different directions.  Hitting the fairway is vital, as the approach is to a downhill green with water along the right side while a hillside of rough is off to the left.  A tee shot moving to the left side will ensure the approach has a clear angle to the green.  Short of the green pulls hard towards the water, so finding the balance between aiming for the hillside on the left and water on the right makes it challenging yet endearing, so long as you pull it off…

The Fifteenth

Approach shot territory

A closer look at the green

The Sixteenth is a 159 yard par 3.  Bunkers on both sides of the green pinch the front while it moves from right to left.  There’s not a whole lot of room off the green beyond the bunkers, so if you miss, miss short.

The Sixteenth

The Seventeenth is a 558 yard par 5.  Another exciting par 5 that starts off with what appears to be a narrow tee shot between trees to a fairway that starts downhill, making most tee shots blind.  The fairway keeps plummeting, then twists to the right, ultimately ending at the road into the club.  The green sits on the other side, with the fairway slithering uphill to the green while the green itself moves pretty well from back to front.  The approach shot is one of the tougher on the course and just like the Fifteenth and some of the other holes before it, the lie will not be a flat one.  The green’s movement also makes things interesting, as any pin position in the front will be a challenge.

The Seventeenth
Moving down the fairway

The green in view

Approach shot territory

The green

Looking back

The Eighteenth is a 298 yard par 4.  The final hole goes uphill and left to the green.  Lots of width off the tee but getting the line right is important to set up the approach shot, while the tree lines muddle where the proper landing area is.  The approach shot is inviting, and still uphill, taking any shot you decide on.  The views of the course and Susequehanna get better and better as you reach the green and with the clubhouse in the background, the excursion about the hills comes to an invigorating end.

The Eighteenth

A view of the Eleventh green off to the right and river beyond

Approach shot territory

Looking back

A look at the green side bunker on the left

The back nine uses what the ground gives and in turn there is three par 5’s, 3 par 3’s and 3 par 4’s.  The routing works well with the terrain, with most shots exciting and challenging.  The par 5’s were the highlight for me, which inevitably had to be exciting considering their length and terrain; it’s only a matter of time the long holes run into undulating land.  I’d rank them 11, 15, 17, 18, 14, 10, 12, 16, 13.

Generally, CCH is a fine example of a classic design routing very well over severe terrain to create a boisterous and formidable round.  Lots of variety here that comes with the property the course is set on.  While the greens were fun, they were well restrained instead of being lost to the severity of the hills. While a few holes were commonplace, these still played well fit into the routing as a bit of a reprieve from the bolder and thrilling holes.  A few more trees could be taken down to open up some views but more importantly more playability in spots, but the width was sufficient for the most part.  There is just the right amount of quirk along with encountering so many different shots, lies and angles.  While Flynn had many great courses to build in front of him, CCH stands as one of his first memorable designs, showcasing his uncanny talent for routing.

Gripes:  Not much.  The driving range is into a hillside that runs uphill, which is always awkward to me for some reason.

Bar/Grill:  A nice area with an indoor and outdoor area overlooking the Eighteenth green.

Clubhouse:  Fits in well with the surroundings.  The pro shop has a nice selection of everything and their emblem is top notch.

Practice area:  Driving range, short game area and putting green.

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