6,316 yards, 134 slope from the Black tees (Toomey/Flynn)
Course: In Huntingdon Valley, PA, HVCC was built by the Flynn and Toomey firm in 1928. Flynn headed up the design while Toomey was involved in its engineering aspects. Red Lawrence worked with Flynn here, who designed Desert Forest much later on as one of the nation’s underrated treasures. Like Desert Forest, those that worked under and learned from Flynn are some how as well as a kept secret as you can get nowadays, but many of my favorite courses come from them. HVCC is no exception. In fact, it is my favorite Flynn course played.
There are 27 holes here, with each set of nine holes named; the Flynn, the Toomey and the Centennial. The main course is the Flynn and Toomey nines and that is what this review focuses on. I’ll need to return to check out the Centennial!
The course is in fact set in a valley. Running along its ridges before eventually coming down to its floor where a stream meanders through and then back up, using both sides of the valley walls, the routing is spectacular for several reasons. It takes advantage of the hilly terrain and incorporates it into play, it ensures a number of random lies that are anything but flat and it allows the firm and fast conditions to flourish. And oh my, are the firm and fast conditions here amazing. It goes beyond fast greens and its nearby run off areas to the fairways. The terrain and conditions feed off each other. Elevated tee shots into the valley floors, walls leering this way and that, bunkers creating more slopes off their edges or collecting overambitious shots and water diversifying the strategy and challenge throughout the round. Flynn was also king of angles and that is certainly the case here. The endless battle of positioning oneself on one side or position to the other after endless pondering is one of the pleasant attributes of his courses. Here, the routing and terrain may lure the golfer to believe proceeding in one direction means the higher side is always preferable, which switches as he turns directions, but this will only help some of the time. The width and slopes complicate the affair, which results in considerable options no matter the direction or position on the course.
Andrew Green’s restoration work here focused on revitalizing the brilliance of these design features. Removing trees, re-edging of bunkers, resurfacing of tees, widening fairways and some work on the greens, the focus was on Flynn; not the work itself. The result was as intended. The course is now reinvigorated as the original design features and intended conditions bask in glory. The work by greens superintendent Scott Anderson is likewise tremendous, focusing on the all the right aspects of play. When I write about restoration that moves us forward (https://golfadelphia.com/2019/05/18/restoration-that-moves-us-forward/ ), the work here is exactly what I’m talking about.
One word that kept coming back to me during the round was, authentic. The course played like a classic marvel, free from any attempt to modernize or use the restoration work as a guise to fundamentally change or recapture the spotlight. The focus was on preserving the Flynn aura without leaving any footprint or impression from the restoration. The course is now astounding because of it.
Fresh off a few days at Prairie Dunes, it was good to be back local. The clubhouse overlooks the course below and in that sense, it reminded me of Manufacturer’s which wasn’t very far away. My game was in a weird spot at that time, where I’d vascillate between disaster mis swings and hitting it 15 yards further than I was used to but it was more the latter and was feeling good walking off the range. With a clear mind and excited to experience another wondrous Flynn in our area, we headed out.
The Toomey Nine
The First is a 364 yard par 4 (from the Black tees). I mentioned the similar configuration between clubhouse and course to Manny’s but the difference between the courses is apparent from the opening tee shot. At Manny’s, the First tee has you swan dive into the valley floor, taking on the ridge vertically. Here, the opener has you run along the high side of the ridge, horizontally. The right to left tilt is tremendous and the fairway accomodates it by falling diagonally to the left, right into the green. Bunkers are on the left, capitalizing on the pull of the terrain. A well struck tee shot hits the right center, which then moves down and towards the center for a comfy approach. A great opener where ground and gravity tell you from the get go, you’ll be seeing a lot of us.
The Second is a 402 yard par 4. We get what the top of the ridge gives and here, it gives us a twisting ascent to the left and a blind tee shot. A bunker on either side of the fairway confounds that blind tee shot even more, yet similar to the First, using that right to left cant means an advantageous approach where by all means do not go off the back.
The Third is a 182 yard par 3. A Redan in most respects, hitting to the left side of the green moves the ball back towards center, so a pin like you see below can be had, except for the smaller landing area near the treacherous bunker on the left. A player in our group took no less than 10 shots to get out of it. I’m not sure I’d do much better.
The Fourth is a 316 yard par 4. We now begin to fall. A shorter hole aided with the elevated tee shot but nothing close to the hole looks enticing. You can use the slope to bounce and roll your ball closer but even a long iron off the tee to saefty leaves you with a shorter approach. The green, moving into the slope more than with it, helps with approaches from the right, which can be counterintuitive and the opposite of most of our experience on this ridge. The left side is essentially all bunkers and while there is more room than appears from the tee, ending up in one is regrettable.
The Fifth is a 150 yard par 3. Now on the valley floor, we see the tilt of the walls go both ways here, dictated by the creek you must carry to the green. The green quickly from left to right and if short on the left side, it will roll off entirely. The front right bunker must be confronted to end up in a comfortable area for par. The flashed four horsemen bunkers look on and are happy to mae your life miserable if the creek doesn’t.
The Sixth is a 418 yard par 4. At the far side of the valley, we now turn and eventually ride up the other side. For now, this side of the valley remains on the floor, heaving up and down in large ripples. The tee shot is blind but the trees give you a semblance of what the hole does and once you crest over the first ripple, the hole is before you, vexing with its slopes. The fairway tilts right to left yet the green runs opposite. So having the ball run down the lower left side off the tee is not ideal. The right side is where you want to be in terms of lines into the green. Or switch it and settle for the easier tee shot then deal with working against the green contour from the left side. A simple twist along these ripples giving this hole a swarth of strategy.
The Seventh is a 540 yard par 5. Onwards along the outer rim of the valley, now further to its widest. Another blind tee shot but we can see the fairway dart down and around the bunkers on the left. Use the terrain here to move the ball towards the green, then a decision must be made what to do with the second shot. Towards the green tightens, so those thinking about a long shot in need to consider if they’re ok with the price for a miscue. Setting up a shorter approach is a good idea, to deal with the smaller green and more tough bunkers, making no bones about their presence.
The Eighth is a 363 yard par 4. A dog leg left that starts climbing up the valley wall, say hi to another blind tee shot over a hill side that runs right to left and down, then rises back up to the green. I hit a hell of a tee shot here that left me a short wedge in. It doesn’t happen often but every now and then, the club does all the work. The bunkers, well placed and efficient, near the green to narrow acceptable approaches. With the fairway wide yet tilring considerably, the lie will often complicate matters. With firm and fast conditions, it’s a roaring fun hole. Once you see the Ninth, it makes more sense as a prelude as to what’s to come on the approach.
The Ninth is a 415 yard par 4. Climbing up to the Eighth green gives us enough elevation to float on down to the creek once again, then right back up to the green. Unlike several holes on the front, this one is all in front of you. The clubhouse is in the background, showing exactly how far you’ve come. The horizon could be seen as startling after spending much of the front needling about in the valley. A belted tee shot will cartwheel down the fairway joyfully, seemingly forever. The vantage point and anticipation of a tee shot rolling infinitely may be enough to push your shot over the tree line and off the face of the planet. Or that was just me. Those with better resolve will then have one of my favorite approach shots on the course. The green sits on a ridge, wide and perpendicular to the fairway. You have to carry the creek then make it up the hill to the green that moves furiously from back to front. Short and left is disastrous but you’ll still have shot at the pin. No one will blame you, however, if you simply pick up your ball and retreat to the halfway house. And yes, anything above the hole is recklessly dangerous. Blowing past the pin and down the hill and even into the creek is on the table. An outstanding hole that stands out for all the right reasons and comes at the right time of the round.
The front nine is an outer loop that runs around the high side of the valley. The par 4’s were outstanding, playing different and married to the land so well while the par 5 is a natural extension of them. The par 3’s are worthy of mention as well. Terrain pulling in several directions where landing the shot close is only half of the battle. Every hole was strong. I’d rank them 9, 1, 3, 4, 8, 6, 7, 2, 5.
The Flynn Nine
The back nine starts with the 368 yard par 4 Tenth. We now proceed on an inner loop lower to the valley floor. The tee shot jumps back over the creek (Terwood Run), yet there’s a small landing area before it for those opting for the lay up. After the creek, the fairway climbs to the right and tilts in that direction. The angling of the green to the fairway making the left side most desirable and the right side, well, a lot less so. The green moves well to the front right side as well. A bit similar approach to the Ninth when you think about it.
The Eleventh is a 360 yard par 4. An elevated tee shot to the fairway that dog legs left and over Terwood Run yet again. The green sits on the creekbed on the other side, wide and shallow, requiring a precise approach. A great site for the green, requiring a deliberate tee shot for the approach in.
The Twelfth is a 355 yard par 4. One of the features on the back is how prevalent Terwood Run is. You encounter it on every single hole on the back except one (the Sixteenth). Similar to the Tenth, there’s room before the creek off the tee while all others will carry it. The fairway moves left to right and a bit uphill. The green is tucked into a hollow formed by the surrounding bunkers, where shots can feed into the green off the left slope. The creek follows you, off on the right side.
The Thirteenth is a 159 yard par 3. Switching directions to get over the pond, the tee shot is all carry to a larger green that moves quicker than it looks towards the water. In fact, stay below the hole at all costs. The size of the green may lure you into comfort in just getting over the water but the contours deceive. I’d almost rather be in one of the bunkers than have to chip from above the hole.
The Fourteenth is a 427 yard par 4. Returning to the general direction of the back nine, there is lots to take in. The fairway tilts in different directions, the fairway bunkers on the right, old Terwood on the left and steep faced greenside bunkers around a green that will laugh at your ball as it rolls off the front of the green, forever. Amidst all of this, are options aplenty. Take on the bunkers off the tee for a better angle into the green; go up the left and run the ball in; go fairway bunkers to greenside bunkers, etc. The subtlety here in how the ball moves on different areas of the fairway, and especially the green, is a big part of its complexity. In the heart of the routing, a superb par 4.
The Fifteenth is a 549 yard par 5. We start the walk home. Turning around with good friend Terwood there to greet us, the fairway on the other side of it which then dog legs right around a bunker on the inside. The fairway then runs straight to the green, a ridge along the right that leads downwards and a higher bank along the left. The green is tremedous, inviting most shots in from the fairway, then rejecting most of them off the back or right. The left side of the green is the target area and those going for it in two need to account for the firm and fast. Yet another striking hole and we have the makings of a thrilling closing stretch.
The Sixteenth is a 363 yard par 4. A dog leg left and it felt like the terrain really wanted to assert its presence here, seemingly underwhelmed by what it has done thus far. Accordingly, the fairway tilts left to right like a tsunami. You cling to the trees on the high side off the tee, hoping it’s enough for safety, instead of awash off the right, maybe into one of the five bunkers on that side. Avoid those bunkers. Their steep faces, then the upslope to the green, then the green itself running away from them, it’s enough to drown in strokes.
The Seventeenth is a 199 yard par 3. It is now Terwood that feels ignored, so he slithers this way and that below the tee all the way to the green. The marshy long grass he has woven around him makes the entire left side outright purgatory. Yet you still have a shot if in it. The green has a ridge running through the middle, running back to front on the front and front to back on the back. From the elevated tee, you can hedge short or figure out where you need to be on the green based on the ridge and pin position. A fantastic par 3 coming at a great time during the round and utilizing the magnificent natural surroundings into play.
The Eighteenth is a 386 yard par 4. We now climb back up the valley, homeward. While Manny’s finishes by scaling its valley wall head on, here it’s at an angle yet very much uphill. Terwood bids us adieu from in front of the tee box, only coming into play for topped tee shots. The fairway is above, at an angle, leaning terribly to the right, towards the hillside, bunkers and tree line. Like a ship careening sideways on a wave, everyone falling off starboard, so is the fairway. Wildly to the left is the English way. The fairway then starts down before ending into a hill of bunkers, the green high above. The magnetic pull of the ground, the wind off the top of the valley, the elevation; you can’t take enough club to safely reach that green. And you need to, desperately, to avoid the calamity of the trouble below. A wondrous finishing hole ending an impressive closing stretch and even better course.
The back nine is better but that’s the nature of the routing, which harmonizes nicely to build up the thrilling finish. I enjoyed every hole. I’d rank them 18, 15, 16, 14, 17, 11, 12, 13, 10.
Generally, Huntingdon Valley is a highly notable Flynn design that accentuates much of what I enjoy most in golf. A great site that was routed to take full advantage staying true to the classic tenets of the game. Firm and fast, on heaving, sloping, diagonal terrain that’s as fun and challenging as you please. The strategy is sophisticated and calls upon wit as much as skill. The bunkers were of the highest character and the greens a mind of their own. And once again, the routing. Its tapestry among the valley and use of Terwood over and over is yet another example of Flynn’s mastery in this area. It’s always fun to be floored when expectations were high to begin with.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: All on top of the ridge with the course below, a tasteful estate befitting the course.
Practice area: Range and putting green from what I could see