6,302 yards, 133 slope from the Whites
Continuing with getting to courses that are fairly close to me but I’ve never played before, Green Valley is in Lafayette Hill, PA, which is tucked away over near the Wissahickon trail, Plymouth Meeting and my law school stomping grounds of Manayunk. The club was established in 1919 and apparently built its first course at a nearby location that was designed by Willie Park, Jr., but the present-day course was designed by William Flynn in 1924. Yes, yet another Flynn course in our area and this one stays under the radar for the most part.
Our area is flush with Flynn and there is no shortage of fanfare towards him, which includes me, so I was curious why I had not heard much about Green Valley. Did the other local Flynn marvels monopolize all the attention? Had the course changed too much over the years? Was it possible I simply never ran into someone that had played or wanted to discuss it? Or was it simply a well kept secret, overshadowed by nearby neighbors, which include Whitemarsh, Sunnybrook, Philadelphia Cricket and the ACE Club? My inquiring mind finally had a chance to see for myself.
Green Valley is indeed set in a valley. Similar to Whitemarsh, the clubhouse is on a high side while the far side is also high, except here the hilly undulations within the interior of the course fluctuate much more. Hills, slopes, shaping, trees and a bit of water dictate the flow of the course. The round is varied, slopes are creatively and trees suggest shot shapes. A diverse set of greens, boldly shaped, lend a lot of character. It’s a solid Flynn design. It could stand to lose trees in spots to open up some of the corridors but this affects the tee shots more than anything. The terrain is used well, a good number of blind shots because of it to add suspense and again, it bears mentioning, the greens. Much of the strategy is decreed by them. A classic parkland that sets itself apart with the greens and diversity of holes from how they are laid upon the terrain. Alas, it turns out it’s more of a well kept secret more than anything else yet is a notable example of the depth of Flynn’s impressive work.
Now into the far reaches of the season and the tumults of work subsiding, I arrived at Green Valley on a pleasant late Fall morn. Serious swing issues had seeped in to my psyche and I was at the stage where each shot was a dice roll of anything from bounding and majestic to a right angle in any direction from address. I would not be deterred. There was golf to be played and days like this would become less and less frequent until I eventually found myself in a thick cable knit sweater looking outside at a pile of snow, counting down the days until the grass came back. Little did I know what awaited and what we’re going through as I write this. All the more grateful I plodded on despite the misbehavior of my clubs.
The First is a 359 yard par 4 (from the White tees). We start out to the heart of the course, a slightly elevated tee shot, trees on both sides, the opening fairway showing its rumples as it banks ever so gently to the right. The trees clear a bit closer to the green and the fairway feeds directly into the green, a slight incline at the entry before spilling down and to the left. There’s actually a creek that starts out near the far left side of the green, close enough to come into play for those that overcook the green. The green is a nice introduction. Brisk movement right to left and front to back, a sharp challenge unto itself.
The Second is a 345 yard par 4. Steps away from the First green, we keep going in the same direction, more uphill now. The ridge in view from the tee makes most tee shots blind while trees gather on each side, watching on. After the ridge, the fairway continues upward, again the trees clearing near the green and the fairway succumbing to the green. The green is at an angle to the fairway, its bunkers deep below, moving back to front. A theme has been established, the proper introductions complete, the course now leads you by the arm to the main ballroom where the festivities are in full swing.
The Third is a 500 yard par 5. The band takes it up a notch and we go from the English Waltz to the Viennese, feeling it. Going back downhill, the fairway opens up until ending at a creek. You have to carry it to reach the other side, which then climbs uphill to the green. The fairway leans left to right up to the tabletop green, which seemed to be in swing with the Viennese as well, moving quicker than most of the other greens, back to front. Setting up each shot and planning for that green speed and pin location, contours are great here.
The Fourth is a 158 yard par 3. Turn around, every now and then you get a little bit water and then you see the green look in your eyes. The forced carry over the creek we came across last hole, which has grown a bit. The green arches around the front right bunkers, moving towards the front at the front and towards the rear in that area. Those front right bunkers also push the green away, causing even more movement in that area. Pin position affects this hole a lot and the one we see below is a clever one. Take on those bunkers, you actually should land past the pin, or land at the front, which is safer and will leave you with a longer putt that quite honestly, might be easier than a closer one above the pin. A great par 3.
The Fifth is a 424 yard par 4. The hills are now cooking with gas. The fairway luges downhill before sweeping right, the downslope makes the landing of the tee shot blind. Downhill until embracing rough, then jutting up to the green. It’s almost like the greens are trying to one up each other, this one moving back to front, twice as fast towards the front, making any shot in that area face the very real possibility of plunging down into the rough below. Another contour win here.
The Sixth is a 381 yard par 4. A dog leg right where the turn starts with the tee shot. A great spot where the tree on the right could be lightened, opening up those who want to try and avoid the left fairway bunker in exchange for a longer uphill approach. The uphill is more mild than the prior hole and the green more subtle yet deceptive. Moving left to right with a couple tiers, careful where you place that approach.
The Seventh is a 525 yard par 5. The march back to the clubhouse begins, the fairway moving down from the tee with two well placed fairway bunkers, one on each side. Heaving up before leveling out some what to the green, the green is yet another interesting one, falling off to the left. The contours and slopes make the angles into the green valuable. Generally, the left lower side of the fairway can take advantage of the upper right side of the green while those from the higher right side could utilize the ground a bit better.
The Eighth is a 134 yard par 3. A short par 3 made even shorter with the elevated tee. A wide green moving away from you with bunkers at the front makes for a slick shot, but the green is large enough and has enough lateral movement to make it as fun as it is challenging from an accuracy standpoint. And of course, I loved putting it, almost telling my group to start the Ninth without me.
The Ninth is a 383 yard par 4. Moving from the valley uphill to the clubhouse, the fairway is inviting with a simple yet effective placement of fairway bunkers on each side. This green is well swarmed with bunkers as the green is set at an angle moving away from the fairway. We’ve seen this configuration on a few holes thus far and it helps emphasize searching for ideal lines into the green for the approach, which extends to the tee shot. And with that, we have looped the south side of the property on both sides of the valley. We now venture out to the back nine, a new hope, redemption or keeping the momentum going.
The cadence and variety of the front was impressive. The first two holes struck the right note while the middle holes ratcheted up the excitement, then the last couple holes soothed for the finish. My ranking of them would be 7, 4, 5, 6, 3, 8, 2, 1, 9.
The back nine starts with the 178 yard par 3 Tenth. The tee is slightly elevated and the green is set at an angle. The right side drops off severely and in fact, is well below the hole on that side all the way from the tee. Bunkers are on both sides while there is room short that runs up into the green. Hitting to the back of the green and have it come to the pin, or the higher left side with the same intention are two very good plays for this challenging par 3.
The Eleventh is a 483 yard par 5. All the par 5’s run within the interior of the course, which takes advantage of the hills on either side as well as the valley. The undulations on the longer holes bring more options of play and placement as you transition from downhill to uphill, as well as the creek or valley that comes into play most of the time. Here, we start out downhill towards the valley, then dog leg right. A creek bisects the fairway at this point, then starts moving up to the green. Some slight twists in the fairway as the bunkers on each side knot up. The green is another fun one, large and moving in several directions depending on where you are on it.
The Twelfth is a 306 yard par 4. Still moving to the far side of the property opposite the clubhouse side, this short par 4 starts with a blind tee shot as the fairway moves uphill and crests out of sight. Once we get over the crest, the green complex is before you, like a playful slap in the face. Flashing bunkers all along the front while the green is wide, with a higher right shelf and lower left. The green achieves its intended effect of intimidating yet demanding more precision than normal in light of the shorter yardage. The green is sheer fun. Being on the wrong shelf or above the hole takes the most astute putting to lag the ball close. A very good short par 4.
The Thirteenth is a 391 yard par 4. We’ve made it to the northernmost high point of the course. We now move west, inevitably downhill. Bunkers on the right at the start of the fairway demand attention. You can carry them from the tee, or go to the left of them, which is the narrower part of the fairway. After those bunkers, the fairway widens and keeps moving downhill until it ends at a pond. You must carry the pond and the green is uphill. Bunkers on both sides and the green moves downhill, really trying to get your ball to roll back into the water. A tough hole yet lots of options at your disposal.
The Fourteenth is a 336 yard par 4. A narrower tee shot, the trees defending that right side since it yields a shorter approach over the water to the green. Most will go left center instead off the tee, which clears the trees but brings the large left fairway bunker into play and a longer approach. Most approaches will contend with the water along the right side one way or another and again, there’s a wild green here; wide and moving both back to front (towards the water) and right to left (towards the entry point). Mind you, at this point in the round my score card might as well set fire to itself but I was also taken away with how the course asserts its identity in this an last few holes.
The Fifteenth is a 185 yard par 3. The green tilts to the left towards the greenside bunker on that side while a bunker on the higher right side tempers those trying to take full advantage of the slope. It’s a nice final par 3, allowing a return to the ground game after a few approaches focusing on the aerial.
The Sixteenth is a 413 yard par 4. Heading back down to the valley and dog legging right. The green is set at an angle off to the left, bunkers on either side. After the rest of the eclectic back nine, this seems tame by comparison but the trees create a tough tee shot and the configuration between fairway and green lulls the player into a false sense of comfort.
The Seventeenth is a 410 yard par 4. We’re now in the direction of home. A dog leg left with well placed bunkers, the fairway tightening its belt at the turn. After the turn, the fairway moves upward to the green. Large, moving back to front with bunkers on its sides below, there’s lots of room to work with the approach, so long as the tee shot is taken care of.
The Eighteenth is a 391 yard par 4. The clubhouse straight out, trees on both sides, the tee shot is likewise straightforward. The fairway eventually moves downhill to water, so getting the tee shot to the downhill will advance it even closer. Water is between the fairway and green and the final approach is a forced carry. The green, widest at the front then cropping towards the rear, moving towards the water. The carry over the water on the approach is the least of your worries; the slopes and movement of the green must be accounted for and staying below the hole a necessity. Hushed tones of conversation, clinking of glasses, maybe an occasional laugh or two, remind you of what’s to come once you walk off the green.
The back nine is a bit more diverse and bold, yet the closing sequence shirks a bit from the momentum created by the middle holes. I would rank them, 12, 14, 10, 11, 15, 13, 17, 18, 16.
Generally, Green Valley is a pleasant Flynn design on nicely varied terrain. The terrain dictates the balance and tempo of the course, while the greens feature bold shaping that significantly add to the character. Much more exciting from 100 yards in, the tee game is singular for the most part, except for a few blind shots and a couple holes on the back. The holes are well varied, however, and the approach shot strategy seeps in to what should be considered off the tee to some extent. The approach shots and greens were most memorable. The angles, variety between aerial and ground game, as well as the interplay with the slopes and bunkers were pure joy. Then there was the putting, which remained exciting and engaging without going too far into the realm of tricked up or too fast. In all, Green Valley is a notable Philadelphia area Flynn design on intriguing terrain that is well varied around and on the greens. Another pleasant surprise in my backyard!
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Nice views of the course as the structure wraps around the high side of the property.
Practice area: A smaller range, putting green and I believe a comprehensive short game area.