6,405 yards, 133 slope from the Gold tees
In Medford, New Jersey, MVCC has an intriguing history. In 1963, James “Dutch” Himmelein decided to take a farm his father owned known as the Sunny Jim and turn it into a golf course. His mission statement to William Gordon’s firm was to make make a golf course that was as challenging as Pine Valley. Originally named the Sunny Jim Golf Club, Dutch famously offered $1,000 to the first player that could break par on the lay out. No one collected. With fairways tightening at 30 yards, tree lined and dog legging, with sheer-faced bunkers over 4 feet high and large greens that undulated fiercely and moving in several different directions, it relished its reputation as the, “Magnificent Monster of Medford.”
Eventually, however, the course began to struggle financially. It may have accomplished its objective a little too much and ultimately, it’s likely the members and everyone else could only take so much of the difficulty. The club was bought by a group of investors in the early 1970’s, who endeavored to renovate the course and soften its teeth. Fairways were widened, bunkers were re-designed, yet the greens remained for the most part. The course also received its current namesake. While no longer a famed monument of maddening difficulty, it is still demanding and challenging with a tremendous set of greens. Remarkably, even back in its infancy, the difficulty does not come from OB penalty strokes, water, or even forced carries. It comes from the demanding tee shots made from the corridors of tree lines, bunker placement and shape, as well as vexing greens. Theoretically, the course always gives you a chance to recover from those bad shots. It’s just that most of the time, you’d rather have a penalty stroke with a better lie.
Set on mostly flat terrain, predominantly wooded with a few creeks and ponds, MVCC has intrigued me for some time on how it managed its longevity through moving off its original mission statement. I wrote about how courses have tried emulating Pine Valley in, “The Old Course Syndrome” https://golfadelphia.com/2019/08/18/the-old-course-syndrome/ and while the course started as a prime example of it, I was interested in finding out how much of the original severity was taken off and how it affected the course’s identity. The course is still challenging, placing demands on shotmaking with its corridors and advantageous landing areas on the greens. That challenge is, however, not insurmountable. The greens have a lot of contouring and slopes, which gave me the impression the course is able to present a worthy venue for tournaments (which it has in hosting U.S. Open and PGA Club Professional qualifiers) with pin positions and upping their speed. This shaping also gives the course much of its strategic issues and deciding how to approach each green is something that can remain exasperating even as close as the one foot knee knocker. In terms of similarities with Pine Valley, I’m not sure there was ever an intention to resemble PV; only to surpass it in difficulty. In terms of daunting approach shots to wild greens, there could be some similarity there. Really though, MVCC has carved its own character, initially by pushing the envelope of difficulty, but more impressively by dialing back that severity, remaining engaging and preserving its original identity of presenting a challenging round to the player.
This was the last round reviewed for 2019 and in turn, the decade. A mild weather day in December and of course, my game was right where I wanted it, just in time for the season to come to a close entirely. 31 courses reviewed in 2019, I believe that is a new record. It never gets old, each course a completely new and different experience.
The First is a 390 yard par 4 (from the Gold tees). A slight dog leg left with a generous opening fairway, most of the excitement is near the balloon shaped green, bunkers on either side, the front more narrow than the rear. Straying too far from the fairway is still not a great idea and with water further down to the right of the green, the flexibility has some bounds here. A nice opener, easing you into what’s to come.
The Second is a 379 yard par 4. Another dog leg left, the trees just a touch more imposing and fairway bunkers on either side at the turn. The fairway spills on to the green, where the lone grenade bunker is on the left. Two holes in and the introduction is enough to get well acquainted without getting out of sorts just yet.
The Third is a 495 yard par 5. With the proper introductions out of the way, I believe we see a bit of the old teeth here, as the fairway narrows, keeps turning right so that the hole is a “C” shape more than a dog leg and trees become insistent near the fairway edges. Indeed, the green is tucked well off to the right behind a gathering of trees. One could try to carry the trees, or more smartly proceed off to the left for the best accessible area. The green is slippery, moving from back to front with various shelves. The course begins to show itself, with hints of just how rambunctious it can get if the occasion arises.
The Fourth is a 195 yard par 3. The false front area before the green is fantastic for its effect on visuals from the tee and play. Along with the bunkering in that area, trying to play short of the green is not ideal. In fact, there really isn’t an ideal play off the green at all. It’s well guarded and none of the options are appealing. The green runs from back to front and is wide so there’s a good amount of room to hit the green from the tee but yet another challenging hole where trouble lies ever where.
The Fifth is a 456 yard par 5. A forced carry tee shot over water to a tree lined fairway that leans right just a touch. Bunkers are off to the right. Grass within the bunkers in patches is something we see here as well as other holes, which could complicate those bunker shots even more. The first fairway ends at rough, then a bunker, which must be carried to reach the green. The green is on the smaller side, with a narrow entry point and bunkers on either side. We’re now seeing the character of the course. A mixture of a demanding an aerial approach game, penal bunkers a spot of ground game options with a wild set of greens, all of it very much frowning on horizontally off line shots. Precision is necessary, as this and the the prior two holes have shown.
The Sixth is a 160 yard par 3. A creek running across the middle of the hole, the green is similar to the Fifth with the bunkering on either side and smaller entry point at the front, yet its interior movement is where the difference is.
The Seventh is a 345 yard par 4. A dog leg right, nothing but trees greeting you on both sides of the fairway. The approach even more treacherous than we’ve seen yet; the entry point extremely small at the front, the green more narrow, and the bunkers more deeply set below. It’s a fantastic approach, the challenge of it is actually invigorating. There’s more pressure on the tee shot to get in an ideal position for the approach and if you’re in a match (which I was), it’s one of those holes that could turn the tide depending on if someone sticks the green for a chance at birdie. For those that miss the green, you simply have to contend with those bunkers, which is no small feat yet not an impossible task.
The Eighth is a 360 yard par 4. Similar to the Third, this hole curves from tee to green, this time to the left. A wider fairway gives more room for the tee and approach shots, with a creek making the approach a forced carry. The green is set at an angle away from the green with a false front area before it.
The Ninth is a 415 yard par 4. A dog leg right, this one with a bunker on the inside of the turn. The green much more receptive than the dog leg right Seventh. Larger, can be accessed from the front with the ground game, bunkers around the green more level and the green a bit tamer. Just as we started on milder notes, so it is that we end the front nine.
The front nine stays in the woods, with the more challenging holes sandwiched between the more laid back opening and closing. I’d rank them 4, 7, 5, 1, 3, 2, 8, 9, 6.
The back nine starts with the 515 yard par 5 Tenth. Bending left, the fairway width is manageable here, the first half ending at a creek before picking up on the other side, then the second fairway ending at a bunker, a false front area and the green on the other side. The bunker makes it look like the green is just on the other side of it, but that’s where the false front comes in, so the focal point is more the pin than it is simply carrying the bunker. The green is on the larger side and rolls well. An adventurous par 5 to start things off on the back.
The Eleventh is a 158 yard par 3. A group let us through and I think we were trying to speed up and create some space, so I completely blanked on taking photos of this par 3. A shame because it was a good one, bunkers staggered moving up to the green, a wide green than moved from left to right, all of it out in the open. The green was large, but the movement of the green demanded attention and those needing a nice up and down from off the green (like me) have a good chance at salvaging par (like I did).
The same rhythm of the front appears here, with the opening holes more flexible than demanding. Yet on the back, I’d say the opening sequence brings a bit more thrill and interest than the front but we’re in the middle of a round so there’s different purposes of each.
The Twelfth is a 375 yard par 4. We now enter the woods, the hole straight away to the green, trees on both sides. One of the more subtle similarities I found here to Pine Valley is the separation of greens from fairway. Here, there are more than a few holes where the fairway ends abruptly at rough, bunker complexes, or both. That’s certainly the case at the Twelfth, where the fairway ends, a bunker straddles the width of the hole before the green, then the green does its own thing with the movement and undulations. This separation emphasizes the importance of the approach, which further extends to more pressure off the tee. This is all well and good, but it’s necessary to avoid such a configuration becoming far too one dimensional, where there is only one acceptable shot. The Twelfth avoids this, mainly with its width and shorter length, allowing a variety of clubs and angles into the green, which provides an advantage depending on position on it.
The Thirteenth is a 352 yard par 4. Ah, the Thirteenth. A dog leg right, narrower than its predecessor, trees on both sides. The trees hide Birchwood Lake, which is just on the other side on the left. A small tributary creek gets even closer on the left side just within that tree line. As fortune would have it, my tee shot hooked in that direction and found the creek, forcing me to drop, my opponent likely celebrating internally. No matter. My senses sharpened and with a relaxed yet true swing, the ball vaulted to the green, resting 10 feet from the hole. My opponent, now probably crestfallen, the hole was a push, instead of the win he was likely expecting. Of course, he’s a much better person than I and was probably just enjoying himself and the round instead of wishing anyone ill will. But like Michael Jordan, I create these scenarios of slight in my head to stay sharp and motivate. That’s right. Me and MJ are on the same level apparently.
Like its predecessor, the fairway ends before the green, this time it’s another tributary from the lake creeping in across the fairway. The green is slightly raised, fairly large and runs from back to left, towards the water. Setting up that approach is vital. I just don’t advise you take it on like I did.
The Fourteenth is a 495 yard par 5. Similar to the Third, the hole is narrow and keeps turning to the right, with the green tucked off on that side but not as well into trees as the Third. Ball striking is the currency to cash in that birdie. Figuring out how to remain precise and still sufficiently advance to the green is the strategy here. The trees actually give way a little early on the right, which rewards those who were able to stay off to the left side of the fairway, being able to take advantage of that opening. The green is perpendicular to the fairway (again similar to the Third) but its interior contours have it running in several directions.
The Fifteenth is a 355 yard par 4. Straight for the most part with a slight crook to the left, fairway bunkers are on either side near the tee landing area, taking a little more thought off the tee to avoid them. The green ramps up from the fairway, bunkers on both the left and right, slightly concave in movement.
The Sixteenth is a 200 yard par 3. Bunkers running down both sides of hole to the deeply set green make this longer par 3 challenging yet receptive to an array of shots.
The Seventeenth is a 370 yard par 4. The tee shot is down a narrow corridor but it opens up after the fairway bunker on the right. In fact, that bunker is a good aiming point to carry. The fairway is straight to the green after that, running from back to front. So the tee shot is vital here to set up that easier approach. While the fairway bunker on the left makes it seem like you have little room on that side, it’s deceiving. There’s more than enough!
The Eighteenth is a 390 yard par 4. Very similar to the Ninth. A dog leg right, bunker on the inside of the turn, fairway running straight into the green after the turn. The dog leg here is not as pronounced as the one at the Ninth but trying for the left side of the fairway is still a good idea.
Sitting dormie at the last, I had a 4 footer to close things out. Perhaps standing over the putt a little too long, it still cooly went in. And that was that. At least in terms of new golf courses for the year, and decade, for that matter. Boy what a run.
The back nine seems to loop around the outer portion of the course before coming to the interior a bit the last few holes. I would rank them 10, 13, 12, 11, 15, 17, 14, 16, 18.
Generally, Medford Village is a challenging shotmaker’s course with an entertaining set of greens. The challenge is mostly in how much control you have of your ball laterally yet also in terms of positional precision. While there are exceptions, there is not much of a multi-faceted short game here. You’re either on the green or in a bunker for the most part. There are chances at recovery if you end up in the trees out there and there’s some randomness to that, which was refreshing. In some ways, the course reminded more of Harbour Town than Pine Valley, in how it dictated the shots needed to navigate through the course. While the questions asked at Harbour Town are different and a little more comprehensive, the greens here are more interesting. Yet the design concept here is similar with Pine Valley in emphasizing challenging approaches to adventurous greens, which all comes back to haunt you at the tee. Whether you’re here or there, mastery of the tee shot is essential to survival, step one to even have a chance on the approach. Here unfortunately, there is some redundancy in that challenge with how the holes are configured and the relentless tree corridors create some monotony of setting. Still, the duality of shotmaking and putting characteristics makes for a strapping gamer’s course that I’d happily take on any day of the week. It only makes you sharper.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Well equipped and of decent size. A nice grill room near the Tenth tee and of course a nicer more formal dining room else where.
Practice area: Kind of behind the Eighteenth green and to the left of the First is the driving range and I believe a small short games area. The putting green is near the clubhouse.