6,444 yards, 138 slope from the Black tees
In Avondale, PA, Hartefeld National is a Tom Fazio design built in 1995. Initially opening as a public course, it eventually turned private in the early 2000’s. The course was widely acclaimed early on for its top shelf conditioning, intimidating forced carries from hilltop to hilltop over deep creviced ravines, as well as greens with dauntless movement and shaping. Always considered a higher end public course, it quickly had enough of a devoted following to turn private. It has hosted both Champions and PGA tour events in the past. Alas, Hartefeld has all the markings of what every course desired in the late 90’s/late 2000’s. Scenic, challenging, greens of glory and host of pro tour events.
While time has worn on, it’s been interesting to see how courses built for another heyday soldier on. Some may undergo renovation work, some may stay the same for better or worse while some, unfortunately, fall by the wayside. Like classic courses of yesteryear, some of which fell victim to re-designs or renovations oftentimes in a misguided attempt to stay relevant, or simply to survive, we’ll continue to see how these modern works chug along. Some, like Muirfield Village, TPC Sawgrass and Shadow Creek, have more than established themselves as pillars that won’t be going any where soon. For others, like Hartefeld, will they change, stay the same, or go away? I for one hope they stay and resist changing too much. Not all courses have to follow whatever design trend gets it noticed or mentioned online. Some should continue to thrive how they were intended. Isn’t that the whole point of the restoration craze right now? So then, as it should be with other eras. Preserve what makes it special and don’t stray from that unless dire circumstances dictate.
And that’s what Hartefeld National has done. No restorations, re-designs or significant changes, the course is an ode to golf’s high-water Tiger era. The fairways are deliberate in trail blazing above and over the hills, negotiating the highly penal, harsh, high native areas, occasionally widening or narrowing from tee to green. Most of the time, if you don’t hit the fairway off the tee, your ball will be lost, so the associated excitement, hope and strategy of off-fairway recovery shots is some what missing. The approach shots and greens, however, hold a good amount of interest and have character, with the volcano green Seventh and downhill Seventeenth green the highlights. Visual intimidation, emphasis on getting the ball in the air and sticking it while rough that is difficult to walk over let alone hit out of are all those traits sought after at one point in time. The hilly landscape as the canvas here above it, the course gives you the kind of round that rewards a brawny driver and deft putter, all while either putting hair on your chest, or putting your clubs in the garage for a few weeks of penance.
I had one of the first tee times of the day. Already hot at dawn, the roads were empty yet wakened just a bit as the sun slowly turned on. I praised myself for being able to get the round in on my recovery day. Cruising up and over the Chester County farm side hills and still waking up myself, that flame started flickering again. After months at home, where some days the biggest journey was to the backyard, golf began to return. And as I drove those roads to the course while the morning mist lifted off those fields of green, it felt just like earlier this year traipsing the countryside from course to course.
Yet of course, it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the same at all.
I still remember the last round before it all closed down. A recent lesson was working wonders and the swing was coming easy. That last approach jarred close to the pin and I barely missed the birdie putt. I finally felt in a good place, in terms of golf. Of course I did, just before an unprecedented pandemic made it impossible to play for months. There were a few times of panic, calling other states and seeing if I could swing down for a round, but ultimately couldn’t bear the drive only to be turned away for some last minute implementation. And at home I stayed. I slept in since I was able to work from home as late as I needed. Spent a lot of time with the family. Got back in shape (down 30 pounds at this point). Read. And as it got warmer and I became more stir crazy, began to delve into golf again. Golf clubs, golf bags, golf shoes, golf whatever. The rush for putting greens, hitting mats and hitting nets was on, as was the hunt for a reliable launch monitor. With all of it acquired and nothing but time on my hands, I was convinced I’d swing my way to single digits. Finally, there were no more excuses.
And, once again, of course, the exact opposite happened. I lost my swing. Yet with nothing else to do, I kept swinging and it went from bad to worse. It went from worse to horrific. Thoughts of skipping the season altogether crept in. Anger, denial, acceptance, panic, hope, despair; I ran the gamut. While golf was a refuge to the sudden uncertainty around us, it became more uncertain than just about anything else.
The road upwards from the pit of desperation was a slow one and quite honestly, is still going. But with reinforced positive thoughts based on some pretty solid sessions in my backyard with my wedge and golf whiffle balls, I was confident. Confident, and happy to be soaring around again. Just under the surface though, the sea of uncertainty surged. As it seems to be doing for us all nowadays in general.
Speaking of surges, golf is enjoying one right now. Rounds played, equipment sales; it’s all skyrocketing. Some of it is certainly practical. Golf makes it relatively easy to social distance yet socialize and enjoy the outdoors. I also like to think that some it is attributable to the soul of the game. No matter how good or bad you play, golf is indeed a refuge amidst whatever may come, whether instability, angst or something else. A chance to enjoy the naturescape and fellowship. A chance to reset and recharge. Set aside whatever burdens you before that First tee and by the time you walk off the Eighteenth, it’s either gone away or a lot easier to deal with. Many have discovered, or re-discovered, the game and we welcome them. Let us all find what we’re looking for out there.
Finding myself on the First tee, the journey continues. And while a barrage of changes unraveled since the last time I found myself staring at the lone fairway ahead of me, I realized there was one constant I was glad was still there, which will always be, not just for golf but everything else.
The next hole.
With that, I hit my shot and set forth, once again.
The First is a 539 yard par 5 (from the Black tees). The fairway widens out but as you come to learn, things get very hairy very quickly off fairway. After the landing area, the fairway narrows once again and leads up to the green, where it again widens a bit. The green is deep and kidney shaped and moves with the right to left hillside. Bunkers stay towards the sides and come into play for mis hit shots for the most part. A nice opener to get warm and sharp.
The Second is a 143 yard par 3. The green is downhill from the tee, a drop shot where anything from tee straight to the green will be fine. The green moves back to front and if the pin is set on the right side, you’ll need to contend with the bunker on that side. Otherwise, keep sharpening, you’re gonna need it.
The Third is a 397 yard par 4. The course starts to assert itself now. Teeing off across a valley to the hill on the other side, the dip in the fairway makes it look like you could really belt one to get it to the top of the ridge, or it will slide back down to the bowl. In fact, the ball will stay up there, even if you hit it in the middle of that depression. The green is set off to the left of the fairway, so the approach will likely be blind. Bunkers patrol the right side to keep you honest in trying to get a peek at the green on the approach. The green is a nice one, deep, moving away from the hillside, a bunker on the left side to collect those overambitious shots. In all, I really liked this hole.
The Fourth is a 423 yard par 4. A similar tee shot to the Third in that you’re carrying a ravine to the hillside fairway beyond, but this one moves at a 2:00 angle uphill to the green. Bunkers are there on the left to collect those tee shots that were just too damn strong. The green sits above the fairway with a greenside bunker off to the front right. God help those that miss a shot. I was happy that my approach shot was topped since I could hit it again, the next getting to the green for an eventual bogey. Most other misses won’t be treated so kind.
The Fifth is a 507 yard par 5. We now come back in the direction of the Fourth and meet that ravine once again, but on the second shot. The downhill fairway will get your ball further down, but then you’ll need to carry that ravine on your second, either on the green terrace level or further down, the right side giving you room to work with. And once you get over that ravine, you’ll basically have negative roll, so plan accordingly. The view from the green is a good one, overlooking the hills and valleys you just played.
And finally, my swing started to unravel. Too many thoughts swirling, too much recent trauma in that hitting net, not used to different lies. Yet it’s funny how your game keeps you in it regardless. All of a sudden, I was sticking it close from 100 yards and in. Almost like your mind compensates for the fact that your game has disappeared in other ways.
The Sixth is a 174 yard par 3. Back near the clubhouse, water comes into play off the left side, essentially making it a forced carry uphill to the green, which is blind to the tee. The undulations of the green make it fun and the restraint on bunkers works well.
The Seventh is a 360 yard par 4. On the other side of the clubhouse, the hillside runs from left to right and the hole is a slight dog leg in that direction. Your ball will move to the right once it lands off the tee. The green was my favorite on the course. A volcano green and instead of it being prominent and showing off, is tucked into the hillside where you don’t even know it’s there until you’re upon it. Anything with too much roll is likely off the back and really, the best play is to try and use the front slope to have the ball hop and stop from there. A very cool hole.
The Eighth is a 443 yard par 5. A dog leg right that moves up and around the hill side. The fairway runs up to the green and then spills out and wide, with areas off to the right and far left for those looking for spots to favor if you try for it on the second shot. The green was another fun one. Lots of undulations and movement, not necessarily always with the predominate hillside.
The Ninth is a 202 yard par 3. Another par 3 with the clubhouse in the background, this one on the other side, slightly uphill and a lot more room to miss on the way to the deeper green that is draped on the hillside on the left. Lots of green to work with.
The front nine starts off gently, then ramps up in the hills and valleys before calming back down at the Eighth. The loops you can take and get back to the clubhouse include 1-6 and 7-9, is something George Thomas strived for in his routings and is nice for the members here. I enjoyed the balance between aerial and ground shots, as well as the greens. I’d rank them 7, 3, 5, 9, 1, 8, 6, 4, 2.
The back nine starts with the 392 yard par 4 Tenth. A rare somewhat level tee shot out to a wide fairway that dives down after the ridge ahead. Trees on either side but are well enough apart. The green is set on the next ridge, down the hill. It’s possible to run that ball screaming down the hill to the front left quadrant of the green, while flying it is a touch proposition, only because the grade of the hill could bounce shots forward and towards the rear of the green aggressively. A fun approach shot for sure.
The Eleventh is a 155 yard par 3. A forced carry up the hill to the green, just not a whole lot sticking out here.
After losing two off the tee, I realized I had one ball left at this point. A combination of forgetting to stock up before I left the house and a plaguing swing, I was too far away from the clubhouse to go back and get any. Alas, it was time to focus. And to look for balls any where I could.
The Twelfth is a 324 yard par 4. Still climbing back up the hill from the Tenth green, the tee shot is a forced carry over native area to a wide fairway that goes uphill. Even shots off to the right will come back towards the center. Bunkers come into play a little more than usual, with one front and center where the green is. The green is set off to the left, so those that opt for the safer right side off the tee will have a tougher approach where the bunkers come into play more. A fun hole.
The Thirteenth is a 543 yard par 5. Another valley hole that bends off to the right, bunkers lining the left, then the right. The green moves strongly left to right with more area to work with left than right.
Also, I found another ball! Things are starting to look up.
The Fourteenth is a 174 yard par 3. The hillside on the right can be used as a sideboard, which is a good idea considering the tree line encroaching on the left. A nice par 3 that uses the hillside well.
The Fifteenth is a 366 yard par 4. A forced carry to the fairway above, the tee shot is blind. The tree line on the left helps guide the line to the green. it’s actually a deceptively tee shot, trying to figure out the right angle. Too far left and the ball goes down the hillside and in the tree line, too far right is in hillside, rough or OB. But a well hit shot will give you a shorter approach to a deep green with a large deep bunker on the front right side. I enjoyed it.
Lost ball. Down to one again.
The Sixteenth is a 510 yard par 5. Moving uphill, a wider fairway with houses on either side. The raised green is a blind approach and keeping it on the fairway is one of the more important focal points here.
Lost ball on the second shot, found another one. Push.
The Seventeenth is a 418 yard par 4. Now going downhill, the fairway runs down and banks left. The green is off to the left and like we saw at the Tenth, it’s possible to run your ball down that hill and on to the green. Angles even come into play here and those hugging the tree line on the right have a better line in than those that try to hedge off to the left. The downhill holes here are a fun collection.
The Eighteenth is a 374 yard par 4. While the downhill holes have different looks, the uphill holes struggled to assert separate identities for me. Here, yet another forced carry tee shot to an uphill fairway, bunkers on far side. Dog legging to the right, the green and bunker configuration are different. The bunkers appear to surround the green, which is rather large yet multi tiered. Staying on the tier the hole is on, or at least not being above the hole, are paramount. There’s an opening at the front of the green for those wanting to run it up as well. In all, the green is challenging but gives the course a final punctuation mark.
I held on to that last ball, thankful I was able to finish the round. Golf works in weird ways and even though the swing was foreign out there to me for the most part, things kind of seemed to work together to make sure the round kept going.
The back nine has some very interesting par 4’s and the downhill holes seemed to grab my attention a bit more. My ranking would be 17, 10, 15, 12, 18, 14, 16, 13, 11.
Generally, Hartefeld National is set on hilly terrain that is used well for its greens, is mostly aerial yet with some interesting ground shots. While the fairways have width to them, off fairway is typically overly penal with little chance of recovery. The uphill tee shots all tend to be the same, as do the greens on those holes unless they are set off to one side or the other. With that said, the greens are fantastic and that volcano at the Seventh really stood out and impressed. It’s a challenging course that does not tolerate horizontal mis hits all that much, or those shots that need to get up in the air and carry native areas or water. But that challenge is tempered some what by those contours and hills that can be used to the golfer’s advantage, giving him or her some options against those more skilled yet too aggressive with their lines. The variety and strength of those handful of holes and shots that really stood out, the conditioning and the greens were all high marks for me.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Did not get a chance to visit with all the restrictions in place but looked great from outside.
Practice area: The range was recently updated and the putting green is just before the First with ample room to get them synced before heading out.