6,245 yards, 134 slope from the White tees
Due west of Harrisburg in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, the club’s namesake refers to the west shore of the mighty Susquehanna River. While the namesake pays homage to the area, its club insignia, the drummer boy, is a reference to the history of the place. In 1863, Confederate soldiers of General Robert E. Lee’s regiment were preparing to cross the Susquehanna and take over Harrisburg. Skirmishes between this Confederate force and the Union army took place around the area of the club, including a Union Soldier being captured as he rested on the porch of the farm home of his brother-in-law on what is now Country Club Road. Ultimately, the Confederate plans to take over Harrisburg were abandoned when General Lee gave word for his troops to move 35 miles southwest to confront the majority of the Union army, at Gettysburg. As Union troops followed the Confederate forces now moving towards Gettysburg, they encountered a force of rebels holed up in a stone barn. This encounter is known as the “Skirmish at Sporting Hill,” which left at least sixteen Confederates dead, as well as the last Union Army soldier wounded in military encounters on the West Shore of Harrisburg. This soldier was Morris Gerrits; a Drummer Boy with the New York State National Guard, 22nd Infantry Regiment. The battle of Gettysburg started the next day. The West Shore area was the Confederate Army’s furthest penetration of northern territory during the Civil War.
64 years later, the long path to the current course began. It was originally laid out by George Morris of the Old Tom Morris line but was essentially re-designed by Ed Tabor, their long-standing golf professional and course superintendent, who learned the trade from John Davidson, a senior foreman for Donald Ross. Tabor designed, shaped and worked the course for almost twenty years, which remains mostly intact today save for a bunker renovation project by Hanse in 2003.
The course has a well polished feel, which is likely the benefit of Tabor being able to get things just right over the decades. The greens are romping and rollicking while the hillocks are used quite well. It all provides for a lot of movement once the ball lands. Like one of those old wooden roller coasters, it’s a lot more thrilling than most will expect, pushing you one way then another before the floor is pulled out from under you altogether. Very solid and not nearly given enough attention, it’s a great example of how much more advanced and improved a course gets with constant attention by those involved in the design by never stopping to try and get things perfect. There’s a lot of variance from one hole to the next as well. Some of that is due to the terrain, which rises and falls with abandon in multiple directions, and some of that is how the terrain is used, which seems to focus on placing the greens on plateaus or hollows then deciding which of the several paths there would be the most challenging and fun. Some times, there are multiple paths, all the better.
I’ve been big on change recently with the 2021 Preview post and have always been interested in the evolution of course design, from the architects to the courses and everything in between. The ying and yang of change within a game that is so strongly tied to tradition and history, especially now, when the trend of restoration towards original design tenets while balancing necessary change in today’s unbending reality in terms of technology and other considerations, a change in reverting back if you will, is interesting to watch unfold. West Shore is a great example of a course that changed over the years with the advantage of experience and wisdom with those years, and now gets to enjoy the bounty of endeavoring on the journey in the first place. While it is never certain that change brings about a better course, the right kind of change is well thought out and adjusted over time. It has a lot more to do with how the course plays than how it looks as well. So in addition to the change West Shore has seen, it was the right kind of change, doled out over time. There are courses in areas that aren’t as travelled over as others, or simply don’t seek or want the publicity, that are much better than most realize, unless you’re local or go to the trouble of seeking it out, whether due to word of mouth, research or a hunch maybe. West Shore is one of those.
The First is a 285 yard par 4 (from the White tees). I found myself in the middle of a money game with the members, all of whom striped their tee shots exactly where they wanted for their approach. With my shaky swing liable to collapse on me at any time, I quietly wondered where the nearest ATM was to take care of the hole I felt I was about to get into. This was especially so standing at the First, where trying to decide what club to take was a tough one. The green sits on a raised knoll and bunkers on the front right narrow the fairway pretty early on. Alas, driver means you’re going for a smaller target area to the left of those bunkers. A shorter club off the tee is conservative, but a longer approach didn’t seem enticing either. There’s not a whole lot of room up there to miss. So I split the different and went with my hybrid, aiming to the left of those bunkers and thinking if it slices right, it’ll lose distance and land short of them. It worked out, as did the approach to the green. Putting on the green is a whole other story. A ridge splits the green in tiers, one upper and one lower, all of it moving back to front, quickly.
It’s an exciting opener that doesn’t waste time throwing you into the trenches.
The Second is a 525 yard par 5. Heading out on the perimeter alongside Country Club Road, a slight dog leg right that dips from tee to green. The trees on the right make it necessary to favor the left in order to get a clear look at the green and bunkers are on the inside of the turn to keep the long hitters honest from cutting the hole too much. The green is uphill with everything moving right to left. The bunkers on the right are short of the green but serve as a good aiming point to carry and have the ball fall towards the green once it lands. The green side bunker on the left collects all shots that either roll in from the movement or veer over there from those trying too hard in avoiding the right side bunkers. The green is deep with a fairly steep short grass drop off on either side, again accounting for balls with too much damn roll.
The Third is a 187 yard par 3. The green absolutely makes this hole fascinating. Staying consistent with the prior greens with steep short grass drop offs on the sides, the internal contours here are wild, instantly reminding me of the Sixth at Plainfield for some reason. Maybe it was how distinct the waves were that also tilted in different directions, but the significance of what quadrant of the green you’re located and where you need to putt becomes a critical topic as you walk up to the green. This green is also where the course reveals itself beyond, with a nice view of the property off the back side.
The Fourth is a 538 yard par 5. Indeed, the Third green can be seen as a gateway to the wide open space of the course we get at a lot of the holes, starting here, as the hole sprawls out before us at the tee. Two things to note are the dynamism of the opening sequence, which continues asserting its unique variety and while we have been proceeding in a straight line along the perimeter, the holes are as separate and distinct as ever, relying on the ridges and hills as well as slight bends in the fairways. We get to one of the bigger hills on the property. The fairway runs downhill from the tee only to jut back up and continues to climb all the way to the green. A row of bunkers on the left signals you to stay to the right, but the terrain movement is in that direction, so it’s almost wiser to flirt with the bunkers a little and watch your shot roll away from them, which puts you in nice position for the approach. The well-sized green is on a nice hill top, bunkers on either side below, moving as the hillside does. At one of the higher points of the property, we continue on.
The Fifth is a 361 yard par 4. Moving back in the direction we came into the interior of the property, the hillside becomes a lot more prominent and its tilt is evident from the tee. There’s a lone fairway bunker on the right that sees a lot of action because of that tilt and because golfers don’t aim far enough left away from it off the tee, yours truly included. Hitting next to or past the bunker is rewarded with a bump forward from the hill towards the green. The fairway continues downward until just short fo the green, where it rises up to it. A long apron runs right in, a bunker on each side, two well planned shots are needed to reach the green here.
The Sixth is a 360 yard par 4. Still moving in the same direction as the prior hole, the hillside is dominant, left to right. This once again results in a tee shot where you need to embrace the pull of the terrain, or else. Here, a lot of tee shots will be blind upon landing yet with the green location off to the left, moving up the right side closer to the tree line is likely one of the better lines you can take. Indeed, the entrypoint of the green is oriented at the right side, the left is completely blocked with a mound and bunker, forcing an aerial approach from that position. Yet the right side has all the run off area you could hope for and with the green size, is rather inviting on the approach. So the age old adage of flirting with trouble pays off here if you’re able to maneuver the terrain in the right way so your tee shot ends up on the right side of the fairway. For anyone needing to carry the bunker and mound on the left side, make sure you do.
The Seventh is a 402 yard par 4. Now moving into the heart of the property, the downhill tee shot leads to a creek that can come into play for the longer hitters. A single fairway bunker on the left complicates the landing area but again, paying attention to the slopes and how the ball will react upon landing is important here, considering the bunker and creek will take those rolling shots with a smile. The creek needs to be carried and the fairway on the other side less uphill to the green. No green side bunkers and a rather wide entry leading in, enjoy the reprieve.
The Eighth is a 308 yard par 4. A short par 4, the direct line to the green from the tee is infused with bunkers, so anyone going for it must not be short and also consider the green sits above the tee even with the hole moving downhill initially. In fact, five holes on the front have that general valley shape to them, moving downhill initially them uphill to the green. They are the Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and the Eighth. The creek we encountered on the last hole is in play off the tee here and most will be going for the fairway to the right of the bunkers, away from the green. This leaves you with a short club approach. There’s a subtle strategy here in getting an ideal angle into the green and with the wide fairway allowing for an array of positions, either before, after or next to the bunkers, club selection off the tee is important. After some larger ones, the green here is a bit smaller in comparison, rightly so. I’ve always enjoyed the ploys of short par 4’s and this one really allows so many different shots and strategies.
The Ninth is a 153 yard par 3. A drop shot forced carry par 3 over water to a very large green. Apparently, not large enough. After regaining some momentum on the Eighth, I fell flat here and was too busy counting penalty shots and finding my provisional way off to the right. It was a disaster. I forgot to take any photos as a result, probably subconsciously didn’t want any documentation of the carnage. At any rate, the hole finishes the front nine on a nice note, finishing a softer closing tenor that started back at the Seventh approach.
The front nine uses the upper part of the property well, finding different ways to use the same hillside from one hole to the next. The variety of holes is impressive and I found all of them engaging. I would rank them 6, 1, 8, 3, 4, 5, 2, 7, 9. No, I did not rank the Ninth because I played it the worst. It’s just the one most typical you can find most elsewhere and while it came at the right time in the round and fits in with the rhythms of the routing, I found the other holes more interesting and unique. As always, I never review based on how I play, mainly because I probably couldn’t like most anything.
The back nine starts with the 327 yard par 4 Tenth. The clubhouse is off to the left as the tee shot faces an uphill blind shot, the fairway on the other side. Over the ridge and downhill to moves, to the green, it’s another shorter par 4 where preference of approach dictates the tee shot. Maybe you want to be on the ridge looking down at the green, maybe you want to belt it and get it as close as possible. Knowing the hole and the green help with the decision making, along with pin position. Another well done short par 4, playing different than the Eighth.
The Eleventh is a 396 yard par 4. Another blind tee shot to a downhill fairway that dog legs left. The fairway curls into the green, which continues to curl to the right around the front bunker. The wide green is perpendicular to the fairway and similar to the Tenth, approach shot positioning an emphasis. What I mean is there can be a dramatic difference in how difficult the approach is depending on where your tee shot ends up, even if in the fairway, also based on pin position. The left side opens up the entry point and provides the options of running the ball on, but if the pin position is on the right, it may be best to attack from the right side. Or how much of a downhill/sidehill lie you want. The same ridge is uses creatively strategic in different ways to start this back nine.
The Twelfth is a 487 yard par 5. Just like the front nine moving from the wooded parkland area to the more wide open, so it is on the back, starting here. Wide open, there are multiple paths to the green. The main fairway is to the left, over the hill which then turns right. You can cut the turn by going to the right, which then leaves you a forced carry over long grass and the creek to reach the second fairway. The left path gives you more certainty yet more length along with it while the riskier right path rewards you with a shorter shot in. Again using the ridges for strategy in play, there is a lot to take in here. As for me, I went to the right, more by accident than anything else, got caught up in the long stuff before hacking out and grinding away on the green. I’d probably decide on left next time and settle for longer shots in but that’s part of the charm here. Lots to learn.
The Thirteenth is a 159 yard par 3. A forced carry to an uphill green, we’ll take a refresh after the tough opening roll out. A large green, moving back to front and a generous front apron. Take solace.
The Fourteenth is a 384 yard par 4. Still head out to the far side of the property, the fairway dog legs to the right just before ending altogether. A ravine stands in the way of the fairway and green, the green lined with four bunkers primarily on the right. The ridge in the fairway makes the tee shot blind and leads downhill to the ravine after the ridge, so this hole is about the tee shot setting up a forced carry approach. There are multiple options directionally, positionally and distance wise to do this via the tee shot, although those that end up in the trees, in the ravine or otherwise out of position will find recovery fairly tough.
The Fifteenth is a 288 yard par 4. The shortest par 4 provides a wide fairway that narrows as it gets closer to the green at the bunkers. The green is uphill and banks to the right, bunkers at the front right and long left. There’s not as much strategy here as the other short par 4’s. It’s evident where you can leave a short tee shot for a short approach shot or if you feel like make a go of it from the tee, the green is large enough for that to be an option. No need to overthink it here.
The Sixteenth is a 395 yard par 4. A dog leg right, still out in the open. A trio of bunkers, hiding on a downslope on the inside of the turn. Fairway then leads downhill to the creek, which must be carried to get to the other side. The other side is the apron leading uphill to the green, resting nicely amongst the bunkers and fescue mounds, creating an amphitheater-ish setting. I liked the green setting and the daunting approach before it created by those mounds and bunkers.
The Seventeenth is a 519 yard par 5. On the other side of the property from the First and Second, we move up the hill, trees on both sides. It’s a daunting tee shot in many ways, coming towards the end of the round and with the length of the hole, belting it out there is almost vital to stay in the hole. The fairway dog legs left at the second shot, a large bunker on the left side at the turn. Bunkers and fescue then line the right side leading up to the green, which is wide and feeds right in from the fairway. I enjoyed the green, large and undulating, the old bump and run working well as my ball trampled on from the fairway.
The Eighteenth is a 171 yard par 3. The green uphill, the final hole at hand. Left to right movement but with a green side bunker on the left, careful how much you try to use the slope off the tee. Those short and right end up in bunkers well below the green. Ending on a par 3 comes with its own set of qualities. The do or die proposition is much sharper at the tee; you have that one last opportunity to close things out at the right note, or make things right, before the round is over. There is nothing complicated here, it’s all before you. The green does move a lot quicker than it looks, but otherwise, seize the moment and end things on the right note.
The back nine loops around the lower side of the property and has the same variety of the front. The climax of the par 5 Twelfth is followed nicely by holes that maintain a higher level of interest yet slowly and steadily settles the round down to a more mellow pace, until you find yourself at that Eighteenth tee for that one last shot to define the round. I’d rank them 12, 11, 10, 16, 15, 14, 17, 13, 18.
Generally, West Shore is a mature, well thought out and executed course that is bound to blow a lot of folks away who don’t know much about the place stepping on the First tee. The variety between the holes, how the terrain is used to jump from holes tempered by trees to a more wide open layout, strategy, fun and execution interspersed throughout; it’s a well measured course. There are a good amount of short par 4’s that define the character of the course in many ways. In general, this is a great example of how to maximize the land at the club’s disposal, demonstrating that length alone is not dispositive of quality. The structure of the holes is just one of many ways in which the course stays varied. The hazards, the greens, the manner of play advantageous at each; even fescue placement, is diversified. I found it challenging, especially from tee to green. Recoveries out of position were especially tough and required careful thought and oftentimes, a decided lowering of expectations. The greens were fun and fast, fitting within the various slopes and contours well. It’s a solid play, touching on all facets that please the avid golfer each round he or she sets out for another go round.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Well sized and various areas to congregate and socialize. I was hoping for more apparel with the drummer boy insignia, however.
Practice area: A range, short game area and putting green.