6,207 yards, 129 Slope from the Blues
Due north of downtown Philadelphia in Ambler, Pennsylvania, Squires Golf Club enjoys a unique mystical aura of sorts among local lore. At its core, however, the club strives to focus on what’s vital out there. Enjoying oneself. There’s a relaxed casualness that in a lot ways, is quite refreshing. Along with the camaraderie, Squires shows just how valuable the fellowship of golfers is to that journey we’re all on, from fairway to fairway and so on. The fairways here were designed by George Fazio in 1963, then later worked on by Tom and Logan Fazio. The hilly wooded parkland is amongst a tough set of greens and bunkers smartly shaped throughout, keeping the round engaging while the hills are traversed vertically, over the occasional group of bunkers or water. While the atmosphere is relaxed, the golf is played as seriously or not as one wants and regardless of their swing, how they fare with the flat stick is what matters most here. Indeed, the greens are the soul of this place in more ways than one.
There’s an eclectic history here, some of it the stuff of legend. Not just any course could facilitate that. George was a great designer in his own right and Tom is certainly brilliant and giving the client what they are looking for. In this context, it isn’t difficult to believe the course, with its swaggering cadence, is part of that relationship with the club’s strong camaraderie that gives such an appealing sense of place and a unique seat within the Philadelphia golf scene.
The golf game was idling as I pulled into the parking lot but with a trip to Pinehurst looming, I was searching for some kind of progress to latch on to. The most disastrous of it was long behind me but a holding pattern was evident. I was learning to patch my way through a round and still be some what dangerous in match play. Yet most important of all, I could enjoy the round without worrying about it as much now. And that was the most refreshing progress of all.
The First is a 363 yard par 4 (from the Blues). We get right to it with this dog leg right, which falls and turns from the tee, all the way to water before the green. Setting up the approach from the tee is the first order of business and with a tilted fairway from left to right, there are plenty of positions out there depending on your preference. The approach is a forced carry over water with bunkers on either side, the green running fast as fast back towards the water. Its width brings the bunkers into play and entices those who may have them in their line to carry them to the pin. Could be an easy start, or a harrowing one, mostly all due to that opening tee shot.
The Second is a 188 yard par 3. An uphill par 3 on the longer side, the length and visuals rev the golfer for a belting tee shot, and rightly so. Carrying the front bunkers is imperative, but too far left will be out of play and too long could tumble through tees and down a hill on the other side, or at the very least makes for a tough recovery to a green running away from you. Hitting the right distance is imperative and thus far, the course expects you to be in at least mid season form.
The Third is a 483 yard par 5. Going back uphill in the direction of the clubhouse, the bunkers just keep coming all the way to the green. Placement strategy is the name of the game here and while the right side of the hole from the tee is ideal, that’s where most of the bunkers are. The green is set off to the left and moves furiously back to front. Approaching the green from an advantageous angle and avoiding the bunkers are primary considerations here, accounting form the fast green movement. Asserting itself on us early on, keep your wits about you.
The Fourth is a 398 yard par 4. Back down the hill we go. No fairway bunkers here as a refreshing change from the hole prior, yet the green is well guarded with them. In fact, an aerial carry is likely necessary unless you’re positioned just so before the narrow entry point. Accuracy is paramount here, as anything sideways will probably have tree trouble.
The Fifth is a 374 yard par 4. A dog leg right going back up the hill with a couple bunkers on the inside. A bunker flanks the green on each side, with a good deal of movement once you reach the top.
The Sixth is a 177 yard par 3. Moving us towards the edge the property, a trio of bunkers need to be carried at the front to reach the green. The sharp edges and deep concave shaping of the bunkers stands out and from the tee, it is evident one needs to stay out of them. They all affect the movement of the green in one way or another, which moves a few different directions.
The Seventh is a 495 yard par 5. Down hill with trees running along the right side, and left for that matter, a tee shot favoring the left will make sure the line to the green is clear. Be sure to avoid the sporadic bunker placed here and there on either side as you sashay your way to the green. The green is placed off to the right, with another trio of bunkers to greet you at the front.
The Eighth is a 150 yard par 3. Another triplet of bunkers at the front of the green, but they all vary in size and shape from hole to hole. The concept remains, however; precise carry approach shots are needed to the blind greens, which, along with their random movement, benefits the golfer who knows the lines and the bounces. Here, the green moves right to left and has a large swale to it, similar to a biarritz. Indeed local knowledge goes a long way here yet regardless of that, this is a fun hole for all.
The Ninth is a 410 yard par 4. 70 yards shorter than the par 5 Third that runs parallel with us, the tee placement here gives this hole more left to right movement. Trees and bunkers come into play at side at one place or another while the bunkers and contours of the green provide much of the challenge here.
The front nine climbs and falls about the main hillside upon which the clubhouse is placed. The par 3’s were a lot of fun while the greens really stood out for their character. My ranking of them would be 8, 1, 2, 7, 4, 9, 3, 5, 6.
The back nine starts with the 365 yard par 4 Tenth. Most of this nine is at the top of the hillside in a relatively flat plateau area and the Tenth runs most of its length to the edge of the property we encountered previously at the Sixth. A fairway bunker at the left narrows the fairway at that area while the green’s interaction with the green side bunkers makes the approach shots fairly interesting.
The Eleventh is a 493 yard par 5. Switching back in the direction from whence we came at the Tenth, the fairway narrows at the bunker on the right while trees are interspersed on both sides off the tee. The fairway eventually ends at rough and two longer bunkers front the green. The green slopes from right to left, so taking this into account when deciding on the angle of the approach helps tremendously. I enjoyed this hole immensely, as even though one becomes accustomed to the forced carries into the green, a lot of the randomness and adventure of the course comes from what happens to the ball as it drops beyond the bunkers and on to the volatile sea of green. Here, it is absolute the ball will move left once it lands but the issue is just how much to account for it.
The Twelfth is a 398 yard par 4. Back and forth we go. The fairway here is a little narrower than the prior two and there are now fairway bunkers on either side, staggered. There’s a nice entry point to take advantage of if one is so inclined to the ground game, which also comes in handy if one is scrambling off the tee.
The Thirteenth is a 393 yard par 4. This is the last hole in this area of the switch backs. The edge of the property is at the left while trees and a fairway bunker are on the right, this fairway a little narrower as well. The green is guarded by two of the well shaped bunkers and an entry point is here as well, which can be played nicely with the gentle downhill movement of the fairway.
The Fourteenth is a 442 yard par 4. Making our way to the other side of the main hill, this is the most severe dog leg on the course, moving to the right. The tee shot must be well hit to clear the right side tree line for a look at the green, which is raised and kidney shaped, working around the left front bunker. Most approaches will be on the longer side and the movement of the green along with the bunker placement certainly makes this a testing shot in.
The Fifteenth is a 161 yard par 3. The bunkers stand out here from the tee and make it clear how critical it is to hit the green. There is bail out room out to the right, but the green moves away from you on that side. The rear bunkers are likewise tough for the same reason. A chip in from the right side was my only birdie of the round, which was a net ace in the match I was in. I almost felt bad for my opponent, who hit his shot to a couple feet of the pin, which became only to push the hole. Golf some times, man.
The Sixteenth is a 386 yard par 4. Heading down the main hill on the opposite side from the front nine, this dog leg left leads down to water. The green is on the other side, a larger affair with an upper and lower tier, the lower tier closer to the water. It all starts with making sure the tee shot is in a good place for the approach, then of course nailing the approach with getting on the correct tier. My opponent got his revenge here, once again landing a few feet from the pin on his approach. Even stroking here didn’t help as his bird beat my boge.
The Seventeenth is a 158 yard par 3. Behind the Second and going in the same direction, water is off to the right while bunkers dominate the front of the green. The green is deep and narrow, so the hole in general detests sideways shots. Better to be short or long. If your match is tight, this is a great equalizer hole moving to the final.
The Eighteenth is a 373 yard par 4. Parallel with the Third, Fifth and Ninth, the pressure of the closing holes continues here with water making this a forced carry tee shot. The right side fairway bunker is in play off theta as well while the large bunkers closer to the green expect one last accurate aerial shot. With the clubhouse watching in earnest and the green deceptive in its twists and turns, the stage is set for a climactic ending to the round.
The back nine starts a bit mellow but the last half builds in excitement and pressure packed shots to the final roll. The greens are the star of the show once again, along with the bunker shaping. My ranking of them is 16, 11, 15, 18, 14, 17, 12, 10, 13.
Generally, Squires is an enjoyable and challenging course, well suited for match play. The greens and bunker shaping largely accomplish this on a routing that doesn’t get all that spicy until the closing sequence. I wish I had more photos of the greens to show them off more but the reality is I was too ensconced in thought around them, trying to get the ball in the hole and keep the match close on a day when my swing found better things to do than stay with me. Their contours and movement are a prime example of how greens can affect each shot out there, all to account for proper position and mist hit areas in hopes of avoiding an avalanche of strokes on and around them. One groove too low on a chip can make a ball speed over the green and into one of the cavernous bunkers, and so on. The course is built for speed around the greens and those not well versed in sand shots will likewise face a long day if they fail to maneuver around them.
The course is more geared towards pressure than strategy and applies that in measured tones throughout the round. The opening approach starts off that pressure while the entire closing sequence from the Fourteenth. The dynamics of who you’re playing with and whether it’s with or against them all factor in to how the golfer responds to that pressure. As that final putt drops and regardless of how you find yourself at the match, the course and club are set for friends to be made and stories to be told.
Clubhouse/Pro shop: Modestly sized but well equipped, the balconies overlook the course while a large room with a bar, tables and tv’s are all that is needed for a leisurely hang. The pro shop is below and sports a fantastic logo immediately recognizable.
Practice area: A range, short game area and putting green.