- Red (“Devil’s Glen) – 3,112 yards, from the Blues
- White (“Little Mill”) – 3,343 yards, from the Blues
- Blue (“Stoney Mt.”) – 3200 yards, from the Blues
- Red/White – 6,455 yards, 126 slope from the Blues
- White/Blue – 6,543 yards, 133 slope from the Blues
- Blue/Red – 6,312 yards, 132 slope from the Blues
“Excuse me, sir.” It was a long flight and I just wanted to get to the hotel. You wait. Wait for security. Wait to board. Wait to taxi. Wait to take off. Wait to land. Wait to get off the plane. Wait for the shuttle to the rental place. Wait for the agent. I was tired of waiting. I was walking to the area they told me to go to get the car to finally, finally, get to the fucking hotel.
“Sir!” A little louder this time, inquisitively. I couldn’t ignore him any longer.
“There are no more cars over there.”
“I’m sorry, my hearing went out I think.” What did you say?”
“We have no more cars in that area. You have to go over to the President’s Circle and get a car from there.”
I darted over as fast as I could without outwardly looking like I was desperately sprinting, before he told me there were no more cars period. I ducked into the first car I saw, a Mustang GT, blower on the hood, the full sport set up. A guy walking by shouted, “You’re going to have fun in that thing!” I turned on the car and the engine immediately began its guttural growling at me. A touch of the gas pedal made it growl louder, with more anger.
This car just wanted to go. The faster the better. That was its purpose. And when I finally got it out to the highway, it gleefully growled its way to as fast as I pleased. Mind you, it handled ok only and had the turning radius of a house boat, but man, it sure accelerated with the best of them. And yeah, I had fun in that thing.
Like cars, every golf course has a purpose and identity. Some were made with a lot of thought and time while others were made more hastily and cost-minded. Some are for the more discerning golfer while others are for those just getting into the game. Of course the era in which the course was built matters, as does the changes it has gone through, and even the reason behind those changes. Some courses try to be everything to everyone. Some do not. Some are for fun. Some are pretty to look at without much else. Some are ugly and full of character, good looking in their own way. Just like cars all drive differently, so it is with golf courses and how they play.
Little Mill resides in that part of Southern New Jersey with sandy soil and wooded rolling terrain that accommodates golf well. Just ask Pine Valley, about 20 minutes away. Boasting 27 holes of golf, the White and Red nines were designed by Garrett Renn in 1968. This is Renn’s only eighteen hole design. His other course is nine holes which he designed in 1965, Latona Country Club. In full disclosure, Renn may have also had a hand in designing Spring Mill Country Club, named Bryn Llawen in 1966, but that course changed significantly over the years and the Golf Association of Philadelphia has the designer as Cary Renn. Renn was the greens superintendent for the Philadelphia Municipal courses starting in the 1950’s until his untimely death, which prevented him from seeing Little Mill completed. David Gordon thereafter designed the third Blue nine to round out the 27 holes. I played the Blue and Red nines.
The club is known for its well adept lower handicapped players. Always a formidable team in the GAP matches and winning the championship a number of times, the course certainly contributes to keeping these players sharp. That was apparent to me as I played the course. The tree lined fairways assure most shots must be on line or will be lost in the heavy woods. These trees likewise contort the fairways on occasion, directing the golfer to manage his ball accordingly. Forced carries come in every now and then but always seem to be at a challenging moment. It’s a ball striking exam from tee to green for sure. Considering when the course was built along with the type of identity it portrays through the years, the design is in line with demanding a proficient level of execution. What Little Mill does well is despite its ball striking prowess, it remains accessible for most other skill levels. The width of the fairways and larger size of the greens accomplishes this, along with bunkers making up most of the approach defenses, instead of something like forced carries to tight landing areas. In some ways, the course coaxes you visually into believing you’re in for an easy affair, until you start swinging away and can’t believe how often you’re sweating for par.
The course excels in what it does well and embraces that identity. Like that Mustang GT, it has a purpose, focuses on that, and stays in that lane. To be honest, if I didn’t think about that during the round, it would appear as a rather non-descript albeit well-conditioned private parkland. Here, the ability to produce a ball-striking challenge while retaining accessibility is notable, yet the strategy and short game creativity aspects are rather straight forward. There are infinite ways to go about presentation of a course and challenging the golfer. Here, that challenge is presented directly without intimidation. If anything, it is with a bit of coy deception. It is not without its faults, lacking in strategy and there’s a bit of redundancy in what is being asked of you, but that also is a demand for consistency, which is part of its ethos. It’s a fine golf course and becomes better in my opinion once you realize a bit about its identity as you get in that driver’s seat and wonder how the road ahead will come at you.
The Blue Nine (“Stoney Mt.”)
The First is a 494 yard par 5 (from the Blues). A forced carry tee shot over water shouldn’t be all that tough to cover, but the tree and bunker on the right are of more concern since they have the ability to force the golfer to punch back out into the fairway. After the dog leg to the right, the fairway narrows as it runs to the green with bunkers guarding the entry point.
The Second is a 364 yard par 4. The fairway runs from a 5:00 to 11:00 angle tee to green with two staggered fairway bunkers on either side and two greenside bunkers on each side. Like the hole prior, keep it straight to avoid the hazards, which is a little muddled with the angle from the tee.
The Third is a 371 yard par 4. A slight dog leg to the right with a tree defending the inside of the turn. The greenside bunkering is a little more broad-shouldered here as the right front extends the width of the green while the one on the left is well below the green and on the larger side.
The Fourth is a 371 yard par 4. The trees seem to close in some and it’s clear the straight ball is the preferred play. There are a couple of fairway bunkers on the left side to be mindful of while a leaning tree on the right side close to the green makes that left side best for approach shots. The left/right bunkering scheme at the green remains consistent thus far, including here.
The Fifth is a 160 yard par 3. A forced carry over water to the green at a bit of an angle with large bunkers on the either side of the green. Bail out room is mostly short and a little back left.
The Sixth is a 502 yard par 5. A semi-double dog leg. The first turn is to the left, the trees will show you the way. After the first turn, the fairway runs a bit downhill to the green, which is hiding off to the right. That’s where the second semi dog leg resides, so you need to either set up the approach on the left or with enough room on the right to carry the trees on that side. A trio of bunkers guard the front and left side of the green.
The Seventh is a 365 yard par 4. A dog leg right that moves downhill after the turn. Water is hiding off to the right that can come into play on either tee or approach shots while the approach is a carry over rough and water to the green which has some nice movement from right to left. The terrain movement here is spurred by the hill on the right, which rises up uncharacteristically for this area and is the highest point in Burlington County.
The Eighth is a 155 yard par 3. The high point is used for a drop shot par 3 to a nice inviting larger green with bunkers on either side matching it in scale. Water is over at the back right, still very much in play for those straying off in that direction.
The Ninth is a 410 yard par 4. A slight dog leg left that moves downhill after the tee shot and eventually ends at water. The fairway on the other side climbs uphill to the green. Yes, bunker left and bunker right at the green, just like every other hole on this nine.
The Blue nine is fairly straightforward but makes sure the golfer is able to control his ball to keep it out of trouble. One cannot go sideways into the trees or fail to launch their ball at the right time. I would rank them 7, 1, 3, 6, 9, 2, 8, 5, 4.
The Red Nine (“Devil’s Glen”)
The First is 354 yard par 4 (from the Blues). A hard dog leg to the leg from an elevated tee, one does need to mind going through the fairway altogether. A club less than driver to start is probably a good idea. The fairway narrows to the green after the turn, bunkers on either side of the entry point as we have seen over and over. The shaping seems to be different on this nine from the get go, however, a little more intricacy than the Blue, a bit more rumpling if you will.
The Second is a 394 yard par 4. A longer, more drawn out dog leg left, fairway bunkers on the right on an already pretty narrow fairway. Tree lined. The green placement is nicely done. Off to the right and below a knob, it adds a degree of complexity to the approach with the concept of angles. Yes the bunkers are at either side of the entry point but the angled configuration of the green gives this approach some character.
The Third is a 181 yard par 3. An uphill par 3, the green is semi-blind from the tee. Bunkers on the other side.
The Fourth is a 542 yard par 5. An uphill tee shot to the fairway that slights bends and arches to the left as the trees close in. The green is curled to the left, below the fairway. The bunkers have some zest to them here near the green while the green has some nice movement towards the entry point.
The Fifth is a 371 yard par 4. The tee shot is a carry over some not insignificant waste area to the fairway, which almost immediately crooks to the right and sets out downhill. The fairway ends while a large bunker on the left picks up there, well short of the green. Still leading downhill to the green, there’s lots of pooling and spilling areas between that bunker and the green where the ball can get caught up either off the tee or a poorly struck approach. The green runs back to front with the requisite bunkers on either side. I enjoyed the interest from tee to green.
The Sixth is a 199 yard par 3. Lots of room out there for the miss and oh my Lord, the greenside bunker is on the right only. The terrain moves right to left, so missing off the left side reveals more of the green while provides a little bit of a back board while there’s not a whole lot of good missing right. And by all means, do not miss long.
The Seventh is a 517 yard par 5. The fairway from the tee is straightaway with an obligatory fairway bunker on the left. The tight tree lines make it necessary to get down the right side to allow a clear approach to the green, which is off to the left. I enjoyed this green a lot. The bunkering is well done and the area short of the green has the same kind of retention areas that the Fifth had, which diversify the short game shots one will have in to the green. It’s indeed a matter of threading the tree lines on the first two shots to get in the right position though.
The Eighth is a 402 yard par 4. An elevated tee shot that needs to carry a waste area that has a a set of tees in the middle. Love the tee island thing going on there. The fairway is wide but then narrows closer to the green as some marshy wetland type stuff creeps in from the right. The entry point is set to the left while the bunkers rest just below the pushed up green. Like the hole prior, the right side ensures a clear approach which of course one needs to consider the marshy stuff over there.
The Ninth is a 152 yard par 3. A forced carry over water to a good looking green complex. A bunker surrounded by rough is on the front right (none on the left) and rear right. The final hole here pauses everything and asks the golfer whether he can close things out with a well hit iron. Lots of movement at the green, so the flat stick must do its work to move you on to the clubhouse.
The Red Nine is a little edgier than the Blue Nine, narrowing and turning and presenting a little more tighter and sharper. The tree lined fairways become confined in spots but the green complexes make for some interesting approaches and short game issues. I would rank them 5, 2, 1, 9, 8, 4, 6, 3, 7.
Generally, Little Mill adheres to an emphasis on ball striking accuracy and control that makes it primarily an execution-based course with varied approach shots to an array of angled configurations. Tee shots are rather straightforward and most everything is tree-lined without a whole lot of tolerance for wayward shots. Forced carries are out there as well in bunches. It’s a course requiring the straight long shot and proficiency from sand, but is light on strategic effort. It’s just a touch more intriguing for those mostly interested in a good score yet is otherwise fine for the rest of us. Its accessibility in the face of these character traits is notable, as it maintains its challenge without being overly penal or intimidating. It’s nice, albeit some redundancies, especially the greenside bunker positioning. Of course, I did not play the White Nine, so this review is confined to the Red and Blue. The two nines certainly exuded different feels and if the White is able to accomplish something similar, then the club’s multiple sets of nine holes becomes all the more notable.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: The pro shop enjoys its own structure near the putting green while the clubhouse has a nice casual feel.
Practice Area: The driving range has tees on both ends and the larger putting green sits just outside the pro shop.
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