- Meadowcreek/Dogwood: 6,339 yards, 129 slope from the Blues
- Highlands/Meadowbrook: 6,132 yards, 128 slope from the Blues
- Dogwood/Highlands: 6,357 yards, 128 slope from the Blues
One of my favorite movies is the Good, Bad & the Ugly. The final showdown is one of the epic crescendos in Western cinema and watching it as a kid, I instantly wanted more of it. I jumped in head first, starting with all the Clint Eastwood Westerns. Pale Rider, Hang ‘Em High, A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Outlaw Josie Wales. Once Upon a Time in the West is just as good as these others, also directed by Sergio Leone but without Clint. Sergio’s cinema style was well done, fusing a dramatic score with the scenic West, using inventive cinematography throughout. The movies didn’t disappoint. While GBU remains my favorite, these others expanded on that style which made my appreciation for the genre and each individual movie grow in several ways.
For what it’s worth, I would be among the most infamous gunslingers if I came up in the Wild West. I can feel it.
A peculiar joy for me in the pursuit of course architecture experiences is that feeling of familiarity in a new and exciting iteration of a particular designer or style. Kind of like taking in those Sergio Leone movies, they’re all connected in various ways and it’s fun seeing those connections, seeing what’s done better or remarkably different based on their respective environments. The differences in golf courses of certain architects have distinct traits or styles. Watching how an architect’s style evolves over the years, whether certain stages of their career are evident and how they handle various landscapes is part of this whole thing I find fascinating.
William Flynn courses are among my favorite to compare and contrast. I even seek out courses designed by his proteges (Robert “Red” Lawrence, Dick Wilson and William Gordon (I suppose Ellis Maples should be mentioned for his work at Plymouth Country Club in North Carolina as well)). The Flynn influence is apparent in his courses and those that worked for him. It’s even apparent in courses he built but did not design, like Burning Tree. His engaging use of the land is always intelligent and brimming with bold sophistication, never veering over towards outlandish. Most of his work is in the Philadelphia area, making it easier for us here to spend time on it. I have certainly taken advantage of that over the years but the glaring omission of his courses I had not played (at least locally) is Lancaster. It’s like hearing about how great a movie GBU is but then watching all the other ones first before getting to the big one. In some ways, it made me more prepared or aware for the round. It certainly made it extremely anticipated.
Lancaster now has three sets of nine holes. They are named Meadowcreek, Dogwood and Highlands. The original course is the Meadowcreek-Dogwood eighteen, which was designed by Flynn in 1920. The Highlands nine was designed by Brian Silva in 1994. There is also a six-hole short course that was designed by William and David Gordon in 1959. At the point in time he found himself at Lancaster, Flynn already had significant experience collaborating with the Philadelphia school, involved with Merion East and designing Merion West (co-designing with High Wilson), involved with much of them at Cobb’s Creek, then with his own designs at CC of Harrisburg, Doylestown and Eagles Mere. Significantly, he was also involved with agronomic work at Pine Valley and one can only presume he was present during all the discussions of the design. Still relatively early on in an already illustrious career, Flynn was given blessed terrain with which. to work. Rigid hills cascading down to a valley cradling the Conestoga River with a small tributary Stauffer Run within the hills, Flynn’s penchant for marrying undulating terrain with strategic layers settled in nicely here. Also accounting for Flynn’s return visits to continue to mold the course over time, Lancaster enjoyed the best of both worlds; a younger designer with a bevy of world class experience intent to make an impression with a solo design who then returned and strived to perfect the course as his career matured and evolved. Parcels of property were acquired and divested, which added to this evolution as well. In fact, the final iteration of the course that can be played today did not develop until twenty years after opening.
Ron Forse and Jim Nagle have continued as custodians of the course’s evolution, having worked on and consulted here for the last couple decades. Their work includes rebuilding the bunkers in 2006 and more recently, shelled out the bunkers last year, which has led to other modifications such as reconfiguring bunker positioning, shifting and expanding fairway lines and installing fescue areas, always staying within the tendencies and tenets of Flynn’s design scheme. Lancaster hosted the 2015 LPGA U.S. Women’s Open and is slated to host it again in 2024, so the work is certainly focused with those tournaments in mind as well.
The hills and river valley are used brilliantly and in a fashion I found similar to Lehigh. Starting at one of the higher points, the opening holes wading into the hillside before plunging into the valley and across the river, careening on that side and then along the river before climbing back up to the clubhouse. Dogwood stays within the higher hills, running between the lower and higher points before a final climb back to the. clubhouse. The use of the terrain is in full splendor while bunkers are certainly flashed and placed strategically. The variety from hole to hole is exciting, as the golfer is always on edge as to what to expect next. The hills, angles and lines to the greens, even the bridge we encounter during the Meadowcreek nine, reminded me a bit of Rolling Green with a dash of wise restraint reminiscent of Philadelphia Country Club. The elevation differences from the constant undulations were remarkable, requiring an array of shots that kept the round fresh throughout. It’s a wonderful course and as someone who thoroughly enjoys Flynn’s work, I found it idyllic. Others likely share my enthusiasm, as Lancaster is 72 on Golfweek’s top 100 Classic Courses, 7 in Golf Digest’s best courses in Pennsylvania and 6 on Golf Magazine’s best courses of Pennsylvania.
As Blondie remarks in Good, Bad & the Ugly, “Every gun makes its own tune.” It was time to discover the tunes of Lancaster.
The First is a 402 yard par 4 (from the Blues). Leading straight out from the clubhouse, trees and bunkers line either side of the wide fairway which bends ever so slightly to the right. The right to left cant of the fairway is beneficial since the left side seems ideal for the approach. The green is large yet moves in fickle tones depending on the area. The hole doesn’t impose itself unless the golfer falls out of position then gives the golfer most opportunities to right the ship, knowing full well he must sharpen up quickly based on what’s ahead.
The Second is a 347 yard par 4. The shared fairway on the right with the Ninth is a Godsend since the left side falls off into purgatory relatively quickly. If anything, the fairway climbs uphill much stronger than it may appear at the tee, then dog legs as it continues to climb to the green. Bunkers frame the fairway to the green, flashing and signaling from the tee so the golfer has some semblance of a plan. Of course, the terrain movement isn’t as visual, which makes the right side a lot more valuable than it seems at first. The rear of the green looks out to the rest of the course, giving it an infinity feel yet adding to the trepidation of not going off far on the approach even though the elevation change will likely take care of that. A great hole.
The Third is a 367 yard par 4. Conestoga River is before us and must be carried to reach the fairway on the other side. The splendid views from the tee stay with us for a while, inspiring the tee shot to jump right into the scenery. The fairway climbs up the bank on the other side, with bunkers on either side, then surrounding the green to force an aerial approach. We must again judge our approach against the elevation, lie and terrain movement to a green that moves back to front, left to right.
The Fourth is a 315 yard par 4. Stauffer Run is a tributary of Conestoga and slithers across our path on both the tee and approach shots here. The green is set off to the right and on a hill above the fairway, so the golfer must decide how far he wants to go down the fairway and at what angle he would like his approach to confront the green. Driver isn’t necessary per se; it is entirely up to the preferences of the golfer. A trio of bunkers are perched on the hillside guarding the green, with Stauffer Run below. All of it must be carried to the green beyond, which is wide yet shallow, demanding a degree of precision that makes the tee shot all the more important.
The Fifth is a 358 yard par 4. Thus far, the course has been one remarkable par 4 after another. Stauffer Run is not don’t with us yet. The tee shot must carry it and reach the hillside beyond, where the fairway careens to the left, leaning towards the green. It’s a precarious tee shot and like the hole prior, is a lot more important than simply reaching the fairway. First off, the ball will move once it lands and that must be accounted for or runs the risk of misfortune even if landing on the fairway initially. The green is well below the fairway with Stauffer Run cutting across its front. There are no bunkers on the green side, just mounds that can get mischievous depending on the lie but precision is once again sorely needed based on the shallow green and smaller off green areas.
The Sixth is a 168 yard par 3. A nod to the routing as Stauffer Run once again is used creatively and effectively. The first par 3 of the round with a generous apron before the green and even rough running on the right side while Stauffer runs along the left side. It’s a nice reprieve after dealing with the opening row of par 4’s, setting us up for the upcoming par 5 that will require plenty of focus.
The Seventh is a 490 yard par 5. Teeing off a few feet from the water to the other side shows just how effectively the waterways are used here. Running alongside the river, the tee shot must considers how much to carry while not going too far left and through the fairway altogether. The fairway is on the narrower side yet the lack of bunkers allows the golfer to set up whatever approach he prefers into the green. The green moves to the right around a pond, with the entry point at the front left while bunkers line the rear. There’s some margin for error but not much and the water never leaves the forefront as it’s always a sliced shot away.
The Eighth is a 193 yard par 3. Moving back up the hill towards the clubhouse, the elevation changes play on the golfer at the tee, which is compounded with the wider area downhill that funnels as it moves uphill to the green. A healthy shot is needed here and bear in mind the bunkers are at the front of the green so those whom would rather avoid them should favor the rear. It is quite clear at this point in the round, however, that the course expects the golfer to think and execute his shots well, or be prepared for some higher degrees of recovery.
The Ninth is a 417 yard par 4. We now head up the right side of the shared fairway with the Second, which narrows considerably after the shared portion, once again framed by trees that we encountered at the First. We end up climbing to the majority of the greens on this set of nine and the last follows that theme, with a couple bunkers nicely placed to keep the approach honest.
The front (Meadowcreek) nine has an impressive display of par 4’s while the 5 does its best to keep up, and more. The loop about the hills, river and tributary is impressive, really punctuating the variety. The par 4’s are very well done and go down as some of my favorite played last season. My ranking would be 2, 5, 4, 3, 7, 9, 1, 8, 6.
The back (Dogwood) nine starts with the 446 yard par 4 Tenth. A tree lined dog leg right with a couple bunkers on the inside of the turn, the opener is similar to Meadowcreek in trees framing the corridor of the tee shot yet here the left side provides a bit of safety for a clear albeit longer approach into the green. The green is on the larger side and so are the bunkers guarding the posts at the front, strongly urging a hotter approach shot than one may think is sufficient at first blush. Get it up the hill and over those cavernous bunkers!
The Eleventh is a 430 yard par 4. The terrain twists, bounces and climbs to the green. Trees on the right ensure that side is to be avoided, leaving the golfer no choice but to favor the left and tempt the bunker on that side. Similar to the hole prior, the climb to the green is steeper than it looks. The approach shot will be another healthy belt to reach the green and avoid the bunkers, which are a little more moderate than those we saw at the Tenth green. The one on the right is newly installed and short of the green, flush against the left side of the Fifteenth green.
The Twelfth is a 158 yard par 3. One of the characteristics of the course that stuck out to me was the variance of green depth from hole to hole. It seemed to accommodate the type of shots it would receive yet also focused the respective challenge and strategy the golfer faces from hole to hole. Here, the wide green allows some horizontal freedom off the tee as well as several pin positions but the golfer is tasked with accounting for the influence the elevation difference and any wind will have on the shot to get the distance fairly precise. It must both carry the burn at front as well as land and stop rolling before the bunkers at rear. And really, the shot is either resting on the green, in one of the bunkers or is underwater. There is a ball retriever stationed at the burn to get those balls that went for a swim, which I thought was a nice touch. The green moves from back to front and falls off into the burn at front as well, so those shots barely making it on may roll in anyways.
The Thirteenth is a 489 yard par 5. The dog leg is sharp and moves uphill out of sight, leaving the bunker out ahead as the only focus point. Once we start walking the fairway, it becomes apparent almost all too late that this is in fact a triple dog leg, initially turning left, then right, then back to the left moving towards the green. The second shot can be a lot of things to a lot of people, but the chief concern is navigating the terrain and turns to either go for the green or set up a preferable third shot into the green. The shaping, terrain and smaller green more than makes up for the shorter length, also allowing options in how one goes about reaching the green.
The Fourteenth is a 384 yard par 4. Flynn uses this corner of the property where the tee resides over and over, recognizing this portion of the land could be used in the most broad-based manner by grounding the routing of this nine holes here. The Tenth green, Eleventh tee, Thirteenth green, Fourteenth tee, Seventeenth green and Eighteenth tee are all in this corner, the holes looping and returning multiple times. This also allows various loops from the clubhouse for those interested in playing a few. From this corner, we head towards the clubhouse with the fairway dog legging right to the green. Bunkers cluster on both sides of the fairway, which were under repair at the time of my round, but certainly narrow the focus of the tee shot. The approach is on a much wider spectrum, with the larger bunker at the front right of the green following this theme. The green has fantastic movement, generally from back to front with some subtle horizontal contours not readily apparent.
The Fifteenth is a 416 yard par 4. A dog leg right, yet playing entirely different from the others in that those tee shots veering to to the left run the risk of hitting the terrain and moving much further away from the fairway. As is the case with several of the holes, they change direction horizontally as well as vertically and here is no different with the green at the top of the hill. Large bunkers cozy up against each side of the green but the entry point is plenty generous to use for the ground game. With run offs surrounding the edges, it’s a fun green where terrain movement influences the rolls significantly.
The Sixteenth is a 345 yard par 4. A shorter par 4 where the primary issue for the golfer is whether they stay to the right of the bunker complex at the inside of the dog leg or try to carry them altogether. This question lies with how long one can get off the tee and preference of approach. I for one wanted to get in line with the entry point to the green so opted for the right side of the fairway. The bunkers on the right side keep those shots in check as well. While bunkers are at the front corners on many of the holes, the terrain undulations ensure variety. Here is no different as the left lower greenside bunker is not to be trifled with for its depth while the right should not be either for how the green runs away from it into the left one. The rear of the green looked more appetizing and safe to avoid the sand altogether. It’s a great shorter par 4 where both shots are much more important than the golfer fully realizes.
The Seventeenth is a 166 yard par 3. Playing uphill, I found it played longer than it looked. The apron before the green allows an option for those wily enough to trust their short game for an up and down, which certainly is wont to happen in those matches coming down to the wire. The green is large yet fast so any shot must consider roll out in their equation to the pin.
The Eighteenth is a 448 yard par 4. The last is an uphill longer par 4 leading right to the steps of the clubhouse. Recognizing the length, there is much more room to use in climbing to the green. The staggered bunkers near the green suggest an approach up the right side, it will likely be a longer shot with the focus on simply getting it there. Or at least it was for me. Plenty of golf left at the last yet after the lashing away and one last uphill hike, the clubhouse seems like a good place to end up and stay a while.
The adventure full of challenge, beauty and thought has come to an end.
The back (Dogwood) nine uses the higher terrain well, with multiple loops ensuring the entire spectrum of hills and valleys come into play early and often. I would rank them 16, 15, 12, 11, 18, 14, 10, 17, 13.
Generally, Lancaster is a wonderful course with brilliant use of the terrain that provides an all encompassing round for the golfer. The balance and variety of shots is impressive, especially considering the hilly terrain on which the course is placed. The evolution of the course shows a well thought out design that urges strategy and execution without ever being imposing or intimidating. It’s one of the finer examples of Flynn’s genius, where he valued engagement for every walk of golfer above all else. It was certainly serendipitous that I was able to experience this course after playing a number of other Flynn designs and appreciating a culmination of sorts in his work prevalent here.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: It an expansive property with a number of structures that continues to improve for its upcoming duties as US Open host for the women.
Practice Area: A full range and short game area, as well as a putting green near the First tee.
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