Most golf courses are inanimate objects, things of beauty that stand still, waiting for golfers to find the course and their game. This is not the case with Chester Valley Golf Club, which has a history of movement unheard of at any other course I have played.
Once the home of the Smedley and Hatton farmsteads, Chester Valley began with the purchase of the properties in 1928 by the Pennsylvania Railroad Golf Club. Prior to this, the PRGC rented space at Llanarch Golf Club, another historic Philadelphia course.
Swedish fur traders called this area home in the late 17th century, trading beaver pelts with the Native American Lenape and Susquehannock tribes. A hundred years later, Gen. George Washington planned a decisive battle here, which — like many of our golf games — was rained out.
Paid for by the members of the PRGC, who each purchased a $300 bond, the course was open to any director, officer or employee of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Opening day, Memorial Day 1930, was celebrated with 60 foursomes (55 made up of men and five of women).
Although there is controversy over who designed the original course, most historians agree that it was Perry Maxwell. Maxwell must have rolled over in his grave in 1968 when progress met the course head-on with the construction of Route 202 across the property.
George Fazio redesigned the layout, leaving only a few holes of Maxwell’s original design. Today, the course is a shot-maker’s paradise with rolling hills and a very tight design. I played the course recently with John Ecklund, a past GTee reviewer (The Legends – Moorland Course, July 2008), and Bobby Hancock, our host.
Hole 1 (381 yards, par 4)
This can be a challenging starting hole, as there is a strong tendency to drive your ball too far left. Go way left, and you will be caught under some large willow trees and will need to punch out. Even left on the fairway makes it difficult to reach the green. The best shot is to favor the right, allowing a clean shot to the slightly elevated green which is surrounded by bunkers.
Hole 2 (575 yards, par 5)
Though this is ranked only as the ninth-most difficult hole, I find it quite challenging. It transforms from an uphill monster — you have to drive big to get as close to the crest as possible — into a downhill to the green. The second shot is somewhat blind, as you still have to clear the crest before heading to the smallest green on the course. A short chip shot allows you to land on the green that is surrounded by bunkers. Watch flying the green, as John did; it’s not very friendly back there. This is one of the remaining original holes.
Hole 5 (196 yards, par 3)
From the tee box, this does not look like a particularly difficult hole, but it tends to be my nemesis. John and Bob knocked their tee shots onto the green within 15 feet of the pin. I, on the other hand, decided to make this uphill par 3 more challenging by landing left of the green, leaving me with a downhill chip to the green. I rolled this into the opposing trap and carded a five while my teammates made par. In competitive play, this is a dreaded hole for the pros.
Hole 6 (418 yards, par 4)
No. 1-handicapped Hole 6 can cause plenty of problems. The first is the potential for your drive to find the creek below, which only big hitters like Bobby Hancock have to worry about. His ball landed on the slope into the creek for a difficult shot to the green. Is this the same guy who had a hole-in-one at the K Club in Ireland (GTee, January 2007)?
From your drive, hopefully short of the creek, take your mid-iron to the green, using a little more club, as the hole is uphill. Four large bunkers around the hole add to its difficulty; making par is a real achievement.
Hole 8 (405 yards, par 4)
Reaching this hole in two can be difficult, as the landing area is a strong uphill climb. From the tee box, you need a strong, straight drive to gather enough distance so you will have an iron to the green. Anything weak leaves you with a difficult fairway shot. Drives right of the fairway land in thick rough, and you will need to clear some trees to reach the green. Your target is tucked into the right side of the layout, guarded by a trap waiting for those approaching from the right.
Hole 10 (217 yards, par 3)
Stop at the halfway house for a cool drink to prepare for this difficult par 3. From the elevated tee box, the green is only slightly higher, but in between lies a valley. Any shot short leaves you with a challenging chip to the green. I nailed my shot left of the green, landing behind the left trap with an awkward chip to the green. No one landed the green, but John’s chip landed within two feet of the cup for par, and Bob and I carded a four.
Hole 13 (449 yards, par 4)
Here there’s a blind drive to the landing area, with a massive downhill and wooded area on the right — perfect for those who might slice the ball. Bob struck gold with his drive left center over the fairway hill. John and I took the more difficult track to the right. I punched out, but John decided to nip every limb in his path.
Back in the fairway, I advanced enough to reach the green in three. Unfortunately, I caught the trap right and was pleased to walk away with a five. Bob hit the green, clearing the creek and carding a four. John’s score is still unknown.
Hole 14 (495 yards, par 5)
Be aware of the creek that runs across this fairway at an angle from left to right. The farther left you drive, the more fairway you have to land; if you turn your ball toward the right, it will end up taking a swim. I drove a perfect shot with a slight fade, landing nearly dead center of the fairway about 10 feet from the creek. From here, you can “swing away” with a fairway wood to get distance, as the fairway continues uphill to a series of traps right and left. I had visions of grandeur as I took a swing, but I chunked the shot, still gaining enough to be short of the traps. From here, I threw caution to the wind and slammed a 5-wood, landing right of the cup and two-putting for par.
Hole 18 (440 yards, par 4)
The finishing hole does not disappoint. The entire fairway pitches right to left and then levels out near the pond, 80–90 yards from the green. The shot is a downhill drive — remain as straight as possible so you do not venture right to the rough, high grass and brush. With a decent drive, you could be 100 yards or less to the green; then a simple sand wedge should be all you need to reach the slightly elevated green with its traps right and left. Note the beautiful views of the clubhouse and the first hole as you approach the green. Be sure to stop in the clubhouse bar and order the “Hancock.”
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