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Dave played Huntingdon Valley on Thursday, October 27, 2011

Huntingdon Valley Country Club (Toomey-Flynn)

That which we call a [course] By any other name would [play] as [great]...

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#1 - The opening tee shot allows you to use the slope for extra distance
#2 - Blind tee shot at the long par 4
#2 - Excellent use of a 'not-so-greenside' bunker
#3 - This may not look like it, but it definitely plays as a redan. Everything slopes left.
#4 - An excellent short par 4
#4 - A well protected left side will catch many a tee shot
#5 - A quiet little one-shotter tucked away on the property
#6 - Another blind tee shot
#7 - Downhill tee shot at the par 5
#7 - This green is really tucked away in the trees. A great undulating green.
#8 - Tee shot at the dogleg left
#8 - This uphill approach will make you think hard about club selection
#9 - This is a fun tee shot. Straight downhill.
#9 - Another excellent green

What's in a name?

It's almost laughable how easy it can be to make up a name for a golf course.  Throw in a local identifier and some kind of object in nature.  Jupiter Hills.  Calusa Pines.  Arcadia Bluffs.  Erin Hills.  Oakland Hills.  Dunes at Seville.  Hell, who needs a local identifier?  Why don't we just go with objects in nature?  Two of them?  Sure!  Forest Dunes!  Shoreacres!  Pine Barrens!  I could probably make up a handful of names for courses off the top of my head and odds are I would find out that they actually exist.  Oak Meadows.  Elm Creek.  Sand Hills (we all know that one is real...). 

Some of these names are more descriptive than others.  Forest Dunes, for instance, runs through the forest for the front nine, and is laid out across sand dunes on the back.  Seems pretty obvious, right?  Cypress Point sits partly on a piece of land that sticks out in to the ocean (a Point...) that happens to have plenty of Cypress trees growing on it.  Hmmmm...

Now lets take Huntingdon Valley Country Club, for instance.  Concise.  Descriptive.  Location: Huntingdon (the town is actually called Huntingdon Valley as well, but still... you get my point).  Object in nature: Valley.  Club type: Country (family activities, other sports, pool, etc.).  In this particular instance, however, I feel like the word "valley" isn't severe enough...

Huntingdon Rift.  Huntingdon Gorge.  Huntingdon Graben (go ahead, look it up).  Huntingdon Canyon. 

Standing on the porch of the pro shop or the top tier of the driving range, the name Huntingdon Valley seems PERFECT.  It's a great view.  The pro shop porch is one of the best places I can think of to just sit and have a morning coffee, watching the dew burn off the golf course as the sun comes over the canopy of the surrounding forest.  It's when you start playing golf that you feel the word "valley" just doesn't cut it - the only flat lies I had all day were on the tee boxes, and maybe over one or two putts. 

William Flynn came out to this property in the 1920s and made the decision not to run holes up and down the valley, but around it.  The course has a very unique characteristic in that the nines run in opposite directions around the "bowl".  The front nine runs counter-clockwise around the top of the bowl, leading to a whole lot of 'ball above your feet' lies.  The back runs clockwise around the inside of the bowl, bringing the creek in to play on a few occasions as well as constantly leaving the ball below your feet. 

My experience at Huntingdon Valley began on a damp autumn morning.  Aside from a group of ladies, I was the only golfer on the course, and I was struck by how serene of a setting HVCC enjoys.  Accompanied by my trusty caddie, I stalked the sloped grounds, enjoying multiple instances of fantastic views, tricky shots, gorgeous autumn tree lines, and quiet moments to reflect on all of it.  I'm not sure what it's like on a normal day, but on the day I played, Huntingdon Valley Country Club seemed like the quietest place on earth.  It was the first course I've been to that could shake a stick at Forest Dunes on the serenity scale. 

On to the course.  Huntingdon Valley was the first Flynn design that I've played since Shinnecock, but regrettably I was young and have little memory of the design of the Long Island legend.  With HVCC now the most prominent Flynn design in my memory, I can say that I thoroughly enjoy his work thus far.  A few things stood out in this design that I particularly enjoyed.  The routing was not only excellent for the golf holes themselves, but also in the way they were laid out in front of the clubhouse and pro shop - purposefully placing a wonderful piece of art outside for the members' viewing pleasure.  Another characteristic that I enjoyed was the constant use of slopes on the course.  Someone with substantial course knowledge can have a great advantage when it comes to using these slopes for extra yardage and easier access to pins.  Lastly, Flynn's use of elevation at the right times doesn't allow the golfer to be lulled in to boredom at any point.  There is always something interesting around the corner at Huntingdon Valley. 

Without a doubt, the most noticeable thing about Huntingdon Valley Country Club is ...the valley.  When you step out of the parking lot toward the pro shop or clubhouse, you can't help but notice it.  Peering across the landscape from the pro shop porch or the clubhouse, one can look down to multiple golf holes all situated around the creek that runs through the property.  The driving range sits atop a hill so that your shots land what seems like hundreds of feet below.  The way that the course is placed around the valley can play in to a golfers mental game.  Once you've finished the front nine, you have become accustomed to the ball being above your feet.  You've started to aim right on your shots.  Maybe you've begun choking down on the club a bit.  As soon as you start to feel comfortable, Flynn flips you around.  No more ball-above-your-feet lies.  Everything is going right now.  It may take you a few holes to realize that you're still aiming a little bit right.  Maybe you haven't stopped choking down.  Huntingdon Valley and William Flynn are going to make sure that you keep your wits about you, no matter how difficult the calming surroundings may make it. 

The first example of using the slope can be found at the first hole.  What might be considered a slight dogleg left, the first hole starts just outside the pro shop at the edge of the valley.  If one plays a draw off the tee, considerable distance can be gained by using the slope of the fairway that runs away and to the left.  Flynn saw this advantage, however, and built a fairway bunker on the left side that will catch any over-drawn tee shots.  On the approach, the golfer should watch out for the left greenside bunker, as it is MUCH deeper than the right and will catch any pulled approaches from golfers not accustomed to playing the ball above their feet. 

The second hole has a feature that I usually love to see, and in this instance is even more fun.  I am a big fan of what I call 'not-so-greenside' bunkers.  These are the pits that sit anywhere from 20-40 yards out from the green, but, from the fairway, look as though they are greenside.  This makes the golfer feel as though the approach shot is much shorter than it actually is (the 13th at Bethpage Black and 11th at Inverness are great examples, as well).  The difference here is that the 'not-so-greenside' bunker is just to the right and elevated from the green.  The effect of this placement is that on the long par 4, one can use the down slopes of the bunker to feed the ball to certain pin locations.  The green here pitches away and to the left, and is protected by a large greenside bunker on the left.  Instead of firing straight at the pin and risking hitting into the left bunker or (worse) going long left, one can use the down slope of the back or left side of the bunker and bank their approach toward the pin.  If the pin is on the right side - like it was when I played - you can try to just carry the bunker and feed the ball down the back side toward the hole.  If the pin is left, you can hit a low running shot that will careen off the left side of the bunker and continue feeding left toward the back left part of the green. 

If I wrote about every instance of being able to use the slope to your advantage, this review would run on a lot longer than any of us would like.  Suffice it to say that nearly every hole had an opportunity for you to play a full shot off of a slope of some kind.  Conditions were rainy the day I played, but my caddie said that normally the course plays hard and fast.  I would have loved to play under those conditions. 

There were a few times where the elevation change was more than just noticable - it made the hole.  The best examples are 4, 8, 9, 17, and 18.  The fourth is a short par 4 that falls straight downhill off the tee.  The elevation change makes the green feel a lot more reachable than it actually is, and brings the bunkering on the left side in to play for those who decide to hit driver.  Eight is a dogleg left that shoots straight uphill to the green from your approach.  The ninth runs straight back down the hill to the creek, and then goes back up sharply to the green.  Seventeen's tee sits atop a hill just short of the creek, leaving the golfer with a long drop shot to the par 3 green.  Saving the best for last, Flynn laid the eighteenth hole on a severely sloping piece of land.  The tee box and landing area on this par 4 are roughly the same elevation, but the creek that splits them sits a good 20-30 feet lower.  The green, however, is a different story - you'll definitely need to club up to make sure that your approach doesn't come rolling back halfway down the hill. 

I couldn't have been more pleased with my experience at Huntingdon Valley.  I can't wait to get back there on a day where the course is playing hard and fast.  Under these conditions I could think of few other courses that could better test one's ability to use the ground to their advantage.  William Flynn and Howard Toomey did an excellent job designing and building this place.  The club did an excellent job maintaining it over the years (and through considerable financial difficulty at some points).  The staff did an excellent job making me feel at home.  The valley itself did an excellent job making me feel considerable awe; as if there were few other places in the world like it.


Special thanks to the HVCC staff and my trusty caddie.  What a great day. 

P.S. - Best locker room showers I've ever experienced.  My god...

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