FRENCH CREEK GOLF CLUB
Course Architect: Gil Hanse
Year Opened: 2003
Location: Elverson, Pennsylvania
Slope: 136. Rating: 72.5
Hole-by-Hole: 1 - Par 4 360 Yds 10 - Par 3 172 Yds
2 - Par 4 475 Yds 11 - Par 5 544 Yds
3 - Par 3 216 Yds 12 - Par 4 490 Yds
4 - Par 5 539 Yds 13 - Par 4 456 Yds
5 - Par 3 117 Yds 14 - Par 4 382 Yds
6 - Par 5 564 Yds 15 - Par 4 292 Yds
7 - Par 4 361 Yds 16 - Par 5 518 Yds
8 - Par 3 186 Yds 17 - Par 3 231 Yds
9 - Par 4 404 Yds 18 - Par 4 418 Yds
Par 35 3,222 Yds Par 36 3,503 Yds
Awards Won: Ranked top-30 Best New Courses by GolfWeek (2003).
Events Held: AJGA Coursemax/Philadelphia Runner junior (2005).
HISTORY: Not much history to speak of, as the course has only been open a
short period of time, however, French Creek seems to have been around forever.
Located on the rolling terrain of the French Creek Valley and Watershed
about an hour outside of Philadelphia, the land was once called home by the
Lenni-Lenape Indians. Moving forward to the 21st century, local golf
architect Gil Hanse, who has designed some notable gems, such as
Applebrook Golf Club in nearby Malvern, PA and Rustic Canyon Golf Club in
California, was brought in with the natural surroundings in mind. The Hanse
design team draws its inspiration from nature and all its splendor. "The
study of the land and respecting it in the design and construction is
foremost in importance," commented Hanse. As a design associate of the
hottest architect in the land, Tom Doak, Hanse did much of the field work
for Doak and also had a hand in restorations at Merion Golf Club's East
Course, Kittansett Club south of Boston, and Fishers Island Club in Long
Island Sound. Hanse's work at French Creek is beautiful, sculpting
bunkers in their truest form. The industry buzzword that is thrown around more
often than not is minimalism.
REVIEW: French Creek opens with somewhat of an easy par four. I say,
"somewhat", as the hole is only 360 yards from the tips, but plays uphill all
the way to the green. The fairway is quite accommodating, but don't miss the
short stuff, as bunkers protect the sloping fairway to the left, 220 yards
from the tee and a quartet of traps lay quietly 270 down the right. Even with
a big tee shot, club selection will be key, as you try to reach one of the
longest greens on the course, stretching 47 yards. The putting surface slopes
from right to left and back to front, and is quite undulating. Sand and thick
fescue grasses await any errant shot left and right. When all is said and
done, making par is quite a good score.
The second is a majestic par four, doglegging to the right and stretching
downhill 475 yards. Though it drops 20-30 feet from the tee, this hole plays
every bit of its yardage. Your tee shot must favor the left side to avoid the
difficult bunkers guarding the corner of the fairway, leaving mid-iron to
another difficult putting surface, just 26 yards in depth. A deep swale
sloping left to right fronts the green, while sand and fescue are left and the
back of the green falls off the table. In a nutshell, be precise with your
approach, or you'll have little chance of making par.
One of the prettiest -- and most difficult -- holes on the course is the par
three third. From the tips, the hole plays 216 yards and is all carry over
marsh. The green is quite wide, but very narrow with a deep trap left and
woods right. The putting surface features a ridge in the center, then runs
from back to front with a shaved chipping area short and left. It's too early
in the round to be suckered into going for the stick with a back-right flag,
so play your shot to the center of the green, two-putt and move on.
One of the most difficult driving holes, the fourth is an outstanding par five
that moves right, then left towards the green, once again playing longer than
the posted 539 yards would indicate. The tee shot first must carry 200 yards
over marsh and fescue to the fairway, then another 60 yards to reach an uphill
ridge in the fairway. The longer drive will leave an easier shot to the
landing area for an approach with your third, or set up a chance to get home
in two. Realistically, there are two choices here. The first is a lay-up short
of the thick rough dividing the fairway that leaves you 150 yards to the
green. The second option has you taking a little more club to carry the rough
and reach the second fairway, leaving just a short pitch. Either way, do not
miss right at all costs. Thick rough and marsh will snare all errant shots,
while left of the green is virtually death due to sand and tall fescue. The
putting surface is only 24 paces deep and slopes from left to right, with
chipping areas surrounding the green. Don't get coy, take your par, as birdie
All you need to do on the fifth is choose the right stick. Just a wedge should
be sufficient on this 117 yard, uphill par three. The green slopes from back
to front and should yield plenty of birdies. However, if the wind is up and
you underclub and come up short, then you'll have a tough time making bogey,
as a sandy, fescue fate awaits some 15 feet below the green.
The sixth hole presents another birdie chance, though you must be able to
negotiate plenty of sand in the process. At 564 yards, this is the longest
hole on the course and requires both accuracy and length to conquer. A tee
shot down the left side is the best course of action, however, this does bring
sand into play. After a solid tee ball, your approach must carry 190-200 yards
to clear the crossing bunker that juts out from the right. This trap, slightly
reminiscent of Pine Valley's seventh, is 40 yards in depth and a whopping 60
yards wide, so it is not to be taken cavalierly. Clearing the bunker will
leave a simple wedge to a raised green that slopes from back to front, with
sand left and right. This "r" shaped surface plays most difficult with a back-
right flag, but as with most par-fives, should be attacked.
The par-four seventh is another hole that can be had, but all depends on your
play off the tee. A 250-yard wallop down the left-center, avoiding the deep
traps on the right will set up a little wedge to an uphill green, 32 yards in
depth. The putting surface slopes from right to left, so play right of your
target and let the ball feed towards the hole. Missing left and long could
spell danger, with sand and thick rough.
The final par three on the outward nine, the eighth is a downhill beaute of
186 yards and features a great view of a nearby farm and town. Don't get
caught up in the ambience of the hole, because you'll be tested severely.
First up is club selection. Dropping some 30 feet from tee, the hole is
susceptible to the wind, making your choice quite difficult. A mid to short
iron should get it done, but if the pin is back-left, then who knows. The
putting surface, although only 30 yards deep, is quite severe, with a large
slope riding through the center. Left is jail, with three bunkers and deep
rough and trees, while right is no bargain either, as it falls off sharply
into rough. Your short game will be tested as you try to save par.
Talked about visually intimidating, the ninth is just that. Although only 404
yards from the back buttons, the hole features a split fairway with a carry of
230 yards. The upper portion of the landing area on the left leaves the best
approach to the green, usually with a mid to short iron. The right side, with
a wider fairway, plays below the green and leaves a difficult, blind shot to
the surface. Factor in a putting surface at just 24 paces in depth that slopes
hard from left to right, well you get the message. Miss left and you'll have
virtually no shot at getting up and down and right, well two deep bunkers and
fescue will be hell. The bottom line, below the hole and two putt for par.
The home nine opens with a downhill par three, 172 yards in length. From the
elevated tee, a mid-iron is required to reach the putting surface, which cants
from right to left and is just 26 yards in depth. Sand flanks the right side
with deep rough, left and long. The hole is quite exposed, so if the wind is
up, club selection could be difficult.
The par five 11th is a gem, with a forced carry of 250 yards from the back
tees. Favor the left side off the tee, as a group of trees guard the right
landing area. With a big tee ball, reaching this green in two is possible,
but, and there is always a but, danger lurks. First of all, a rock wall, 27
yards short of the green protects the entrance. Second, the green falls off
severely on the left side into deep woods and the right side and deep are no
bargain either, with more trees and marsh. The sensible play is to layup short
of the wall, leaving yourself a short pitch to set up a short putt. Although
narrow, the putting surface is 30 yards long and slopes from back to front, so
stay below the hole for your best chance at birdie.
One of the most difficult holes on the course, if not the hardest is the 12th.
Stretching a mighty 490 yards from the tips, this par four requires length and
accuracy. A blow of 230 yards is needed just to reach the fairway, which is
protected down the left side by marsh. After a successful tee shot, the hole
doglegs left with a creek cutting through the fairway and down the right side
through the green. Your best chance at par is to play left and short of the
green and then chip close. Now is not the time to be brave. Use your head and
worse case scenario is bogey, not bad on this monster par four.
The 13th seems to be a pushover compared to the last, but guess what, it's 456
yards, uphill! 260 yards off the tee is required to reach the crest in the
fairway. The landing area is guarded on the right by sand and deep tall grass.
Although its the longer way, play left off the tee to the ample fairway and
then add two clubs to your second shot, as it plays straight uphill to the
putting surface. This means a long iron or fairway metal to a receptive green.
Do not make the mistake of going short and left on your approach, as two deep
sand traps can make a mess of this hole. The putting surface runs back to
front, so stay below the flag for any chance of par.
On paper, the 14th seems benign at just 382 yards, but don't be misled. This
hole can bite you where it hurts at a moments notice. The dogleg left par four
has one of the tightest fairways on the course, followed by one of the
narrowest greens at French Creek. The ideal play is a fairway metal off the
tee, thus setting up a short iron to the green. The problem here is that if
you miss the fairway left, you're in jail with sand, rough and woods. Missing
right you'll have to contend with trees and out of bounds. Although the
fairway extends downhill on the right, using driver is out of the question.
Next up is the approach, a downhill shot to a putting surface that falls off,
left, right and deep. Once again, back to front slope, so with your short
iron, play below the pin to give yourself the best shot at birdie.
Risk-reward. That's the call on the 15th. A great short hole of just 292
yards, this par four can be had, but alas, perfection is key. From an elevated
tee, a blast of 250 yards is needed to clear the sand and slope before the
green and to the right. The putting surface is elevated from the left fairway,
which is not a bad place to come in from. Using a long iron or fairway metal
down the left side, will leave a short uphill pitch of just 70 yards to a very
narrow putting surface. Missing to the right with driver or three metal should
be enough to carry to the upper fairway, leaving roughly the same distance.
However, any shot off line, left, right or long spells trouble. Thick fescue
and deep sand traps loom everywhere, making this, the perfect go-for-broke
The final par five on the course, the 16th is another hole where you can take
a chance, with consequences. A big, slinging draw off the tee can set-up a
shot at getting home in two, as the fairway on this dogleg left, slopes
downhill towards the green. A couple of problems creep into the equation. If
the tee shot is left or short, then sand and marsh will gobble up your strike.
Right, well, trees and out of bounds. Next is the layup. The fairway narrows
considerably as you get closer to the hole, which brings the out of bounds on
the right into play and a deep trap on the left, 23 yards in length in the
zone. Finally, the putting surface, although long, is very narrow and raised,
which means any shot just missing the green to the right, will kick away
towards the white stakes, which are dangerously close. The green slopes back
to front and right to left, so to err, go left.
At 231 yards, the 17th, by far is the longest and most difficult par three on
the course. Not to mention that it's uphill to boot. There is little margin of
error here as well, as the putting surface is just 26 yards in depth and
slopes from back to front. Missing right spells all kinds of trouble with sand
and deep rough, so if you are to miss, short-left is the call. Making par here
is a blessing.
When the south-west winds are blowing, the 18th could be one of the most
difficult holes in the region. At 418 yards from the gold tees and doglegging
left, the last at French Creek is a dandy. With a view of the clubhouse in the
background, your tee shot needs to favor the right side of the fairway, thus
avoiding the deep trap and marshlands left. From there, a mid-iron remains to
a fairly small green at just 30 yards in depth, guarded left by a large pond.
With the match on the line, this is one of those holes that brings out the
best (or worse) in you. The play is to shoot towards the right side of the
green and draw it in to set up the winning shot. A classic finishing hole.
OVERALL: From top to bottom, French Creek is an outstanding layout with all
of the amenities. Let's start with the 20,000 square-foot clubhouse, a
colonial fieldstone building with elegance and charm. With beamed vaulted
ceilings and gigantic windows providing breathtaking views of the
surroundings, there might not be enough adjectives to describe the clubhouse.
The pro shop is well-stocked with quality merchandise and the staff, well to
say their accommodating would be an understatement. The first-class practice
facility is outstanding. By the way, even the name of the facility is classy,
it's called a practice field. Next, it's the golf course. Wow! Nothing fancy,
just a solid, classic venue, reminiscent of Scottish links courses with all
the extras. Except for the 16th hole, which I believe the slope on the right
side of the green might be slightly unfair, as it could shove a marginal shot
out of bounds, this course is phenomenal. For a golf course that is spread out
beautifully over this Revolutionary War-era style colonial farm, the final
three holes are a little close together, but I might be too critical. This
course is very fair for all levels and quite challenging to boot. Ranging from
4,900 to 6,725 yards, French Creek is a course for all players. The low
handicapper might think this is a pushover, but he'll soon find out that this
is the toughest and longest 6,700-yard venue he's ever played. French Creek
also has seven different membership options to choose from. Take notice. This
course looks like its been around for years. There is not doubt that French
Creek Golf Club will soon become the most sought after destination in the
area. I just hope I get invited back.