Golf Course Review - The ACE Club

Architect: Gary Player and Warren Henderson
Year Opened: 2003
Location: Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania
Slope: 146. Rating: 76.1
Par: 72
Yardage: 7,471
Hole-by-Hole: 1 - Par 4 372 Yds    10 - Par 4 471 Yds
                      2 - Par 4 476 Yds    11 - Par 4 445 Yds
                      3 - Par 5 610 Yds    12 - Par 3 231 Yds
                      4 - Par 3 201 Yds    13 - Par 4 441 Yds
                      5 - Par 4 385 Yds    14 - Par 3 223 Yds
                      6 - Par 3 193 Yds    15 - Par 4 439 Yds
                      7 - Par 4 439 Yds    16 - Par 5 594 Yds
                      8 - Par 4 375 Yds    17 - Par 4 428 Yds
                      9 - Par 5 546 Yds    18 - Par 5 602 Yds
                      Par 36  3,597 Yds     Par 36  3,874 Yds

Key Events Held: Exelon Invitational (2006-09).

Awards Won: Silver Audubon International Signature Sanctuary.

Website: theaceclubonline.com.

HISTORY:  Although  The ACE Club  has been opened just  a short period of time
(2003),  the piece  of property  it sits  upon was  once site  of Eagle  Lodge
Country  Club, an  old Rees  Jones  redesign. Conference  Facilities, Inc.,  a
subsidiary  of ACE  INA Properties  Inc., owns  and operates  the club.  After
purchasing the property, ACE bought an additional 105 acres and brought in the
"International  Ambassador  of Golf", Gary  Player, to leave his thumbprint in
Pennsylvania.  Player  did just  that, bulldozing  the previous course, moving
500,000 cubic feet of earth and using 270 of the 311-acre property to design a
venue  like no other. Just his second course in the state, Player incorporated
his  philosophies  and design  principles to  craft a course  worthy of a tour
event.  "This course  has been designed with a PGA (Championship), a U.S. Open
or anything else in mind," said Player. The course, which bears no resemblance
to its predecessor, features several signature holes and beauty beyond belief.
It's  just  a matter of time  until The ACE  Club becomes part of the national
spotlight.

Only  three  years after  opening its doors,  The Ace Club  became host of the
Exelon  Invitational hosted  by PGA Tour player and Pennsylvania native Jim
Furyk. John Daly claimed six skins worth $130,000 to capture the 2006 edition
of this event.  Daly birdied  the 15th for five  skins and $105,000 and went
on to win the  16th with birdie. 2005 Rookie of the Year, Sean O'Hair, a
nearby resident of  West  Chester, Pa., captured  five skins and  $87,500
while Adam Scott won $82,500 and seven skins. The charity event raises money
for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Philadelphia. Tournament host Furyk missed
playing due to injuries.

REVIEW:  If  there is an  easy hole at  The Ace Club,  then the opener is just
that.  From an elevated tee, the first bends slightly to the right with a more
than  generous fairway  that slopes severely to  the left. A big tee shot down
the right side can leave just a little pitch to a well-guarded green that's 43
yards  in  depth. This hole  can be had,  but only if the  pin is in the right
spot.  If  you thought  there was an  elevation change on  the first, well the
second  hole drops 66  feet to the fairway, thus negating the 476 yardage from
the  black tees.  Still, a well placed  tee ball is required to gain the extra
roll  down the  fairway and pass the  slope in the landing zone. From there, a
mid-iron  awaits the player, as he tries to negotiate the longest green on the
course  of 50  yards. Not only is  the putting surface deep, it features three
distinct sections, so club selection is of the utmost importance. Life doesn't
get any easier at the third. The longest hole on the course at 610 yards, this
monster needs a bomb down the right side of 240 yards just to carry the gaping
bunker.  Slightly  downhill, your  second shot  now must  traverse a left side
bunker,  43  yards in  length, strategically  placed in  the landing area. The
right  side is  the play, as it sets up  a wedge to a green that opens up from
this  angle. The putting  surface slopes away in the back and for good measure
from left-to-right. A birdie chance, yes, but par is a good score. Trees guard
the  entire right side  of the fourth hole, the first par-three on the course.
Three  bunkers  protect the putting  surface in  the front, while a collection
area  in  the rear of  the green  captures the errant  shot that goes long. If
you're  going to  miss on this hole,  favor the left side to give yourself the
best  chance  of getting up and  down. At 385  yards, you would think that the
fifth  would be  out of reach, however  the hole drops an amazing 90 feet from
tee-to-green as it winds to the left. A 60-yard bunker is strategically placed
in  the  center of the  landing area,  however there is  plenty of room to the
right.  An iron or  fairway-metal to the right will set up an easy pitch and a
really  good chance at  birdie. The Ace Club has many signature holes and this
certainly  could be  one of them, as  the view from the tee is magnificent and
the risk reward factor is evident. The putting surface is well guarded by sand
and is quite undulating. After a long cart ride to the sixth tee, passing some
old  "cooling" house ruins for food dating back to the 1800s, the golfer faces
the  shortest par-three  on the  course,  a "mere"  193 yards  in length.  The
putting  surface is situated uphill with a large bunker blocking the entrance.
The  green  is sloped from  back-to-front and left-to-right and depending upon
the  wind,  could be  quite difficult,  especially with  a back-left pin. Club
selection  will be  critical in making birdie, let alone par. Pick your target
and  trust your  swing when you stand  on the seventh tee. This severe, dogleg
left  features  a large bunker guarding  the corner of the dogleg with another
trap  on the  opposite end snaring shots  that stray to the right. The putting
surface,  which  plays uphill,  will require  just a  short-iron or wedge. The
green,  with  a bunker  front and  deep, is multi-tiered  and quite slick from
back-to-front. A definite birdie chance with a successful tee ball. Check your
yardage  guide when  you reach the eighth.  Just 375 yards from the back tees,
the  eighth needs to be played thoughtfully to make birdie. Three-metal should
be sufficient off the tee to the left side of the fairway, thus setting up the
best  angle  towards this  slightly dogleg  right. The  fairway bunkers on the
right  are more  for a target than  trouble, as they play short of the landing
area.  The  second shot is  key, as  the putting surface  is 30 feet above the
fairway,  with two bunkers fronting the green and one deep. At least one extra
club will be required to reach the surface, which is quite quick from back-to-
front  and right-to-left. Long, and you'll have a tough up and down, short and
your  shot will trickle down off the green. The final hole on the outward nine
can  also be  called a signature hole.  The drive from the back tee must carry
205  yards  over a lake to  the fairway and  play left of the meandering creek
that  traverses  the right side  and then  cuts in front  of the green. With a
solid  draw  from the elevated  tee box,  the player may  get home in two. May
being  the optimum word, as the fairway slopes right towards the water, so any
shot hitting in the right-center might slip into the creek. There are two ways
to  play the  hole from the fairway. Option  one is to play right to the split
fairway  and  leave yourself a little  wedge, as you avoid the trouble. Number
two, is to go for the green with your second shot, but favor the right side of
the  putting surface just  in case. A back-left pin is not only difficult, but
brings the cascading waterfall into play. Don't let this one slip away, as the
ninth hole can be had.

In  contrast, the 10th cannot be had and you'll be happy to escape with just a
par. If this 471-yarder plays into the wind, you might be hard pressed to make
bogey.  First off,  the  tee shot  plays  over the  lake  and waterfall,  thus
throwing  your  concentration off. Second, your  first shot must play down the
right  side, thus  avoiding the deep, 30-yard  long bunker on the left side of
the landing area. Your next shot will now play uphill to the green, one of the
longest  on the  course at 48 yards  in depth. The putting surface slopes from
right-to-left  and if the pin is situated in the back left, then a deep bunker
comes  into  play. I would  have been happy  with bogey. Signature hole number
three,  the 11th plays downhill from tee-to-green and is more interesting from
the  back  buttons, as  it stretches  445 yards. The  fairway is ample enough,
however,  a  short drive will leave  a difficult, downhill approach to a green
fronted  by a lake. Playing down the right side will open up the hole, leaving
a  short-iron to  an amphitheater styled green that reaches 50 yards in depth.
For  good measure,  two large  bunkers  protect the  right and  deep, while  a
diabolical  pot bunker is mid-green left. You'll need to judge your carry just
right  to  have a shot  at birdie. A  monster of a  par-three, the 12th is the
longest  one-shotter  on the course at  231 yards. Although it plays downhill,
your  tee shot must carry a ravine, not to mention the 42-foot elevation drop.
Three  strategically  placed bunkers surround  the green, so club selection is
key  in making par.  The 13th might be quite unlucky if not played properly. A
drive  down the  left side of the fairway  will set up a short approach to the
smallest  green  on the  course. This might  be easier said  than done, as two
large  bunkers  guard the left and  one bunker further down the fairway guards
the right. More sand protects the green in the front, and although the surface
is  short, it is quite wide and undulating. The key here is to stay out of the
left  rough, otherwise you might drop a shot or two. The par-three 14th starts
some  of the best golf in Philadelphia. It's hard to believe that this hole is
ranked  as the easiest on the course. At 223 yards, this downhill beauty drops
22  feet  from the  tees. Picking the  right stick is  quite important, as the
putting  surface is 42 yards deep with a pair of U-shaped bunkers on the right
and  a pot bunker to the left. To make matters worse, a creek cuts through the
hole  and flows quite close to the green. Sloping from the middle of the green
to  the  front makes any  short shot a certain  three-putt. At first look, the
15th  seems  fairly simple, as  its wide  fairway would indicate. However this
hole  is  anything but simple. The  landing area slopes from left-to-right and
features  a cross bunker  right in your line of sight. The choices are simple.
Bombs away if you have the game to clear the bunker (271 from the back tee) or
play left with a three-metal and leave yourself a mid-iron. I'd be remiss if I
forgot to mention that the 15th plays uphill to the green and features more of
the  ruins mentioned on the opening nine. So your second shot will require and
extra stick to a putting surface that slopes left-to-right with a bunker and a
steep  slope  on the right. The  par-five 16th is architecture and artistry at
its  best.  Yes, another  signature hole,  this beauty  is a demanding, dogleg
right  which features  a magnificent 18-foot stonewall down the right side and
more  stone 100 yards before the green. From the elevated tee, the golfer must
carry  the wetlands,  wall and bunkers with a power-fade. Your target is three
bunkers  framing the left  side of the fairway. After a successful tee shot, a
decision  must be made, as you enter the go-zone. You'll need to carry another
rock  wall  and wetlands,  roughly 100 yards  from the green.  By the way, two
bunkers,  left and  right protect the area short of the putting surface, while
another  sand trap  guards the right side  of the green. The smart play, layup
short  of the  wall, leaving yourself a full sand-wedge to another green under
30  yards in depth.  This will provide the player with a reasonable chance for
birdie  and  worse case,  a par.  The 17th  is a  straightway, par-four of 428
yards.  The challenge  here is  the  series of  bunkers jutting  out into  the
fairway down the left side. Depending upon the wind, a three-metal is all that
is needed to negotiate a successful tee shot down the right, leaving a mid- to
short-iron  to the green. This is where it gets tricky, as the putting surface
is elevated with three bunkers lodged in front of the shallow, but long green.
At  all costs, avoid  the sand to make par or better, otherwise bogey could be
in  the cards. The final hole is what The ACE Club is all about. At 602 yards,
the  hole is the second longest on the course. With water protecting the green
and  landing area,  the 18th is quite a strategic challenge. The waterfall and
magnificent  clubhouse provide an amazing backdrop to this outstanding closing
hole.  From the  back tees, getting home  in two is really quite a stretch, so
even  with  a big blast,  you'll still  want to layup  to the 100-yard mark. A
simple  pitch to  a large green is not  as easy as it sounds, with water right
and  a  deep bunker, short  left. A back-right pin  is for tournament play, so
play center-cut, two-putt and be content with par.

FINAL   WORD:  With  some  of  the  finest  courses  in  the  country  in  the
Philadelphia-region, Aronimink, Merion and Philadelphia Country Club to name a
few, The ACE Club has some stiff competition. Gary Player has certainly carved
out  a masterpiece to  rival some of the most storied venues in the land. "The
course  is a  testament to strategic design  and will present a firm, but fair
test," commented Player. It does just that. From 5,500 to 7,400 yards, The ACE
Club   is  for   all  players,  not  just  the  touring  pro  or  single-digit
handicappers.  Not only that, The ACE Club also offers a state-of-the-art golf
learning center, with a two-tiered tee and six target greens. Let's not forget
a  short-game area  and  a  10,000 square  foot  practice  putting green.  The
clubhouse,  well,  that's  a  whole  other  story.  Designed  by  Hillier  and
Diedrich/Niles  Bolton Associates,  its 35,000 square feet of brick, cedar and
glass  overlooking the  9th and 18th greens. The amenities are what you expect
and  then  some. But let's  get back  to the course.  Only two areas come into
question  in  my eyes. The  routing from  the fifth green  to the sixth tee is
quite  long, and although they have a caddie program, walking the course could
be  tiresome.  Be that  as  it  may,  the  rolling fairways,  majestic  trees,
beautiful  vistas, perfectly  conditioned fairways  and greens  make this  one
impressive  place. The ACE  Club is not just about golf. There is an executive
conference   center,   offering  meeting   facilities,  dining  and  overnight
accommodations.  Exclusive  memberships for corporations and individuals, plus
non-local  business professionals are available. In a word, the course is ACES
in my book.