Downingtown Country Club

Public course challenges high- and low-handicappers alike

If the boom in golf is responsible for the construction of several new courses in the Philadelphia area, it's also behind the much-needed facelifts of a few others.

At a glance
Getting There: Downingtown Country Club is behind the Brandywine Square Shopping Center in Downingtown, off of U.S. Route 30. Phone number is 610-269-2000.

Greens Fees: Weekends, $65 to walk, $73 to ride. Weekdays, $53 to walk, $85 to ride. Annual memberships are available.

Carts: Never mandatory. $20 a person. Pull carts are $4.

Amenities: Pro shop, locker room, bar and grill with banquet facility.

Rating: Well-conditioned. Practice your sand play. Downingtown can frustrate the high-handicapper, but the low - handicapper can break 80.

Information accurate as of 8/14/2002

Case in point: Downingtown Country Club.

Don't let the name fool you. Downingtown, an original George Fazio design from the mid-1960s that once was part of the defunct Downingtown Inn Resort, is no members-only enclave. In fact, it's not a country club at all.

It's a daily-fee course that claims to offer ``country club'' amenities in its clubhouse, a renovated farmhouse. The clubhouse - an old farmhouse joined to a second building, overlooking the second green - features a pro shop, locker room, restaurant and banquet facility.

``We want to be as good as Hartefeld National and Wyncote,'' said Jeff Broadbelt, Downingtown's director of golf operations, referring to two other top-drawer additions to the local public-course scene.

From the championship tees, Downingtown measures 6,619 yards and boasts a 72.9 course rating and a 132 slope. From the white tees, it measures a more modest 5,771 yards, with a 125 slope. Nothing to sneeze at, in either case.

Indeed, Downingtown, with its mix of flat, rolling and water holes, as well as plenty of bunkers and fescue grass, can be downright cruel to the high-handicapper and a testy challenge for the mid- and low-handicapper.

In 1996, when 73 area seniors descended on Downingtown in hopes of qualifying for one of four spots in the U.S. Senior Open, only five golfers broke par (the low score was a 2-under 70) and only three others managed even par.

``The layout is very good, and it was a legitimate challenge,'' Senior tour player Bob Dickson told the local paper, the Daily Local News, at the time. ``I thought this course was an appropriate test of golf.''

If the course stood tall, it may well have been thanks in considerable measure to last year's redesign work by Broadbelt, a former greens superintendent at Chester Valley Golf Club, and Gil Hanse, a young golf architect from Malvern who helped design Stonewall Golf Club in Chester County.

They added a new irrigation system, trimmed or cut down about 500 unhealthy trees, and added two new ponds that come into play on 13, 14 and 17, plus a creek that slices through the picturesque 18th.

But mostly what they did was toughen up the 40-odd bunkers, add about 50 - greenside pot bunkers, a British Open-style collection overgrown with fescue - and elongate traps that pinch both sides.

To wit: Broadbelt's favorite hole, the 300-yard, par-4 fourth, a lazy little dogleg to the right. Except that Hanse and Broadbelt, no doubt with fiendish delight, erected a virtual wall of fescue-laden bunkers across much of the fairway, daring golfers to do anything but lay up or stay wide left. Fun hole.

But frankly, even with invigorated bunkers and tall, unfriendly grass, several par 4s on the front nine, ranging from 300 to 378 yards, come off as rather ordinary.

Curiously, the No. 1 handicap hole, the 382-yard, par-4 sixth, with a pond left of the green, was neither the most difficult nor the most interesting hole on the course.

For the low-handicapper, the back nine is much more interesting than the front. It boasts three par 5s (a rarity) and three par 3s (also a rarity), two of them over water.

As for interesting, there are the 12th, a 161-yard, par 3 over water; the uphill, par-5 13th; the 172-yard, pond-protected, par-3 17th, and the 536-yard, par-5 18th.

Downingtown Country Club is a welcome addition to the publinks scene, a place where a high-handicapper and a low-handicapper can share an enjoyable round.

One note: Cart fees are very high, $20 a person. As Broadbelt tells it, it's not because they're trying to gouge the public, but because they want to discourage riding.

``We want you to walk,'' he said. ``We want to have an old-fashioned flavor. It crossed my mind not to have carts at all, but I was worried about shutting out people who need them.''

Pull carts can be rented.

Originally published July 7, 1996