Arrowhead Golf Course

It's forgiving -- but look out for the trees

DOUGLASSVILLE, Pa. -- If ever there were a course that was conceived and built by one man, it may well be Arrowhead Golf Course.

At his father's suggestion 45 years ago, John McLean came home from Texas, where he had settled to farm cotton and tobacco after World War II, to build a golf course on farmland that had been in the family since the 1700s.

Although he had never been a golfer, the idea intrigued the younger McLean. He sold everything in Texas and returned home to Douglassville, just west of Pottstown.

Without so much as reading a book on golf course design, he looked across the family's rolling land and pictured the layout in his mind's eye. Then, with the help of hired hands, he set about clearing trees, tilling the soil and building the greens for what would eventually become the first nine of 27 holes. Today, at age 77, McLean still owns and runs Arrowhead with his wife and daughter.

``I don't know what the big deal is,'' McLean said the other day, referring to the superstar status of today's top designers. "If you know your hills and the distances and where your wet areas are, it's relatively simple."

Arrowhead is not a great golf course. The 18-hole course, as they call it, which McLean completed in 1972, is what a golf course architect might call "minimalist."

In an age when most designers force you to fire over water and around vast fairway bunkers, Arrowhead is very forgiving.

There is only one set of tees. There are no fairway bunkers. The few greenside bunkers tend to be small and not very problematic. The greens are flat, round and true. There is no rough to speak of. The fairways, though rolling, tend to be wide and manicured. Other than two small creeks that pose little threat as they cross No. 1 and No. 7, the only water on Arrowhead is a pond on the eighth that requires a 100-yard carry on your approach shot.

That is not to say there is no trouble on the course. On most every hole, a wayward tee shot will find its way into a line of trees or thick woods that border the fairways on both sides.

And on the 371-yard, par-4 16th, even a dead-center tee shot will likely come to rest on a severe downslope. That's particularly nettlesome for the second shot, which is up a steep hill into a hard-to-hit green.

The 18th, a 295-yard, par-4 dogleg left, is even more curious. Because of the extremely narrow fairway and quick turn no more than 130 yards off the tee, the prudent player must tee off with a short or mid-iron, leaving a longer shot, accurate into a small green. You don't see golf holes like this every day.

Others may find the 15th curious as well. It's also not every day you encounter a 243-yard par 3.

Arrowhead is not a long course (6,002 yards) or particularly difficult. Its above-average slope of 116 is no doubt a result of two par 4s of more than 400 yards on the front side and the 243-yard par 3. More bunkers, which McLean says he has no interest in adding, would surely drive the slope higher.

"Plain Jane, but nice," is one of the comments in Golf Digest's 4,200 Best Places to Play, which gives Arrowhead 2 stars.

For low handicappers looking for a challenge, Arrowhead won't hold much appeal -- it's simply not penal enough to get them sweating. That, of course, is precisely what might attract plenty of mid- and high-handicappers who prefer their good walk not spoiled by the likes of demanding golf shots.

What Arrowhead has going for it is a very reasonable schedule of greens fees, well-kept Kentucky bluegrass fairways and bent greens and a very comfortable, almost rural, feel to the place. It's not fancy, nor does it aspire to be.

Arrowhead also has one of the more modern conveniences -- or inconveniences -- of the industry.

When golfers wouldn't stop driving the carts too close to the greens, McLean agreed to be one of the early "guinea pigs" for an electronic system that restricts the carts to the cartpaths. When a cart wanders from the cartpath, an alarm sounds. If it isn't back on the path within 30 seconds, the cart dies on the spot. That, of course, would make for a good ride spoiled.

Originally published Oct. 5, 1997