Ashbourne Country Club

Shotmaker's course is worth a try

It would difficult to be a golfer in this area and not have seen one of the many advertisements or pamphlets in golf shops welcoming daily-fee play at Ashbourne Country Club.

At a glance
Getting there: Ashbourne Country Club is at Oak Lane and Ashbourne Road in Cheltenham. Telephone: 215-635-3090.

Greens fees: Private, $60 if accompanied by member (includes cart and tax)

Carts: Walking is permitted after 3 p.m.

Amenities: Well-stocked golf shop and a bar and grill. Driving area on site. Proper attire required: collared shirt, golf shoes, no cut-off jeans.

Rating: If you are a shotmaker, give Ashbourne a try. Unless you're straight off the tee, keep the headcover on your driver.

Information accurate as of 8/9/2002

But is it worth trying? In a word, yes.

Depending on your game, you may find Ashbourne short (only 6,037 yards from the blue tees), or too tight (towering trees line or pinch virtually every fairway), or too hard (blind shots and side-hill lies abound). But under no circumstances will you find it boring. This golf course has personality.

From the quirky little par-3 fifth, which drops about 100 feet from tee to green, to the twisty, side-hill, par-4 12th, to the long, uphill par-5 17th, Ashbourne is a course that presents golfers with all manner of problems and confounding challenges.

Take the fifth hole - 127 yards from the whites, 142 from the blues. From the tee, the green looks as if it's at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Ashbourne regulars no doubt know what to hit, but the first-time player can scratch his head for five minutes before deciding what to hit - and then be shocked at how wrong he was.

Or how about the 309-yard 12th, where the entire fairway slopes like a banked turn at Charlotte Motor Speedway, defying the first-timer to figure out where to aim a tee shot. The green, by the way, is absolutely nowhere in sight.

Decisions like that abound at Ashbourne, which is carved out of hills and towering oaks in Cheltenham, just 25 minutes north of Center City. And chances are you will make your share of bad decisions the first time you play there.

It is, no question, a course that requires local knowledge. Crush a magnificent tee shot over the crest on the par-5 11th and you may rudely discover that the severely sloping fairway has kicked your ball down behind the trees on the right. But the second time you play Ashbourne, you'll know to keep it left there.

And then there's the 183-yard, par-3 13th, which looks like something out of Pine Valley - all carry-over sand and weeds into a green that is protected by traps on all sides. The best way to play 13 is to rent a helicopter, hover over the green, then drop your ball.

``It's definitely a position course, a shotmaker's course,'' said Jack Ehresman, Ashbourne's director of golf. ``You've got to be straight off the tee. You won't be hitting your driver all day.''

No kidding. Unless you are deadly accurate off the tee, a good piece of advice is to leave your driver in your bag - better yet, in your trunk. Then lock it.

The extra distance won't be worth the added aggravation - unless, of course, one of the strengths of your game is punching out from under a low-hanging limb, up over a trap, then stopping your ball on a small, flat green with an abyss off the back.

For Ehresman's money, Ashbourne's signature hole is probably the 169-yard, par-3 16th, which is pictured on the club's scorecard. And 16 is a beauty - over the Tookany Creek, into a green protected by bunkers on both sides and front left.

But the two preceding holes - the sloping, 354-yard 14th and the 449-yard 15th, a dogleg over Tookany Creek - are also favorites among Ashbourne regulars.

Because of the control needed, Ashbourne, with a slope of 126 from the blue tees, can be a trying experience for high-handicappers on their first time out. But just one round under your belt can make a difference.

Originally published July 14, 1996