Back Creek Golf Club

At lush Back Creek, challenge at right price

Originally published May 24, 1998

The last time somebody built a public golf course in Delaware, Richard Nixon was president. The wait is over.

Back Creek Golf Club. If you play daily-fee golf, write it down.

Given the spate of new private and public courses in the region - several are still under construction - it's hard to say exactly where Back Creek will stand when all the earthmovers finally grind to a halt. But it's absolutely fair and accurate to say that if you're a public-course player, Back Creek should go on your ``must try it'' list.

It's long, it's lush, it's challenging, and, although it wends its way through a housing development, never once do you feel hemmed in. Best of all, Back Creek is very reasonably priced at only $40 during the week and $48 on weekends - with a cart.

``People around here think that's too much,'' said Allen Liddicoat, the Back Creek managing partner who largely designed the rolling, mostly links-style layout.

Maybe it is expensive for golfers from rural New Castle County, about 20 minutes south of Wilmington. But trust me, at that price, for what Back Creek is, Liddicoat won't hear a peep out of Philadelphians.

How to describe Back Creek? Open only a few months, it's really still a work in progress. But so far, so good.

The clubhouse, though temporary, is nothing fancy - a perfectly adequate modular building. Not some trailer, but an actual building. (Note: Other than a soft-drink machine, there is no food service yet, so pack a snack; the snack bar is expected to open within the next couple of weeks.) Because of some quirk of state law, Liddicoat says the permanent clubhouse can't be built for another few years, when better streets are in place to accommodate the increased traffic.

The golf course is another story - a success story.

Built on farmland that was originally owned by the first governor of Delaware, Joshua Clayton, Back Creek is laid out across what is essentially a flat, ordinary piece of real estate. No problem - not even for a developer who had never designed a course.

It's not as if Liddicoat is an egomaniac. It's just that he did the research on what the market would bear in terms of greens fees and decided he was the biggest-name architect he could afford. An avid golfer himself, he embarked on his own education program.

``I read every book on course architecture I could find and attended every seminar I could get to,'' Liddicoat said. Next, he sat down with David Horne of Architerra PC in Allentown, and together they came up with what was both good and possible.

The result is a playable, pleasurable course that's open and devoid of trees in places, yet something of a more traditional park-land course in others.

Depending on how much you want to bite off, Back Creek can play as long as 7,003 yards from the back tees, or as short as 4,915 yards from up front. Front or back, it's no cake walk: 134 slope from the tips, 126 slope up close.

Where the land is utterly flat, Liddicoat and Horne have added contours and framed the holes with mounds and knolls. By diverting water, they have also created three man-made ponds that come into play on six holes. With the aid of dump trucks, they have added 81 bunkers for your golfing misery.

Granted, all that may make Back Creek seem somehow contrived, but it doesn't feel that way. For my money, Back Creek will eventually debut at a solid 3 1/2 stars in Golf Digest's Places to Play.

The front and back have nice stretches of holes. It begins with the fourth, a short, par 4 dogleg that forces you to decide whether to lay up in front of a marshy area off the tee or try to bomb one over. The second shot is into an elevated well-bunkered green.

The fifth is a very reachable (505 yards on the New Castle course) dogleg par 5 over a crest, followed by a another short but tricky uphill dogleg par 4.

On the inward nine, the 13th, a 440-yard straightaway par 4, requires two nice shots to get home and avoid the pond that wraps around the left side and bunkers flanking the front.

That's followed by a mid-length, slightly downhill par 3 with a saddleback green and a huge collection bunker in front. The par 5 dogleg 16th is also reachable, if you keep your tee shot far enough left. But too far left is wet, and too far right is in the woods.

One of the nicest aspects about Back Creek is it won't torture the mid- or high-handicapper. Liddicoat and Horne have made sure to provide avenues to run the ball up to most greens. But low-handicappers looking to go low will often find themselves firing at pins tucked behind bunkers and mounds. For a first-time designer, Liddicoat can slap himself on the back.

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