Saturday, April 25, 2015

Bensalem Country Club

Course offers a whole lot of surprises

I don't know about you, but I'd never heard much of anything, good or bad, about Bensalem Country Club.

At a glance
Getting there: Bensalem Country Club is at 2000 Brown Ave., Bensalem. From Street Road, take Hulmeville Road to the first light and turn right on Brown Avenue. The course is on the right. The phone number is 215-639-5556.

Greens fees: Spring and summer weekends, $50 with cart; weekdays, $40 with cart. Winter weekends and weekdays, reduced rates.

Carts: Walking permitted at any time.

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Spikes: Nonmetal preferred.

Amenities: Well-stocked pro shop; snack bar/grill room; lighted driving range; putting and chipping green; banquet facilities for 250. Outings welcome.

Rating: Overlooked outside the Northeast section of the city but a fun course and a good layout; suitable for most levels of players.

Information accurate as of 8/12/2002

I knew it was in the Northeast, just beyond the city limits, and I had seen somewhere that it was short (6,131 yards) and pretty easy (119 slope). I assumed it was a lackluster, working stiff's daily-fee track of no particular distinction - hardly worth the trip.

Well, I made that trip, and I'm glad I did. Bensalem turned out to be an inviting little course with lots of personality: a good mix of holes, plenty of hills and trees, tight (in places), big subtle greens, some tricky doglegs, a couple of excellent par 4s, and one of the best par 3s in the area.

And it's quite affordable.

"It really is a sleeper," pro Jim Bogan said.

For some reason, Bensalem is not a course that gets a lot of talk. Not that it deserves to be lumped in with the ultra-elite courses in the area. It doesn't, but it deserves more of a reputation than it has.

It's not the least bit fancy or pretentious. ("We aren't into the high-end public thing, definitely not," Bogan said.) But not every golfer is looking for high-end. Some are quite comfortable with the "old shoe" feel, which, if you ask me, pretty much describes Bensalem.

The snack bar/grill room has a VFW-hall feel to it, with a bunch of retired regulars sitting around swapping lies and yelling at whatever game happens to be on TV.

It wasn't always this way. When it opened in 1960, Bensalem was private - Cornwell Golf Club, built on property that was once the estate of a wealthy family, the Hansells.

The designer was William Gordon, a popular and prolific area architect who began his career with the great Toomey and Flynn and went on to lay out or help revise such respected courses as Du Pont Country Club, portions of Saucon Valley's Grace and Weyhill courses, Sunnybrook Country Club, Hawk Valley, Locust Valley, White Manor, Gulph Mills, Manufacturers, Philmont, Radnor Valley, and Saucon's Old Course.

When Ford Hansell died in 1984, the course was bought by developer Al Bader, who took it semiprivate before going daily-fee four years later. Since then, it has been a quiet course serving mostly golfers from the Northeast and the near north suburbs and a few visitors from South Jersey.

If there is a rap on Bensalem, it's that it can get crowded, especially during the peak season, and that the lack of a fairway sprinkler system leaves it vulnerable to heat waves.

At least one of those problems should be solved by the spring. According to Bogan, the two big improvements on tap for the winter are a new irrigation system and a new fleet of badly needed carts.

As for the course, it starts out OK, nothing special, but gets better and better as you go along: a simple starting hole; a straightforward, tree-lined par 5 that's reachable to better players; a short par 4 (315 yards) that's a tough, tight little driving hole with a green that is three clubs deep; a good nine - fairly tight but not overly penal; and not a lot of bunkers or water, either.

But Bensalem really doesn't bare its teeth until the back nine, beginning with the 14th. It's a 220-yard par 3, from an elevated tee, over a crevasse, into a large elevated green protected by bunkers and sloping back to front - easily the most memorable hole on the course and, on a windy day, the toughest.

But Gordon is not finished. What had been an ideal walking course until the previous hole is suddenly hilly. The next hole, a par 4, is also from an elevated tee, out of a chute, up an inclined fairway.

The 16th, the only other par 5, while only 515 yards, demands three well-placed shots for any hope at par. To go for the green in 2, you'll want to keep your tee shot left; the green, after all, is tucked behind trees on the right. But if you keep your tee shot left, you're completely blocked out by a huge tree that protrudes into the fairway from the left side.

The finishing hole is also a dandy, not to mention picturesque. It's not overly long, only 393 yards, but takes a solid, well-placed tee shot to negotiate a fairway that falls off to the left. Short-knockers also get a little weak-kneed dealing with the second shot over the creek and the greenside bunkers.

Originally published in 1998.

Inquirer Staff Writer
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