The list of public-access courses in the Philadelphia region that Golf Digest has awarded four stars - the coveted "outstanding" rating - is not long.
|At a glance|
| Getting there: Center Valley Club is located at 3300 Center Valley Parkway, Center Valley, Pa. The phone number is 610-791-5580. From Interstate 476 North (Old Route 9) take the Quakertown exit, go through the toll booth to a red light and turn left onto 663. Proceed approximately 3 miles until you reach 309 North. Make a left on to Route 309 North and go about 9 miles to Center Valley Parkway. Turn right on to Center Valley Parkway and the course entrance is ½ mile on the right.
Green fees: Weekdays and weekends, until 2 p.m., $72, including mandatory cart fees and a bucket of balls; 2-4 p.m., $45; 4-6 p.m., $35.
Spikes: Non-metal spikes are required.
Carts: Walking is permitted at any time, but cart fees are mandatory. Pullcarts are not allowed, and caddies are not available. Carts adhear to the 90-degree rule except when wet fairways dictate cartpath only.
Amenities: Reasonably stocked pro shop; men and women's locker rooms without showers; pub and grill with outdoor patio. Outings welcome.
Rating: Fine course, pleasant atmosphere and staff.
Information accurate as of 8/15/2002
If you're willing to drive 90 minutes, there's also Royal Oaks, east of Harrisburg, in Lebanon. And Blue Heron Pines at the Jersey Shore.
So, when the magazine recently bestowed four stars on another nearby course south of Allentown, the four-year-old Center Valley Club, a quick shot up Route 309 or the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, it seemed worth checking out.
To be honest, based on a round last weekend, Golf Digest's rating for Center Valley seemed a little generous, but not by much. Many area golfers will likely find it worth the trek.
Beyond the course itself, Center Valley is a welcoming and well-run facility - clean, accommodating and full of cheerful staffers.
Name another course where the starter announces the names of each golfer over a loudspeaker at the first tee, as though you were contestants in a tournament.
And name another area course where pace of play is enough of a priority that four very visible clocks have been placed around the course, or where rangers constantly monitor your progress. (In the pro shop on my visit, a walkie-talkie crackled with one ranger asking another to please go advise one foursome that if the golfers couldn't keep up, then perhaps Center Valley was not the course for them.)
The course itself, built atop an old zinc mine now filled with water, is first-rate. It measures 6,904 yards from the championship tees and carries a 74.1 rating and a 135 slope. From the whites, it's a considerably shorter 5,951 yards, with a 68.8 rating and a 124 slope for men, 74.8 and 135 for women.
The front side is links-style, with few trees and heavy on the now-popular mounds that serve to create a bobsled-course effect on several holes. The back side, with several tree-lined fairways, is the more traditional parkland-style, and the more interesting of the two nines.
Eleven of the 18 holes confront the player with some degree of dogleg. Water comes into play on 11 holes - mere creeks on four holes, more ominous ponds or small lakes on the rest.
"The large lake by Nos. 13 and 14 are connected to the mines," said Larry Wise, director of golf at Center Valley. "We don't hunt for balls in there. We don't know how deep it is."
Center Valley - designed by Jeffrey Cornish, a Massachusetts architect who is a past president of the Golf Course Architects of America - opened in June 1992 and is part of the Stabler Center business and residential development.
On the front nine, you might feel in places that Cornish got carried away with his Scottish theme of high mounds encasing the fairways. Except for the par-3 second and eighth holes, both delicate little shots over ponds, almost the entire front side involves standing on a tee and gazing up a tunnel-like fairway. Sail a shot over the mounds and you've got a problem. Some golfers find that appealing, some don't.
The back nine is more interesting. No. 10 is a 360-yard, par-4 dogleg right that requires a tee shot over a creek and marsh, into a fairway with water on the left, with more water guarding the green.
No. 14, a 368-yard par 4 with a stand of menacing trees front and center in the fairway, was the only aggravating hole on the course. On the tee, you have three choices: Hit a medium-to-long iron over a lake to a small landing area, leaving a short iron into the green; bust a tee shot over the landing area, as well as over a set of bunkers beyond it, for a short pitch into the green; or play it safe by staying right of the trees into a much more abundant fairway on the right side.
That seemed the prudent thing to do to minimize the risk of taking a double bogey. Wham - tee shot of the day, right up the heart of the right side, where the ball came to rest behind a tree that was out of view from the tee. Result: bogey.
Among Center Valley regulars, Wise said, the most controversial hole is No. 17, a 485-yard, par-5 dogleg right.
The tee shot must first clear marsh, which is hard enough for many golfers, but it must also avoid a small wetland farther ahead, right at the bend, where slicers lose it and long hitters try to cut the corner. More than a few players would like to bulldoze that hazard.
"We can't fill it because of [environmental] regulations," Wise said. "Besides, without it, No. 17 is just a hard par 4."
Originally published September 22, 1996