Chisel Creek Country Club

I don't know what Chisel Creek Golf Club is going to be like in six months or a year from now. I wish the club all the best. All I can tell you is what it was like a couple of weeks ago, before the brand-new, mid-price, daily-fee course in Chester County opened to the public.

At a glance
Getting there: Chisel Creek is located at 13 Chisel Creek Dr., Landenberg, Pa. The phone number is 610-255- 3961. From Interstate 95, take the exit for Newark, Del., for Route 896 North. Follow Route 896 through the University of Delaware campus, turn left at the dead end, and continue to follow Route 896 for several miles as it crosses back into Pennsylvania. Turn left on Appleton Road. Chisel Creek Drive and the golf course are about 1/2 mile, on the left.

Greens fees: Weekends, $49; Weekdays, $36; Fridays, $40. Carts included.

Carts: Mandatory on weekends before 2 p.m..

Spikes: Nonmetal only.

Amenities: Pro shop and clubhouse. Practice facilities available.

Rating: A work in progress. Mid-price, daily-fee course that will be a challenge for mid- or high-handicappers. Has potential with some work.

Information accurate as of 8/15/2002

It has potential, but it also has some problems.

The most visible and immediate problem at Chisel Creek, which opened Thursday, is that the course could use another month's worth of spring growth and conditioning - especially the greens. About half of the greens are in good shape, but many others are still patchy and not yet ready for prime time. With a little time and effort, that should take care of itself.

The more complicated problem has to do with the layout and design - in particular, some of the shots you're asked to hit. I'm talking 150 yards or more over waste area, with no bailout area and no alternative route around the hazard. Does your average weekend golfer have that kind of game? More on that later.

Chisel Creek is the latest entry in the growing niche of onetime family farms that have been transformed into golf courses. And, just like nearby Wyncote Golf Club in Oxford and Hartefeld National in Avondale, all tucked away in a bucolic corner of Chester County, Chisel Creek enjoys rolling terrain, waste areas, creeks and trees.

Although there are a couple of investors, the driving force behind Chisel Creek is John Boxler, who has spent the last 20 years as an engineer at DuPont while farming on the side. Boxler started kicking around the idea of turning his farmland into a course about 12 years ago, not long after he took up golf and recognized the need for more "quality courses at affordable prices."

And as you stand in the parking lot, as I did recently, getting a quick tour of where the practice range is going in and where the 10,000-square-foot clubhouse will break ground later this summer, it's impossible not to share Boxler's vision and excitement. You can't help but wish him luck.

But after a round at Chisel Creek, I came away wondering how the course, as it is laid out, is going to have much appeal to the sizable target market of mid-level and high-handicap players, not to mention seniors and women. I think architect Bill Hirsch Jr., a Delaware native now working out of North Carolina, asks you to hit some shots the average weekend golfer just doesn't have.

My first concern was raised at the fourth hole, a 388-yard, par-4 dogleg left. It's a pretty enough hole, with an elevated tee and sloping fairway in the distance. But from the back tees - Chisel Creek is only 6,317 yards, and I played from the tips - you're facing a carry over water and waste area of almost 240 yards. That's a serious poke for any player. Even from the middle tees, the carry was considerable, upward of 150 yards. Anything less is trouble.

At the next hole, the 438-yard uphill fifth, the required carry was less, but not that much less.

But it wasn't until the first par 5, the 515-yard seventh, that I finally scratched my head and wondered how a high-handicapper was supposed to tackle Chisel Creek.

Because of dense woods on the right and a relatively small landing area, the prudent play off the tee at the seventh was with a 3-wood. Yet, even after a good drive, I didn't like my choices for attacking the remainder of the hole.

Before me was another 75 yards or so of fairway, and beyond that a yawning waste area that had to be another 100-plus yards. The waste area was framed by towering trees on the right and left. The green was 50 or more yards on the other side of the waste area. There was no alternate route around the waste area, no bailout shot.

My choices were to lay up short of the waste area, only to face a long-iron shot that had to be well-struck and deadly accurate, or I could go for broke and try to bomb another 3-wood over everything.

So there I was, standing in the fairway, mulling one choice that I didn't think was fair and another I wasn't sure I could pull off - and my handicap is a shade under 5. If I don't know what to do here, how is a 20-handicapper supposed to know? Or my father and his retired buddies? They don't hit those kinds of shots anymore.

It wasn't the last time I asked myself that question. On the very next hole, a long par 3, I was looking at another tight shot over another huge waste area, again with no bailout area. Four holes later, I was shaking my head again. Same problem.

What to do? Hope the owners of Chisel Creek get an earful from the golfers who sample the course early on. Hope they make some changes. New golf courses often go through growing pains, so it's nothing a little tinkering and creativity can't fix. Here's hoping Chisel Creek does so.

Originally published June 4, 2000